God is near

In the surrounding atmosphere

Photo by  Jason Briscoe  on  Unsplash

I meet and pray at our church with three guys on Saturday mornings.  Officially we meet from 8 to 9 a.m. but our time together often meanders for an additional 10 or 20 minutes.

We discuss, confess and pray with each other about our lives and faith and the life and ministry of our church.  To meet there where we as church convene to worship, do life together, plan and serve is important in a manner similar to how God himself confers sanctity to certain places in his grand story as cast in the Bible.

On any given week, one or more of us brings something from our personal life and faith to weigh into together. I especially appreciate their insights and prayers when I am wrestling with something personal or regarding my relationship with the Lord..

The particular matters are less important than the sense of tough love and wisdom the guys extended even if difficult for me to initially receive well.  Their emphatic guidance that I turn away from myself and dial instead into the Lord is how iron sharpening iron works.  (See Proverbs 27:17)

Sometimes I am frustrated with striving as much as I do.    Why am I so often anxious, so distracted, so often seeking comfort or joy where it cannot be found?  Why would I ever want to engage in escapism from life that is so vibrantly radiant with God’s very essence?  Why indeed?

Perhaps because I don't truly grasp that Jesus’ straightforward claims and teachings about the “at-handness" of the "kingdom of God” is as accessible and near as he so emphatically asserts?  The present reality of life on earth vehemently refutes all such claims.

I'm reading for the third time a book that really spoke to that idea of God's nearness on a day-to-day basis better than anything I ever read before or since - “The Divine Conspiracy - discovering our hidden life in God” by Dallas Willard.  Published in 1998, I first read it in 2003 then again in 2013, and now I am listening to an audio version.

Bringing the kingdom or realm of God near was in Jesus’ teachings and mission and not because this was something new.  Rather, Jesus ministry demonstrated and his message conveyed that the kingdom of God or the heavens was nearer due to him.

A concern of Willard's was that translators of Jesus’ messages sometimes chose words that convey the kingdom as not so near.  For example, phrasing that Jesus used to express the idea of the “kingdom of heaven” (Greek, tou ouranous) could have been literally translated as “air” or “surrounding atmosphere,” instead of the words that were used, like “sky” or “heaven.”

“Now our English sky means something quite different from air, and heaven means something quite different from either,” Willard explained.  “The translation becomes entangled in these meanings. The sky is more a limit than a space, and as a place it is farther away than the air.  Hence, we say, 'The sky’s the limit,' not 'The air’s the limit.' Heaven, of course, is strictly out of sight for us, beyond the moon for sure and quite likely “beyond” the physical cosmos.”  (The Divine Conspiracy, page 71)

I don’t know about you but the thought of heaven as near as the surrounding air or atmosphere feels a lot nearer than it residing in the distant sky or unreachable cosmos.

I bring this up not because its essential to know, only because it shows yet another way how much we regular people living out our mundane lives matter to God and Jesus. Frankly, I never thought of the kingdom of God as far away or lacking access but I'm inspired by the idea that the kingdom is as close as the thin air around us. How about you?

As inspiring as this is for me, my most applied experience of the "kingdom of the heavens" comes from regularly doing life with fellow Christians, such as Saturday mornings with the guys. Us sharing life and faith and mulling over the God’s word in Scripture together personifies another message Jesus offered that posed no issues for translators to clearly impart.

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
— (Matthew 18:20

God draws near to us when we draw near to each other in relevant faith discussions, supporting each other, musings and prayer... 

Right here in the surrounding atmosphere.


Notes:

1. If you've not read Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, here's a little excerpt from my book’s cover jacket:

In an era when many Christians consider Jesus a beloved but remote savior, Willard argues compellingly for the relevance of God to every aspect of our existence. Masterfully capturing the central insights of Christ's teachings in a fresh way for today's seekers, he helps us to explore a revolutionary way to experience God - by knowing Him as an essential part of the here and now, rather than only as a part of the hereafter.

2. My practice of Saturday morning fellowship with godly guys actually began in March 1983.  The “Christian Men's Fellowship” ("CMF") met many years at St. Owens Catholic Church in Franklin, MI.  I withdrew from that group in 2001 in order to devote Saturday mornings to personal devotions and later to join the prayer group meeting at our church that I reference in this post.  Meanwhile, CMF still meets including a few of the original members from a study facilitated by the late Fr. Dwayne Stenzel in late 1982 at (then) Duns Scotus Monastery attended by some 200 or so Catholic men from all across southeastern Michigan.  After the study concluded in the Spring of 1983, local fellowships were formed to continue meeting, including ours. At one of those meetings in September, 1983 I recommitted my life to Christ.

Fresh Air

Kinetic "Daisy" wind spinner in our yard

Kinetic "Daisy" wind spinner in our yard

This summer has featured many temperate days with low humidity and cool nights for leaving windows open and air conditioning off.  

In Michigan, we are blessed with three seasons of moderate temperatures that provide an abundance of fresh air moving through our living spaces. We have ceiling fans in every room running year-round, keeping cool or warm air moving around us all the time.

Breezes soothe me.  I have thee wind chimes around our house and I recently received a wind spinner for our backyard. The kinetic ones with fans on two sides that rotate in different directions in the lightest of breezes particularly fascinate me.  

Nothing like “hearing” the wind pass through our two tubular chimes or stir our bamboo one into a gentle cloppity-clop, cloppity-clop rhythm. Even in the dead of winter, if I notice the chimes stirring outside our dining room window where I read the Bible and journal each morning, I will crack the window just a little to hear them better.  

