The Paradox of God’s Presence

 

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A cursory reading of Old Testament books like Leviticus can easily leave a person scratching his or her head. As we read about the ways to live in God’s presence, it can be easy to get lost in the weeds amid the descriptions of rituals, sacrifices, matters of purity, feasts, and the roles and requirements of priests. If we do we will miss the central theme of what our eyes are skimming.

 

The centrality of this is God’s holiness and how we can come into the presence of a holy God.

 

How we do it shows our respect and honor for his holiness. That He shows the way is evidence of his love and longing that we no longer be separated from Him. He desired to enter into a covenant relationship with his people.

 

587086-Jerry-Bridges-Quote-The-pursuit-of-holiness-is-a-joint-ventureEven though the New Testament reminds us to be holy and somewhere we know or have heard that God is holy, we have likely heard more messages and read more books about God’s love than God’s holiness. If we are asked to define it, too often our words trip over themselves.

 

At some point we have heard and understood that to be holy is to be set apart as unique. As one who desires to follow Him, we are to be unique as well and not look like those who are not his. Sadly, we too often look, talk, and act much like those who do not claim Him.

 

Holiness is not a quality of character that comes in our human DNA.

 

Our sin nature (not unlike the stories we read in Leviticus) gets in the way of our relationship to the Lord. The place where we may get lost in the weeds in Leviticus is God teaching his children how they (sinful) can risk living in his holy presence. (All those animal sacrifices and purity laws seem impossible.)

 

God is well aware of our condition ever since the first bite of the fruit in the garden that was not to be touched. He knows well that it separated us from Him and He has been showing us the way back ever since.

 

Of course God had a plan for that, a plan to bring us into wholeness again through the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb, Jesus. He offers us grace, mercy, and love, but He also provides for transformation. He sets about transforming our character, showing us that we are called to holiness. And that is only something his transformation can accomplish.

 

The thing about holiness is that no matter how much we try to do or say what we know 319585-Elisabeth-Elliot-Quote-God-is-God-Because-he-is-God-He-is-worthywe should and practice all the things we see as a part of Christ, we cannot really make ourselves appear holy outwardly (let alone inwardly).

 

Holiness includes goodness and such Christ-like characteristics can only occur with a transformation of our heart by the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Then that can be expressed in our external actions and only then.

 

When the Lord starts cleaning house in our hearts and souls, it is no quick tidying up. Beyond the obvious clutter, dust, and dirt He may see, there are those other things that we hide or don’t even recognize about ourselves − our motives.

 

John Eldredge puts it this way in his book, The Utter Relief of Holiness:

 

 “Everything we do has a motive behind it. This is such a helpful category. It will be the dawning of a new day for us when we can simply accept Jesus’ offer of genuine integrity by looking at our motives.”

 

 Looking of our motives is not for the faint of heart.

 

bloom-blossoms-buds-87452That quest will expose more than we often want to see of the core sin issues that plague us in this life. We will see how often we do things or say things to gain favor or avoid consequences or punishment, how often our fear of man rules our choices. We will also bring to light the truth that our efforts to meet or maintain a moral standard, a life of integrity, miss the point. His interest is not in the letter of the law or doctrine, but rather in the spirit of it.

 

We don’t throw those standards out the window, but a transformation of our heart to wholeness and holiness is the only thing that can bring us to living by love as the Lord does (along with the other higher laws that were central to his life). Once it is woven into the fabric of our being, it is what allows us to love Him and serve Him above our desire to please others. And that is evidence we are set apart.

 

The work on the cross and our acceptance of the Lord’s grace means He now lives in us. That doesn’t mean we are perfect, but it does accomplish something we could not do otherwise:

 

What is crucial here is this: now we have an option. Without the cross, sin would simply rule in us and over us unchallenged. The hope of genuine goodness could never be ours. But because of the work of Christ for us and in us, we now have the possibility of living a life filled with the captivating goodness of Jesus.”  

