Category Archives: God’s Presence and Peace

Light Piercing Darkness

Jay's Evacuation,IMG_8523For more than a week we have been seeing pictures out of Houston of a veritable flotilla of flat bottom boats rescuing people stranded in their homes by the rising waters of Hurricane Harvey.

This became personal to me when I learned last week that my brother, Jay and his wife Sharon, were among those that needed to be rescued from their home in the suburb of Kingwood.  What made this particularly challenging is that my brother is wheel chair bound with a serious heart condition and a medical pack continuously delivering medication to his heart, further complicated by a broken hip. 

Through a remarkable set of circumstances it appears that God’s protective arm was always close at hand.  Fortunately, my brother’s daughter, Chris was at their house as the waters started to rise and approach the front doorstep.  She happened to look out the front of the house and saw a man in a boat proceeding down their street.  She hailed him down and said she needed help in evacuating her parents.  She explained that my brother could not get out of his wheel chair, and somehow had to be lifted into the boat, wheel chair and all.

She was told not to worry, that he would go get help.  He returned with three other men who lifted my brother and his wheel chair into the boat.  They then walked the boat through a swift current to higher ground quite some distance away.

God’s provision for Jay and Sharon did not end with the rescue.  Friends from their church took them in and gave up their first floor master bedroom.  A co-worker of their daughter referred them to a contractor who specializes in flood cleanup and restoration whom they were able to hire immediately instead of ending up on some other contractor’s waiting list.

The water reached five feet in their first floor, destroying nearly all furniture, appliances, personal possessions, and their car.  The furniture and other items tumbled from room to room.  Almost nothing was found in the room in which it had been placed.  Yesterday as the workmen and their daughters were cleaning up, someone brought a large bucket with the label, “The Blessing Bucket from God’s Pit Crew” with the following message, “We pray that the contents will bless you.”  Among the contents was a new NIV Bible, the very kind of Bible Sharon lost in the flood.

One final vignette…Sharon  had a couple of electronic candles on high book shelves beside the fire place that could be turned on by a remote control.  As the workmen were cleaning up yesterday, a couple of the candles came on and started to flicker.  The remote was nowhere to be found.  No one knows how they came on.   Sharon thought the candles were letting the workmen know that in spite of all that has happened, the light of Christ was still present.  The number of volunteers and circumstances would seem to confirm his presence.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in; I needed clothes and you clothed me; I was sick and you looked after me.” (Matthew  25:35-36)

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“It’s the Lord!”

Do we recognize the risen Jesus when we see him? 

On the days following Jesus’ resurrection, most of his closest followers did not recognize him in their first encounter. 

Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus until he said her name, “Mary.”  The disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus even after he spent considerable time with them explaining what all of the scriptures had to say about him.  It was only at his breaking of the bread while dining with them that they recognized him.

The Gospel of John reports that seven of the disciples while fishing on the Sea of Galilee, did not recognize Jesus about a hundred yards away on shore until after he suggested they cast their nets on the right side of the boat where they caught 153 large fish.  Then John said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!

How often do we fail to see the risen Lord in our lives?  Like Mary Magdalene, he may be calling us by name.  Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he may be opening our minds to the meaning of some scripture.  Like the seven disciples fishing, he may be suggesting we take an action that will have a surprising (miraculous) result.

Today, as I am writing this blog, we are celebrating the 31st birthday of our daughter Emily who was born with Down syndrome.  At the time of her birth I did not recognize the presence of the risen Lord in our midst.  Later I came to see Jesus in her big beautiful smile, her purity of heart, and her natural inclination to love and hug the people she meets.

While we may not always recognize Jesus in the people or circumstances of our lives, the apostle John in his first letter says that “God is love.”  Wherever there is love, Jesus is present. Jesus says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Mt. 25:35-36)  Jesus is telling us that when we love others through our actions, we love him.  

In the musical Les Miserables, ValJean’s closing words are:

“And remember

The truth that once was spoken.

To love another person

Is to see the face of God.”

Let us offer love and receive love, so someone can say, “It’s the Lord.”

A Story of Divine Presence and Cancer’s Limited Reach

Have you ever experienced a feeling of God’s presence such as a moment of special peace or a revelation of truth?

John’s Gospel reports that when Jesus asked the detachment of soldiers at his arrest who they were looking for, they said “Jesus of Nazareth.”  When Jesus responded, “‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” (John 18:6)   

One biblical commentary says that John’s interpretation of Jesus’ enemies drawing back and falling to the ground was their unconscious recognition of his divine presence. 

Though they came to arrest him and eventually do him harm, they were apparently awed by his calm demeanor and presence.  They had heard of his miracles.  Some of them who had heard him teach in the temple courts said he spoke like no other. Now they were struck by his divine presence.