Chimes adjacent to my morning devotions spot.

Chimes adjacent to my morning devotions spot.

Hot coffee, fresh air, and a lovely, breeze-stirred chime sets me up perfectly for my morning time with the Lord. The sounds and sensation of the wind coming and going refreshes my being, evidence to me that the wind’s author, God, is near.

Recall the apostles' reaction when Jesus calmed the wind and seas in the fourth chapter of Mark’s gospel.

“They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”’ (Mark 4:41, NIV)

Whereas God’s power over tempestuous winds speaks to the awesome magnitude of his power, I am drawn to the story of how God chose to personify Himself to Elijah.

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  (1st Kings 19:11-13, NLT)

Perhaps God's gentle whisper was like the calmest of breezes or the silence in the middle of the night when all is still.

Water, woods and wind are three natural features that particularly captivate me. While we don’t live within sight of a lake or river or bordering a woods, our neighborhood is plentifully treed and neighbors adorn their homes with shrubs and flowering greenery, tended lawns and various ornamental trees and plants to keep nature close to our mutual spaces.

For wind, our chimes and spinner convert fresh breezes to a chorus for our listening and visual enjoyment.  When the breeze at ground level is too slight to stir our chimes or wind spinner, I need only look to the nearby treetops to be assured that the wind is ever present, like God

Like physical space is stifling without a steady supply of fresh air, so my faith stagnates when I am closed to new ways that God is working in and through me.  When I am stuck or digging into a stance that shuts God out, He has a way of opening me with his "fresh air" to let me know he is near and ready when I am.  

He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,
flames of fire his servants.
— Psalm 104: 3-4, NIV

Blessed Are the … Yeast? — 2012 Ornament

Glenn's 2012 Ornament (13th Annual): Blessed Are the…Yeast?

I was struck one day in my Bible reading with what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God. His audience did not have 2000+ years of Christianity behind them heralding him as God incarnate. But they had an idea about the kind of kingdom God’s would be. If it was truly God’s, it would certainly dominate any earthly rival.

But domination was not among the ideas Jesus shared about the Kingdom of God nor were might, majesty or power. Rather, ordinary and even lowly fit better for this kingdom Jesus claimed was home to him and “at hand” and accessible to all present.

Jesus depicted Kingdom people as poor in spirit and meek, mournful, merciful, peacemakers (Matthew 5: 1-10). And then he drew upon common, every day items to describe how Kingdom “subjects” were, like salty salt (v13), light-giving lamps (v14) and in another lesson, seeds that grow into giant trees, and a small portion of yeast that leavens a large batch of dough (Luke 13: 18-21).

Yeast. That one struck me. You can’t get more ordinary than yeast.

In 2012 after four plus years of career search posturing, I failed to secure any of the positions I sought despite making “the finals” on several occasions. But as I searched, I kept God in clear view and trusted that the doors that opened were either opened by Him or allowable by Him for me to pursue. This I did with every one. And here I stand, where I now am.

While I can’t see how my present fits with the balance of my life, I trust I am where God wants me right now. I am not in a career but I have a job with a good company. I don’t have impact like I would as an organizational manager but I can certainly be Kingdom yeast in my workplace.

The lesson of yeast and all Jesus’ kingdom analogies is that attaining the manner of God’s kingdom does not require any measure of success or status in this kingdom, the kingdom of the world, life now. In fact, success in this world may jeopardize our ability to truly see or at least dim our view of the Kingdom of God. (I need to keep that in mind if I should ever find my way back into whatever it is I think I’m looking for!)

Another realization from further study on this topic: virtually every Biblical character experienced this wandering into seemingly wayward places while being attentive to God, including Jesus himself. Think of his beginning, our Christmas: The scandal of his apparent illegitimacy seemed to cling to him even into adulthood – John 8:41?

When in this life, you feel helpless or impotent or left by the wayside, be alert to God slipping in under the radar to win you back to himself or re-establish your relationship with him. Christmas is about that.

If you should be so fortunate to join or rejoin the Kingdom procession, take heart when (not if!) you wander into some places and situations that are not what you had in mind. Where you find yourself will be where He is accomplishing His purposes in and through you.

…In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
— John 16:33b

Notes:

  1. ORNAMENT TEXT:
    FRONT: Fleshman’s (Blessed Are the…) YEAST; All Natural
    BACK: BLESSED ARE THE … YEAST?; (Jesus) asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to”  It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”  (Luke 13: 20-21, NIV84)
  2. PERSONAL NOTE: This year’s ornament title melds words from three of Jesus’ teachings:

    1) Borrowing a “Blessed are…” from his “Beatitudes” – how God’s Kingdom is (Matthew 5: 1-16)
    2) A missing word, “Least.” How God is “in” our care of the least among us.  (Matthew 25: 40)
    3) And, “Yeast” – Jesus comparing the Kingdom of God to an ordinary staple of life that  everyone could relate to. (Luke 13:21)

    All of the above describes the year of 2012 for me – The sense of not hitting the mark (Least) and being merely ordinary (Yeast) in a world attentive to everything but.  But, all the while, “Blessed…” by people in my life lifting me up and, every step of the way, God!
  3. DESIGN INSPIRATION: came from the Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast package (http://www.fleischmannsyeast.com/landing.html). I presume their yeast is great but their package had perfect ornament appeal!