Practicing the Presence (Reprise)

You may recall on August 20, 2016 and August 28, 2016 I blogged on the Practice of the Presence; this is a way of recognizing that The God Who Is There is really here, at all times, in every situation, in all places.  As David prayed in Psalm 139:7-12,
“Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
    even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’
    even the darkness is not dark to you;
        the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.”

In Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Peter Scazzero notes there are different approaches to God based on our emotional maturity.  We begin by “talking at God.”  This he describes as copying our parents prayers, such as mimicking a prayer over a meal.  As we become more comfortable with prayer, we ‘grow’ into using our own words, “talking to God,” rather than simple recitals of memorized prayers, but these prayers are still very self-centered; requests for blessing, provision, answers that we want.  And this, sadly, is where many of us get stuck, never growing up any more, and always coming to Him with our begging and whining, “gimme, gimme, gimme.”  Like little children we have no goals nor ideas beyond our immediate needs for love, provision and comfort.

But there are other levels of communication with God.  The next Scazzero addresses is “listening to God.”  This is where we begin to recognize that prayer is a two-way communication.  Yes, God speaks to us primarily through the Bible, and you can be certain nothing He “says” to you in prayer will contradict that.  For example, if the Bible says, “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:23), He will not tell you in prayer to dump her or walk out on a marriage.  But there are many details of life not addressed in the Bible where His particular guidance can be helpful and is available if we learn to listen (see October 2, 2016).

Finally Scazzero takes us to “being with God,” a place of emotional maturity which is not dependent on activity or disciplines of the Spirit-led life.  This is a place of simply enjoying being together, the way lovers behave when they do not need to talk, but simply rest in each others’ arms.  Make no mistake, the devotional practices of the disciplines of the Spirit-led life get us centered on who God is, how He interacts with us, and what His personality is like, so these lead us to a deeper understanding of what it is like to be in His presence, but it is the “being” there that matters.

Like a marriage, if a person thinks he or she can do anything they want and maintain a good relationship, theirs will be headed for serious problems.  But when a man and woman are engaged in learning about how to please each other and how to provide for each others’ needs, theirs can become the most satisfying relationship apart from the inner practice of the Presence of Him whose love we are imitating.

In the same way, the relationship with Father requires attention to Him, time spent with Him and sharing of one’s life with Him.  The life lived outside of that relationship becomes empty, pointless, and in the end deadly, with a deadness that must be understood in terms of spiritual death like Adam’s and Eve’s (see December 6, 2015 ).  While they appeared to be “living” they had become “dead in [their] transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), separated from the Source of Life.  And when we have wandered into the wrong road, one that takes us further into death and away from Life, the fastest way back into that relationship that will ultimately satisfy us as no other, is to turn around and head back the way we have come.  It is possible to get too far down that road that leads to death to recover much of what is lost, and it is even possible to get so far down that road that return of any sort becomes impossible.

But if one does return, like lovers separated as teenagers reunited in old age, who may be able to rekindle their love and find some satisfaction in “the remains of the day,” they must wonder at what has passed.  How much time was lost, how many moments of love were missed, how much influence on others was destroyed, that can never be recovered because the time has passed them by?   God can bring life to dead bones, but how much of life was missed by those one day resurrected, if they had continued in life all along? (See Ezekiel 37:1-14)

So do not wait for too long to find His presence in your life.  He is always here, but where are we?  Walking with Him or in a valley of dry bones?  Do we Practice His Presence?

But what will you do in the end?

There is tragedy everywhere we look.

  • North Korea is hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons to put into the hands a madman of Hitlerian proportions;
  • someone’s mommy, dad or son or daughter were among the more than 300 people who died in a mudslide in Sierra Leone;
  • Iran plans to scrap the nuclear “accord” our last president assured would secure a safe future without Islamic terrorists possessing nuclear weapons;
  • Trump’s advisors worry that he seems more in tune with fascists than with promoting peace;
  • the path of terror has cut through France, Germany, Florida and Spain all in one week;
  • a once-in-a-lifetime-eclipse is overshadowed by what Robert E. Lee thought of Confederate monuments.

