I woke to a long day with no plans. A rare and precious gift. One I am very blessed to have in a world of activity and toil.

As I continue to focus my life on soaking in the presence of God I decided to simply let the flow of the day carry me where it would, which I assumed would be to my backyard with my Bible and laptop, my phone turned to silent so I can more easily ignore it. That seemed like a good plan for settling into a nice contemplative mood.

After my ritual morning coffee with Matt and Meredith I tried to sit longer and just enjoy the nothing-to-do-ness. After about 2 minutes I found myself stressing over not wanting to sit there. That seemed counterproductive, so I picked up some of the clutter around the house and tried to sit again. No dice.

By 8:30 I had donned by running shoes and headed out for an easy workout thinking maybe that would burn off some of the extra energy inhibiting my plans for soaking today. But at 10:30AM I have yet to make it to my backyard. Instead I am sitting on my front porch where I can enjoy neighbors walking by (or at least wave at the trash collectors as they pass). The only thing I’m contemplating is a trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond for some storage for my sweaters I replaced with summer-wear in my closet yesterday.

All of this reminded me of something I wrote 2 years ago. So, in recognition of the multiple ways I have learned for soaking in God’s presence, I present a portion of that post below. Meanwhile, I’m off to be among people!

 

I am not a mystic. I have no monkish leanings.

I am all for the silent, isolated, cloistered experiences that we all need at times in order to revel in the presence of God. What I am dissatisfied with is that, according to much of what I am reading, a monastic lifestyle is THE way to spiritual formation. I simply cannot imagine spending significant time cut off from the world around me as I try to forget everything but the existence of God.

I know, love, and respect a significant number of people who are more mystically gifted, so to speak. I admire their ability to sit in silence for a long time and simply be. Consequently, for a long time I thought the problem was me. I must be too socially focused and need to break myself of this. My desire for external stimulation in the learning process was a weakness I should overcome. And so on.

Certainly there are times when it is necessary for me to move towards God in ways not a part of my natural mode of relating to the world around me. But I am beginning to believe that maybe there is more than one path to the kind of closeness to God that I see contemplation bringing for many of my friends.So I lay myself open to God hoping He will show me how to revel more and more in Him without having to deny the way He created me to be.

 

I am an unabashed lover of the book of Hebrews. It’s not that I don’t love the rest of God’s word, but Hebrews speaks to my soul in a unique way. Hebrews tells the story of Jesus to Christ-followers who live in a world that would shun them for their faith in one who died on a cross.

Although there is some debate among scholars, it would seem the audience is primarily Jewish. The use of Israelite history and symbolism suggests that the readers were individuals who would understand Jewish history. These Jewish readers were among the thousands of Jews who believed Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Christ, they had waited for through generations. The Hebrews author’s exhortations to his readers to continue to follow Jesus no matter what suggests there were forces in their lives that were trying to pull them back to traditional Jewish worship under Mosaic Law.

Imagine with me for a moment the social milieu the Hebrews readers may have lived in. They likely lived their lives in a primarily Jewish community. Household and holiness codes formed the tapestry of their daily living. Their moms, dads, spouses, bosses, children, and friends were Jewish. Every part of their lives revolved around daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly ceremonial events as they lived out the worship of their communities.

To follow Christ in such a context meant to live counter to an entire culture. Many communities simply could not (or would not) support such counter-cultural living. Indeed, ancient philosophers have noted that to follow Christ meant to be cast out by the very people they loved the most. Not only were they outcasts, there are indications in the book that the readers faced persecution, or at least knew of significant instances of persecution of Christ followers.

All this for a savior whom the Hebrews readers had never seen. Jesus’ ministry on earth had ended decades before the writing of Hebrews and many of Christianity’s earliest leaders had already died or been imprisoned. Not only had these Christians never seen Jesus for themselves, it is possible some of them did not even know anyone who had.

So for the first time we have a Christian audience with no direct connection to the savior himself. What they do have are Jewish communities that would urge them to turn their backs on a man whom they had never seen and call them back to the ways of Jewish life and worship.

Enter the book of Hebrews. All the reasons Jesus is the perfection of the Law: perfect High Priest, bearer of the perfect covenant, better than angels and even Moses. All the reasons Christ is the next phase in God’s redemption of his creation. All the people whose lives from as far back as the first children of creation testify to the God who sent his son, Jesus, to bring salvation for those who wait for him. All in an effort to say to the Jewish Christians torn between two apparently different worlds to persevere in the salvation they found in Christ Jesus.

Enter me, today, living in a world hostile to Christianity. I have never seen Jesus with my own eyes. I do not have an ancestors I can trace who were there at the cross. I know only what God’s stories tell, the testimony of faithful witnesses in my life, and the experiences that reveal Christ to my heart, soul, and mind.

As I cruised CNN.com this morning for updates on world events, I came across the following statement left as a comment on one of the stories I read:

Atheism isn’t a religion, it is just the lack of one. It is simply asking people to behave in a sane manner. Psychology defines religious belief as a form of schizophrenia, because you live in a world in your head that is disconnected from physical reality.

While I wholeheartedly disagree with the above statement, it does reveal a truth in which Christians in the modern Western world dwell everyday. A culture hostile to those who follow Christ. A culture which proclaims that belief in a Creator points to a psychological profile that requires the creation of a god to whom the insane can anchor their insanity.

I love the book of Hebrews because the social milieu in which the original readers lived mirrors my own in myriad ways. Hence, the message to “pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away,” resonates deeply in my soul. While the world insists I am merely insane, I return again to the written testimonies of the biblical authors. I heed the witness of those who lead and teach me. And I pay the most careful attention to ways in which God reveals himself daily.

And so the book of Hebrews speaks deeply into my soul.

