Posts Tagged ‘Presence of God’

Oh, be quiet Larry…

I remember back in late high school or early college:  There was this short Christian classic on sale or clearance or something and I wanted to get it.  A small part actually wanting to be the kind of person to read such books, and a larger part wanting to seem to be the kind of person to read such books, I snagged it.  I read through it a bit.  I smiled.  I even understood a few sentences.

In college, it was mentioned here and there.  I knew the topic vaguely, and smiled and nodded whenever someone mentioned it in conversation.  Yes, that is quite a good book.  Yes, I do so enjoy practicing the presence of God, just like Brother Lawrence did in “Practicing the Presence of God”.  Whether doing the dishes (as he did) or other menial tasks that my day to day existence brings me, I love the fact that Christ always offers to be very near.  God truly is with us, closer than we often realize.

I was a bit surprised then, when reading the book more closely for my current course on Spiritual Formation, to find so larrymuch in the book I didn’t like.  When the author writes Brother Lawrence (let’s call him Larry) to tell him of a friend who loses a close friend to death, Larry tells him to advise his friend to use these moments to his advantage.  “What a great opportunity to give the part of your heart previously given to your friend back to God where it belongs!”, he seems to say.  Or when the author himself is aging and enduring intense suffering of some sort, Larry refuses to pray his suffering would be taken away.  Instead, Larry insists on praying that God would strengthen the author to endure the suffering that is most likely God’s way of refining his heart and soul.  No, I do not like this guy much at all.  I don’t think I would have written him as much as the author seemed to.  A man who neurotically spent at least 10 years of his life anxious that he shouldn’t be distracted in thought or feeling by anything that might take God’s place, finally ending up with peace (albeit alone, and without much pleasure it would seem beyond the “presence of God”).  No, I do not like this guy much at all.

Yet…I can appreciate his heart.  A heart that yearns for the presence of God so much that everything else – even the extremely important things in life – melt away.  An experience of God’s presence, even in suffering alone, that gives him a sense of complete and udder wholeness that so many empty people in our world are hungry for.

I’ll admit, wrestling with his message comes at a poignant time.  Last week was the final week of Lent.  The season of preparing for Easter.  It was also a week of waiting for an important update in terms of our adoption.  This journey that has taken over 3 years, it finally feels like our boat has spotted land.  So it takes a bit of humility to confess that I, a pastor who was allowed to even baptize several people this morning, was distracted most of my week by checking my e-mail for an update that never came.  That dotting my week of anticipating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I was experiencing the brokenness of a human whose heart is not at complete peace in this broken world.

Part of me realizes that’s probably okay.   Jesus was certainly not often “at peace” in this world.  Another part of me realizes, there’s something to all this stuff Larry was talking about.

But before you or I go out and leave our family, secluding ourselves in monasteries away from our spouses and children, aiming to live like Larry and push away anything that threatens to occupy a place in our hearts – I don’t think that is required.   But we can be reminded in powerful ways, the truths found in Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 15.  That Jesus died and was resurrected.  The truth of this powerful statement impacts us as individuals, and puts every anxious thought, every deep-seated need/emotion, and every well-intentioned prayer in a wonderfully redemptive context.

The Truth of a resurrected Jesus Christ releases us from serving the state of our situations.  Even though there are times (like this past week, and probably again in the future) we don’t want to hear it, the words of Brother Lawrence come as important reminders: Even really important and good things are not “foundational” the way Christ and His resurrection are.  We can have Peace, even in the midst of needing peace.  That is something the world considers foolish.   That is something scripture considers faith.

That is something my daughters need from their father.  Something my wife needs from her husband.  And so, not as an individual but as a family – we work to shape our heart to seek pleasure only in the things that please God.  We seek to walk with Him as the center of our being.  We confess that this is not an easy road, and we sometimes lose focus.  But we return to this walk and practice – together.

(and really really pray that our boat would draw a big step closer to “land” this week) 🙂

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behind the music.

Usually you hear a great song, and it makes you want to learn the background of it.  Here’s an opportunity to do exactly the opposite.  I want to tell you a little about a song that may be coming your way (already recorded….currently being mixed/mastered!).  It’s one that I wrote earlier this year, about the adoption process we found ourselves in.

The preliminary title I’ve given the song is “Bring You Where I Am”.  It’s an obvious title, that speaks to the heart of the issue: we can’t wait to bring our daughter home.  But, as the song fleshes out, it also connects what we’re experiencing to the heart of God.  This is an area I wanted to say a few words on briefly, before the song becomes an international hit. 🙂

micI believe God’s heart/desire is to “bring us where He is”.  That being said, the emphasis here is not so much on “location” as it is “presence”.  Over the past several years, many of us have begun realizing the fictional futures of “Left Behind” were not actually talked about in the Bible.  We believe God intends to bring His Kingdom fully here, bringing together Heaven & Earth in a completed New Creation.  Still others remain convinced God’s desire is to whisk us away into a far off “Heaven” in the clouds.  Whatever side or middle we land on…we can agree on one thing for sure: The focus is on the presence of God.

