Archive for the ‘God’s Presence’ Category

Gazing Upon God

How can we gaze upon God when we can’t see him? He is invisible. No one can see him and live he tells us. Yet he wants to reveal himself through the eyes of our faith. We see him through the Word, nature, circumstances and in many other ways. But he also can reveal himself through our contemplation. What’s that?

I recently read a book entitled Embracing Contemplation – Reclaiming A Christian Spiritual Practice. Many of my thoughts that follow are based upon this book.

Biblical contemplation is gazing on the face of God as he reveals himself through the Spirit. “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (27:4, NIV).

We depend on him to reveal himself. We don’t conjure up the presence of God and dictate what we see. Instead, we expect to receive an experience of his presence as he chooses.

This makes my “skin crawl” even as I write this. I am a conservative evangelical and have been trained to cling to the Word and mediation to insure purity of experience of God. In practicing contemplation, we depend on God to show himself to us as a direct experience through the Spirit, not indirectly through nature, circumstances, and people’s lives.

We trust God to use the Word to reveal himself in a deep way to our hearts. It’s one thing to know God loves us; it’s another to experience it. “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully” (Ephesians 3:18-19, NLT). God uses his Word and our minds to reveal to our hearts how much he loves us.

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Why mess with biblical contemplation? After all, it can be risky. It’s subjective. It requires depending on the Spirit to reveal God. But don’t we depend on the Spirit to interpret Scripture – if not we run the risk of legalism – taking it literally but missing the spiritual truth?

Biblical contemplation helps us avoid a dull, lifeless spirituality that’s practices at the thinking and behavioral level and misses the heart. We can learn to embrace the Christian life as an experience of God and not just knowledge about God. “So, all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NLT).

We can’t make it happen. We depend on God to reveal himself. Our job is to prepare our hearts to receive what he wants to show and tell us. It can involve meditating on Scripture but goes beyond just thinking about God, but also communing with him.

I have been practicing contemplation lately to request him to reveal a happy memory. I then ask him where he was in the scene and if he wants to say anything to me from the scene. I often ask him to keep me from forcing an image or putting words in his mouth. I then wait, but usually not long for an image or his words. All this serves to build an experiential relationship with him of trust and love.

We do need to pray and concentrate on what he wants to reveal and expect he will.

May we learn to experience the love of Christ in a deeper way through the Christian practice of contemplation, so we “will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:19, NLT).

 

 

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God is always with us, but mostly we live as if he weren’t. Jacob wrestled with him all night and didn’t realize he was wrestling with God. “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16, NAS) Jacob later said. How often do we fail to realize God is in our circumstances, although he controls them all?

Many days I fail to see God in most of my circumstances. I seem go through a day as if I were on my own again, making life work through my wits and wisdom. I feel good about the pleasant things and complain regarding the painful ones.

God expects us not to fear because we always have him with us to protect and help us through every painful and scary circumstance. “Do not fear, I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10, NAS) he says to us.

And yet I fear – why? Because I am more aware of the overwhelming circumstances which I believe I am going to face alone than his promise to help, strengthen and uphold me in them. The challenge is to believe what God promises, not what my sinful nature is screaming at me. May we grow in obeying the commandment to put to death the screaming of our old nature by depending on the Spirit, and listen to the quiet comforting from Jesus that we are safe (Ephesians 4:22-23).

His presence shows up in little ways – in the eyes of a child, in the plea for help from someone needy, in the life of a godly person, as well as in the life of Jesus. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, NAS).

So how do we become more aware of Jesus throughout the day and depend on his presence?

First, we need to accept the fact he is sovereign. Nothing happens to us that he hasn’t ordained or allowed. “The LORD has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything” (Psalm 103:19).

We need to look for him in our circumstances – not necessarily understanding why, but accepting the fact our circumstances have his approval.

We can find Jesus in the Bible as the Holy Spirit takes the Word and applies it to our hearts – not just knowing the truth but experiencing it at the trust and feeling level as we rely on him.

