Tag Archives: Presence

Coincidental Presence

That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him. It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes.
Esther 6:1-2 (NIV)

I am currently listening to the book The Volunteer by Jack Fairweather. It tells the true story of a Polish army officer who volunteered to be arrested and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in order to smuggle out news of what was happening in the camp and to attempt to create a resistance movement from within. After enduring the hell-on-earth realities inside the camp for years, he escaped and was able to offer primary source evidence of what was happening inside the camps to the Allies.

As I’ve been listening, it has brought to mind the story of Corrie Ten Boom (told in her book The Hiding Place), a Dutch Christian who ended up in the Ravensbruck concentration camp with her sister. She and her family hid Jews in their home until they were caught by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps. She was the only member of her family to survive. I have a connection to Ten Boom through my mentor, and the founder of our company, who was head of marketing for the feature film made about Corrie Ten Boom’s life (also called The Hiding Place). He spent a lot of time with her and she had a tremendous impact on his life. As long as I knew him, he had a photo of Corrie in his office and he loved telling stories about her.

The first-hand accounts of life and death inside the Nazi concentration camps are always sobering and difficult to read or hear. They are so horrific and difficult to fathom or absorb. I’m reminded, however, of Corrie’s description of her sister, Betsie, who never failed to experience God’s presence, and even joy, amidst the terror of their daily existence inside the camp. Corrie was released from Ravensbruck because of a clerical error. She spent the rest of her life telling her story and telling whoever would listen: “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”

In today’s chapter, we reach the narrative center of the story of Esther. Things look bleak. Esther, Mordecai, and the Jewish exiles are in a deep circumstantial pit. The king has decreed the annihilation of the Jews throughout Persia and his highest official is bent on leading the genocidal slaughter, beginning with Mordecai. But now, unexpectedly, a coincidental event becomes the pebble that starts an avalanche of events which turn the tide of the story. The King has a bout of insomnia and he insists that the annals of his reign be read to him. It just so happens that the story of Mordecai unearthing an assassination plot (about five years earlier) is read to him, and he realizes that Mordecai was never honored for bringing the dark plot to light.

As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, God is never mentioned in the book of Esther. But I find God present and active in the coincidences and events that happen in the story. If God is omnipresent, and most followers of Jesus would cognitively say that He is, then God is always present even when His presence isn’t acknowledged. Even in the deepest and darkest of pits. Betsie Ten Boom didn’t just believe in God’s omnipresence, she experienced it amidst the hell of a Nazi concentration camp, and her sister Corrie was, coincidentally, released by a clerical error in order to tell the story to millions of people.

In the quiet this morning I find myself meditating on the notion of God’s omnipresence, and what that really means. I’ve always found it odd that people in church pray almost every week for God’s presence, and in doing so deny the very thing we say we believe. If God is omnipresent, then it’s silly to ask Him to be present. What we really should pray is that we actually experience God’s presence there, here, everywhere, at all times in all circumstances. Because God is always present.

I remember sitting at the bar just inside the front door of our local pub last summer. The door was propped open to allow fresh air in the place and a friend from my local gathering of Jesus followers happened to walk by and see me there. He stood in the doorway and greeted me, then engaged me in a conversation, but it was obvious that he was not about to step foot inside the establishment and the whole conversation felt incredibly awkward. Knowing a bit about my friend’s background, I realize he was raised to believe that one should never go inside a bar and I honor his conscience. Nevertheless, I’ve known fellow believers who would avoid going into a pub as they believe it to be a godless, evil place. I’ve had some amazing God experiences and conversations in pubs. God is there.

I want to experience God’s presence at all times, in every place, and in each circumstance. It’s then that I begin to see the coincidences of clerical errors and ironies of a King’s insomnia for what they really are.

“HELLO!?? Yo! Tom!! I’m RIGHT HERE!!”

“But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”
2 Chronicles 6:18 (NIV)

On Saturday morning I woke up to find that Wendy had already gotten out of bed. In our house, this is a rare occurrence. 99.9% of mornings I am the first one out of bed. I got up and found her on the couch in the living room, writing in her journal.

There was nothing wrong, she explained. She had woken up and, in her spirit, heard God’s Spirit inviting her to spend some time together. So, she grabbed her journal and headed out in the quiet for a conversation.

