A Presence to Be Reckoned With

Jesus was often pursued by great crowds

Jesus was often followed. Crowds tracked him down seeking healing, truth, deliverance, and hope. It was hard to escape, and frequently he found himself surrounded by people simply wanting to touch him. He was, above all things, undeniable. He was a presence to be reckoned with. He still is. 

Brother Lawrence at work in the kitchen

Two of my heroes are Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach. Both sought to pray without ceasing—to always be aware of Christ’s presence in their lives. Lawrence’s little book, Practicing the Presence of God, is a must-read for all Christians. Whether peeling potatoes, scrubbing floors, or dealing with fellow brothers, he found a way to commune with God consistently and by doing so, it transformed his heart and gave joy for his journey. 

Frank Laubach

Laubach’s writings include two that are in the public domain: “Game with Minutes,” and Letters from a Modern Mystic. He found that by developing a practice of constant awareness of God’s presence, he experienced a transformed reality. They are worth reading. His life was amazing. He was consumed with literacy and developed a reading program (Each one Teach One). He was missionary to the Philippines. He was a very influential Christian mover in the early 20th Century, and he gave credit to God and his practice of unceasing prayer. Both of these men KNEW that being with Jesus—following him as closely as possible—was the best of all possible lives. It wasn’t legalism; it was unceasing joy and hope. Both of them knew that prayer was more than just words. It was companionship and presence. 

Here is a link that tells about Frank Laubach and some of his journey into companionship with Christ.

https://renovare.org/articles/living-each-moment-with-a-sense-of-gods-presence-frank-laubach

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The Unqualified “Yes!”

Lord, do I give you an unqualified “yes” to everything you ask? I know I choose you daily. I intentionally look at you in your word, sit with you in prayer, and notice when I have bad attitudes or resentful thoughts. I repent when I am aware of sin, I rejoice over many daily gifts, and I think I am giving you myself everyday to use me as you will…but is it an unqualified “Yes!”?

When all grows dark, help me say, “Yes!”

Help me, Father, to long for your kingdom, your love and grace, your hope and truth so much that the only thing that will satisfy me is to your Spirit ruling over the hearts and minds of others and myself. I want to be a gentle warrior. Let my sword be the truth of your grace and love, as well as the unyielding truths that flow always from your holy presence. Let my shield of faith be the faith of Christ—not just faith in him. He trusted you completely; I long for the same. Keep my mind safe as I wrap it in thoughts of your salvation—free and full—everyday in everyway for the rest of my life. As I put on your righteousness—that breastplate that keeps my heart from the accusations of evil, help it to be real—not just imputed—a righteousness that is full of your love, grace, and truth. And when I put on those gospel shoes—remind me that your Kingdom and all those things you did and said when you arrived 2,000 years ago is the best of all possible worlds. All the grace you granted on the cross, and the supernatural ways of a Spirit-filled life led by your wisdom and your grace is the most beautiful way to live, because you are a good and beautiful God. And, you are king, whether we bow or not.

To say, “yes,” I must listen for your instructions.

I see where I waffle. And it is in minor things. Those are the little traps that are set for me. They aren’t usually evil—just less than glorious. But I look at my little frail self, and I wonder if I can stand in your intensity, your burning fire of love for the length of a full day? For the length of an hour? A minute? A breath? Am I so impacted by this world that your supernatural fire is simply more than I can bear?

As I pray for your kingdom to come and your will to be done, remind me that it is not so that I can be right, but so that your love and grace, your gentleness and kindness, your hope and your salvation will take over the heart of the world, beginning with your Church. 

Help me keep my eyes on you so that I will always and forever give you an unqualified, YES! 

 

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Fire in the Bones

When babies are baptized, they are often startled by the cool water and cry out. Much like us, we feel uncomfortable when God’s mercy falls in strange ways. On Pentecost the Spirit fell and all were stunned. When Christ promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to them, they could only speculate what that might look like. John the Baptist had warned them that he (John) baptized with water but that one would come (Jesus) who would baptize with fire. Fire! Fire in the bones, in the heart, in the soul. 

uniteboston.org

However, I doubt that many were expecting winds, literal tongues of fire on their heads, and foreign tongues to be part of the scenario. I’m fairly certain they were astonished—not that Christ fulfilled the promise but that it happened in that particular way. They knew it was happening—all the way to their bones aflame with reality. They felt it. Spirit roared through them, empowering, enabling, and granting new courage. Any cowardice Peter might have showed when he denied Christ was GONE, burned up in the furnace of God’s grace, power, and love! 

So, there it was—new power to walk fearlessly obedient to God. This was no ordinary, limp, or legalistic faith anymore; it was a surge of holy glory, and these disciples—all 120 of them—were empowered for their new walk of life and love in Christ.  I often forget this as I try to live a supernatural life naturally. Jesus would say, “Please stop it. It is impossible to be like me apart from ME!”

