Pre-Occupied with God

What does it mean for us to be in or live or minister in the presence of God?  That’s a big question that would take many words to describe. But at least part of the answer is that we are simply present to God in an ongoing, moment -by-moment way. What does it mean to be present to a close friend or your spouse? (Hopefully we can be present to them.) To be present to my wife means that I honor her nearness to me, that she is with me and occupies a place in my attention. (Hopefully I can be present to her.) However, my heart and mind can sometimes be pre-occupied by something or someone else? When I’m preoccupied I cannot be present to the other person. When I’m pre-occupied my heart, my mind, my hands are already occupied and I cannot take up anything more. I have to put something else down in order to take up something new. There is an emptying that must take place. What am I pre-occupied with that prevents me from being present to God and for that matter other people?

I was reflecting on the morning’s reading in the Gospel of Luke 10 about the Samaritan man who ministered mercy to the man who was robbed outside the city. Jesus told this parable to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Or, maybe, “Who should I be present to?”
Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.  The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” Luke 10:30-37, NLT.

Here is an irony: A priest and a temple servant passed by the wounded man unaffected by his pain.  These were two men who were to be serving in the presence of God, yet they were not present to the man who lay by the roadside beaten and bloodied.  Maybe they were a little pre-occupied by their stations with the priestly garments and positions so that they could not care for this wounded man. Or maybe they were concerned that they might be defiled if they touched his wounds as touching blood was a source of ritual defilement. They were too pre-occupied to be present to what God might be doing with this man. Then came the Samaritan man who had no such pre-occupation and was therefore free to see the wounded man and take care of his needs even expending his own resources to do so (his wine, oil, and very garment to make bandages). Jesus says, “Go and do the same.” (Be present and open to the moment in God.)

In the Torah, we are told to “Love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, all of our souls, and all of our strength.” We cannot do so when we are pre-occupied with other things taking up space in our hearts, heads, and hands. What are we pre-occupied with at this moment? What is taking up our heart, head, and hands? It’s not that these things aren’t important, but we must learn to see them through the lens of God’s presence. Let us put these things down and be present to and pre-occupied with God.

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“Here I Am”

A friend of mine recently posted the words to a familiar chorus by Chris Tomlin, Here I am to Worship. The words to the refrain or chorus are, “Here I am to Worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that you’re my God.” The whole chorus is simple and worshipful but I couldn’t those few lines. They became my song in the night and a refrain for devotion. Especially the phrase, “Here I am.”

What am I saying to God when I say, “Here I am”? It is a statement of presentation of self to God. It is used in the Bible several times, many times from the mouths of humans in a meeting with God Himself.  There are people like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, and Ananias in the New Testament. In the Hebrew language of the Old Testament it would actually be translated, “Behold, Here I am.” This interjection is an invitation for God to see who and where we are.

There are a few “Here I am” declarations that refer to different situations…..

  • The Here I am of indispensability

In Genesis 22: 1, God opens the conversation telling Abraham to offer back to God his only son.

Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you. Ge 22:1-2

Abraham believed that his son, Isaac, was indispensable to God’s purpose. After all, how could Abraham have offspring as numerous as the stars in the heavens without this son? This indispensability is the very thing that God wants to deal with in us. What do we hold s indispensable to being accepted by God or people? Is it a recognition of some kind?  Maybe another advanced degree or title? Is it some kind of talent or special ability? Is it money or other material stuff? All of these actually get in the way of our relationship with God. They possess us rather than us possessing them.

“Here I am” is a presentation of all that I am and all that I have to God. There is an important word in Genesis 22:1, “tested.” The root of the Hebrew word indicates assaying of the what was in Abraham—a revelation of who Abraham was in the face of God. When we are saying, “Behold, here I am” to God we inviting Him to reveal who we are in our truest self. We cannot hide who we truly are in the presence of the One who made us. There are layers to be revealed and stripped away like so many layers of paint on an old piece of furniture. What are the layers to be done away with? How do we remove them to reveal who we truly are? Bring them into the presence of God.  Place them on the altar.