We can find Jesus in books. A couple of years ago I sought God for what role he wanted me to have in furthering spiritual formation in our church. After reading a book called Visioning by Andy Stanley and taking some tests from the book, I understood it was not God’s will for me to lead the charge but to support the one who did have that responsibility.

And we can become aware of his presence in what he has made. We just returned from a vacation in Portland, Oregon, where we stayed on the edge of a forest filled with redwood trees, squirrels, birds and vegetation covering the steep slopes. I felt God’s presence and peace there.

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May we learn to become aware and experience his presence in all areas of our lives as we walk with him through a difficult and sometimes scary journey.

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If you are like me, you have spent little time thinking about heaven. There is so much living to do. So many responsibilities and so many tasks to do down here.

Our churches cooperate with this by seldom teaching about it. One of the reasons is most pastors don’t think of heaven much. They frequently receive little teaching from seminaries regarding heaven. Thus, pastors and Christians often have low expectations about heaven. One pastor even said he dreaded going there because it was going to be boring.

Therefore, many of us set our hopes on getting a raise, getting a new house, or accomplishing more at church to gain recognition. This disobeys God’s command to “set our minds on the things above, not the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2, NAS). God wants us to look forward to heaven. He says to us, “Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world” (1 Peter 1:13, NLT).

But why?

One thing is so we have the strength to face the daily battles with bills, raising kids, and all the other problems. Paul encourages us with “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18). We can also be encouraged that these sufferings are producing rewards which God would not have given us without the sufferings (2 Corinthians 4:17).

God knows heaven is great and he wants us to anticipate it with eagerness. He says “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9, NLT).

Then, how can we look forward to something we have never imagined or experienced? By relying on the Holy Spirit to use our imaginations. May we remember some of our most enjoyable and experiences and imagine what heaven would be like if it were much better.

For me, I imagined what a day in heaven would look like. It would include living in a castle in the country, much like the flyover scenery from the beginning of the Sound of Music. I would be living with a family of many loving brothers and sisters. It would be a bright autumn day with Jesus coming over in the afternoon to go fishing with me. We planned to fish in a lake on the castle property which was full of large fish. Jesus and I planned to catch enough fish for a fish fry in the evening in which the castle family would be there. Afterwards, Jesus would hold a strategy meeting for those interested in developing a plan to reach worlds unknown for his purposes.

Will heaven be just like this for me. No. It will be much more exciting and exhilarating. But this exercise has helped me to become more excited about going there. I am sure many of you can imagine a day even more joyous and pleasurable for you, for he has promised that in his presence “is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11, NAS).

God wants us to look forward to heaven because it’s much better than here. In spite of our earthly families, friends, and achievements, the benefits of heaven are much better by far according to Paul (2 Corinthian 5:8). And he should know. He had been there before he wrote about it.

Why wait until this life has little to offer before we start thinking about heaven? Let’s get excited now about where we are going so we can better endure the challenges of this one and be prepared for the next one. May we learn to set our hopes on fully-experiencing the benefits of heaven, which will be even better than whatever we can imagine down here.

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I recently discovered I had another abdominal aneurism. They occur in weak arteries and often will rupture if they aren’t shored up by stents or other medical procedures. I had one three years earlier that had been successfully repaired through surgery.

Now, I had another one in the same area. The vascular surgeon recommended immediate surgery because it was growing fast and it was in danger of rupturing. Two weeks later I had surgery to repair the aneurism.

The doctor was pleased with how the surgery went. All the tests showed the aneurism was successfully repaired with a stent. I felt relief and a sense of security, at least until the follow-up scan.

Anticipating the results of the follow-up scan, what should I expect? Could God be trusted to give me good results?

What Can We Trust God to Do for Us?

As I waited for the scan results, God began talking to me through several verses of Scripture. One was, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 23:13, NASB). This reminded me we can trust our God to be good and do good things for us.

He also said, “Delight yourself in Me and I will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4, NASB). We can trust God to give us the desires of our heart as we delight in his goodness and greatness and allow him to change our desires.

