TRANSCENDENCE AND PRESENCE
Two words that are helpful in describing the nature of God's existence are transcendence and presence. The transcendence of God refers to that aspect of His being which is beyond us. It is the mystery and majesty of His being. The transcendence of God calls forth our worship and our praise. It causes us to stand in awe and reverent appreciation of all God is and has done. The transcendence of God gives meaning to the Lord's day, the Lord's house, the Lord's work, and the Lord's will. It is that which causes us to search for the deeper meaning of our own existence and relate to God as we would to no other person. The transcendence of God reminds us that there is no other like Him. He is holy other.
The presence of God, on the other hand, refers to His nearness. He who is great and distant and magnificent is also here and now. The special revelation of God in Jesus Christ helps us see the availability of God. If God can come to earth and dwell among us then He is not too far away to be concerned with our daily issues. God does not wish to be a distant deity unrelated to human affairs. His love brings Him into a personal relationship with anyone whose faith will allow it. The Holy Spirit is a constant, personal reminder that the God of the past and the future is also Lord of the present. He is beyond us, yet He is with us. He is creator, yet He is Savior. He is demanding, yet He is forgiving. He is God and we love Him.
How then do we grasp God's transcendence and presence? Perhaps we never fully comprehend it. We can celebrate, however, His depth and dignity in the way we worship. We can honor His presence through the practice of prayer. We can trust Him through humble obedience.
THE GOD OF OUR IMAGINATION
Do we sometimes worship a god who is the figment of our imagination? Do we create a god in our image rather than conform to the image of God created within us? Do we set our own agenda or do we seriously search for the will of God? False gods do not have to be made out of gold or silver. They can be the products of our speculation. Idols are formed in our minds long before they are created by our hands. Our most common human heresy is to make up our own set of rules. We pray to a god who permits. We serve a god who satisfies our carnal desires. Our religion is egocentric rather than theocentric. We invent ways to satisfy our thirst for heaven which fall short of heaven's expectations. We are never at peace with God because the gods we create instigate chaos.
Sooner or later our house of religious cards will tumble. The bubble of synthetic spirituality will burst. The charade of pretentious Christianity will end. We cannot go on serving a god who does not exist. There comes a time when the issues of life demand a quality commitment to reality. Whenever sickness and death sting us with the tentacles of despair, we need an eternal hope. Whenever temptation lurks at the door and sin creates an uneasy conscience, we need more than a silly system of self-approval. Whenever friends turn against us and we feel alone, we need the deeper friendship of divine devotion. Whenever crises come, as surely they will, we need more than human resources. Simply stated, there comes a time when we cannot make it with a faith based only on convenience.
What, then, shall we do to cultivate an authentic attachment to our Lord and all that adds substance to the living of our days? We need to take God at His word and follow His guidelines for godly living. We must evaluate our tendencies to be less than honest with ourselves about God. We cannot serve a god who exists only in our imaginations. The altar of our own ego is a poor place to find the peace that passes all understanding. We need to confront our risen Savior and in the fellowship of His suffering find meaning in whatever penalties and blessings life presents us. We are never nearer to God than when we denounce our idols and make Him the primary focus of our lives.
One of the exciting things about the Christian faith is that it challenges the best that is within us. It will never let us be satisfied with inferior living. It reaches into the depths of our inner being with disturbing implications. There is no way we can look into the face of Jesus and be content with halfhearted devotion. He calls us away from everything that would make us less than what we can be. He nudges us towards everything that focuses on our spiritual potential. He inspires us to consider the high road of what is best for us rather than the low road of what is easiest for us. Like an Olympic athlete training for perfection, our Lord equips us to dream His kind of dreams. No one expects as much from us and yet comforts us when we miss the mark.
The tremendous challenge of being a Christian gives life its greatest sense of purpose. Without this struggle toward some degree of excellence we would lose ourselves in the monotony of mediocrity. There is more to us than what we normally accept. We frequently underestimate our capacity for godliness. We fail to stretch our humanity because our expectations are too low. We are created to move onward and upward. To sense some progress on the journey is a great source of fulfillment. We have no better gauge of how we are doing than the gospel of our Lord Jesus. It tells us that "nobody" can be somebody and that anybody can belong to everybody in Christ Jesus. The process toward achievement keeps us believing there is a place for us in God's scheme of things.