  • Here I am of redeemed disappointments

Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Ex 3:1-4

Moses, the fugitive from justice looking after his father-in-law’s sheep confronts his past disappointments on the back side of the wilderness. Here Moses stands barefooted in the very presence of God. When God saw that Moses had turned aside from his own path to see what God was doing, God called. Moses had accumulated many layers of identity along his journey. When Moses said, “Here I am” he was presenting all of those layers, his past at the feet of the One who knew every day of Moses’ life. From the bulrushes, to the palace of Pharaoh, to the murder scene, to the wilderness, God redeemed and redirected Moses to become the deliverer of His people.

We are not the sum of our past failures and flops. Regardless of where we’ve been God calls us into His presence and purpose. We need only say, “Here I am.” We place these past disappointments at the feet of the One who all us by our truest name.

As we say, “Here I am” to the One who calls our name let us surrender all the layers that we have acquired along the way. Here I am.” Let all that we do be as an act of worship to the Lord.  Let us bow before Him; make our own lives and agenda lower than His. Let every thought and action be taken from the reality of who we are in Christ not who we think the world wants us to be. We are accepted in the Beloved. We are Abba’s child. Let us live in the presence of God and say to Him, “Here I am.”

 

 

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God’s Armor All

Today I had a little time on my hands and a few things to process… a few changes to consider. I decided to do something a little mindless but useful. We moved into a new house a few months ago.  Its only nine years old and in very good shape, but the shutters on the outside of the house had never been maintained. What was once a deep redwood finish had become faded and gray from the sun and wind. So I saw something on the internet about restoring faded shutter with Armor All Tire Foam and thought I might give it a shot. I’m not much of a handyman as my wife would clearly testify.

So I went to the store and picked up some of this stuff, got a few rags and went out with the ladder to give it a go. It was rather a simple process: Spray on the foamy stuff and wipe it into the shutter. Step back and be prepared to be amazed. Well it worked great and I did all the shutters in a short time. The Armor All cleaned, penetrated deeply to restore the original deep redwood color, and left a protective covering on the shutters.

When I was doing the last section of the last shutter on my house, I heard the Lord say, “Son, I am your Armor All. I want to clean you and rid your heart of disappointment and fear. I want to restore your original colors and protect you from the withering sun and winds of spiritual opposition. I want to be your all in all and your Armor All. I want to clothe you with My presence, refresh you with My Spirit. I want you to shine with My presence.”

Now as I put myself under His hands the Lord brought to mind the familiar Scripture but with new significance.
Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS,  and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE;  in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Eph 6:13-17

Now my heart cried out to God with part of the Lutheran liturgy that came to mind. I sang it many times as a little boy.
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Ps 51:13-17

I sang it once again out loud and felt the Father’s pleasure and His presence.

My prayer: Father, be my Armor All. Penetrate deeply into my heart to see if there is something to be removed that leaves me faded. Restore the joy of thy salvation and  clothe me with Your presence and Your Spirit. You are my all in all and my Armor All. Amen!

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Still King

This morning the Lord spoke a simple word to me. “I am still King.” The fact that He is King means that He is in control—He is sovereign. He is Loving and faithful. All circumstances are under His feet. He was and is and will always be the King of glory!

Then He reminded me….

When Christ was born into anonymous poverty, He was still King.

When Christ lived among a people who did not receive Him, He was still King.

When Christ was tested by satan in the wilderness, He was still King.

When His own people wanted to stone Him to death, He was still King.

When Christ had no place to lay His head, He was still King.

When Christ washed the feet of His followers, He was still King.

When Christ was abandoned by His followers in Gethsemane, He was still King.

When Christ was arrested and taken away to be tortured, He was still King.

When Christ was nailed to a cross, He was still King.

When Christ forgave me from the cross, He was still King.

When Christ was in the darkness of the tomb He was still King.

When Christ came forth from the tomb He was still King.

When Christ ascended to Heaven to the right hand of the Father He was and is still King.

When I am in darkness and confusion, Christ is still King.

When I am rejected, Christ is still King.

When I fail and fall into sin, Christ is still King.

When I doubt God, Christ is still King.

When I am afraid, Christ is still King.

When I am wounded and abandoned Christ is still King.

When I am uncertain, Christ is still King.

When I am misunderstood, Christ is still King.

When I lie down and breathe my last, Christ will still be King.

Fill in the places in your own life where, Christ is still King.

