Our Hearts Are Restless

By Deacon Adam Salter Gosnell

The answer to a restless heart. St Augustine holing a burning heart,

Today I offer an article from my churches weekly letter. The adult class is reading Confessions. I resonate with this more than I care to admit. [I have added all italics, bold and underlining.]

—————

I’m so pleased that we, as a community, are reading Augustine together. He’s the single most influential thinker in Christian history. He’s been influential in my life as well. I have a passage from his Confessions that I’ve typed up, printed out, and taped in the front of my bible.

“Great are you, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is your power and infinite is your wisdom. Man desires to praise you, for he is part of your creation; he wears morality around him, carries the evidence of his sin, and the proof that you resist the proud. Still he desires to praise you, this small part of your creation. You have prompted him that he should delight to praise you, for you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

I look at it often, recite it even. It’s a passage of beauty, but more than that it reminds me of who I am and how I want to live in the world.

“Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

As I’ve reflected on the passage, I feel like Augustine is offering a prophetic indictment. So often, when I’ve had a long day, I want to disengage. I play games on my phone or binge on Netflix.

But when I read Augustine’s quote I wonder if I can truly call that disengagement “rest.” “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you” seems to call me to something more, something deeper, something more quiet.

In the last several years, I’ve taken up silent prayer. I turn off my phone, I sit on my couch, and I am silent before God. I contribute nothing, I offer him nothing but my time and attention. I only “am” in his presence. It makes me wildly uncomfortable. But, interestingly, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable because I’m particularly concerned about maximizing my productivity. I actually feel, in myself, a recoil against the silence. I notice how much damage my high-sensory input-lifestyle has done to my soul. It’s crippled me, even, from the capacity to rest deeply.

I see you grasping for rest, Augustine seems to say, but rest only exists here, in reality, because the God from whom it comes himself only exists in reality. Read this way, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you” is a call to arms, a call to recognize my own restlessness, to step away from distraction, and to meet God in silence.

I challenge us, today, to indulge the idea. Let’s sit in silent prayer for two minutes, and see if you don’t also feel like you are stretching an atrophied muscle. Then, I suspect, we will be all the more ready to hear what Augustine has to teach us.

—————-

May our hearts burn because He first loved us! Join me in Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians:

3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

 

*Image from: image St augustine

Wide Eyed-Wonder

I am freshly in wide-eyed wonder over a particular paradox of our multifaceted God. The complete transcendence, the “otherness,” of our Creator who, in complete humility, became a human in Jesus of Nazareth. Going even further, those who have a personal relationship with Jesus also have the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of the living God is inside of us to guide and comfort. This is one of the most wonder inspiring aspects of the Christian faith.

I understand why this does not compute for many people. It did not make sense to me either when I first heard it.

The following is from King David’s prayer before his son Solomon began to build the temple. Try reading it slowly to let his descriptions sink in a bit. Meditate on the hugeness of the one David describes.

11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29)

What impressed you most? Did you see anything new?

Next, meditate on Isaiah’s prophecy that was fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth.

53:2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Does this sound anything like David’s description?

When I compare these two passages, at least on the surface, I don’t see anything in common, yet they are both speaking of the same Creator God…. That is what makes my eyes go wide with wonder.

In an attempt to close the loop for today, meditate on this passage for a bit.

Jesus said in John 1415 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. …23… “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

How personal can the God of David become?

Again, this is mind bogglingly wonderful!  For instance I don’t think I’d ever noticed before the end of John 14:23:  “…make our home with him.” Father, Son & Holy Spirit all reside with those who love them. This is even one more example of wonderful things to contemplate.

Abba, Thank you that all these seemingly divergent truths hold together in You. You are truly multifaceted! You created everything and are worthy of all praise. Everything we have comes from you. Thank you for entering our world then giving us your comforter. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear how these realities make a difference to us.

2018 Is Beginning Big, So Trust For Big In your Life Too

As I write, the super storm that swept up the east coast this week is still dumping over a foot of snow outside, in only about 12 hours. Also, the Dow Jones industrial pushed through the 25,000 mark today, closing over five thousand points higher than a year ago! 2018 is beginning big so trust for big in your life too.

Depending on your perspective, both of these big events today could be good or bad. For those who snow only means shoveling then, your out of luck. But if it means winter sports, then you’re a winner. Some are afraid the rapid rise in the stock market will soon lead to a major crash. If you are one of those then you are probably nervous. If you have money in the market that is doing well and you see indicators that bolster your belief in continued economic growth, then you are likely smiling.

Either way we look at these, focusing our trust the One who made and sustains us is the best focus. We do not know what the future holds, but we can know that one who holds the future.

“Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.” Psalm 37:5

I have yet to see God shovel my snow, though on rare occasions, some strategic drafts of wind have made my job easier. When I devote myself, and my choices to Creator,  I see things fall into place almost miraculously at times.