So, walking with Christ is filled with surprises from birth to immortality. 

Water baptism surprises little ones. Walking aware of God’s Spirit in us, and that we are in Christ and children of God is astonishing–surprising, if you will. All of God’s grace is amazement—all the way to life everlasting. It is fire in our bones. 

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Invitations

Less than a month ago I was focused on finishing school. One of our assignments was to think about the future and how we will implement our spiritual direction plans. I did that, but I also felt an urge to work on beautifying my garden and straightening the chaos in my closets—things that have not been tended since the fall of 2019 when I began school. 

Flowers in Banff, Canada

I especially want to work on landscaping, but in the South that’s a job for early morning. Early morning conflicts with the patterns I’ve developed—rising, grabbing coffee, and going to my quiet space to spend time with God and to write. I am afraid to drop my habit or change daily patterns. I’m afraid I’ll fall off the edge into “project absorption.” Still, the garden is drawing me, but I am resisting the change. As I processed this inner conflict with my spiritual director, I began to see some things. 

First, the garden feels like an invitation from God. Any invitation from God is filled with promise—it’s like a father who comes in and says, put on some comfortable clothes, I’m going to take you someplace special, and it’s a surprise. God loves me too much to let me create distance between us. If anything, he is drawing me to himself. I’ve learned to discern the movements of my heart well enough to know when I’m missing significant connection with God; the Holy Spirit will help me. 

Second, as I shared, I imagined two strong arms opened, shoulder-length apart, keeping me in the middle of that loose embrace. His rod and staff, they comfort me. There is safety with God and his invitations. I don’t need to be fearful, but I can be wary of my own sin. I realize how legalistic I can become with my practices, and he is inviting me to just be with him—in my garden, as I clean my closets, as I play with grandchildren or go on a date with my husband. That is Christian liberty.

The third thing I saw was that the narrow way is often too narrow and of my doing. I have created how-tos, oughts and shoulds that bind me. To be sure, on the outside, before you’ve entered into a walk with Christ, the entrance is narrower than the broad super highway of the world’s ideas and systems, and inside, there are always measured choices that are different from the world, the flesh, and Evil. But, when you are on the inside of the “narrow way,” experiencing companionship with God, learning from him with joy, and becoming aware of your impossible position as a child of God, the Way becomes wide. It’s filled with flower-strewn rolling hills, mountains, shimmering lakes and curving rivers. On the inside there is beauty, even when Providence doesn’t seem to befriend you. You are always being led, held, and enclosed by a good and beautiful God. And within that way, God is constantly inviting us up and into deeper and wider knowledge and joy. The narrow way isn’t narrow at all. 

My director said something that is 100% true of me as well, “Because of what I have experienced and learned, I will never go back to what I knew before.” Yes! Yes, and yes! I want no other way but him and to experience him in my everyday life. And he has put that grace in me, and will keep me, and he will not let me get lost—wherever I may be.

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Burning Bushes

So Moses said, “I must turn aside and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burning 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…” and God also said, “remove your shoes for the place you stand is on holy ground.” Exodus 3:3-4,5

If Moses had not stopped to look, and stayed to listen, and then obeyed, what would he have missed? What difference did his turning aside make to the world? To history?

He would have missed the privilege of emancipating Israel, the release of God’s people through miracles, the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of Pharaoh’s armies, the presence of God on the mountain when he gave the Ten Commandments, numerous military victories, and the daily presence of God in the tent of meeting. Because he stopped, looked, listened AND ultimately (after some arguments) obeyed the voice of God, God took this failure of a man (murderer hiding on the backside of the desert) and led him on an unplanned adventure that impacted eternity for good. 

Most mornings I turn aside to watch the bush burn, to take off my shoes, to listen to God’s word for the day, and to let it mold me. I pause and still my heart so I can hear. I silence the multitude of voices that clamor to be recognized. He said. She said. They said. I come before infinite holiness because I’m invited there. I come as one betrothed and fully known, yet loved. I come to that place to receive gifts of grace to live the day fully in love with him and to be a conduit of his love for the world around me. I can’t maintain that vision of hope apart from him. I need him like deserts needs rain or a distant trip needs a map. 

His invitation is always open, but if I say yes to burning bushes, he takes me on a journey, and it is a dangerous one. He takes me out of captivity, but it is also out of the safety provided by the world and the pleasures of its leeks and garlic. It’s unknown territory full of enemies, BUT, there will be daily manna, a cloud by day and a fire by night, and water from a rock that follows me. There will be fire and love and beauty, glory and wonder, excruciating love and deep mercy. 

When God invites us to turn aside to look at the bush, it’s an invitation to become who we are meant to be. He takes us from dryness and summons us to “wonder,” to take off our shoes in awe, to worship and pray in the presence of the Living God. 