When __________________________, Christ is still King.

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Living in the Shadows

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. Ps 91:1

Many of us encounter some kind of uncertainty or darkness along the path of our lives. This darkness could be the darkness of confusion or lack of direction. Darkness could also be some snare of sin in which our feet are caught. It could be the darkness of circumstances with family or finances. Any place where we cannot see is darkness to us. When we cannot see we cannot move ahead. We are stuck in the darkness. We cannot see in the dark. Our instinct as Christians, particularly American Christians,  is to pray one another out of the darkness. I wonder if that is always God’s plan for us.

I was reflecting on the many places in Scripture dealing with the darkness when Psalm 91:1 got my attention. It is the believer’s 9/11. It seems that the darkness may be a place where God wants to reveal Himself to us. There is a darkness that is the place of the sheltering, overshadowing, abiding place of God. The darkness we find ourselves in at this moment may be a place infused with His presence under the overshadowing wings of God’s mercy. Perhaps we are missing the point of the darkness.

We don’ usually like the darkness.  It is place beyond your control and understanding. We feel alone and abandoned. We have no answer for it. We are uncomfortable and talk around the edges of the dark. In fact, we Christians generally ignore the darkness and in fact try to pray one another out of it while all the time missing the embrace of God’s presence. We rebuke the darkness–push back the darkness. What if in fact the Lord is speaking to us in the midst the darkness.  What if we re missing our Dark Night of the Soul where the love of God brings us to purgation.? Can we be quiet enough to hear Him?

In the darkness God speaks to us as with Moses and Elijah who where both hidden in a cave on the desert mountain. (See Exodus 34 and 1 Kings 19) Ancient commentaries like Rashi tell us both were on the same mountain on the same Rock. If this is so then the darkness is a place where the heart and glory of God are unfolded to us. In the darkness God creates and calls forth the Light as in Genesis 1 at creation. In the shadow of His wings we find refuge, healing and sing for joy. (Genesis 1, Psalms 17, 36, 91, Malachi 4) The darkness brings an experience the embrace of the One who may be recreating us in the shadow of His hand. (See Isaiah 49:2)

The darkness is the place where human effort stops and the grace of God is revealed—where it is not about what we do but about the finished work of Christ as at Calvary where darkness descended at noon. In the darkness we listen a little harder to the voice of our Beloved and hear His heart. In the darkness we live in the present moment embraced by the Spirit of God. As we allow ourselves to be overshadowed we are immersed in the presence of God.

Let us pause in the darkness, under the shadow of His wings and learn to live in the shadow of the Almighty, this place of revelation and grace. Even when we cannot see the hand of God He leads and cares for us. We can entrust our frail hands into the hand of the One under who’s shadow we are living? Can we cease trying to run out from under the shadow of His wings? Beloved, our darkness not dark to God.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,

And the light around me will be night,”

Even the darkness is not dark to You,

And the night is as bright as the day.

Darkness and light are alike to You. Ps 139:11-12

 

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Going Home Again

The question is often asked, “Can we go home again?”—can we go back and reestablish the roles and we grew up with? We might ask the question, “Can I go back and wear the clothes I wore in grade school or, “Can I go back to my place at the family table where I learned my role in my family and life?”

The thing that inspired this question was a recent trip to Yucatan, Mexico to lead a conference and marriage retreat. In the week just before I traveled to Mexico, I also led a pastor’s retreat in my hometown of Latrobe, PA. For the record, I had never led anything of a spiritual nature in my hometown. The two trips coming close together caused me to ask, “Can I go home again?” I can imagine that those I knew growing up might be a little unsettled with what I do in this autumnal season of life. They may go so far as to think me a hypocrite. (An actor in an ancient Greek drama wore a mask to portray a character.) They might recall the mask I wore as a younger person and struggle to see me now in the guise of that mask. (By the way, no one in my family has done that to my knowledge.) The one with the problem accepting me and separating myself from my family mask is me, not my family.