I’m not going to commit my way to the stock market, but to the maker of Heaven and earth. Can I invest? Yes, I can, but in the end I’ll apply myself to what Abba has called me to be. That is  increasingly Christ-like. I’ll also apply myself to what He has called me to do. For me some of it includes writing, praying, encouraging others and helping them in their journey into Christ likeness…definitely not in that order=}.

My long time favorite promise for facing big challenges is Thessalonians 5:24. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” Both these verses end the same, it’s the beginning of this one I especially like. When I am sure Abba is asking me to take something on, then I know I will have all the resources, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially to see it to completion. Because He promised do it.

It is Abba’s idea after all, so I figure it is his responsibility to make it happen. As long as I am committed to His purposes we will see it through. If I give up, Abba will find another to make it happen. I find it almost easier to trust for big things. Little things can become routine.

What big thing do you want to trust God for? Pause for a bit and pray. Ask then listen. Listen for what I now call a “Holy hunch.” Is there a dream you’ve sat on a long time? Is there a new one? Does it seem impossible, or just too much? If it came to mind in prayer, have a conversation with Abba about it. If the idea came from Him….

This is a great year to trust Abba for big….

 

Joseph Was An Exceptional Guy

God knew Joseph was someone he could entrust with a crucial part of His divine plan to redeem all of creation.

A painting of young Jesus with Joseph, from Orvieto Italy

How would you feel if you were Joseph? This man was legally Mary’s husband, but they had not yet celebrated or consummated their marriage. Think about how you might respond to the news that your wife was pregnant and you knew there was no way you were the father? Personally, I suspect my first reaction would include feelings of anger, betrayal, confusion and more, not necessarily in that order.

Matthew tells the story. I have emphasized potions for you to think about. Try to read slowly and imagine yourself in his proverbial shoes.

1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying,

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us. 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Wow! Joseph was the man for the hour and the task ahead. God chose him to be the earthly father figure for the savior of the word. We often think about the shame Mary had put on her. And yet neither one of them could hide in the small village where everyone knows your name.

I can only imagine the emotional, spiritual and physical weights Joseph carried by choosing to accept the invitation to cooperate with the Creators plan. Abba was gracious though, because he gave Joseph an unforgettable encounter in the form of a supernatural dream. The young man’s personal intimacy with God allowed him to recognize the invitation was from Creator himself. God knew Joseph was someone he could entrust with a crucial part of His divine plan to redeem all of creation.

I wonder how many times over the rest of his life, Joseph replayed that dream in his mind. And because Joseph believed and obeyed, that encounter was not the only one he had in his adventure called life. (Keep reading in Matthew to learn, or be reminded.)

What about us? Do we recognize when Creator invites us into his plans, large or small? Or are the “distractions of life” to bold for us to notice the often still small voice? Are we people Abba can trust when he offers us those invitations?

The Good News is, regardless of how we answers those questions right now, the path to choose runs straight through Jesus. God became human to reunite us with our Creator. “And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

May Abba bless you with being attentive and faithful like Joseph as you celebrate the divine plans and invitations of our Creator.

The Christmas Story Can Become Too Familiar

By Elizabeth Gunter

A hand carved cresh from Mali, West Africa. The shepherds are Fulani herdsman.

This week I bring you a guest writer. I really appreciate Elizabeth Gunter’s reminding us of the uniqueness of the Christmas story. She writes for thefathersbusiness.com My prayer is this will help reinstill some wonder into our Advent season.
————

For those of us who grew up celebrating the birth of Jesus, the Christmas story can become too familiar. It easily slips from a story of awe to simple facts of history. We rattle off these events, such as Mary gave birth to Jesus and then the shepherds and wise men came to see Him, with the same ease that we describe what we did last weekend.