Let us, therefore, never minimize the demands of Christianity. It is harder than any other lifestyle because it brings out the best within us. If we sentimentalize our faith and turn discipleship into a syrupy ceremony we miss the meaning of commitment and sacrifice. We must never try to camouflage the cross lest we lose the strength of its dying love. God gave His best to show us what is best for us. Indeed His greatest challenge to us is to be baptized with His baptism and to drink from His cup of pain. In the difficulty of our task we will find His glory as we faithfully pursue His dream for us.
It is a wonderful thing to be alive, to be able to breathe, to see, to smell, and to touch. These thing which we take for granted are vital to our health and well-being. God in His creative grace has chosen to share a bit of His existence with us and we call it life. He has given the energy of existence to all living things and we are blessed by it. The sights and sounds of life explode before us and we are often unaware of their presence. The laughter of children, the buzz of bees, chirping birds, trees, flowers, friendship and worship are just some of the things that give us a sense of awe and celebration to being alive. Sometimes the crises of life pungently bring to our attention those simple aspects of our daily routine which have a marvelous capacity for our nurture.
Often in our search for the profound we miss the profundity of the simple. In our haste to show up at the important events of life we miss a thousand opportunities to allow little things to prepare us for big things. In our search for the significant we miss some of life's most pertinent pictures. Life has its own candid camera as well as its serious productions. It is a video victory when we have eyes to see and can really see. It is an audio miracle to have ears to hear and really hear.
Being alive is an event worth celebrating. The more we call attention to our aliveness the more grateful we are for being a part of God's existence. Every day we receive multiple blessings for being alive. Let us count them.
WALKING WITH GOD
Walking with God is a beautiful way of describing our Christian pilgrimage. "A closer walk with God" is the essence of our daily journey with Him. Even though we struggle to make this a goal of our lives, we often fail to be where God desires. We find ourselves in the awkward position of walking more by ourselves than walking with God.
There are times in our walk with the Lord that we tend to walk ahead of Him. We become impatient with His slower pace and move on with what we assume is a better gait toward our goal. It is more like a race with God than a walk. We rush to conclusions. We hurry up our prayers. Rather than wait for clearer signals we compose our own agenda for the living of our days. In our haste to get where we are going we want God to quickly bless our plans. Walking ahead of God we tend to get exhausted. Because we do not wait upon the Lord we do not "mount up on wings as eagles." We do not run without getting weary and we grow faint in our walk. Like children who refuse to hold their parent's hand at a busy intersection we expose ourselves to much danger when we get ahead of God.
There are also times in our walk with God that we walk behind Him. We drag our feet. We lose interest in the things of God. Our affection becomes focused on things of the world. The church and our Christian witness become a burden rather than a lift. We take out our disappointment with people on God. When He does not fix every problem to our liking we withdraw. We do a little spiritual pouting. Even though we straggle far behind we want to keep Him in sight. We hear Him calling us onward and upward, but somehow the demands of a closer walk are too much. We give passive respect rather than passionate devotion in our walk with God.
Furthermore, there are times when in our walk with the Lord we walk all over Him. We trample His grace. We take advantage of His goodness. We expect Him to be merciful yet we are cruel. We expect Him to forgive our sins, but we refuse to forgive those who sin against us. We want the benefits of His blessings and His church without making a serious commitment to either. We want God, but we want Him on our own terms. We stomp around Calvary and wonder why He does not come down from the cross and save us from the discomfort of having to identify with His death. Perhaps we want what God offers more than we want God.
Let us, therefore, not walk ahead of God. Let us not walk behind God. Neither let us walk all over God. Let us walk with God at the pace He chooses.
