Finding Our Way Into the Presence of God

Want to get closer to God but sometimes feel confused by all the voices out there describing their experiences in ways that seem contradictory to your understanding and foreign to anything you’ve experienced? How can you tell what’s real, what’s imaginary, what’s possible, and what’s impossible?

Tim Anderson’s new book, Into His Presence: A Theology of Intimacy with God, comes out of more than thirty-five years of his own life experience in studying, practicing, and teaching the Bible. His book is a truly helpful resource for systematically working through the scriptures in order to understand intimacy with God as communicated in His own words (the Bible)—and as distinguished from some of the contemporary cultural ideas which may (or may not) be consistent with orthodox teaching.

If you’re anything like me, most of the time you want to just “sit and soak” in the soothing presence of God. I love to start each day by meditating on the Bible and praying, memorizing especially helpful passages and worshiping our great God. As a wise friend once said to me, “No day is wasted that’s begun with worshiping God!” Amen.

However, if you have more time to invest and are serious about developing intimacy with God, not simply soaking in the sunshine of our loving Father but in delving deeper into His glorious complexities, then Anderson’s book is definitely worth the wading. It’s very dense. Not a one-night stand! It took me weeks to study and process, and I didn’t agree with everything. (Specifically, I spent over ten years meditating my way through the Song of Solomon and am convinced that it’s a gorgeous [non-sexual, spiritual] allegory of God’s relationship with Israel and the mystery of Christ’s relationship with the Church as well as a human love song.)

That one exception aside, I found myself very much enriched and deepened as I did the hard work of pondering the scriptures focused on the various aspects of people in relationship with God. I especially appreciated Anderson’s chapters discussing intimacy with the Holy Spirit (chapter seven), the role of suffering (chapter 8), and how to assess songs (chapter 9).

Have you ever heard a worship song and said to yourself, “That doesn’t seem right to me!”? Well, it may be wrong! Tim helps the reader develop an ability to analyze music for content, which I think is very needed for our worship leaders! A great song isn’t simply about the music. We all love singable songs, written between C and shining C (at least if you can’t sing like a meadow lark). We all love catchy tunes. We all love lyrics that are fresh and have something new to say. However, if the lyrics aren’t consistent with what we know of God from the scripture, then no number of catchy hooks or riffs can justify a message that’s adrift.

Finally, and this isn’t one of the points in Tim’s book, but as a warning to those of us who’ve spent years in academic circles exercising our brains, the Bible says: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8). Talk about pulling no punches! If we want to experience intimacy with the God of the universe, who is not only love and light and life but the epitome of goodness and holiness, then we’d better be prepared to pray earnestly: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Ultimately, to draw near to the God of Goodness, we must be willing to “abhor that which is evil” and “cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9). Otherwise, no amount of study will help us come into the presence of God. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15). At the end of the day—and beginning of each new day—the bottom line is: Are we trusting and obeying God? If we are, we’ll be growing in intimacy with Him.

But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works” (Psalm 73:28).

Trust and Obey
(—John H. Sammis, 1887, Public Domain)

“When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Refrain:
“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

“Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

“Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

“But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

“Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.”

This Fall, Let’s Be Real But Stay Positive

As the new fall semester begins, I wonder if it’s time to rethink our social network strategy. I wonder if we’re being a bit jaundiced to complain about Face Book and Instagram (Twitter, etc—fill in the many blanks here) being platforms for attempting to make our friends think we’re perfect. Really? Sure, we see photos of holidays and happy anniversaries and trips and amazing birthday cakes (and huge donuts 🙂 ), but we also hear about tragic losses, upcoming surgeries, and requests for prayer support during difficult challenges. There may be a few of our friends who appear to be budding Martha Stewarts (for better or worse); some may need a little affirmation that they’re doing well, but isn’t that okay . . . and what friends are for? Can we take joy in the happiness of others and find pleasure in the good things of life they enjoy and want to share with us without feeling bad about our own lives? I hope so!

What about the “bad” stuff that gets shared? The emotional drama you wish they’d share with their BFFs only? The negative side of lives and loves? I’ve heard people complain that Face Book is used to denigrate others, relieve volcanic social pressure, go on the rampage about politics, or otherwise splatter venom on innocent bystanders.

Hollyhocks on Mackinac Island, Michigan

What’s the purpose of social media? How do we manage our online networks and resources without getting so frustrated we just quit? Here are a handful of suggestions to help keep our attitudes positive and compassionate while still being open and honest about our lives:

Rose of Sharon

*Be prayerful as we read, asking God to bless each person and meet their needs. “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Romans 12:9).

*Pray about what to share with others, and share for the sake of joyfully celebrating life together as well as sharing our burdens. Let’s take responsibility for thoughtful honesty and sincerity. “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Philippians 2:2-4).

Female Baltimore Orioles

*Don’t compare ourselves with others and reject any temptation to envy. No matter how good life is for someone, we can know they have their share of heartaches and pain too. “Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:26).

*Reserve our deepest emotional and spiritual pains for our closest friends, and let’s resist sharing these on public media. Once something is written, it can never be completely erased from the memory of those who read it. “Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee” (Proverbs 2:11).

Juvenile Red-winged Blackbird

*Don’t depend on the response of others for our sense of worth. Each of us is loved by God more than we will ever comprehend! He is our maker, our redeemer, our savior, our anchor, and the only “One to watch!” in the sense of needing approval. Let’s keep God as the “apple of our eyes,” the focus of our love, the sunshine that makes our spirits bright! It is only as we center our lives in Him that we will be truly centered and stable. “For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light” (Psalm 36:9).