When you stop to really consider it, the story of Christmas is anything but normal. It is absurd. It is full of biological impossibility, strained family dynamics, emotional turmoil, supernatural encounters, a failed assassination attempt, and people asked to do the craziest things.
This is an invitation to deeply experience the Christmas story.
How would you feel if God told you that you are bearing His Son? Feel the fear of telling your fiance and parents that you are pregnant, and Joseph is not the father. Sense the shame as the village whispers about you. Imagine the weight of knowing you are carrying God’s Son, hoping that you don’t mess the whole thing up.
How would you feel if your beloved comes to you and says she is pregnant and you know that the baby is not yours? Feel the betrayal, rejection, and heartbreak of Joseph, based on wrong conclusions about Mary, until God sends an angel who straightens things out.
How would you feel on a ordinary night taking care of your sheep if an angel of the Lord showed up to say, “Drop what you are doing and go”? Feel the fear of such a supernatural event, followed by the doubt that creeps in to say, “Did I make that up?” What about leaving the sheep which are your sole source of income? Sense the wonder, fear, uncertainty, and hope of the shepherds as they come to meet the Savior.
What if you were one of the servants in the entourage of the magi? You are following your master who is basing his journey on a star. It is not a short journey either. It was weeks, months, maybe even years before you arrive at your final destination. How long would you keep walking to a place you don’t know to meet a person no one else seems to know about with only a star as a guide?
Then as the story continues, when is the last time you had a dream that you woke up from and knew that you, your wife, and child were to leave immediately to live in a foreign country? What was that discussion like? Would you leave friends and family behind to go to Egypt, based solely on a dream your spouse had ?
The story is full of one crazy event after another. Beyond recording the details of Jesus’ birth, the Christmas story reveals to us the otherness of God and how He longs to partner with big-spirited people to do the impossible. His reality is so much greater than ours. While we are thinking about getting married and settling down with a family in our hometown, He is planning to partner with us to fulfill His plan for the world.
The joy of this season is that with each twist and turn in the story God finds people who choose to live from their spirit and follow when they are challenged to believe what they have not seen and do what they have never done before.
That is the adventure He is calling each of us to live.
This Christmas marvel at the outrageous and awesome lengths to which God the Father will go to give you the perfect gift. Give Him the gift of the same reckless abandon of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the magi to pursue and follow your King Jesus.
May your spirit be so large and in tune with the Holy Spirit that when God shows up in the middle of your ordinary day with an extraordinary plan, you are ready to follow Him regardless of how absurd it might sound.
As 2018 approaches, open your heart to God-size dreams. Wait expectantly for God-sized visions, and don’t be surprised as He does exceedingly abundantly more than you can ask or imagine.
—–
© 2010 Elizabeth Gunter
An archive of past devotionals is available on the website.

You Tell The Story

Most of you have probably heard the joke about a children’s Sunday School teacher asking the children, “What is furry, with four legs, as swishing tail and loves nuts?” The young ones all look around at each other hoping someone else will answer. Finally, a little girl answers the teacher, “The answer’s gotta be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel.” Well, today’s blog let’s you look at some photos so you can tell the story. And no, the answer is not Jesus. (Though Jesus might be found at some level in our stories.)

Please take a few minutes with each photo, or take time with one today then another later…. I chose animal pictures to give a little “personality.” There is a bird feeder behind my home that backs up to woods. I see a lot of wild life every day. It is therapeutic and I have plenty of  “wild kingdom” stories to tell. (I’m showing my age, unless you remember Wild Kingdom too.) I think we can agree that nature has a lot of lessons to teach us, at the very least because it is part of creation.

What do you see beyond the obvious? Where does your mind go? How does it make you feel? What does that tell you about yourself? What might the photo tell you about Creation, and the Creator?

For the more easily creative and artistic people it might be easy to use the image to create a story. Others might be reminded of something from their own experience, a dream or a wish.

What are your eyes drawn to in any of the images? Take a moment to wonder why you are drawn to that part. Pray. Ask first for a sanctified imagination, then talk with our Creator and ask whatever comes to mind. Then be still for a bit to listen for that still small voice.

Is there one of these you prefer over another? Why? Of course there is no right or wrong answer, but maybe you can learn a little more about yourself and the one who made us in the process of enjoying the beauty and diversity.

I hope this exercise of letting you tell the story this time is a blessing even if it is possibly a little more work than I usually give. My prayer is that something in one of these images unlocks some hidden treasure for you. I hope you will respond to let me know how my prayer is answered!

“You Are The God Who Sees Me” – Hagar

Genesis 16:13

I suspect most people go through life not truly understanding that the God of all creation sees them. I know I did not grasp the truth that God sees me for a long time. Maybe I did a little, but the concept has grown with time and experience. There are still moments when I have an experience of the love of God, the God who sees me, and the truth sinks in a little deeper.

Hagar, in Genesis 16, ran away from a difficult situation. She couldn’t stand being mistreated by Sarah who she served. Sarah gave Hagar to her husband Abraham to fulfill a promise from God to have a son. Problem was, they were impatient and did not see the full plan, so they tried to do it their own way. Hagar became pregnant, and Sarah became jealous. In her fear and anger Sarah began to treat Hagar badly.

God appeared to Hagar in the desert to guide and bless her. That is when she understood “You are the God who sees me.” That phrase also became the name of the water well where they met.