A miracle is not a miracle until its source has been recognized and celebrated. A beautiful sunset loses much of its splendor without a grasp of who causes it to happen. The dawning of a new day is a spectacular event for all who see the divine paintbrush at work. Life is dull and routine if there is no awareness of God's intervention in its particulars. Every day is full of mystery and meaning. The miraculous is as common as what can be explained. The journey of life is one of faith. It requires us to see beyond the natural to the supernatural. Most of life is lived in the context of that which we do not fully understand. We simply trust the process, observing much of which we consider is miraculous.
What then is a miracle? A miracle is any aspect of life that has God written all over it. It is not only that which is humanly unexplainable. It is that which has redemptive consequences for us. It is outside our ability to achieve. It is grace in motion as God's power to perform is recognized. A miracle is capable of many interpretations. All of us do not see the same miracles. They are individualized to minister to our unique circumstances. We must not minimize each other's miracles simply because we have a different interpretation to some event. Surely it would be a form of blasphemy to ridicule that which another person feels is God's involvement in his or her life.
We are blessed indeed when we can behold the hand of God at work in His world. When the miracles of life leap out at us in unexpected moments, we can surely praise God for His unmistakable presence. A miracle is not a miracle for us until we have some significant way to celebrate its occurrence. We do not announce every miracle as though we have a more favored position with God. A powerful personal miracle is a humbling experience and we savor the event only for God's glory. Sometimes it is a moment of grace for private interpretation only. Then again it may be an occasion for others to join the celebration. Let us be mindful of life's miracles and find ways to share God's power for God's glory.
A preschooler had just finished her first week ever of Vacation Bible School. Apparently it had been a good experience. When asked she told her mother "Vacation Bible School was amazable." Now, adults may smile at the use of such a word, but to a child caught up in the excitement of learning about God it was a beautiful way to express it. She probably said more than she understood. Nonetheless, she found a way to describe a profound happening in her young life. How long has it been since you had an "amazable" event in your life? How long has it been since you needed to invent a word to describe something that ordinary words do not cover?
From time to time it is good to have an "amazable" experience. It is imperative that we have some blessed events come our way lest we become morbidly pessimistic. Life is filled with too many complicated issues. There is often mystery without meaning, problems without solutions, and heartache without comfort. Tragedy, sorrow, and death can take their toll upon us. As we move closer and closer to our final destiny we need some "amazable" things to cheer us on our way. It is not easy being human. Without some unexplainable joy overtaking us on the journey we could easily give up in hopeless despair.
Sometimes we may miss that which is "amazable." We turn a corner and there is God as big as life. If we fail to celebrate and share such an encounter it may have little or no effect upon us. The small light that shines into the darkness of our despair is better than no light at all. The more we focus upon it the brighter it glows to dispel the black that may surround us.
Friends who come our way in times of need may not overwhelm us, yet they are "amazable" in the way they can help heal our hurts. Sin may overtake us and guilt may unmercifully whip us, but grace is God's "amazable" reaction. He forgives the repentant and encourages the wayward to sin no more.
Love is an "Amazable" ingredient of life. The capacity to care and to be cared for are often unexplainable, undeserved, and "amazable." Being alive is "amazable" when we consider the fragile nature of our existence. Let us, therefore, never get too old to look through childish eyes and discover that which is "amazable.”
POLARITIES AND PROBLEMS
Life is filled with many complicated issues. Chaos abounds. Trouble is everywhere. Evil has a way of creeping into any system we may have thought was immune to its tragic power. We cannot escape the perplexities of our times. For the most part we are locked into whatever circumstances surround us. Even church, which offers the saving grace of Jesus, is not free from the turmoil of confusion. We are in a world obsessed with selfishness, hopelessness and godliness. Despair is written on our faces. We are challenged to do the best we can with what we have as we find responsible ways to cope with life's agenda.
As we face the complicated issues of life we do well to distinguish between that which is a polarity and that which is a problem. Polarities are situations which have no clearly defined solution. They represent un-resolvable difference of opinions on each end of the mental spectrum. Issues which are clearly non-negotiable are polarities. People with extreme opinions tend to polarize themselves from the mainstream of human thought. It is well to understand that we only manage polarities. We do not solve them.
