In His Presence

In the beginning, Adam and Eve had no hindrance to being in the presence of the Lord.  After their disobedience, they entered a whole new perception.  They had gained self-awareness.  With self-awareness comes concern for self.  How do I look?  What are they thinking of me?  What should I do?  Concern for self hinders our ability to enter the presence of the Lord.

An internal battle commences each time I want to spend time with the Lord. There is always one more thing to do before I can start.  Everything I forgot to do somehow miraculously comes to mind.  (I should make a list.)  When I finally do get situated, my mind scatters to a thousand thoughts.  As I strive to get my mind settled, I realize I haven’t tuned my guitar in a while.  I like to start my time with the Lord singing a few songs of praise.  The guitar turns out to be in pretty good tune, but it’s always good to check.  Then it’s, what song to begin with, and what key is that in? 

Finally I begin to sing.  Boy, my voice is getting old.  That note used to be so clear.  Wow, this is a great worship song.  If I ever lead worship again, I’ll have to include this song.  Then I realize I’ve sung through the entire song without a conscious thought about who I’m singing to.  I cried out, “Help me Lord.”  I sang the song through a few more times trying to focus my mind.  Then the Lord spoke to me, “Write about this struggle.”

All along he knew what I was there for.  I wanted to hear from him about what to write this week.  In his humble way, he answered the question I didn’t ask.  A rush of gratefulness entered my heart.   My self-concern was put aside.  I then enter into his presence and worshipped.  God had made a way!

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A TRANSFORMED MIND

One of the difficulties followers of Jesus face in our current society is avoiding the consumer mentality.  “Let’s go shopping” is the call.  We get to buy things and spend money.  There is never an end to what we can buy, but unfortunately there is an end to the money we have to spend.  Running out of money is a definite downer.  We are then driven to figure out how we can get more money.  Living the consumer life never brings us satisfaction.

I have been reading through Matthew chapters 5-7, and as I read it occurred to me that Jesus is redirecting his disciples’ way of thinking.  Jesus taught his disciples to think differently.  He wanted them to put aside self-concerns and focus on the Kingdom of God.  Paul restates Jesus’ teaching in Romans 12:1-2,

            So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life – and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.  Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.  Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you (The Message).

If we allow him, Jesus will change our way of thinking.  He will transform our minds.  Let me recap what Paul is saying.  We should take everything about our lives and place it before God as an offering.  Then we should humbly accept what he has done for us.   Our way of thinking is not about what we can do for him, but what he has done for us.  So with a heart of gratitude, we fix our attention on him, and receive the new way of thinking that he works into us.  This allows us to do what he sets before us without distraction.  The result, “God brings the best out of us, develops well-formed maturity in us.”

DO NOT WORRY

In the Bible the word “worry” is always preceded by “do not” or “why do you”.  Jesus doesn’t want us to worry because it hinders our ability to live in the peace and freedom that He purchased for us.  He wants us to trust Him and not worry.  He speaks to this topic in Mathew 6:25-34.  Jesus explains that our focus should not be on what we will have to eat or what clothes we will wear but on the Father’s kingdom and His righteousness.  God is going to walk us through the problems of today, and He has already worked out what’s going to happen tomorrow.  Yes, there are difficulties and trials for today, but don’t miss the blessings of today by worrying about what might happen tomorrow.  As the word says, “… For tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough troubles of its own (Matthew 6:34).”

It is very difficult to give up worrying.  Worrying is a human coping mechanism.  Somehow by working things over and over in our minds, we feel like we have some control.  Yet as we work the process of worrying, we pay the high price of anxiety.  Anxiety does all kinds of damage to our physical and emotional well-being.  Jesus knows this.

How do we get beyond worry?  The Apostle Paul gives us solid directions.  In Philippians 4:4-7 (The Message) he writes:

Celebrate God all day, every day.  I mean revel in Him!  Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.  Help them see that the Master is about to arrive.  He could show up any minute!  Don’t fret or worry.  Instead of worrying, pray.  Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.  It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

PRECIOUS LIFE

I have often made statements like, “I’m ready to go as soon as God calls me home,” or “I wish I could go to heaven right now.”  However, the result of a recent doctor visit brought home the reality that life as I know it could end.  The vague idea that life will end came crashing down on the certainty that life will end.  I saw the above statements as flippant and poorly thought out utterances. A new perspective has inundated my soul.  This life is precious and should be cherished.