“But what will you do in the end?,” Jeremiah asked (Jeremiah 5:31)  The people were more interested in having their fun than paying attention to the impending catastrophe that waited just 700 miles (1100km) to the northeast.  They claimed they were living under Yahweh’s (God’s) protection, but they were blind to their sin, the lies that were so inherently a part of their lives that they did not even realize they were “swearing falsely.”  (5:2)

They, concluded that God would do nothing to punish their sin, not realizing that God’s time table is much larger than ours.  “They have lied about Yahweh; they said, ‘He will do nothing! No harm will come to us; we will never see sword or famine. The prophets are but wind and the word is not in them; so let what they say be done to them’.”  (Jeremiah 5:12-13)  And it was 40 years after Jeremiah’s prophecy began that God’s judgment came to the party-goers of the land, but that judgment was certain, and it did come

Jeremiah’s lament included that he could not find one honest person who would seek the truth, whether among the poor and uneducated nor among the wealthy aristocratic leaders.  “These people have stubborn and rebellious hearts; they have turned aside and gone astray. They do not say to themselves, ‘Let us fear Yahweh our God’.”  (5:23)  Their hearts were so hard, they refused to listen to anyone pronouncing what was true, and instead accumulated “prophets” who would say what they wanted to hear.  And they loved it that way!

Centuries later men’s hearts were still the same when Paul warned Timothy to be careful with how he handled the word of God, with great patience and careful instruction.  “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3)  And the reason he gave for this warning to his young protégé was that he knew Christ Jesus the King would come again and judge the living and the dead.

Now centuries have passed again, and men’s hearts are still the same.  You can find any type of “Christian church” you want if you look hard enough, and in fact, one does not need to look very hard.  From the First Presbyterian Church of Elvis the Divine – to gay churches that affirm homosexuality as a God-given and Christ-honoring gift – to pastors who promise you that if you buy their book God will become obligated to bless you financially.  It is all out there if you want your ears scratched.

But if you love the truth, or rather, the Truth, He who is the Way, the Truth and the Life will provide His Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth. (John 16:13)  In contrast, those who prefer to be deceived will follow all kinds of magic shows that affirm they have found the right path: He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.(2 Thessalonians 2:9-10)

An important word of caution to those of us who love the Truth: we must not gloat in our confidence that we have the truth, so the rest of the world can worry about themselves.  Our Lord’s own heart was broken, so much so that at one point He sweat so heavily that capillaries broke and he sweat drops of blood (Luke 22:44).  Many followers of Jesus have given their lives to see those who lack the truth find Him.  And if we follow Him who loved us so much to give His life for us, we will be ready to give our lives for Him.  “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”  (Psalm 25:5)

So “what will you do in the end?”

Why Should I Weep?

Tears like rivers.  Sleepless nights.  Crying till my head hurts.  Discouragement as deep as despair can dive.

I did not know the tear ducts could flow so much.  Years ago when I returned to following Jesus, my heart was broken into more pieces than I could count.  Now it feels like it is being ground into dust.  I feel myself slipping, drifting, into a morass of melancholy, an abyss where I can see no bottom.  Bitterness and frustration clings to me at people without sense: idiots who drive like they own the road; service providers who do not know what they are doing; helpers who are anything but.  And I know it is not their fault that they are ignorant or inconsiderate.  They are under another’s influence (2 Corinthians 4:4), but the ache inside me blames them, anyway.

“This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit.
My children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed.”  (Lamentations 1:16)

Before I was negligent of the Travelogues about China, Japan, Korea and Mongolia because of “too much living, and not enough ‘logging’.”  But now I neglect the rest of the Travelogue because it was filled with joy and purpose that now feels so distant, like a memory graying over long time even though it was less than a month ago, a picture faded from years in the sun.

I deeply appreciate those who I know are praying for my family, and I know that in the end I will get through this quagmire.  Solid advice and sound reasoning have helped from many sources, but I have to wade through this swampland alone until Father shows me the way out.  And He will.  I have no lack of confidence that He will, but for a season He requires that I mourn; for a while I must be in anguish until He answers me from Heaven.  We always look for the shortcut, the quick solution.  But sometimes, it is in the waiting that we find Him in ways that we would not in the answers.

O Yahweh, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath!
For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me.

There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation;
      there is no health in my bones because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
      like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness,
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
       all the day I go about mourning.
For my sides are filled with burning,
and there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
O Yahweh, all my longing is before you;

my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
and the light of my eyes-it also has gone from me.
My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
and my nearest kin stand far off.

But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,
like a mute man who does not open his mouth.