Suffering. Gotta hate it. No one wants to go through it. No one wants to watch others do it. And certainly none of us wants to cause it.

But we do want to explain it, yet rarely do our attempts to understand or explain suffering assist those who actually are suffering.

Most of us can easily see the theological errors committed by those who would claim natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes are God’s wrathful punishment of sin. We can see why Job’s suffering was neither his fault nor God’s plan for making him a better person in the future. Sadly, though, our means of understanding and explaining suffering are often no better. They are only more subtle.

For the past couple of decades I have been deeply honored by individuals and families who have allowed me to enter the sacred space of their suffering. Indeed, many times I have been called to bring the love of God to bear in the most painful of situations. The death of a child, the death of a mother, the sins of a husband.

Inside the sacred space of suffering I have heard many lovingly whispered explanations for and answers to suffering.

  • You child is in a better place, you should be happy for that.
  • God is making you a better person with all of this.
  • God will punish [insert name of the errant spouse].
  • Things could always be worse.

On the surface there is truth in all of these statements; it is when we peer below the surface that we can see the difficulties in them. Yes, heaven is a better place. But the grief of a parent screams, “I want my daughter here now! This world is not a better place without her!” Indeed, God will make us better people as he redeems our suffering through our growth in him. Does that mean I must welcome suffering with open arms? Of course vengeance is the Lord’s, but for a man or woman who loves the betraying spouse that is little comfort.

Things could always be worse. But that does not ease the real suffering of the present (though it is quite effective at inducing guilt for the sufferer).

In the sacred space of suffering God calls me to bear witness to pain. To acknowledge the unfairness and injustice of suffering. To be a quiet whisper of his love in the midst of it all, reminding that he is present and loving and always will be. He calls me to walk through it with his children, not to understand it or explain it away.

Into the sacred space of suffering God calls us all to enter softly.

Several weeks ago I came across the idea of “Soaking” in the presence of the God. Soaking struck a chord with me. I’m not much of a sit still person. I don’t quiet and listen well. I’m a thinker, speaker, writer, dreamer…

But I get soaking. I understand the peace of a long soak in the hot tub. I love the feeling of soaking up the sun. Soaking in the presence of God speaks to my soul.

The Hebrews author tells us to rest in the kingdom we are receiving. John tells us to stand in the light of fellowship in Christ. We are called into the presence of the Almighty simply to be there…and to be there together as well as alone.

For the next few weeks I will focus on soaking in the presence of God, beginning with memorizing Psalm 134.

Behold, bless the LORD, all servants of the LORD,
Who serve by night in the house of the LORD!
Lift up your hands to the sanctuary
And bless the LORD.
May the LORD bless you from Zion,
He who made heaven and earth.

I invite you to join me as I take a good long soak in the presence of God. Feel free to share your reactions and/or ideas by posting comments.

About 8 years ago, on the 3rd Sunday my husband and I spent with a congregation that had invited him to come preach for them, we decided to attend the young professionals’ class and get to know some of the younger folk. That day the discussion centered around loving our neighbors. For 30 minutes or so the group spoke of the nature of love and who constitutes a neighbor.

As I looked around the room I noticed that most of the members were graduate students at the top-notch college in town. They were highly intelligent, optimistic, eager to impact their world, and, with one exception, all raised in Christian homes.

I couldn’t help but wonder what these kids were doing still talking about what love is. Hadn’t they learned that their whole lives? Wasn’t it time for them to delve deeper in their spiritual journeys. Two words came to mind over and over: So what? So what if we know who our neighbors are? So what if we can define God’s love? So what? So what does it mean for my life? So what am I supposed to do about it? So what should that look like?

And so I asked them. So what? After a moment of intrigued silence the conversation resumed.

Hoping to smooth over any feathers I may have ruffled, I went back for another visit to the class the next week. Upon entering, a bulletin was thrust into my hand and a finger eagerly pointed at the announcements for their class. I looked around at the expectant faces in the room wondering was going on. When I read the text at which the finger pointed I understood:  They had retitled their class So What?

The class spent the rest of that quarter and the next asking So What? about all they had learned about and from God over the course of their lives thus far.

May we all be as challenged by the question So What?

My little friend is here today. She comes to play with me once or twice a week and goes by “B” when she’s here. 18 months going on 15 she has perfected the art of endearing the universe to her little ways.

Recently, B adopted Patches, the sweet, innocent teddy bear cast off but not discarded by my 11 year-old son. She bathes Patches, rocks him, kisses him, smiles down upon him and even reads him books.

As she carries Patches around, all wrapped up in a kitchen towel blanket, B often gets a pitiful little look on her face and cries a mournful little cry. She seems to be experiencing and expressing a deep sadness Patches feels. Unconcerned with his stains, rips, and missing pom from the tip of his hat, B loves Patches with such tender care that she can even feel his own sorrow. And the way she caresses his sweet, threaded smile as she cares for his every need makes me certain she is also tuned into her stuffed friend’s joy.

At the risk of sounding trite, I’d like to think this innocent little picture mirrors God’s care for all His children.

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.

–Hebrews 12:28-29

After tracing the history of the early Israelite nation, outlining the incomparable majesty of Christ, and exhorting the audience of the book of Hebrews to hold fast to the teachings of Jesus, the author culminates all of his arguments in this one statement: Christians stand in an unshakeable kingdom.

Dallas Willard writes that when we read about the kingdom of God in places like the Psalms and Daniel then:

…we will not doubt that kingdom has existed from the moment of creation and will never end. It cannot be ‘shaken’ and is totally good. It has never been in trouble and never will be. It is not something that human beings produce or, ultimately, can hinder. We do have an invitation to be a part of it….

Receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken does not translate into trouble-free lives. It does mean that remaining in God’s kingdom guarantees we can stand firm in The Unshakeable Kingdom.