John Eldredge

 

God knew what it would take to get to the heart of the matter − our hearts. No amount of animal sacrifice or ritual could accomplish what we needed to be reconciled to Him who was wholly pure, good, and holy.

 

What is the paradox of living in God’s presence? 

 

Living in the presence of our holy God is living in pure goodness, but we cannot forget it becomes dangerous if we rebel or insult God’s holiness.

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What Do Our Choices Say?

 

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I can still recall the first Christmas tree my husband and I ever picked out after we were married. There were so many to choose from on the lot. My husband was looking at how straight the trunk was as a good criterion for our selection. He was so smart about that kind of thing!

 

I, on the other hand, was looking at the kind of needles, their shape, softness, and color. I was looking at the fullness of the tree and imagining it standing in our little one bedroom duplex back at our military base housing.

 

In the end, my sweet husband yielded to my romantic idea of a tree versus practical realities. The tree appeared lovely, but he pointed out that the one side was not well shaped and the trunk curved in two places, in the middle and at the base that would need to fit in the tree stand.

 

Clearly, it was not the best tree to choose, but by then I had determined that with all those problems no one would likely choose the tree and I didn’t want it to be left alone on the lot. Certainly we could make it work! Of course, I was counting on him to figure all that out.

 

The tree was difficult to get into the tree stand and sit in such a way that the curve of the trunk was not so evident. My sweetheart worked with it and we proudly set it up. But we have laughed about that first tree for all the years after that. While we were still using a real tree, I walked across many lots and fields of trees when we cut our own to select the perfect tree. My dear husband and our children would follow me in the cold and snow looking for just the right tree. (Think the Griswold Family Christmas tree from “Christmas Vacation”!)

 

It’s funny that all those carefully chosen more perfect trees are not what we remember.

 

Choices come in all shapes and sizes.

 

Choices are about all kinds of things and people.

 

IMG_1564I think it can be easy for me to look at someone’s choice of me or his or her lack of choosing me. It gets very personal and pulls me into comparing myself with others and letting their choice somehow determine my value. It is powerful and too often I can be tempted to give someone power that should only be reserved for the Lord.

 

What about my choices?

 

My choices say something about me even as yours do about you.

 

You see, if I turn the mirror around and determine to be brutally honest, I need to consider the criteria I use when making the choices that are mine to make.

 

My daughter and I love to shop together because we can make short work of a store. We either like things we see or we don’t and if we don’t, there is no need to spend an hour pouring over the racks of clothing the store buyer has selected for choosing. Some choices come easily.

 

I like some designs more than others and prefer certain colors. I turn away from shoddy workmanship whether it is in furniture or clothing. Clearly, I like excellence (at a good price).

 

But what about my choice of people?

 

We each choose people we enjoy and want to spend time with. What criteria do we choose then? How deeply do we look at our choices?

 

Do we see beyond the outward design and our preferences?

 

Do I choose the popular, most gifted, and fun person? Or do I look a bit deeper to see the workmanship hidden within the person’s character and the quality of his or her heart and spirit?

 

The choice of who I spend time with reveals my preferences and my character as well.

 

Too often my choices and yours reveal how unlike Christ we really are.

 

The Lord doesn’t choose me, you, or anyone else because of skills, standing in the community or church, or even our gifts.

 

The Lord doesn’t choose me (or you) because I AM special, but when He chooses me IMG_1567I BECOME special.

 

Sometimes we can be tempted to try to become somebody (whatever that means) in the hope we will be chosen by some person, some board, or some organization.

 

Such faulty thinking can cause us to believe that we will then be more useful or worthy or valuable. We can be tempted to think because we have this degree, this position, this title, this reputation, and a long list of other things that we will be able to be used by the Lord.

 

We get it backwards!

 

God chooses us not because we are somebody, but because we are a nobody.

 

That is when He can use us. That is when His power can be perfected and His glory shine more brightly. He did not come as a King. He did not wear royal robes. He came to reveal God, His Father, that everyone was missing.

 

The Lord chooses us and we become a walking presentation of the gospel in the lives of everyone we touch.