It’s an invitation to be re-shaped into our intended glory—the image of God in Christ—and to participate in a much larger story where we are best friends of the Hero and traveling with him on an adventure together. 

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He Comes!

John declares during his ministry that, “One is coming after me the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” Jesus comes to him, and John has to baptize him. I can’t imagine the honor and humility involved in that action. What is God up to? Coming to people in that way? In such an approachable form?

The Angel Appearing to Zacharias by William Blake

Then, I go back 30 years to the year surrounding John’s and Jesus’s birth, and I am a witness to stranger things. Zacharias is asked to trust that Elizabeth is going to bear a child, and he will be the one who comes to the Jewish people in the spirit of Elijah to make strait the way of the Lord. Zacharias couldn’t muster up the faith at that moment, but by John’s birth, we can tell he has arrived as he prophesies. “For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high.” He comes to us. 

Then there are Elizabeth and Mary—the first two believers. 

The Meeting of Mary and Elizabeth Carl Heinrich Bloch

When Mary is told that she was the chosen vessel for the birth of Messiah, the angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” God comes to Mary.

When Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and she responds, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord would come to me?”

Would come to me.” Even before Jesus was born he was “coming” to people. First he comes to Mary who willingly, though without understanding, welcomed the holy seed and the word of the Lord through the angelic messenger. Then he comes to Elizabeth and Zacharias as an unborn child. Then Joseph receives the revelation as the Lord comes to him in the form of an angel in a dream. And by faith he receives. 

Oh! The privilege of being so honored! 

But what am I saying? He comes to us over and over again. He comes in the first light of dawn on a frost-covered morning, or in the wide expanse of starlit evening sky. He comes in the kindness of a friend—and their grief. He comes in the fingers of a baby, or a poem or song. He comes in his word and by his Spirit. He comes and he speaks his nearness because he wants us to know him so that we can walk in the light of his truth. He comes because he loves us and we need his wisdom and love, and then, we welcome his truth or doubt it. 

I’ve often had the audacity to think that I would respond like Mary or Elizabeth rather than Zacharias. But few of us respond so quickly to Jesus coming to us. “Can this be?“ we ask. “Is this really true?” we question. “Can one whose shoelaces I am not worthy to untie actually come to me?” 

Yes! He can! Yes! He does. 

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Defy the Darkness; Embrace the Light

I have a love/hate relationship with the holidays. I love the songs, the sights, the smells, and the gatherings of friends and family. All those things make it feel like—well—like Christmas. It’s somewhat addictive. However, I hate the self-imposed, perfectionist demands in my pursuit of the perfect Christmas. There is little room in this high decibel scene for Jesus—and that’s outrageous since there is Christ in Christmas.

But more importantly, how do I celebrate this year when everything is different? I’m used to the trappings. But trappings have changed. I decorated less inside because Christmas will be outside. We will cook and serve outside, have a bonfire, and make s’mores. We will play pickle ball instead of Catch Phrase. We will distance, no one wants to.

But I want more. The trappings are never really enough. I want more of Christ. More peace on earth goodwill toward men. 

If you’re waiting for an answer, I don’t have one—except to be still and think on Christ. 

Thinking on the impossibility of the miracle of incarnation always leaves me breathless, humble and joyful. When I see the incomprehensible God becoming more comprehensible by entering humanity through the womb of a virgin, I am moved to worship and love. Eternal Glory wrapped himself in skin and invaded our broken world so he could do glorious things on our behalf and through us, as we love the world as he did. He is the best and most glorious pursuit we could ever have. He outstrips ornaments, trappings, traditions, fancy meals and other pursuits by eternity’s mile. 

So, my $.02 worth of advice is, as much as is possible, spend time in silence with the Lord. Meditate on the mercy of grace found in Christ. Bend your knees and worship, just a little longer. Give thanks a tiny bit more. Rest. Laugh, as you are able. Rest. Defy the darkness with your joy, for the Light has come into the world! Shake your fist at anger, disease, despair, fear, contempt, or the idols of Christmas Past. And even though it doesn’t seem possible (in the midst of all the sorrow and strife) in the end, all will be well. 

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The Whole Earth Groans

One day during my time of meditation and prayer, I experienced God in a deeply joyful and excruciatingly sorrowful way. 

It began with a deep awareness of my union with God by faith in what God says in his word. This was joyful, playful, and exhilarating. Then, it was as if God invited me to peer over the edge of heaven to see the earth. In my mind and heart I saw scene after scene of pain and suffering. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes and an ache to my soul. 

Perhaps memorizing Romans 8 put this groaning into my heart. After this charged experience, I painted this. It is bad art, but deep heart. (See Rom. 8:20-23, 26.)

