Archives for the month of: August, 2015

Wailing-Wall

There are times when God’s presence feels so palpable that it seems like the veil separating us from Him is paper thin. For just a moment, heaven and earth seem especially close together and God’s presence is so real and so powerful that your mind and heart are unmistakably in the presence the Holy God. I absolutely believe that God’s Spirit is always with us, but I also recognize that there are moments when his presence and glory are evident and compelling.

I first heard the phrase “thin places” in college when my British history class studied the early Celts who used it to describe the moments when the world and God seem very close together. I didn’t have enough life experience to really understand the significance of this concept then. But when my pastor mentioned them in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, I began to consider the rare moments in my life when God gave me a “peek behind the veil” into the holiness of his presence.

Thin places are unpredictable in timing and location. Moses had one at a burning bush in the wilderness. Peter, James and John had one at the Transfiguration. Paul had one walking down the road to Damascus. But usually they are not as dramatic as that. Many have experienced a thin place at the bedside of a dying loved one or in the face of a new baby. They can happen in the quiet of a church sanctuary or in nature where God’s grandeur and attention to detail are overwhelming.

They don’t necessarily occur in a place that the world regards as sacred…God’s presence makes any place holy. And when we have that up close glimpse of God, we are changed. Our thin place may give us better perspective on our earthly circumstances, it may give us a clearer vision of God’s character and power, or it may make us more homesick for the place God has prepared for us in heaven. It may remind us how precious we are to God, or remind us how precious God is to us. Those moments may thrill you with his glory or allow you to receive just enough of his peace to sustain you through a crisis.

Before I went to Israel, I read about a “thin place” that is important to God. Solomon built a grand temple for God to replace the Tabernacle tent they used in the desert. After Solomon dedicated it to God, listen to what God said about it:

II Chron 7:15-16  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.

 When I visited the Wailing Wall, the only part of the original Temple still there, I was excited to see and touch those ancient stones. I carefully wrote out prayers that I wanted to tuck into the stones. I don’t believe that the prayers in the stones matter any more to God than the prayers offered elsewhere, but I felt compelled to put the desires of my heart into the stones of a place that was precious to his heart. I was utterly unprepared for the power of that place. It was a life changing thin place where I experienced His holiness, His timelessness, and His power. I didn’t feel fear; I felt utterly, completely loved. Words can’t recapture it; tears still come when I remember it. God wants us to know Him, to be in relationship with Him. And every once in a holy while, he meets us at a thin place to give us a foretaste of what he’s planned for our eternity. How unspeakably grateful I am that my God is always present, and that sometimes I get a better view of Him from a thin place.

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family-tree

It can be based on the color of your skin or the countries where your family used to live. It can lead us to celebrate certain holidays and honor traditions that others ignore (Kwanza or St Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo). It can include individuals who did noteworthy things that make you proud, or infamous people that were the “black sheep” in your family tree. Your heritage may be scarred by the consequences of alcoholism, divorce, or mental illness. You may come from a family where hard work or education was revered, or you may come from people who were so scarred by their past that they passed down little more than the consequences of those wounds. But who you are now is influenced by the heritage of those who came before you. Eventually, as adults, we all must choose what heritage we incorporate into our future, and what heritage we leave behind.

In one of David’s prayers, he acknowledges that his most important heritage that was not inherited, but given by grace.

Ps 61:5 You have heard my vows, O God. You have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

 As I look back at all the second chances and mercy and grace that God has shown me, I realize that the most important way I define myself is not based on the people in my family tree or where my ancestors came from. Who I am when no one or everyone is watching, my self-definition, my understanding of what is and isn’t important – all are based on God’s faithfulness to me. God gave us the ability to read and access to his scripture and the stories of people in the past so that we might learn from them and be warned or inspired accordingly.

The power of God’s name defined some of the biggest heroes in the Bible. Moses asked God what it was. David fought to defend the honor of God’s name when Goliath insulted it. Paul promised that one day all would bow at the name of Jesus. When we choose to show respect to God’s name in how we live our lives, when we allow our relationship with him to have priority over our choices, we are given a heritage that is far greater than any we inherit from man.

I have relatives I barely know; I have brothers and sisters in the family of God with whom I share deep trust and perspective…and all the celebrations and tragedies and tedium of daily life. My family tree is what it is, for better or for worse. But there are others who share my faith in God but not my bloodline, who have stood with me for a time, who have influenced my choices and my hopes and dreams; they are as much a part of who I am as anyone on my official family tree. Whatever your past looks like, God wants to give you a present and a future where you belong to his family. He wants to “adopt” us into his family and make us “co-heirs” with Christ. But we have to choose. This heritage is based on our choice, not our birth circumstances. What vows have you made to God? What evidence is there in your life that you honor his name and his authority over you? May we all be defined by the fact that we belong to God.

measuring

Underestimating the difficulty of a task can lead to failure. Underestimating the severity of a storm can put you in danger. Underestimating the depravity of evil is naive and foolish. Underestimating the strength of your enemy makes you vulnerable. Too often we underestimate the power of our words to bless or hurt, and we underestimate our own strength in the face of pain.

But what happens when we underestimate God? When we underestimate his love, we assume that we are limited by our weakness. When we underestimate his power, we cower in the face of our fears. When we underestimate his ability to redeem us, we end up trapped by the mistakes of our past. When we underestimate his abundance, we settle for less than he wants us to have. When we underestimate his ability to work in us and through us, we rob ourselves and our world of the opportunity to see his glory.

Whether the source of our underestimation is an attempt at self-protection or the result of ignorance, we hinder our success and progress when we intentionally aim for less. Praying “safe” prayers doesn’t help us know God or see him in our everyday lives. God wants us to know him. He wants us to remember that he is able in all things. When we can’t see the big picture, he can. When we feel incapable of facing what is to come, we have his promise to never leave us or forsake us. When we have no control over our circumstances, we have his promise that he is always working for the good of those who love him.

Paul reminded us to not underestimate God.

Eph 3:20-21 Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.

How would your life be different if you actually believed that God is who he says he is? How would your prayers be different if you lived in constant expectation that God is capable of more than you can think or imagine?