One of the ways we manage polarities is to look at the pluses and the minuses of each conflicting view. Here we need some consensus without compromise. We learn to disagree without becoming disagreeable. We coexist in the midst of our differences. On such issues our most helpful conclusion may be an admission that we have un-resolvable polarities.
Problems, on the other hand, are situations which are solvable with a reasonable amount of effort. We may not know the solution, yet we know the issues have reconciling possibilities. We delve into the dynamics of certain problems with the assurance something can be worked out. We apply the skills of diplomacy and pray for Godly wisdom. As God's spirit is allowed to work in our minds, stubbornness gives way to submission and darkness gives way to light. Forgiveness and grace rule over the problem until its solution is achieved. Of course a problem can become a polarity if we choose to exaggerate a certain opinion.
Let us, therefore, grow through the management of our polarities. We maintain our convictions, yet accept the reality of other opinions. We likewise pursue our problems with their solution as our goal. We invite God to make us"wise as serpents and harmless as doves." To understand this approach to life's complexities can be redemptive.
VIRTUES THAT PROTECT
Have you ever considered the virtues of the Christian life as an antidote to every evil that seeks to possess us? The protective power of goodness is a strong motivation for pursuing the Godly life. Every detail of life's temptations is covered by the extraordinary influences of the righteous life.
For example, in the presence of hate there is love to sooth and heal our heated hostilities. As we struggle with doubt, there is the fact of faith to conquer our instability. In the face of fear we are confronted with courage that eliminates danger as a deterrent to the Godly life. Every ugly thought falters in its ambition to muddy our minds in the context of sober thinking. Despair is limited when hope is our daily companion. Lust is lost in the satisfying atmosphere of prayer. Pride is overcome by the humbling experiences that produce a gentle spirit.
Everywhere there is an evil, there is a virtue to combat it. The exciting fact in this regard is God has not left us at the mercy of the devil. We have access to divine resources in our battle with sin. We do not have to succumb to the powers and principalities of this world. There is more to us than our evil inclinations. We are created sufficiently in the image of God to make healthy choices. "The devil made me do it" is no longer an alibi for misbehavior.
Even when evil overwhelms us and we sin, through confession and repentance we have the force of forgiveness to sustain us. As forgiven sinners we move through every evil situation by the virtues of God's grace. "Blessed are those who persevere under trial for they shall receive the crown of life." The resources available to us in a Godly life are indeed virtues that enable us to overcome personal evil. Amen
The poet made a healthy observation when he wrote, "Let me grow lovely growing old." He understood that life can become either bitter or better as our years advance. We are created with a capacity to adjust to whatever circumstances life imposes upon us. If we develop a positive disposition toward negative situations we can find the poet's beauty in growing old. On the other hand, if we allow negativity to dominate we will develop a sour disposition. The years will take a terrible toll if we allow circumstances to defeat us. The poet implies that it is possible to have an aging attractiveness. We can turn the scars of life into beauty marks. Our wrinkles can produce smiles instead of frowns. Our experiences can be used as a tender tool to encourage the next generation. As the years transpire, we can develop the gift of growing lovely as we age.
It is important that we monitor the aging process in our lives to see how we are responding. Sometimes it is helpful to make a comparative study of those who precede us. Some folk remain vivacious and kind to the end of their days. Others become disgruntled and hateful in their twilight years. They develop frowns on their faces. They appear angry and sad. We do well to work on our faces, not so much with cosmetics, but with some smiles and laughter that let our inner beauty show. Expressions on our faces reveal a lot about us. It might surprise us to know what others think about our countenance. Does our appearance reflect the joy of life or the sadness of growing old?
The kind of person we are has a way of emerging to the surface. Character cannot be camouflaged indefinitely. Our true person comes to the surface by how we look, what we say, and how we say it. The attention we give to our soul's development adds more to our beauty than any kind of face-lift we could receive. If we want our cosmetics to really work, then we add some love, joy, peace, and hope to our outward appearance. Personal radiance is the product of good grooming and personal hygiene from the inside out.