The Father and the Spirit hover with love over all that’s going on, while Jesus intercedes and holds the earth in his hand. I sit in Christ’s lap, lean against him, and look with sadness; my hands cover my eyes as I weep. It was for this Christ suffered and died. I suffer with him as I pray, longing for redemption. He waits for his Church to join with him in loving one another and the world. We begin by loving what’s at hand. Our church, our neighbor. Who is our neighbor—in Jesus’ parable it was the Samaritan. Who is our Samaritan? Usually, it’s the person who is different from us.  By this display of love for one another, the bleeding world, and the earth on which humanity lives, the world will know we are his disciples. 

To those who question the wisdom of unfettered love and humility, look at Christ.

Yes, there is sin and unbelief. But when has my heart ever changed by the judgment of another? Yes, there are power struggles on earth, but Jesus came as one humble and kind, with pity and mercy—eager to heal, with outstretched arms. He has not yet forced any knee to bow before him. We get to choose. ONE DAY, when we see him face-to-face, we will bow. He will not make us, but we will see and we will know, and we will bow.

All the darkness will NEVER put out the Light of the TRUE KINGDOM OF GOD. Shine. Shine. Shine. Love! Love! Love! Overcome the darkness, but not with evil, Christ says. This is my prayer. 

Scripture

: “the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now, and not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons…in the same way the Spirit helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words”  Romans 8:20-23; 26 NASB

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Clueless

Today my meditation was at the cross, Luke 23:34. “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Father, forgive them.
They don’t know what they do.

How many times have I done things, responded out of deep aches or wounds or operated from false paradigms and was clueless as to the impact my actions were having on others? And much of that impact was just earthly impact. The eternal consequence of choosing evil, siding with darkness, (even if I didn’t know it was evil) anchors me to something I don’t want to be anchored to,  and it influences unseen things.

I want to be held in place by Christ and give him all my allegiance. He keeps me moored in the storm and gives me truth that can hold me in place when things are confusing or frightening or simply annoying.

The weight of sin will drag me down into the depths of the darkness—even if I don’t know it is doing it. Daily I must choose to follow truth and live in obedience, as best I know it in his word and by his Spirit.  And that truth is WAY more than salvation—it’s a strong pulsing Spirit-life of love and hope where I choose to do things in Christ: love, kindness, forgiveness, hope, and even laughter (the right, delightful kind—not the mean-spirited mocking kind). If I am not following Christ, whom am I following?

More often than not, I am clueless about my junk. I often pray from Psalm 19:13,  “Keep back your servant from presumptuous sins and do not let them rule over me.”

Everyone justifies himself because everyone believes he’s right. If I’m not looking at Jesus with deep, unqualified humility, while seeking to imitate him and trusting in his power to transform my inner man: its longing and loathing, then I’ll never know for certain to whom I’m anchored. And even if I am seeking—my strong need to be right, may keep me from truth.

All true inner evaluation must begin with the idea that I might be wrong—that maybe over time and because of the flesh, and human and other spiritual influence, I might have built my paradigm on a wrong foundation and am operating from that. If I’m not willing to ask Christ, “What am I doing that I don’t know I am doing?” then I might continue to side with evil without even knowing it.

I’m trying to figure it all out, to learn to hear the voice of Christ in his word and his actions, but I’m certain (because of a history of changed opinions) that I’m doing and believing something wrong all the time.

Thankfully, Jesus has prayed that prayer, “Father forgive them. They have no idea what they are doing. They are clueless.”

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Hold You Me

When my son was little, he would come to me, hold up his tiny arms and say, “Hold you me.” Many things precipitated his appeal: longing for reassurance, wanting to feel a sense of safety or comfort, or simply desiring to be cuddled and enjoyed. Sometimes it was so he could peer into the pot I was stirring on the stove. He wanted something I could offer—myself. When I look back, I wish I had done more of that with all my children, for most of us need to be held by someone bigger than us. It assures us that we are safe.

As an adult, I am often smitten with a desire to be held by God—especially during difficulties. I hold up my arms and cry out in child-like faith, “Hold you me!” And while I’m being held, I look out and say, “Hold you him, and her, and them. Hold your forever family and teach us your loving ways, your forgiving heart, and your righteous paths. Hold you us, until we see what you see and feel what you feel, and walk in the divine love you offer to the world. Hold the world in its sorrows, “Hold you them,” we say, on behalf of the world.  

God has really big arms and a wide lap. He gives us the wonderful picture of fatherhood and children to impress upon us the truth of our condition. We are small; he is big. We are weak; he is strong. Jesus even says that unless we come to him like little children, we can’t enter the kingdom of God. Whoever, takes the lowly position of a child, he says, is the greatest in the kingdom. 

So, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, hold You me. 

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. Mat 18:1-5 NIV

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