When I say, “sees me,” I mean Abba knows me, just like He knew Hagar. I am a friend, not because of anything I have done, but because I am His created and chosen one, just like you are. I am one Christ came to reconcile to himself. So are you. Jesus said: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” John 15:16

Wow! God knows me and you, chose me and you, hears and answers my prayers and yours, and sees me and you!O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.”Psalm 139:1-4

Abba, help us to slow down so we can see you at work in and around us. Thank you for seeing Hagar. Thank you for seeing and knowing each one of us intimately. Help us to know that when you see us, you see Christ righteousness. You see the ones you chose to bear your fruit. May we walk in ever-increasing faith and intimacy with you! Amen

Thanksgiving 2017

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love to eat and food is central to the day. I also love to give thanks for the abundant blessings I have. Some may want to debate the origins of our blessings, but I really appreciate king David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 29. He was near the end of his life and his son Solomon was going to build the Temple for the Lord that David dreamed of. It is not just a prayer of thanks, it is a prayer of orientation. One that sets his, and consequently our, priorities aimed directly at the Creator of all things.

David’s Prayer

10David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,

“Praise be to you, Lord,
the God of our father Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
11 Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
12 Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
13 Now, our God, we give you thanks,
and praise your glorious name.

14 “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand….”

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Ps 19:1

Do you see how David directs all his thanks and adoration to the Creator? And what was the result? “But who am I, and who are my people…?” Compared to the Almighty we are nothing, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Our Creator has redeemed us fully and given us voices to thank Him for every breath we take.

I invite you to join me in taking a few minutes to jot down a few thoughts of thanksgiving. Think especially about how God is the author of all. Give thanks for life, the beauty of nature or whatever comes to you. And as we sit down to eat on Thanksgiving Day with family, friends or a turkey sandwich alone, remember the promise, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13

A Litany Of The Person

– Anonymous Trappist Monk

A litany is a call and response prayer, and it can also be a long list. You may have heard of a litany of complaints. The litany I bring you today is a long list of how our Creator sees us. I also believe it is how our Creator wants us to see ourselves and others around us.

I encourage you to not race through it. Take some time to read it out loud, slowly. Maybe even do it more than once. Notice how you react to the different lines. Does it fit? Does it feel awkward or even like a lie? Maybe it helps you to breathe easier. When a line strikes you one way or the other, pause and ask Abba about it.

My prayer is for it to sink in. Abba, You are a multifaceted God and you have also made us in your image. There are many facets of truth here. Show us where and how you want each one of us to engage with you. Thank you for the invitation to know ourselves better. Thank you that this will also help us to know you better. May each person who reads this come away with the specific blessing they need for today. Amen

A Litany of the Person

– Anonymous Trappist Monk

 

image of God

born of God’s breath

vessel of divine Love

after his likeness

dwelling of God

capacity for the infinite

eternally known

chosen of God

home of the Infinite Majesty

abiding in the Son

called from eternity

life in the Lord

temple of the Holy Spirit

branch of Christ

receptacle of the Most High

wellspring of Living Water

heir of the kingdom

the glory of God

abode of the Trinity.

God sings this litany

eternally in his Word.

This is who you are.

Source: (from the Abbey of Gethsemani)

I Can Never Get Away From Your Presence!

Psalm 139 tells us a lot about ourselves, and about our Creator. When I was preparing to move to Africa in 1980, I came across Psalm 139 and was struck by many things, but perhaps most of all by this declaration by the psalmist to God: I can never get away from your presence!” Honestly, I was a tiny bit fearful as a young twenty something to trust it would all be OK. On the flip side, I was excited to test out some of these promises. [emphasis mine]

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you.

Darkness and light are the same to you.

A few decades later and well over a million airline miles, I can confidently say these promises are true!

Though I have not been to Heaven or the grave, verse 8 reminds me how my son literally drowned in a half bucket of mop water at 6 months old and miraculously survived to thrive. It was not pleasant or easy, but I found out what it meant to be buoyed up by the prayers of others. I maintained a deep sense if the presence of God through it all.

From verse 9, I have flown on the wings of the morning many times over the years. Watching the sun rise from 35,000 feet is beautiful. I have watched the sun set just before sunset, then taken off to see it “rise” again. We chase it west a while, but it is faster than we are so it sets a second time. These opportunities help me experience the wonder of our Creator and His creation. He is there.

I started to count the oceans I’ve dwelt by, if even for a few days, but it’s easier to say I have found the presence of God on five continents. Not to say anything about me, but rather of our Makers ability to meet needs and hear prayers from any corner of the planet.

What about the darkness in verses 11 & 12? My photo is a feeble attempt to capture the idea that regardless of our  interpretation of our situation. There is another reality than the one we see with our eyes. The light from the one who both imagined and created light by saying, “let there be light, and there was light” is able to able to see us in the dark and is with us in the dark. This is because it is never really as dark as we might think it is.

How do we experience the presence of God in our “darkness?” We ask and we look. It is amazing what we can ‘see’ when begin to ask to see it, then look for it. Since I discovered these verses decades ago, I have put them to the test many times. Through many events that initially felt dark and overwhelming, when I slowed down to look and listen, I can safely say I have never been disappointed.