Sensing moments of God’s presence and grace in our lives may not be subject to objective observation, but that doesn’t mean they don’t happen and are not real.  Let me share one example.

A number of years ago a secretary with whom I worked died of colon cancer.  Her name was Rita.  She was not only a highly competent secretary, but a lovely, gracious person.   She was always kind and fair with the other secretaries she supervised.  I watched her decline through two surgeries and multiple regimens of chemo therapy.  On my last visit with her before she died I was shocked by her physical condition – how she went from a vibrant woman in her mid-40s, so full of life, to a near skeleton of a person ravaged by cancer and chemo therapy.

That evening I was thinking about her condition, and I believe God gave me a special understanding of who we are that I had never thought about before.  Most of the aspects that determine who a person is, other than maybe athletic ability, cannot be attributed to their physical bodies.  Whether a person is kind, loving, truthful, and gracious comes not from a person’s physical presence, but from the inner person, the soul, and what we often describe as the heart.

Cancer can kill the physical body, but it can’t kill the inner person or the soul that lives on.  The soul is eternal just as the Bible says.  The next day I wrote Rita a letter sharing these same thoughts, which her family read to her.  I was told that a knowing smile came across her face, and the next day she died.

I believe I experienced a moment of God’s divine presence.  He shared a bit of His truth about life for both my benefit and Rita’s.  It is a moment I will always remember, and one that has re-enforced my Christian faith and changed my outlook on life.

 

 

God’s Extravagance

water-features4How much wine is needed for a wedding? 

For the Wedding at Cana described in John’s gospel, the wedding party had run out of wine and the mother of Jesus asked him to remedy the problem.   John reports that Jesus instructed the servants to fill six stone jars with water holding 20 to 30 gallons.  He tells them to draw some out and take it to the headwaiter who tells the bridegroom that he has “saved the best [wine] till now.” (John 2:10)

This is Jesus’ first miracle, and how extravagant it is!  If we take an average of 25 gallons times six jars, we have 150 gallons of wine.  This would be equivalent to 757 bottles or approximately 63 cases.

This story reflects the extravagant love of God in many ways.  We begin with Mary, the mother of Jesus, interceding with her son for the first time on behalf of a likely friend to save the friend’s family from the embarrassment of running out of wine at their wedding.  My wife and I have hosted weddings for three daughters, and I can certainly relate to how embarrassing it would be to run out of wine or food at a wedding celebration.

God’s response to this need was far more generous than required, both in the quality of the wine and its quantity.  This is emblematic of what God has in mind for people who respond to him through his son.   

Jesus is the new wine, quite distinct in quality to the old wine offered by the prophets that preceded him.  This new wine allows people to experience God in the flesh, up close and in person.  This new wine gives new meaning to the Jewish law, teaching and writings.  This new wine reveals the power of God over demons, illness, and the physical elements of wind, storm and sea.  This new wine demonstrates the love of God for all people by becoming one of us and then enduring torture and death to free us from sin and leading us to a righteous life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

My wife and I have been blessed to experience the extravagance of God’s love and this new wine through the Christian heritage of parents and grandparents, through respective personal encounters with Jesus within a day of each other, and through the presence of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit in the daily action of our lives.

This extravagant love has been manifested through five children, four of whom are now raising Christian families themselves, meaningful work in the care of God’s creation, opportunities in ministry, Christian friends who support us in life and work, and a disabled adult child who teaches us each day about God’s love and ways.

God’s extravagant love and new wine are available to all who are willing to shed the old wine skin – the old way of life accompanied by sin and self-focus. (Mt. 9:17)  “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

We will never be able to match the extravagance of God’s love.  We cannot out-give him, out-sacrifice him, or out-love him, but we can return his love and generosity by opening the door of our hearts to his gentle invitation. “Here I am,” he says.  “I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come and eat with him and he with me.”  (Rev. 3:20)

“To Whom Shall We Go?”

With our fractious society today and its many advocacy groups and competing agenda’s, where do we go for truth, moral righteousness and peace?

We have Right to Life vs Planned Parenthood, the Little Sisters of the Poor vs the government health care mandates, freedom of religion vs the demands of the LGBT community, and of course political parties advocating opposing positions on a host of issues.  In this election year, no single candidate seems acceptable to a majority of the voters.

We have fad diets, fad clothing and fad entertainment; lists of what’s in and what’s out at the beginning of each new year; and more choices on social media than we have time to use.

The Gospel of John reports that at one point many of Jesus’ followers started to grumble about some of his teachings and no longer followed him.  Jesus asked the Twelve whether they wanted to leave him also.  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

Both as individuals and as a society, we are constantly looking for meaning and purpose, but the world around us takes us to and fro, and tosses us around like a small boat on a stormy sea.  Everyone seeks peace, but there can be no peace until the love of God is fixed in everyone’s heart.