 

What will our choices say in that presentation?

 

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And There Was Love

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I had been out a few leisurely hours for coffee with a dear friend and was looking forward to getting back home to get started on the chores that had been waiting. As I stepped into the house, my sweet husband greeted me at the door asking if I had had a good time. As he stepped aside and I walked into the kitchen, I could see the beautiful vase of red roses laced with red hearts and nestled in baby’s breath and fern.

He has never forgotten.

The tradition of red roses began when we first knew love for each other when we were college students. The first time came on an October Sweetest Day that coincided with my birthday. They arrived again on Valentine’s Day. After we were married, they arrived on our anniversary as well. He also sent them for the births of our children, arranging the first time for them to be delivered even though he was half a world away in Vietnam.

Through each season of life together (now 54 years of marriage), he has found many IMG_1546 (1)ways to express his love. Red roses for these occasions are his reminder of a pledge, a covenant, made long ago when we were both so young we had only a small understanding of what that meant.

During my years as a clinical counselor and marriage and family therapist, I had many young single women talk about what they hoped for in a future spouse. Some of the lists were very funny. Others were practical like having a job and not having a warrant for his arrest. Then I heard one young woman call it her “Boaz” list.

She shared with me that as she read the story of Boaz in the book of Ruth she saw in the character of Boaz the type of man she hoped would one day pursue her heart and pledge his love.

The love story of Ruth and Boaz is no ordinary love. Ruth demonstrated an uncommon love for her mother-in-law when her husband died and she chose to follow her mother-in-law, leave her homeland of Moab, and travel to her mother-in-law’s homeland adopting her faith and her culture.

As these two widows travel home, they face an uncertain fate. How will they survive? How will they find provision for themselves?

In all ways, Ruth submits to and honors Naomi and her counsel. So as the story goes along, Ruth goes to glean in the fields after the reapers have already harvested the field, looking for stalks that were left over or unnoticed along the edges of the field.

Of course, as in any good love story, we discover this is not just any field. It belongs to Boaz, a relative of Naomi who has the right to redeem all that had been Naomi’s deceased husband’s including her son’s widow, Ruth. He is prosperous, honorable in the town, and he has heard at the city gates about Naomi’s return and Ruth’s love and care for her mother-in-law.

What kind of woman was this? What kind of love?

The love Ruth generously gave to Naomi was not common. It was hesed love. It was the kind of love and blessing Naomi had sought to give Ruth and her other daughter-in-law, Orpah, as she left them in Moab to head home.

What is hesed love? It is sometimes translated “steadfast love” and it combines commitment and sacrifice. It is a stubborn love that refuses to give up or leave the one loved.

Paul Miller richly writes about this love story in his book, A Loving Life. He says, Hesed is one-way love, Love without an exit strategy. Hesed is a stake in the heart of the changing seasons of life. Words of commitment create a bond that stands against life’s moodiness.”

“Hesed love is a determination to do someone good, no matter what, to be faithful to a covenant regardless of its impact on you.” Paul Miller

 

Ruth’s demonstration of hesed love in action was clear. It showed in all she did and was. You see hesed love is not something that can be imitated when it is not present. It is so woven into the fabric of the person in whom it resides that it becomes the very nature of which she or he is and requires no post-it note reminders.

It is little wonder that when Boaz discovers Ruth is gleaning in his fields (knowing how everyone in the town had observed her), he is attracted not only to her physical beauty but also the beauty of hesedwithin her.

Ruth learns before long how powerfully hesed love is also resident in Boaz as he asks his accessory-anniversary-band-265856reapers to leave extra grain in the fields for her and to provide protection for her. He later invites her to lunch and as the story continues we see the Lord’s perfect plan for Boaz and Ruth unfold. You see the legacy of this love in the genealogy that comes from this union. (If you have not read it in awhile, you might want to savor it again with Paul Miller’s book alongside.)

Have you known that kind of hesed love? It is the way Jesus loves us. It is a covenant, forever love.