For anyone who is not an experienced follower of Jesus, this might sound totally weird. One of the things that Jesus promised to His followers, however, was that He would send His Spirit (whom we refer to as Holy Spirit) to indwell those who believe. Jesus said that God’s Spirit “lives with you, and will be in you.” Once I learned to be in relationship with God in me, then experiences like Wendy had on Saturday morning aren’t that strange. I also have mornings when I wake and hear God’s Spirit whispering to my Spirit. “Grab your journal and make some coffee. Let’s spend some time together.”

This is one of the radical paradigm changes that Jesus ushered in through His death and resurrection. In sending Holy Spirit to indwell all of those who believe and follow, God is no longer “out there” or “up in heaven” but right here, right now, inside of me, and one with my spirit.

In today’s chapter, Solomon prays at the dedication of the Temple he built for God. Solomon’s Temple was dubbed by historians as of the “Wonders of the Ancient World.” The dedication of the Temple was a big deal and the Chronicler records Solomon’s dedication prayer. Time and time again in the prayer Solomon repeats the phrase “hear from heaven.” The paradigm is that God is “out there” and the plea is that God might incline His ear to hear. Yet, even Solomon’s father David wrote in the lyrics of one of his psalms “Where can I go from your presence?” and then described how no matter where David went, God was already there. So, if God is everywhere, then why would He have to “hear from heaven?” Why can’t God just “hear from here?”

Lately I’ve been noticing how even in my local gathering of Jesus followers we say we believe in the indwelling of God’s Spirit and we say we believe in what theologians refer to as God’s “omnipresence” (presence everywhere), but almost every week when we gather to worship the things we pray and the things we sing communicate the opposite. We ask for God to “be with us” even though Jesus clearly told us He would never leave us. So if He never leaves us, why do we need to ask Him to join us? If we believe Holy Spirit indwells each and every believer then why do we sing Come, Holy Spirit? Isn’t the Spirit right here, right now, indwelling us and connecting us?

I’m imagining a SNL like sketch comedy where I’m praying on Sunday morning “God, bless us with your presence,” while God stands right next to me rolling His eyes saying “Yeah, I’m right here. Remember?” As if not hearing God I continue my prayers. I beseech God “please be with me” and sing my pleas for His presence. God gets more and more sarcastic, waving His arms and shouting “HELLOOO!?? Yo! Tom?! Dude, I’M RIGHT HERE!!”

I know may be splitting semantic hairs. I have been, however, truly reconsidering and exploring this whole notion of God’s presence. I’m coming to the conclusion that what needs to change is not God’s location. If I truly believe what I say I believe, then God does not need to “hear from heaven” and move His presence from point A (heaven) to point B (where I am). What needs to change is my acknowledgement and awareness of my reality. What needs to happen is that my every day, every moment reality needs to match up to what I say I believe.

Nowhere to Hide

So Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to the scribe Baruch son of Neriah, and as Jeremiah dictated, Baruch wrote on it all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them.
Jeremiah 36:32 (NIV)

Along my life journey I have taken a few willful detours. I chose to leave the path of following Jesus and, instead, struck out on my own way. It was during these detours that I learned the lesson of the prophet Jonah: You can’t actually escape from God because no matter where you run He’s already there. It’s like the lyrics to David’s psalm:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

In today’s chapter, Jehoiakim the King of Judah is spiritually on the run. Jehoiakim wanted nothing to do with God. He barred the prophet Jeremiah from the temple. He put layers of bureaucracy between himself and the prophet so that he wouldn’t have to listen to Jeremiah’s incessant messages telling the King to turn from his rebellious ways.

And so, Jeremiah dictates God’s message to his servant and scribe, Baruch. He then sends Baruch to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops at the temple. God’s favor appears to be on Baruch as he recites the words of the scroll and his message gets passed up the chain of command until he finally has an audience with the king.

King Jehoiakim’s hard heart, however, was unmoved. As the envoy reads the scroll, King Jehoiakim has each column cut from the scroll and thrown into the fireplace of his chamber. He then tries to have Jeremiah’s servant arrested. So Jeremiah repeats the message to Baruch so that a copy would survive, and he adds a prophetic prediction of the negative consequences Jehoiakim and his royal line will experience because of his willful choice to shun God.

In the quiet this morning I am thinking about King Jehoiakim. He also was experiencing the lesson of Jonah, the same reality I experienced on my rebellious detours on my life journey. You can’t really successfully run from God. No matter where you run, God’s already there. I can harden my heart. I can refuse to listen and willfully ignore the truth, but then I’m just like the child who puts a cardboard box over their head and thinks no one can see him.

