God made blueberries for me?

The tremendous joy of being a grandparent is in part the stories that our children share regarding our grand0312161923a_HDR-2 (1)children’s growing faith and understanding of God.  God uses these stories to move and bless our hearts and strengthen our ongoing journey with God. Here’s a good one that just happened the other day with our grandson, Jacob, who is just about to turn three years old.

Our daughter had just given Jacob a handful of fresh blueberries in a small bowl. He loves blueberries and has a lovely inquisitive mind. This is the text our daughter sent to us after this brief exchange. She wrote – “Jacob asked where his blueberries came from. I told him ‘God made them and they grow on a bush.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Oh, God made blueberries for me?’ I said, ‘Yes!” He said, ‘I thank you.  Gamsahamnida, God’. Then he bowed his head and prayed, ‘Thank you God for my blueberries.’ (Gamsahamnida is Korean for thankyou)

When I read the text, joy and laughter burst from my heart. Thank you, God, for the simple faith and inquisitive heart of this dear, little child. Thank you too for the faithfulness of his mother and father who discuss the common things of life together with him and in the most natural ways and include you, God, in the discussion. Thank you for putting on their hearts the importance of teaching our grandchildren the simple practice of thanks and praise. Thanks be to you, O God!  Gamsahamnida!

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REFLECTIONS ON HOLINESS

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Sometimes, when we take quiet time to listen and reflect, God then whispers something new. I’ve been listening and reflecting on holiness.  God’s whisper speaks to my Wesleyan heart and affirms my faith as a Salvationist (The Salvation Army is my church home).  I’ve been putting my thoughts into writing another book.  Recently I wrote that not many years ago there lived a revered retired professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, George Allen Turner.  I  knew Dr. Turner in the last years of his life.  In his book, The More Excellent Way, he wrote “While the terms associated with “holiness” stress the contrast between Jehova and humanity, bridged by an act of cleansing, those associated with ‘perfection” point to humanity’s kinship with God and the possibility of fellowship.”  That one sentence was pregnant with the idea of the social-relational nature of holiness.  The ideas of cleansing and perfection speak to a loving, restorative work of God in a person’s life beginning at the cross and going on beyond the resurrection.  Cleansing suggests purity of heart and life making possible holy love and intimacy with God. Kinship with God suggests the hallowed setting of a family.  It affirms our adoption and inclusion into an ongoing, close-knit, intimate relationship with the three persons of the Godhead.  Finally, the possibility of fellowship with God implies an ongoing, interactive relationship with the Father and the Son by the Spirit.  Holiness is social, relational, personal and intimate with God.

Diane Leclerc* puts it this way.  “Only God is holy.  Yet God commands, ‘Be holy as I am holy.’”  Leclerc makes the case for “derived holiness” in which humanity derives holiness from its relationship with God and the quality of that relationship. It involves imparted righteousness dependent on a social, relational connection with God.  Such a relationship makes possible God’s multiple acts of grace including forgiveness of sin, reconciliation, initial sanctification, continuing (synergistic) sanctification, the progressive restoration to the likeness of Christ, and ultimately entire sanctification, all to the glory of God.

Sanctification ultimately is God’s cleansing that leaves a pure heart, makes possible inward holiness and outward righteousness, and continuing growth in grace.  Holiness is reflected in profound holy love of God and a profound love for others (Mark 12:30-31). It reflects an inner moral transformation that is expressed in holy love made possible not only to some, but to all.  Most simply defined, holiness is Christlikeness, the unfolding of Christ’s own character in the life of the believer who devotes time and attention to remaining in a sanctified context.  That context is God’s presence and the presence of holy others making possible spiritual growth, formation, and Christlikeness, and ultimately an infilling of the Spirit and a cleansing of the heart, soul, and mind.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me . . . Psalm 51:10

*Diane Leclerc, Discovering Christian Holiness: The heart of Wesleyan holiness theology, (Kansas City, Beacon Hill Press), 2010.

THE PRESENCE OF GOD IN A CHRISTIAN’S LIFE

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.          Psalm 139:7&8

PRESENCE OF CHRISTI grew up being taught that God is “omnipresent.” It meant that He was everywhere all the time. Throughout much of my younger years, I lived unaware that He was present and at times it seemed like he was nowhere to be found.  It’s not that God was hiding.  I just did not take the teaching about his presence seriously.  I was not interested enough to be aware.  My antenna was down.  My reception was turned off.  I wasn’t tuned in to God.  Most of the time I was ignoring God.  By this default position I remained in the dark regarding who he truly was and how accessible He could be.  I was not alone.  Many Christians remain unaware of the presence of God in their life.  Unaware, they miss noticing God’s grace and live life struggling from one challenge and problem to the next.  It’s difficult to maintain a strong faith when we ignore God or live like He is absent.

When we don’t sense God’s presence prayer becomes an exercise of calling for a lifeguard while treading water hoping somehow to stay afloat until He throws a life line.  Doubt prevails that God hears, cares, and is near enough to respond.  The truth remains.  God is near.  He is not an absent landlord.  He is Lord, ever and always present in every Christian’s life.  If you are unaware of God’s presence in your life, here are four ways you may grow in an awareness of God’s omni-presence:

  1. Thanks and Praise– Read Psalm 100:4.  It speaks of gates and courts referring to the Temple in Jerusalem and its many gates and courts.  The temple gates are associated with thanks to God and the temple courts with praise.  The Temple itself is a metaphor for progressive intimacy with God and holiness.  Thanks spills over into praise to God for the gift of his presence and grace. Thanks and praise are an appropriate responses to the Giver of all good gifts.  Together they occasion a profound awareness of God’s steadfast faithfulness and presence in our lives.
  1. Means of Grace– John Wesley was fond of teaching and preaching about the presence of God experienced through what he called the means of grace.  In a more modern expression we might call means of grace our “habits of the heart.” They are habits of piety – love of God (ie., worship, prayer, Bible reading, fellowship) and habits of mercy – love of others (ie., feeding the hungry, healing the sick, visiting the imprisoned, helping widows and orphans).  Wesley taught that through the means of grace we mature in our understanding of God’s identity and in our awareness of his presence.
  1. Christ at the Door– We read in Revelations 3:30, “Here I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens tPRESENCE 3 YOU WILL SEEK MEhe door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”  Once you responded to his initial knock on your heart’s door.  Now you may consciously consider Christ at the door each day, inviting you out into his day, his agenda, and his plan.  As you walk each day in His presence, he engages you in fellowship.
  2. Practicing God’s Presence– Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth century monk who practiced the loving presence of God.He spent years disciplining his heart and mind to yield to God’s presence. He wrote, “As often as I could, I placed myself as a worshiper before him, fixing my mind upon his holy presence, recalling it when I found it wandering from him.” Lawrence did the mundane chores of the monastery continually mindful of God’s presence so that even the lowest, most humble work was completed in a spirit of worship.

God is always present.  We aren’t always conscious of his presence and proximity.  Yet he is so close.  He desires even greater proximity. He desires to be more than near.  He desires intimacy, the ultimate in proximity, the infilling of his Holy Spirit in us.  You can’t be closer to God than being filled to the measure of fullness of his very Self. (Ephesians 3:19).

 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.   –   James 4:8

               Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus . . .  Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full of assurance of faith. – Hebrews 10:19&22