That’s the heart of the song.  Not to whisk away a child from the middle of Africa, to our midwestern hometown.  But to bring a child into our home, giving her the loving presence of a mother and father and family/friends who care for her.  Whether we lived in IL, CA, Mexico, Italy, or moved right next door in Africa itself.  It’s about bringing her to be where we are.

Imagine a bowl full of water, floating on the ocean.  Waves come, and rock the bowl back and forth.  But the bowl is not completely filled, and so remains on the surface.  Water might splash in or out of the bowl a bit with choppy waters, but still the bowl remains afloat, riding the waters of the vast ocean.  Until finally, it happens.  The amount of water in the bowl is so great, the bowl is completely overtaken and submerged into the sea.  As the bowl sinks slowly to the bottom, it’s become completely filled as never before, by the presence of ocean-waters.

Would you say the water from the bowl was taken out of the bowl?

No.  You would say the bowl and all of the water within has been swallowed up by the ocean.

So also will all things be swallowed up in God.   (2 Corinthians 5:4)

It’s about singing the song, and a heart that is breaking to somehow have her hear us singing it.  That she would know our heart, and be transformed by the Hope she has for tomorrow.  That God’s heart is breaking for a humanity He longs to listen to His voice as He sings those same words to us.  That we would know His heart, and live transformed by the Hope we have for tomorrow….today.

I really hope you can hear the song…both mine that might cost you 99 cents and help support our adoption.  But even more so, His…that might cost you quite a bit more, but “it’s worth it” is even too cheapening a phrase to use here.  Take time to listen…

(and if you could take a moment to spread the word about about both songs…..share a link to this post…thanks so much!!!)

1 Kings 19:1-15

So we find out who holds the power in Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel. Imagine how he must have felt riding home, figuring out how best to tell his powerful, vindictive wife he’d been defeated. He tells her Elijah killed all of her prophets, and she’s filled with rage. She politely sends out a threat to kill Elijah within 24 hours. This was not the “Prophets Welcome” he may have been expecting. Afraid for his life, he flees about 100 miles to Beersheba. He leaves his servant, and walks a days journey into the wilderness…sitting under a broom tree, and asking God to take his life, and falling asleep in his exhaustion.

It’s not a story we hear often, and yet it’s a story many of us can connect with. In times where we feel like we’ve done everything God asks of us, and yet find the world still threatening our very lives. We can easily come to a point where we are tired. We are exhausted in our trying. We aren’t sure if what we’re doing for God is being effective. We know objectively that God is God, just as Elijah still obviously understands. And yet, even in knowing God is God, we look at our circumstances and are discouraged. Sin and the brokenness of our world press in on us from all sides. We feel like we are running away, just to stay alive. We feel like giving up. The burden of living for God has become too heavy, turning the ship around becomes too daunting of a task….the sinful world is much too large for my actions to make any difference in. leaves

But notice God’s response to Elijah. It’s not chastisement, not anger, not sharp words of correction. It’s not a beautiful sunrise and a smiling puppy to say “Chin up, Elijah, good things are coming!”

It’s simply a messenger that touches him and says, “Get up and eat.” Elijah looks and there is freshly baked cake and water. (insert joke about angel food cake here) He eats and drinks, and lays down again. The angel returns and urges him, “get up and eat more, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” In that moment, it seems perhaps something inside Elijah snapped. The sadness, and discouragement he feels doesn’t make sense…why is everything failing….why am I still being fed by an Angel of the Lord in the midst of nothing working out?

He is desperate for God’s renewal, and energized by the meals provided by the angel, his marathon-runner comes out again. This time for 40 days and 40 nights, he covers hundreds of miles south, uphill the whole way. He decides to run back to the root of Gods story among His people…Mount Horeb, also called Mount Sinai, where God originally met with Moses and gave the law.

He comes to a cave in the Mountain, and decides to spend the night there.   The word of the Lord came to Elijah, asking what he’s doing there. Finally, Elijah can say what’s been on his chest for weeks now…

“I’ve been desperate for you, God! For your people have continued to live like you’re not even there. They’ve gotten rid of your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I’m the only one left, and they’re trying to hunt me down and kill me as well!”

God tells Elijah to go out and stand on the Mountain, as the Lord is about to pass by.

Awesome. This is going to be great, right? So far Elijah has seen miracle after miracle. He’s experienced God’s protection in supernatural ways. He was fed by an angel to give him energy to arrive at just this location…the place where God gave Moses the 10 commandments, the place where a bush was blazing with God’s presence…surely whatever comes next is going to be incredible….

So from the cave, Elijah waits on God to arrive.

There was a great wind, powerful enough to split mountains and breaking rocks into pieces…but the Lord was not in it. Next, there was an earthquake, and even as the ground shook beneath him, Elijah saw that God was not in it either. After the earthquake came a fire, and yet even in the blazes, God was not to be found.