I have become like a man who does not hear,
and in whose mouth are no rebukes.
But for you, O
Yahweh, do I wait;
      it is you, O Yahweh my God, who will answer.

For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever before me.
I confess my iniquity;
      I am sorry for my sin.

Those who render me evil for good accuse me because I follow after good.

Do not forsake me, O Yahweh!
      O my God, be not far from me!
Make haste to help me,
      O Yahweh, my salvation!
Psalm 38; a song of Lament by David

From Eva’s prayer:
“Lord, we do not look to him to change; we look to You to change him.”
And from Ahavaha.wordpress.com:
“Joy is feeling pain and somehow not allowing it to shadow the magnificence of God!”

Four Teardrops

TeardropAs the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember as I pour out my soul:
      how I used to go to the house of God
      under the protection of the Mighty One
      with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?
      For I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
My soul is downcast within me;
      therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan,
      the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls.
All your waves and breakers have swept over me.
By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—
      a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me,
      saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him,
      my Savior and my God. (David, Psalm 42)

Circumstances press in that make the heart heavy.  Like Frodo approaching Mordor, every step feels like it is harder to take than the last.  The weight around my neck feels unbearable.  Sleep eludes me and my pillowcase gets damp with tears.  But I am not confused as David seemed to be, as to why my soul is downcast.

I know.  Signs of redemption and evidence of God’s great mercy have been stolen.  Scars of my broken life and the wounds I inflicted on so many, that had seemed healed, suddenly are gashed open again.  My age presses in on me making me stoop like an old man, slumping my shoulders, and halting my gait, dragging my once-stronger leg into a slide as feelings of an old stroke reappear from the emotional bludgeon rammed into my gut.

Like Job, “I know my Redeemer lives and that in the end He will stand on the earth.  After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes; I, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27)

But like Job as well, “How my heart yearns within me!” (19:28)  I do not wish to go to Heaven alone.  With all my heart I long for those close to me to walk through gates of splendor (Revelation 22:14), and not just my family and close friends, but anyone who would love the Truth, and follow Jesus into the tomb and see the light of the Resurrection on the other side of these difficulties.

Tears of JesusThe first teardrop of the title is Jesus’.  In John 11, at the graveside of His friend, Lazarus, Jesus wept.  We are not told exactly why, but we can make some intelligent guesses.  Not for Lazarus’ death, for sure.  He knew while He was with the disciples across Jordan that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.

Perhaps He was weeping for the lack of faith He saw around Him.  Maybe because He knew this resurrection would be a temporary one; the man would die again, possibly at the hands of those who called for Jesus death, to prevent Lazarus from testifying to the Truth (Luke 12:9-11).  Or it could have been for the nearness of His own sacrifice: He knew the time was coming soon when the devil would have his day, and think that he had killed the Lord of Life (1 Corinthians 2:8).

Tears of Peter.jpgThe second teardrop is Peter’s.  Having just declared he would be the last to leave Him and the first to die with Jesus rather then deny Him, Jesus warned Peter not to get too cocky.  “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” (Mark 14:30)  And in the heat of the spotlight as Jesus fate was actually being cast, Peter balked and even cursed, declaring “‘I do not know this man of whom you speak.’ And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept. (14:71-72)

These teardrops were genuine tears of grief for his denial.  They marked a road of repentance for Peter that later found his restoration in Jesus’ kindness and instructions to “Feed My sheep.” (John 21:17)

Tears of JudasThe third teardrop is Judas’.  We are not told explicitly that he wept, but it is hard to imagine a heart so hard, suddenly broken when he realized the wrong he had done, not weeping.  While the legal eagles wrangled over what to do with the money he had returned, Judas went out and hanged himself in the field he had purchased with the blood money.  Tears do not necessarily mean true repentance.  Even an attempt at restitution did not bring peace to Judas’ troubled heart.  He had blasphemed the Holy Spirit, putting himself beyond the reach of the God who would have forgiven even his betrayal of the Son of God.

Tears of caThe fourth teardrop is mine.  With all my heart, I hope it is reflective of the light glistening in the tears of Jesus and Peter; tears of grief over loved ones who may grieve the Holy Spirit past His ability to reach them; tears of sorrow for those who will not believe, no matter what truth of the resurrection is presented; or like Peter, tears of transformation from my own sin, that having harmed so many, now I am on a course to work out [my] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [me], both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12)