God gave me life, and I have experienced the delights of his natural world.  Yes, there is both good and evil here, but I have never failed to explore and enjoy this world’s beauty.  My wife, children, extended family, and friends have afforded me a life full of joy and love.  Tragedies and losses have come my way, but they serve to round out the experience.  This world is all I know.  Everything that defines life to me has happened here in this temporal existence.

When I die, I will leave all of this and go to a new place that is beyond my experience. Someday, I will leave here to go to a new place – I can only imagine.  Life as I know it will be over.

Faith now comes to the foreground.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).  Even though I will be going to an unknown place, I can trust God with the unknown.

So I will not take this life for granted, or belie its importance, but I will cherish it as a precious gift from God himself.

UNDENIABLE LOVE

Last week I worked full days and had church and family activities that occupied my time. I had a very busy week.  However, through the activities of the week I was awakened to Jesus’ undeniable love.

Maundy Thursday our church family got together to share dinner and communion.  Jesus ate his last supper meal with the disciples, and then he initiated the symbolic practice of communion.  We wanted to share in that remembrance in a meaningful way.  We sat down together and participated in what Jesus did those many years ago.

Good Friday my wife and I went to a local church that provides the Stations of the Cross.  If you’re not familiar with this presentation, it is a walk through the various experiences of Jesus’ day of crucifixion.  At each station, you read the scriptures that pertain, and take time to pray and meditate.  We’ve done this for several years, and each time is different.  The Holy Spirit always leads us into another perspective of what Jesus went through on that day.

The effect of last week’s undertakings left me overwhelmed.  As I walked through the gruesome abuses that Jesus endured, I encountered undeniable love.  What led Jesus to the cross and what kept him there was simply love.  I cannot say anything more definitive. I can only say I have now felt his love more deeply and personally than ever before.  He loved us, and he died for us.

I close with this exclamation: I praise you and thank you Jesus for your love expressed so undeniably!   

THE END OF LIFE

I like to read in Ecclesiastes.  Perhaps it’s because this book seems to entreat the reality of daily life, or maybe it’s just my melancholy personality.  I recently read this passage in chapter 12 verses 3-7 from The Message:

In old age your body no longer serves you well.  Muscles slacken, grip weakens, joints stiffen.  The shades are pulled down on the world.  You can’t come and go at will.  Things grind to a halt.  The hum of the household fades away.  You are wakened now by bird-song.  Hikes to the mountains are a thing of the past.  Even a stroll down the road has its terrors.  Your hair turns apple-blossom white, adorning a fragile and impotent matchstick body.  Yes, you’re well on your way to eternal rest, while your friends make plans for your funeral.  Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over.  Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends.  The body is put back in the same ground it came from.  The spirit returns to God, who first breathed it.

I’d love to sit beside you as you read this, see your expressions, and hear your thoughts.  But, since we are not together, I’ll share some of my thoughts.  By all means, freely share your thoughts through the comments place below.

At first, I thought that this passage describes what is common to all of us who make it to old age.  There is a certain comradery in the shared experience.  Then I found almost sweetness to this delineation of the signs of old age.  The pressures and tensions of youth are gone.  I realize that my world will become smaller, as the concerns of the world at large become beyond me.

Rest will not be an option.  Pushing through won’t be possible.  Maybe in this limited state, I’ll simply sit back and appreciate God’s creation and visit with him undistracted by the urgent.

My conclusion is that old age is a part of life. To embrace it is wisdom.  There is no need to fight against the inevitable.  I like to think of old age as part of the transition into eternal life.  The pain and discomforts of my body are temporary.  I want to enjoy what I can of this life while I still have breath and be content that the future is beyond my greatest expectations.

GRATITUDE

During this time of giving and receiving gifts, we should remember the importance of gratitude.  Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation.  “I feel gratitude in my heart”.  It is a learned way of handling what we receive.  We teach our little ones to say thank you, but gratitude is not our natural bent.  We have to develop and exercise gratitude.

Being grateful is very important.  We read in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Giving thanks is a part of God’s will for us.  Recent studies by psychologists can tell you why this is God’s will.  Here are some of the results they’ve found:

It helps build relationships

Improves physical health

Improves mental health

Enhances empathy and reduces aggression

Improves sleep

Improves self-esteem

Increases mental strength

(Consult the below reference for more details.)

7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round,  http://www.Forbes.com, Amy Morin, 11-23-2014

Living our lives as people of gratitude not only fulfills God’s will for us, but as he intended, it affords us a happier, healthier way of living.  So let us be encouraged.  Develop and exercise this all important trait.

Merry Christmas!