Hearing a young woman say she has a Boaz list for a future husband says a great deal to me about the quality of the woman as well as the quality of the man and love she seeks.

Such a love is worth waiting for!

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The Lover Who Refuses to be Jilted

 

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I am not a big fan of tabloids or magazines highlighting stories of the rich and famous being rich and famous. I do bump into them at the checkout counter at the grocery store, hair salons, and an occasional mention at the end of a newscast on a slow news day.

 

When I see the cover story or if I happen to glance at the contents, I discover that Solomon was right. There really IS nothing new under the sun. Romances today blow apart and are often thrown out before the ink on the marriage certificate dries and although the reasons vary, the most common reoccurring issue appears to be unfaithfulness. Every scheme imaginable to get rich without hard work ultimately gets exposed. Truth hijacks every lie.

 

IMG_3253Mistakes happen. Everyone agrees on that even if our own are harder to admit. Men and women (each and all of us) are mistake prone in every area of our lives whether in relationships, academic or professional areas, or even in the kitchen when that “foolproof” recipe flops just as the doorbell rings and company arrives.

 

Some mistakes are bigger than others for certain. How others respond to our mistakes is pivotal. How we respond to our mistakes varies, but can make all the difference.

 

 If our mistakes are met with understanding, instruction, or second chances and we own them, we tend to recover despite our disappointment and embarrassment. If our mistakes are met with disdain, anger, and harangue, we either lash back or withdraw into ourselves.

 

By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have had more than a little experience with mistakes. Our response to them has likely shaped our view of other people in all sorts of positions as well as ourselves and perhaps God. We have either gained courage or grown or we have never risked again and remained stuck.

 

It can be easy to feel betrayed when we mess up. That sense might come from how a relationship changes or dissolves, whether it is a personal one or a work-related one. It might also come from us toward ourselves for failing to give as much time, attention, and care to the person or thing that the mistake involved.

 

If we admit we are guilty as charged, we often still cannot regain what was lost. f19d67f40d9e79188d3713b57a10ffb5We have broken trust and that does not get easily repaired.

 

It would be nice if God kept us from making mistakes and messing things up, but you and I both know it doesn’t work that way. We have choices and from Adam and Eve onward, we have a timeline that shows our choices may very well take us down a path that leads to a bad ending.

 

 

I love stories and reading the Bible provides me with some of the best stories ever written.

 

Time and again I see a mistake is made. What kind of mistake? Take your pick.

 

Abram and Sarai can’t have children, but have been promised too many heirs to count. Time goes by and they aren’t getting any younger so they decide not to wait and help the process along. Sarai has her maid sleep with Abram and Ishmael is the result. Their impatience doesn’t change God’s plan to give them a child of their own that will be His own special people, but it does result in two sets of offspring whose differences are still at war today.

 

David, the giant killer, the one called a “man after God’s own heart”, the one who praises and trusts God, becomes king of Israel. He is blessed with wives, children, and a kingdom, but one day he sees a beauty bathing on a rooftop and wants one more thing. He summons her to his bedroom and arranges for her husband to be killed. You know the story. The first baby born of this unfaithfulness dies.

 

asphalt-dark-dawn-531321The incredible truth is that God is committed to us and working through us. He stays with us in the midst of chaos, wreckage, dishonor, and disgrace. He was from the very beginning an expert at creating something out of nothing; moving from void to substance, dust to flesh.

 

God knows how to make something incredible happen on the other side of our mess, our mistake.

 

 He does so in spite of us if we yield to His mercy and grace, if we yield to His ever-pursuing love.

 

 He can make all things new even for those of us who make mistakes and messes after we know and seek to follow Him. He weeps and aches over our failures and we should never take His mercy and grace for granted. But we should never believe the lies that may echo in our heads that His love can cease for us when we fail. His commitment is everlasting.

 

The Lord is the lover who refuses to be jilted by us. He is a lover like no other.