*As a young person, I heard that George Washington was taught to “Be kind to all, be friends with few, be intimate with one.” I cannot find the origin of this quote, but I think it’s excellent advice both at home and online! “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness” (Proverbs 31:26).

Honey bee collecting pollen from a budding Rose of Sharon

*Here is another quote by Ben Franklin that I think has merit in guiding social discourse, even though it’s over two centuries old (and I’m not sure how he defines “friend,” but it seems too narrow to be a friend to only one): “Be civil to all; sociable to many; familiar with few; friend to one; enemy to none” (Benjamin Franklin). “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13).

Hope this helps! I am now going to have to make sure I practice what I preach, giving up any sense of being disappointed by who doesn’t respond to my Face Book or blog entries, remembering that each of my friends has many, many friends to keep up with and lots they want to share too! Blessings~

Would You Like to be Able to Avoid the Greener Grass Syndrome?

I don’t believe any marriage between two human beings can be made “affair-proof” any more than any product is 100% waterproof or unbreakable. Do you?

For instance, I have a nephew who heard that his mother’s diamond ring was “unbreakable,” and so he was surprised (and distraught) when he hit it with a hammer and broke it. Humans are frail, fragile creatures capable of great love…and great failure. Only God is perfect and unfailing in his faithfulness. Still, I think this book is an excellent resource for couples, not only those who have failed to keep their marriage vows, but also for those whose love is (at present) strong and steady.

The author, Nancy Anderson, had an affair early in their marriage, although she and her husband walked the painful path through confession, forgiveness, restoration…and have now been married forty years. That makes her more and less qualified to give advice, but before you stop reading based on her character being suspect, let me share what her father had to say when he heard that she was planning to file for a divorce: “No, you’re not!…Happiness has nothing to do with it…You’re acting like a selfish child, and we won’t support you in this separation. The only way we’d ever support you is if you’d exhausted all possible ways to save your marriage.”

Hard words from a girl’s father, but isn’t that exactly what we should all say in such a situation? I thought the book was worthwhile just for the example of how God will intervene when godly parents stand on biblical principles rather than caving in to their kids’ wishes.

The book explains the difference between saying you’re sorry and asking for forgiveness, the importance of earning trust, and the power of “planting hedges” of protection around your marriage that are rooted in Christ. I’m going to share the six “hedges,” but only to inspire you to read the book, not so you think you know everything and therefore don’t need to study further!

Anderson uses the mnemonic device, HEDGES:
*Hearing: listening and speaking with patience and understanding
*Encouraging: helping each other
*Dating: keeping it fresh and fun
*Guarding: agreeing on your boundaries—and enforcing them
*Educating: becoming an expert on your mate
*Satisfying: meeting each other’s needs

Nancy shares a plethora of ideas about how to build safety and health into your marriage…ideas I liked so well that I’ve been implementing some of the ones that were new to me! Also, she includes excellent teaching on “Affair Repair” and how to recover when there’s been a major breach in the relationship.

Whether you’re trying to figure out what went wrong or would like to build a stronger, sweeter, more satisfying marriage, I highly recommend this book. What a great way to start out the new year!

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
(Romans 12:9)

Life is an Uphill Battle!

I have a friend who is still (in his 70’s) working his heart out as a missionary in Columbia. On his 60th birthday, he teased, “If it’s all downhill from here, why do I still have to pedal so hard?” I have come to believe that life is always an uphill battle unless we stop trying…in which case it’s a costly downhill slide. Uphill-Battle-Christian-Movie-DVD-FilmLast night Alan and I watched Uphill Battle, a 2014 Christian film dealing with the issues of trying to recover from infidelity, divorce, and addiction…rearing kids alone, and trying to learn to trust again…or when it even makes sense to try to trust again. As with most of the Christian films that are coming out, the acting isn’t as “professional” or convincing as that of the world’s great actors, but the themes and messages are refreshingly genuine and inspire hope for life after heartbreak and the possibility of overcoming addictions. Uphill BattleLife is messy. Two weeks ago, the Barna Research Group published these devastating statistics at a NYC press conference (full report will come out in April) (https://www.barna.org/blog/culture-media/david-kinnaman/the-porn-phenomenon#.VrDbQPEu_W4):

  • “…half of women 25 and under ever seek out porn (56% versus 27% among women 25-plus) and one-third seek it out at least monthly (33% versus just 12% among older [wo?]men).
  • In contrast, among teen and young adult men, 81% ever seek it out and 67% at least monthly. Among men ages 25-plus, the comps are 65% and 47[%.]

Are we facing the uphill battle against sin and addiction in our own lives and families? Got an Achilles’ heel? I do. I’m a social eater. Overeating can also become an addiction. According to recent reports (http://stateofobesity.org/rates/), every state in the U.S. now has more than 20% of their population who are obese. This is also deadly news.

Whatever our weaknesses, there is a solution, and there is hope in the transformative work of Christ in our lives, if we’ll only surrender our hearts and wills to Him. Are you willing? If not, are you willing to become willing? I’m praying every day for myself and my family that we will learn to “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good (Romans 12:9). Will you join me in praying for ourselves, each other, our nation, and our world?