How well do you smile? Do you reflect God's love or the devil's disposition? Is your attitude one of complaint or encouragement? Charisma, charm, and grace belong to the same word family. Remember we can grow lovely as we grow older. It is a matter of make-up within and without.
CONVICTION WITH COURTESY
Why is it that some folk in their attempt to defend what they consider to be a Godly view of something, act so ungodly in their support of it? Why do they choose to be discourteous and crude in the affirmation of their convictions? To hear some church folk talk it sounds like they would half kill anyone who disagreed with their views. What has happened to the spirit of Jesus who taught us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves and who would not permit Simon to fight for Him?
Personal views are weak, no matter how correct they are, when they have to be defended by ugliness and a spirit of contention. Such harsh argumentation reveals not so much an interest in God's view but in promoting the pride of one's own thought. A sinful ego cannot face another point of view without a fight. Insecurity of thought will always create an argumentative attitude. Someone who is comfortable in his or her own theological skin will be courteous in the presentation of his or her convictions. There will be kindness in disagreement.
The truth of the matter is when one has a Godly viewpoint he or she will also have a Godly attitude. When one is thoroughly immersed in the truth of God he or she has nothing to prove only something to share. A Christian witness is one whose disposition verifies the accuracy of stated convictions. It will always be open, however, to other revelations as the Holy Spirit leads. Our earnest prayer, therefore, is for meekness even as He gives us courage.
WHAT WE HAVE AND WHO WE ARE
Some people come into the world with a tremendous financial advantage. Their forebears have provided them with substantial resources. Some folk make the most of it and live productive lives. Others squander their inheritance by reckless mismanagement. It is no crime to enter into life with a prosperous endowment. There is nothing wrong with having one's life fully funded. It is a sin, however, to abuse one's advantage. To whom much has been given much is required. There is a stewardship of life which expects us to do the best we can with what we have. There is such a thing as responsible abundance. Affluent folk are uniquely blessed with many avenues of special service to humankind. No matter what our status at birth we have a lifetime to establish our worth.
We sometimes refer to people entering life with an abundance of material resources as having been born "with silver spoons in their mouths." Perhaps most of us feel as if we were born with "rusty spoons" in our mouths. We certainly brought nothing into the world. We had little offered us on arrival and we are leaving very little behind in terms of material wealth. Nonetheless, we are trying to do the best we can with what we have. Whatever good, whatever bad, whatever rich, whatever poor, whatever great, and whatever small there is about us, we are primarily responsible.
The kind of spoon with which we were born need not determine the quality of our contribution. Just as it is no crime to be rich, it is no crime to be poor unless our poverty is a poverty of soul. God has created us with the freedom to be the best we can be with the set of circumstances life has imposed upon us. He does not require us to build a financial fortune. He expects us to be fruitful and multiply. He wants the spot we inhabit on planet earth to be productive.
God desires that we use our creative energies in positive ways. Whether we come into the world with a "silver spoon" or a "rusty spoon" we still have a purpose. We start from where we are and move to where we can be by the grace of God. Neither riches nor poverty is an excuse for lazy living. Yet, it is not ours to harshly judge the poor or the rich without knowing the circumstances. We take hold of that bit of life we have been given and pursue the richness of God's possibilities for us. Our investment is called "commitment." His return is called "contentment." No matter what kind of spoon from which we eat, we are either nourished or impoverished by what we digest.
MARTHA AND MARY
The dishes were rattling noisily in the kitchen. Martha was getting frustrated. At first she only talked to herself. It was a joy to cook for Jesus. He was complimentary of her meals. Although He did not say much His frequent visits indicated something was to His liking. Maybe she was a little too sensitive in thinking Mary was not doing her part of the work. "She will surely come to the kitchen shortly to do her usual chores," Martha thought. But she did not come. More mealtime preparation noise did not seem to produce the desired effects. Finally, Martha blurted out, "Lord do you not care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Please tell her to help me."
The Lord fixed His eyes on Martha. He studied her mood to determine the depth of her anger. He looked at Mary, who seemed a bit embarrassed by Martha's outburst. He did not want to sound unappreciative, but the situation was obviously a teaching opportunity. He wanted to calm her frustration by giving her a lesson on priorities.