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The Trouble with Tension

 

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Photo by Fancycrave

 

While I was preparing to take my comprehensive exams when I was in graduate school, someone gave me the gift of a massotherapy appointment. I had never had a massage before, but it seemed like a good idea after spending hours upon hours of reviewing notes and pouring over highlighted passages in books. I could feel every muscle in my neck, shoulders, and back tied in knots.

 

I must admit that I felt a bit intimidated at the outset as I entered the dimly lit room. Soft music was playing and the bubbling sound of the fish tank in the room added to the atmosphere. So far, I got the picture that relaxation was the goal, but I was not feeling it.

 

bath-bathroom-beauty-salon-3188Over the hour I was on the table, however, the diminutive Japanese woman working on me seemed to be able to identify every taut muscle as well as each strand of that muscle. At the end of that hour, she had successfully relieved all the tension I had carried into the room.

 

I would love to say that she fixed the problem permanently and that tension never returned; but as I am sure you can guess, that was not the case.

 

Tension is unavoidable. It is born from multiple sources in each season of life. It happens to women as well as men, the young and the not so young.

 

 “Tension is living in the gap between certainty and uncertainty.”  Dan Allender

 

Reading Dan Allender’s statement gives me much to ponder because I live often in the gap despite certain assurances and absolutes that provide me with a foundation on which to stand. (So do you!) As a believer, I can have a certainty of God’s love and grace, His provision, care, and my eternal destination. But in the midst of that, much uncertainty remains in the details of daily life. I don’t live in Eden before the fall. Life is not a rose garden.

 

I plead guilty to trying to avoid tension as much as possible despite knowing its band-black-and-white-blur-435840inevitability.

 

Is there value in tension?  Does God have a purpose for creating or allowing it?

 

 I wanted to reduce tension (stress) as I prepared for my comprehensive exam, but a certain amount of tension also was needed to push me to work at focusing and studying to demonstrate I had mastered the material being used to evaluate my learning. The right amount would cause me to function at just the right intensity and serve me well, but if it were too high I would be more likely to forget or jumble the material I had studied and do poorly.

 

That kind of tension is situation specific, but without my awareness surface tension is acting all around us, everywhere and all the time, affecting our daily life and bodily well being.

 

God has designed tension into His creation in a variety of ways.

 

For instance, surface tension keeps billions of cells in our body functional and ensures the proper organization and balance of biomolecules such as proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and nucleic acid into membranes. When I discovered that information in reading about tension, I was in awe of the intricate design of our Creator. It gave me another glimpse of the purpose of tension if it is in the exact amount needed.

 

I love music and am blessed to recall the sounds of the piano echoing through the house as our son and daughter were growing up learning to play and becoming proficient doing so. I get reminders of that when I visit their homes now and often hear a grandchild practicing. Other stringed instruments have been added to our family beyond the piano and include violins, cello, guitar, and ukulele.

 

bowed-string-instrument-cello-cello-bow-462510You and I can be similar to a violin. Exact tension is necessary with stringed instruments for them to stay in tune. Lack of tension in piano strings not only affect tune, but also can cause the soundboard to crack.

 

The exact tension on a violin not only keeps it playing well and in tune, but it also keeps the bridge in place and balanced.

 

A violin is also sensitive to many environmental factors including humidity and dry air. In addition to tension, friction is needed on the strings to produce a decent tone. Tension also might not be a friend to the violin. If the bow is left with tension on it, it will warp.

 

Our challenge whether we are playing a stringed instrument or not, studying or not, facing a crisis on not, is to remember that living in this life in the gap between birth and heaven will expose us to tension. Our daily life will include certainty and uncertainty.

 

God has designed us, hardwired us, to grow. All growth stretches us beyond our comfort level. Tension is a constant companion.

 

 The trouble with tension is that it can be a friend when it works exactly as needed and a foe when it is absent or present in excess.

 

The good news is that God uses it not only for our growth, but to remind us of our reliance on Him. Growth comes when I learn to rest in Him in the midst of tension and focus on the assurance of the unseen.

 

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”   Heb. 11:1 ESV

 

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