Finally there was a sound. Not like any of the sounds that came before it, but arriving powerfully, poignantly, at the right moment. The sound. Of. Silence.

Some translations say a gentle whisper, or a hushed voice. Stillness. Elijah somehow knew immediately, here was God. He wrapped his face in his mantle, and stood at the entrance of the cave, in the presence of God passing by.

After that, the voice of God comes, asking the same question as before…”What are you doing here, Elijah?”

We expect that repeating the same question after Elijah experiences God’s presence is a set-up to reveal just how powerful the experience has been. Surely at this point Elijah is going to thrust his fist into the air, thank God for the blessing he’s received and the new power upon him, and run off into the sunset to tell King Ahab wassup.

But his response comes, exactly the same as before. A downtrodden and dispirited man. Desperate and at the end of his rope. “I’m desperate for YOU, God…for your people live like you don’t exist, they’ve gotten rid of your altars, and killed your prophets. I’m the only one left, and they want to kill me too.”

And God’s response to Elijah?

Get back out there. Go, return to what you were doing, and here’s a few more things I need you to do while you’re at it. The actions of Elijah from here on begin a new movement of God bringing judgment and correction to His people. Many more awesome things happened, and Elijah was ultimately taken into heaven without dying.

And so we find ourselves reading this passage at an important time in our lives, and in the movement of God through His Church. Many of us can connect well with the story of Elijah in these words. We want to live for God, we may have even lived a life that we can look at and say, “Look, God….I’ve been faithful…where are you???”

We live in a world where sin seems to have free-reign. Like Elijah, we are desperate for God. We are desperate not just for God, but for the name Elijah uses, “Elohim Tsaba”, “The Lord of Armies”…God almighty. We want to see the power of God made manifest in some sort of large visible victory. We feel like seeing God show up in the way we want Him to show up will give us what we need, and we will march forward into whatever may come.

In the midst of all the ways we tell God we want him to show up, comes His response. A silent stillness. For anyone willing to wait on Him to arrive. To not be distracted by the noise and activity that may seem impressive, but does not contain the presence of God.

There are no words of explanation. No wisdom for us to get distracted by in parsing the vocabulary being used. Simply God. Here. In a silent whisper.

And after the whisper? Even when Elijah seems to have missed out on any obvious transformation or encouragement from that moment…we hear God’s response:

Now, Go.

God is asking us a question also, through these words. Will you allow the quiet presence of God to be enough for you?

God is calling each of us, just as he called Elijah long ago. To go into our lives, living faithfully even when we may be the only ones. I believe God called Elijah to come and meet him at Mount Sinai. That’s why the angel came and gave him food and energy for the long journey ahead. God used the 40 days and 40 nights, and the climb up the mountain of God….to remind Elijah he was part of something much larger than himself. There has been a story of God bringing about His Lordship, and living out of his covenant love for many generations before….and that story will continue for many more generations to come.

It’s one of the reasons we gather in worship together each week. To be reminded that we’re not alone. Looking around the sanctuary, and rubbing shoulders in the hallways, we remember that there are others serving God along-side us. The pictures of saints that have passed, and the stories we share about friends and family that have come and gone, connect us to the story God has been crafting since the very beginning. These reminders don’t require fanfare. There is no need for fire to fall from heaven, or trumpets to blast in order that we might remember.

God is whispering to us in these moments…I am with you. I have been with you.  I will be with you.  I. Love. You.

And with that, we are not starry-eyed. We don’t automatically forget all about our struggles, and head blindly into whatever may come when we leave worship. But we go back into our worlds having been reminded of the presence of God. The presence of God that doesn’t have to flex. Doesn’t have to crank up the volume to 11. Doesn’t have to prove itself. Because God is not just a really really strong force similar to all the other forces in our world. God is God. In His stillness there is more power and divine presence than in any forceful revival or emotional altar-call in any tent-meeting in the history of God’s people.

Likewise, as we receive the elements of communion, we are struck once again by the simplicity of God’s presence. These are not giant steaming cakes of elaborate recipes passed down for thousands of years. These are simple pieces of white bread. This is not juice from delicate grapes grown only on the western side of a hill in a distant realm of Rome…this is probably Welch’s. Grapes grown in the Eastern US and Canada.

But as we receive the bread, and drink from the cup, we are connected to something much larger than these elements. Something much larger than this moment and place. Along with Elijah, God’s presence becomes evident in our moment of stillness. We may not feel remarkably different when we finish the eucharist. But the words of God arrive to our ears just the same…Go.

His presence was enough to send Elijah back into a land he was wanted dead. To continue the work of God bravely, and passing on his mantle to Elisha to finish the work he began. As you leave worship next week, God probably won’t ask you to travel hundreds of miles on foot…but if you go into the world quietly but powerfully understanding that you’ve met with God….there is no limit to how the Kingdom may come….

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