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?

Marked by Love (Part 4 – to love an enemy)

It is important when considering LOVE as the Mark of a Man or Woman of God to remember that “it is not a mushy feeling or sentimental emotion.”  This is especially critical when considering the third aspect of this agape (uh-gop-ae) love which is offered to an enemy.  Loving one’s enemy is not easy!  Sometimes it means giving up our “rights,” sometimes it means giving Tough Love.  But it is the only way to change an enemy into a friend.  “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  MLKing, Jr.

As we have described in the previous blogs, it is clear that we should love our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.  This simply means considering our Heavenly Father in every decision in life, and talking with Him about everything and including Him in the processes.

Loving our families or spiritual brothers and sisters really should not be too much of a problem, assuming this is a mutual love in a family, and that our brothers and sisters accept many of the same precepts by which we live.  There will be differences and arguments, but we have a foundation of faith that we share that becomes the bedrock for building our relationships in love.

But what of the enemy we are commanded to love?  Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:43-44 bears repeating, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you!”  Does He expect us to allow an enemy to harm us, take advantage of us, even kill us?

There are some practical considerations to loving one’s enemy that must be considered or we can actually wind up disobeying other commands Jesus gave, such as Matthew 7:6, “Do not give that which is sacred to dogs; do not throw your pearls to pigs.”

There is so much on this topic that it certainly cannot be fully covered in a 1000 word blog, so I encourage you to use this blog as a prayer stimulus, to ask Father for wisdom and clarity on how to love your enemies, but we cannot ignore this clear command of Jesus and claim to be loving the Anointed One (John 14:15-24; 15:10).

I offer two scenarios for consideration: 1) when you are the target of an enemy, 2) when someone for whom you are responsible is the target.  Again, in real time and circumstances, these situations will call for more wisdom than can be gleaned from a brief blog.

1) When Jim Elliott and Nate Saint flew their tiny plane to visit the Auca Indians in South America, this fierce cannibalistic tribe was to be feared, so they carried long rifles.  But as they left, Nate’s son asked if they would kill the Indians if attacked.  Nate’s answer was profound: “If they kill us, we will go to Heaven, but if we shoot them, they will go to hell.”  He explained they were carrying the rifles only to scare the Indians if attacked.  It did not work.  Jim and Nate and their coworkers were murdered by the Indians, but the long story of it is that almost all the Indians came to accept the Gospel because of their heroic actions and unwillingness to dispatch their enemies to hell!

2) However, in Paul’s description of agape love, he says it “does not delight in evil . . . , always protects . . .”. In Esther we see this in the lives of the Jewish people who had been targeted for genocide by an enemy, but in an ironic twist of “fate” the Jews were provided an opportunity to defend themselves against those who would attack them.  Note, it was not a carte blanch permission to kill their enemies, but to defend themselves if attacked, that is to protect their families from their enemies (Esther 8:11).

For further consideration, let me encourage you to read some Scripture pertinent to loving one’s enemies.  From Exodus 23:4, the Jews were instructed to treat an enemy’s possessions the same way they would treat a brother’s; Job 31:29 suggests it is sinful to rejoice over an enemy’s misfortune or to say bad things against him; David spared his enemy’s life, not once, but on two occasions when he could have killed him and claimed it was the LORD’s provision (I Sam 24:10-19; 26:8-21).

On the other hand, Jesus, the epitome of LOVE, made a whip of cords and overturned business tables in the Temple!  Was he hateful or was it Tough Love? (John 2:13-22); Paul warned not to have fellowship with pagans (I Corinthians 10:20-21) and to have nothing to do with enemies of his message (Ephesians 5:11; II Timothy 3:5).

Finally, remember, as Lane Martin said, “Nothing happens to a Christ-follower; filtered by His love, it only happen for us.”  Your enemy has no power except what the Creator has allowed (Luke 10:19) and the issue is never on whose side God is, but rather on whose side are you? (Joshua 5:13-14).

You were once an enemy of God, but now He has made peace with God possible by His love (Colossians 1:21-23).  So “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18) and remember Proverbs 16:7: “When the LORD takes pleasure in anyone’s way, He causes their enemies to make peace with them.”  Ezekiel gives us the last word on the Creator’s attitude toward His (and our) enemies:  Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”  (Ezekiel 18:23).

Love the Creator, Love your family, Love your friends, and LOVE your enemies.  Let your life be Marked by LOVE.