We can also trust him to grow us spiritually through the challenges we face. He says in Romans 8:28-29:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called by according to his purpose. For those he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son”

He tells us in these verses he controls the scan results and will work them to our good, which is to make us more like Jesus.

Finally, we can trust God to lovingly watch over us in the difficulties of our lives. He said to me, “I am watching over you lovingly so that no real harm will come to you” (Psalm 121:8, paraphrased). God is our Father who deeply loves us and has our best interests at heart.

Experiencing His Protection

How do we feel safe as we face possibly dangerous circumstances? How do we experience the protection we know we have?

One thing that helps is to reflect and give thanks to God for the many times we have experienced his goodness. When I recall his blessings to me, I often feel better.

Another action is to meditate on verses like Job 37:13, which tells us that God is the one in control. It’s not circumstances, doctors, or how much faith we have that determines the results. God causes the results he wants for his purposes.

A final thought is to pray knowing God Almighty is good and has the power to give us what we ask. We then ask and trust he will give us good results- even if they aren’t the results we hoped for.

Yes, God can be trusted. He will do what he has promised. He will always look out for our best interests. He will always be with us to protect and help us in whatever we face.

 

 

 

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Go Where God is Working

Henry Blackaby said in his book Experiencing God that we needed to determine where God was working and then get involved as he led. That made sense to my wife and I, and so we applied it a few years ago to what church we joined.

We checked out several churches in our area that were solid in their biblical teachings. But one stood out as having the evidence of God doing a special work there. That was the main reason we chose this church. We wanted to be involved in what God was doing in his world.

Seeking World Peace

Why Go Where God Is Working?

Wouldn’t it be more important to go where we felt the most comfortable, the best taught, or the most needed?

The answer for us was no.

A church can do nothing without the Holy Spirit (John 15:5). A church can teach good doctrine, have good people, and be doing good in the community and still be an unhealthy church. If the church has grieved or quenched the Holy Spirit, it could be a dying or a dead church, no matter how much Bible the people know.

The sad truth is that God can and does withdraw his Spirit from churches (Revelations 2:4). He may not due it entirely, but he doesn’t work where he is not welcomed. Just as we can grieve and quench the Holy Spirit as individuals through disobedience (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19), so can churches. We would rather have minor roles in a church that is alive than to be leaders in a church where God is grieved (Psalm 84:10).

Final Thoughts

God’s Great Commission to us is to go and make disciples as he leads and empowers (Matthew 28:18-20). He invites us to join him in his work in deepening and expanding his church. May we look for where God is doing this and get involved.

 

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Walking With God

Father and son playing on the beach at the sunset time. Concept of friendly family.

I have tended to view God as the commander and I his soldier who follows his orders. Nothing wrong with this – but I don’t think this metaphor fully captures the relationship God wants with me.

Let me explain.

A couple of months ago I sensed that God wanted me to organize a neighborhood potluck in a nearby park. I agreed with him that I thought that a potluck would help build relationships between our neighbors that were vitally needed in our Long Ranger culture. I also thought that having closer relationships might have prevented a couple from not being missed for two weeks after they had been murdered in their home.

However, I balked at the idea of being the organizer. “I don’t want to be stuck doing all the work”, I said to God. “You will haven’t to provide me with an energetic team of neighbors who can help me plan and promote this event or I won’t do it”, I said.

But I begin to move in the direction of organizing the event – and God provided an energetic team of seven people. I asked God to help us pick the right day, the right time, and the right stated purpose – and that we would all would have a good time.

The planning group got along great and each did their part well. The police department even offered to give a brief report at the potluck on the status of the murder investigation.

The picnic was considered a big success. Eight-five people came. The weather was great. Many relationships began or were deepened, the police were informative, the kids had a good time playing volleyball and other games, and the greatest miracle of all, and I had a good time. (Usually being in charge stresses me out).

Many people thanked me for organizing the potluck. But I knew the truth. God was the true organizer. He had impressed me with the need and provided an energetic and talented crew of neighbors to do what he wanted done.