There must have been a bit of pain in His voice as He said, "Martha, Martha, you are worried about many things. Your kitchen duties have possessed you. Your meal is more important to you than my fellowship. You have chosen to feed me. Mary has chosen to let me feed her. She has made the better choice because physical food is for the moment while spiritual food is forever."
Like Martha, we sometimes get preoccupied with important things, but in the process neglect the most important thing. There is nothing more essential to our earthly existence than a healthy hunger for God. To crave conversation with the Master is the key to unlock our spiritual personality. Unless we have fellowship with Him we may never survive the busyness of life. The Christian life is a matter of priorities. The "less than best" is always sacrificed for the best. Somewhere along life's journey we want to hear Him say that we have chosen the good thing that cannot be taken away from us. It is a matter of living close enough to Him to say, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."
The scars of the past reveal two things about us. For one thing, they remind us we have been injured. Secondly, they indicate healing has happened. The important thing to note here is that we are free to focus our attention on either of these two facts. If we choose, we can allow our scars to keep our injuries ever before us. We can permit them to nag us with repeated anxiety. We can rapidly recall all those folk who have caused us pain. We can continually curse the circumstances that have hurt us. If we get angry enough, we can even shake our fist at God for allowing us to have troubled times.
Bathing ourselves in self-pity, we may find a few people who will join us in our tub of tears. Some, whose scars are fresh and wounds open, may find our whining attractive and surround us with an insidious pity party. Yes, scars can be a terrible reminder of the bad things which have happened to us. Yet, if we surround ourselves with folk who keep us focused on the hurt, we will never learn the lesson of our scars.
On the other hand, however, our scars can help us focus on healing rather than hurt. If we choose, we may gratefully remember the processes of healing as our wounds were repaired. From physical injury to spiritual pain we saw forgiveness and grace at work. The scars of both instill memories of hope as we trust God's healing power.
We may finger lovingly the pages of scripture that brought health to our souls. In love, we may rejoice over the growth that came through our painful chastisements. In faith, we may place the scars of our past into the nail-scarred hands of Jesus, as we celebrate the future. Yes, scars are signs that healing has happened. How do you see your scars?
The Word of God
The word of God converges upon us in many ways to remind us of our creatureliness in relation to the Creator. At best we are limited in our understanding of who we are and how we fit into the scheme of things. We are not equipped to be God, but we are equipped to know the mind of God.
Although there is mystery surrounding the Divine presence, He does not wish to remain a hidden. We are invited to grasp as much of God as we are willing to seek. We are not left without resources in our search for ultimate reality.
We do not have to concoct fictitious characters and suspicious myths about the past. We do not have to worship the bizarre in the present, nor do we have to be a fatalist about the future. We have the Bible as the written word which bears witness to Christ the Living Word.
We have the Holy Spirit who enhances our appreciation of both. Whatever lack of knowledge we have concerning the things of God, it is not because we lack the resources. One of those
resources is the Bible.
Too often it seems we substitute the possession of a Bible for a relationship with the Bible. The Bible is more than a book. It is a God-breathed revelation which requires a personal commitment to its contents. Reading the scriptures with the aid of the Holy Spirit puts us on a first-name basis with many Biblical friends. We see their interactions with God and we learn the lessons of their lives. We put ourselves in their places and soon it seems God is giving directions to our own lives.
The Bible can be more than a theological textbook used only as a vehicle for debate. It can be and it must be a devotional guide to God. Here is where we get acquainted with God and He has access to us. Here is where the Holy Spirit confronts us with our inconsistencies and empowers us for spiritual progress. Without this intimate encounter with inspired truth our relationship with God is limited.
Although there are many translations, paraphrases, and versions of the Bible, the word from God is clear and unmistakable. We cannot plead ignorance once we have been exposed to its treasures. To learn it is to love it. To live it is to lead a life of obedience and hope. How well the Psalmist spoke to us when he wrote, "Thy word have I hid in my heart that I may not sin against God."