All of us grew up in some kind of family system, whether good or otherwise. In the truest sense, all family systems are unique at some level. We grew up and learned that to meet our basic needs to be loved and accepted that we would have to make a few adjustments. We saw ourselves in a certain way and our families related to us according to their own needs. Some needed us to be strong while others needed us to be submissive. We all, in a sense, put on some kind of mask to fit in and to survive. We became what others told us we needed to be to belong. We acquired a false self in order to survive and find our place in those younger years whether they were filled with joy or a jungle. Some were heroes and others functioned as the baby of the family. The masks served a purpose whether or not they were a true representation of our truest self. Then at some point we grew up and moved away from the family drama. We walked onto new stages differentiating ourselves from the roles and masks we put on as children. The masks we wore no longer fit us and we went off to discover and become the person who lived behind the mask.

Sooner or later we “put away childish things” as Paul suggested, including the masks that no longer fit us. “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.”
(1 Corinthians 13:11 NAS95)

Our families may try to keep us in those masks they’ve grown accustomed to. It is no surprise that Jesus experienced the same issue when he stepped into his destiny as Messiah. His family and friends tried to refit the mask they were comfortable with.

And He *came home, and the crowd *gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. When His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, “He has lost His senses.” …Then His mother and His brothers *arrived, and standing outside they sent word to Him and called Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they *said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.” Answering them, He *said, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He *said, “Behold My mother and My brothers!“ For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:20-21, 31–35 NAS95 emphasis mine)

The Scripture speaks for itself. Jesus was not the same person the crowd was looking for. He was immersed in the heart and will of the Father. His relationships were redefined. His true identity was out in the open. Note that Jesus never wore a mask; any mask was a product of the expectations and understanding of his family and friends who thought he had lost his senses when he was openly being the Messiah; his true self. He was not being disrespectful to his family; he was the Messiah!

The truth is, we can go home again, but we may bring a mask-less version or ourselves that our families will have to learn to know. We will sit at the table at Thanksgiving or another gathering and our families may still be looking for you. (For the masked person they grew up with.) We are not hypocrites; we have simply outgrown the masks put on us as children. The stage has changed and the mask can now come off. We are who we are by the grace of God who calls us to live in our truest and beloved selves in his presence: unmasked, radiant in the love of Christ. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAS95)

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A Little Bird Told Me….

Yesterday I came home in the middle of the afternoon to settle into some writing and reflection time. When I arrived home our little dog, Aretha, greeted me. (She demands RESPECT.) She usually greets me at the door and then settles down for minute. This time however she was frantic with barking and fussing. She ran to the back of our home into our four-seasons room, a large room with vaulted ceiling and mostly windows that juts out into the oak forest where we live. Her barking and fussing were now mixed with the sound of some kind of buzzing sound. I looked straight ahead and beheld an amazing sight: a little humming bird about the size of my little finger was inside the house, laying against the glass and trying to get out. She was green with tiny little wings and a diminutive, straw-like beak through which she would draw in nectar from flowers and Carol’s hummingbird feeders. (Carol puts our seeds every morning and whistles for the birds of all kinds to come for a free feast. I swear they hear her whistle and fly to her table on the back deck of our home.) I slowly moved closer to the tiny creature and she ceased her frantic and futile flapping. In fact she became so still that I thought this precious, delicate wonder of creation might have expired. But as I got closer, I could see that she was still breathing, though in a shallow and rapid way. She was exhausted, terrified, and just surrendered to the moment. Compassion and curiosity welled up in me and I spoke softly, “It will be OK little one. I’m here to help you.” If only she could know that it was my heart only to help and not to hurt her. I am amazed by her! I have only love and compassion for her. I then stretched out and very lightly stroked the back of her tiny head all the time saying, “Its OK little bird.” Aretha was quietly beside me watching the whole process. I gently unlocked the sash pulling down the upper portion and she slowly lifted from the glass and flew out the window, free.

In the moment I touched this fragile wisp of the forest I was caught in the wonder of how my Father relates to me when I feel small, helpless, afraid or exhausted. I continue to flap in fear all the while the One whose hands formed me touches me and whispers in the sound of a gentle stilling, “It’s OK little one. I’m here to help you.” A little bird told me about the power and passion of God to love and touch me—to resurrect me from the fragile futility of life’s trials.

Beloved of God, He is here. He is reaching out to stroke you ever so gently and whispering, “It’s OK little one. I’m here to help.” I know because a little bird told me.

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