 

Left-Brain Development in a Right-Brain Dude

When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the Lord spoke to him.
Numbers 7:89 (NIV)

Confession time this morning. I am an organized wannabe. My whole life I have had a desire for my life to be organized, measured, well-structured and disciplined. In that effort I’ve dabbled in Day-timer, Day-keeper, Seven Habits, Scan Cards, pocket calendars, Palm Pilots, Outlook, and you-name-the-organizational-big-name-fad-gadget-system-of-the-moment-here.

My right brain always betrays me. Just ask my wife, Wendy, who is a certified, card-carrying rock star of the organized world, and also sports an amazingly developed, creative right brain.

Now, in my defense, I will tell you that I’ve progressed a long way in my life journey. I’m more organized and disciplined than, perhaps, ever. My organizational discipline has grown and developed over time and it has developed in parallel with my spiritual journey. Get this: I’ve come to realize that God holds the tension between right and left brain. The Creator is the ultimate fullness of both creativity and order. God is both limitless possibility and infinite detail. The further I get in my spiritual journey of unity with the Creator, the more balanced I find my life becoming in this regard.

Let’s be honest. Today’s chapter is a slog. It’s the longest chapter in the five books known as the Torah (a.k.a. Pentateuch, Books of Moses, Law of Moses). The chapter is incredibly ordered, detailed and repetitive as it describes the pageantry of the dedication of the traveling temple tent (called the Tabernacle) that the Hebrews carried with them on their march out of Egypt and to the promised land. In orderly fashion the leader of each of the twelve Hebrew tribes brings their offering to the Tabernacle. Each tribal leader brought the same gift, listed in the same order in detail. They brought the gifts in the same order given for the organization of their marching and their encampment around the Tabernacle. Today’s chapter is a left-brain’s dream on steroids (as the right brain reaches for a bottle of five-hour energy).

I’m reminded this morning of Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in Corinth where he writes:

Let all things be done decently and in order.

The kicker comes at the end of today’s chapter (if you make it that far) when it reports that after the orderly pageant God’s presence and voice became manifest to Moses when he would enter the inner sanctuary of the tent before the ark of the covenant [cue: Indiana Jones Theme]. In other words, God’s power, presence, and voice came at the end of well-ordered offering and dedication.

This morning I’m reminded of the description of the Temple of Solomon (designed to replicate the basic structure of the Tabernacle tent) the we read back in 2 Kings just a few weeks ago [here’s the post]. No order. The scroll with the law of Moses had been lost for years. The Temple of God had become an unruly farmer’s market style carnival of religious idols, complete with temple prostitution. No order. No discipline. No presence.

Despite the groaning from my creative, go-with-the-flow right brain, I’ve come to acknowledge along life’s journey that detail and organization are a critical, spiritual component. There is a certain peace, power and presence of Spirit that accompanies life and worship when things are managed in a detailed, disciplined, orderly way. And so, I press on in the development of my left-brain.

Now, does anyone know where I put my phone?

Walking Backwards Into the Future

Remember those earlier days…
…So do not throw away your confidence.
Hebrews 10:32,35a (NIV)

Just yesterday, in a Facebook post, I was reminded of my college days and my dear group of friends from Judson Theatre. It’s funny how one thought leads to another. I went to bed thinking about my friends and my college days. Perhaps that’s why this morning I was reminded in my  quiet time of a word picture one of my profs shared in a chapel service. It’s a word picture I’ve never truly forgotten, though I have to dust it off once in a while on a day like today.

Picture a person walking across the platform facing backward, but with his/her hand stretched out behind their back as if being led. This, my prof argued, was what God continually asks us to do. Hold out our hand to be led by Him, but perpetually face backward. Look back across the journey and remember all of the ways God proved faithful: providing needs, guiding, leading, fulfilling promises, healing, restoring, and filling.

This is what the Hebrews did. This is why their exodus from slavery in Egypt is referenced time and time again. It’s referenced by the prophets Haggai, Micah, Amos, Hosea, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. It’s referenced again and again throughout the Psalms. As they progressed on their journey through history they have continually looked backwards and remembered all that God has done to faithfully guide, lead, and preserve.

Why? Because remembering all that God has done before reminds me that I can have faith and be confident that God will see me through whatever I might be going through today.

This all came to mind while reading today’s chapter. The author of Hebrews perpetuates the walking backwards word picture by urging his/her readers “Remember those earlier days…” and references a particular period in which the early Christians were persecuted severely. God had brought them faithfully through the persecution. The author then ends the paragraph with “So do not throw away your confidence.” There it is. Turn backwards. Remember. Then have faith. Press on confidently with your hand outstretched to be led.