I believe I walked with God in organizing this potluck. It wasn’t so much doing something for God, but doing something with God. I grew closer to God with far less stress than when I try to serve God in my own strength.

What Is Walking with God?

Walking with God is leaning on the Holy Spirit within us to live through our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. We have the power to do as Jesus would do because his life is living through us. “Whoever says he [lives] in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6, ESV).

Walking with God is living in the reality of his intimate love for us. He wants our fellowship, and as we include him in our day to face the challenges, we grow in intimacy with him.

Some people object to the belief that God wants to walk with us. They would say that he wants us to follow him, not walk side-by-side with us. Yet, the Bible is full of statements about God walking with his people (Micah 6:8; Genesis 6:9; Genesis 5:22-24; Isaiah 41:10)

I would agree that he wants us to follow him, but in the context of an interactive and intimate partnership where he takes the lead and we cooperate.

I don’t think we can adequately partner with him if we are following ten paces behind. This false picture lends itself to the practice of “Just give me my orders God and I will follow them the best I can in my own strength.”

How Do We Walk with God?

One way we walk with God is to discover what he wants done and join him in doing it. This is what I did in organizing the potluck. I sensed that this was something that God wanted done and wanted me to be a part of it.

So, I stepped out in fear and trembling, relied that he would guide and support, and watched him put on a potluck that was beyond natural explanations. And I grew closer to him in the process.

How we walk with God is to rely on him. We often don’t do this as indicated in this statement from Paul, “After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3, NLT). We forget to rely on God to make things happen and to accept the humble role of walking with him as he meets our challenges.

Finally, talking to him throughout the day is a wonderful way to walk with him. “Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22). God yearns for intimacy with us. When we share with him our joys, struggles, and disappointments in prayer throughout the day, he gives us the power to walk with him.

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Living Deeply with God

“Living with God is relaxing, for there is no fear of being hurt. We feel safe to be imperfect.

“Even in the face of our flaws, God delights in us and thinks that we are special. He likes who we are and wants us to live that way. He wants us to be real with him and our self. He does not pressure us to be different. He provides space to be us.

“God has expectations, but he trusts in us enough to not tell us what they are.

“Yet, we know and follow his expectations, out of love and respect for him and his expectation that we will obey.

“We may say to our self, “I don’t get it. I don’t have to be good and strong to be liked, loved, and special here. I don’t get it, but I sure like it!” (Hebrews 10:14).

“We feel respected by him. He delights in us. He wants to hang out with us.

“There is no “evil eyeball” of judgment coming from him. The only looks we get are looks of love.

“His warm smile melts the cold fear in us down to our bones (1 John 4:18). Rejection is not even a possibility with him. He completely loves, respects, and accepts us (Isaiah 43:4).

“We have fun being around him. We are free to do what we want to do. I choose to do a lot of fishing and growing fruits and vegetables.

“There is a great deal of laughter being with him and our brothers and sisters in the faith. We share much love and joy with God and our family in the faith around mealtimes.

“At times, we may feel that we need a hug or an encouraging word. God, is our “very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1), and is always there to respond to our needs. He never pressures, or forces himself on us, but just waits for us to come to him.

“God always treats us gently and tenderly. “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). We feel protected and supported living with him.

“It is quiet and peaceful most of the time. There is plenty of space to discover who we really are, what we like to do, and what we are good at.

“At other times, the air is filled with warmth, laughter, and joy, especially when our brothers and sisters in the faith are there. At one point I said to myself, “Life is good in this place. I am sure glad I live here!” In response, God noted that heaven was like this, but much better.”

The above is what I imagined four years ago on a retreat using Scripture, my memory of living in my Grandma’s house as a child, and the help of the Holy Spirit. This is my picture of what it looks like to live with God in a deep way here on earth.

May I encourage you to ask God to help you use your imagination, the Scriptures, and your memory to imagine what the experience of living with God in a deep way looks like for you.

 

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