In our early 40’s while our children were still young, my wife and I faced a decision as to how we wanted to live our lives as a married couple and family.  We had each experienced a personal encounter with Jesus and a renewal of the power of the Holy Spirit on an individual basis, but how were we going to live as a family?  We believed that God was calling us to put him at the center of our marriage and family.  We thought of the words of Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  Like the apostles, we have tried to follow that call.

Looking back after many years, I would attribute a number of blessings to this decision: two more children added to our existing three daughters including a son and a special needs daughter who has taught us so much about God’s love and ways; career choices attempting to follow God’s will that allowed more time for family and him; involvement in Christian ministry; four of the children married and raising Christian families of their own; thirteen grandchildren to love and pray for.

Of course we have made mistakes and there have been our share of challenges along the way, but God has remained absolutely faithful in his care and provision for us.

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

“Stay with Us”

Have you ever experienced the presence of the Lord and not wanted to let go of the moment?

Two of the disciples had such an experience on the road to Emmaus where they were walking and discussing the events of Jesus’ death and recent reports of angels appearing to some of the women saying that he was alive.  Jesus comes up alongside of them, though they do not recognize him.  He asks what they are talking about and observes how slow of heart they are to believe all that was written about him.  He then explains what Moses and the prophets wrote about him.

As they approached the village and Jesus acted as if he was going farther, they asked him to stay with them.  They subsequently recognize Jesus when he breaks bread, but he then disappears from their sight.  As they later observed, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Has your heart ever burned within you, indicating the presence of God?  Perhaps being in the presence of a very holy person; possibly a sermon or a word from a friend that opens your eyes to something that needs to change in your life; maybe the word of an innocent child that reflects a profound truth; perhaps a word of scripture that jumps off the page, an extraordinary act of love experienced from another person, or the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit providing assurance to persevere in a time of suffering.

Many years ago after the burial of my father, my mother, brother and I were riding out of the cemetery in the funeral home’s limo back to town, and I started to have this overwhelming sense of joy.  It was in the middle of January, on an overcast, cold day.  The snow drifts along the road were covered with soot from the windswept plowed fields of northern Iowa.  It was a bleak dreary scene.

Yet, here I was, inexplicably experiencing this heightened level of joy.  I said to my mother and brother, “I know this sounds odd, but I have a great feeling of joy.”  They both looked at me, but said nothing.  The next morning while I was praying in my father’s bedroom, the following words came into my mind, “The reason for your joy yesterday was because your father is with me in heaven.”  

My heart burned within me as I heard those words and recalled the joy from the prior afternoon.  It was the Lord, and I wanted to hold onto every word I heard.

When Jesus later met with the disciples, he promised he would be with them always.  This promise is also meant for us.  If you have never experienced your heart burning within you from Jesus’ presence, open the door of your heart and invite him in.  He is always tarrying outside, waiting for your invitation. Like the disciples on the road, let us say, “Stay with us.”

Is Peace Hidden from your Eyes?

When Jesus was making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Luke reports that Jesus wept as he approached the city, saying, If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke19:42) Jesus goes on to describe how their enemies will kill them and destroy the temple, “because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (vs. 44)

We have here a scene of contrasts.  In the midst of all the adulation for Jesus, he is weeping over the city, for the people have failed to recognize that God has visited them in the flesh.

After all of the time he spent with them, after all of the miracles, after all the teaching, they still do not recognize that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is present to them in the person of Jesus.  They do not accept him as the Messiah they have waited for so long, and the consequences are dire.

How often do we lose our peace because we forget that God in the person of Jesus and the Holy Spirit is in us?  Jesus tells us: he is with us always (Mt. 28:20); he wants us to come to him when we are weary or burdened (Mt. 11:28); he and the Father want to make their home in us (John 14:23); and apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5).

When I get angry with a store clerk or phone solicitor, I forget that the Father and Jesus reside in me, and I lose my peace. When I am indifferent to a homeless person asking for money at a stoplight, I forget that the Jesus in me wants to show him mercy. When I fail to stop and listen to a family member or friend who wants to talk or share a problem, I am putting shackles on God’s mercy and love that are waiting to be manifested through me.

When I refuse to embrace the cross in daily sacrifices, whether small and large, Jesus has some strong words – he says that anyone who does not take his cross and follow him “is not worthy of him.” (Mt. 10:38)

Yet, God never stops bidding us to seek him.  He has put in us a hunger for him whether we realize it or not.  It is a part of our human DNA.  God weeps when we do not recognize his presence in our lives.

Do we know what brings us peace?  It is the presence of God dwelling in us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, being poured out on the people and circumstances of our lives.