This morning I’m thinking about the road lying before me on this life journey. I have many questions about where the path is leading. I also confess to more than occasional bouts with fear, doubt and anxiety.  I’ve been reminded this morning by a memory and a word picture from college. I’m taking a little time in the quiet to glance backward instead of ahead. I’ve been following Jesus on this life journey for over 36 years. I’ve experienced many things from God’s miraculous power to God’s presence and peace amidst tough times to God’s quiet faithfulness in the everyday mundane. In the remembering I’m reminded that I can trust God’s power, presence, peace and faithfulness for the road ahead, as well.

Hand outstretched, I’m going to keep walking backwards…confidently.

Featured photo courtesy of Mandee Johnson via Flickr

The Fragrance of Presence

 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
2 Corinthians 2:15 (NIV)

I’m on the road on business this week. I’ll be coaching three different teams of people over the next two days. I meet with these individuals every 2-3 months. In my job I often have the opportunity to be around people whom I only see on occasion. I come into their offices for a day or two, work with their team, and then I am gone for months at a time.

Early in my career I learned the importance of making the most of my visits. I don’t want clients to think, [rolling their eyes] “Oh great, it’s him again.” I want people to be happy to see me. While there will always be those who don’t like me (or perhaps they don’t like the process of being coached), the truth of the matter is that I have a lot of control over how people react to me with my dress, my demeanor, my facial expressions, my enthusiasm, my words, my conversations, and my actions.

This is not something that I take lightly. In fact, it’s motivated by more than good business. It is truly a spiritual motivation for me. I know that our jobs and working in our offices can so often be places where people feel like they get the life sucked out of them. I’ve literally had people tell me in coaching sessions that they feel like they’ve slowly been “dying” day-by-day in their jobs. Ugh!

When I’m working with clients I often think about the word picture Paul gave to the followers of Jesus in Corinth. I want my presence to be the fragrance of life for the people I work with. Many already experience the stench of death every day. I want my presence to bring something different to their environment. I want their spirits to sense the fragrance of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness. I want them to feel better when they leave our session than they did when they walked in.

I  know I’m not always be successful. I have my days like everyone else. But I always think about it on days like today when I’m preparing to go on-site. I don’t want to stink up the place. I want to have the opposite effect.

Priests, Protestants and Me

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take Aaron and his sons with him, the vestments, the anointing oil, the bull of sin offering, the two rams, and the basket of unleavened bread; and assemble the whole congregation at the entrance of the tent of meeting.
Leviticus 8:1-3 (NRSV)

Aaron was Moses’ right-hand man, and it was Aaron and his sons who were chosen to be the priests in the sacrificial system of the ancient Hebrews. In today’s chapter, God through Moses takes Aaron and his sons through a ritual of ordination to become priests. It is a long ritual filled with metaphor from their priestly vestments to a little dab ‘ill do ya of blood on the ear lobe.

A priest is a mediator between God and man. A priest stands in the spiritual gap. The priest represents God to humanity and represents humanity before God. A priest is spiritually elevated and ordained to handle and serve the sacrifice, to carry our prayers into the presence of the Almighty, and to bestow forgiveness and absolution to the common sinner.

Among Christian institutions, the priesthood is one of the major differences between Roman Catholicism (and Greek Orthodox and Anglican) and the Protestant denominations. Protestants believe that since Jesus death and resurrection there is only one priest and mediator, and it is Jesus:

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. Hebrews 4:14

“For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all….” 1 Timothy 2:5

Three of the four gospel writers report that when Jesus died the curtain in the Hebrew temple was torn in two. That curtain separated people from the area of the temple where God resided. Only the priest could enter. When the curtain was torn, the way was made for anyone to enter into God’s presence. Jesus was the sacrifice, the mediator, and the priest who stands in the gap.

In my Protestant circles, we think very little of the role of a priest anymore. I have, however, observed along my journey that Protestants often like to unwittingly bestow priestly powers on our pastors and spiritual leaders. It seems there is something innately human about doing so despite what we say we believe.

This morning I’m mulling over my own understanding of the role of priests, the work of Jesus and what that means. The ultimate sacrifice has been made. The curtain is torn. The way is open for me to enter into God’s presence. I need no other emissary, or representative, or priest. I need only approach.

Will I?

 

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