If we’re honest, at certain times in our lives God can be difficult to find. If you’ve walked with Jesus long enough, there seems to be these seasons when God is either difficult to find, elusive or seemingly absent.
There are a lot of complexities and facets to this reality and feeling. There are a lot of potential reasons and points to consider when you are in this place. And, while I don’t want to offer a simplistic or one-size-fits all explanation for this reality, a new reason why God might be difficult to find did occur to me the other day. It happened as I played hide-and-seek, with my kids.
The truth is this, when I play hide-and-seek with my kids, I hide to be found. I don’t want to win; I want them to enjoy the search, to seek, to feel joy when they’ve found me and to celebrate when they discover me.
Then it hit me, does God sometimes “hide” for this same reason? That we might search for Him? That we might find Him? That we might be stirred to action?
This thought occurred to me as I stuffed my big 6 foot 4 inch body into a cupboard and desperately hoped my kids would find me, as it was incredibly uncomfortable. And, the longer they took, the louder I got yelling, “Over here, Asher, Eden, Hudson!!”
I wonder, does God ever do this? Remove Himself so that we might seek Him? Call out to us so that we might find him? Intrigue us, draw us and ask us to move toward Him?
Now, I certainly don’t want to downplay what you are going through or to dismiss any of your current realities, especially if you’re in a season when God seems absent. This isn’t saying that anytime God seems difficult to find, this is what going on, but perhaps, maybe God hides simply to be found.
I read this the other day, and it just struck me with how true it is. Shauna Niequist writes this:
What writing teaches me, over and over, is that God is waiting to be found everywhere; in the darkest corners of our lives, the dead ends and bad neighbourhoods we wake up in, and in the simplest, lightest, most singular and luminous moments. He’s hiding, like a child, in quite obvious and visible places, because he wants to be found.
And I just so believe that. I mean deep in my bones believe that. That God want’s to be found. That he is part of all areas of our lives, sometimes in these obvious and amazing places waiting to be found.
What if rather than assuming God is hiding from us, he wants to be found by us.
What if rather than assuming God is only in huge mountaintop experiences, he is all around us?
What if rather than assuming that only mystics and spiritual gurus can find God, that God wants to be found by everyone? Even us ordinary people with jobs, cooking, and kids?
What if God isn’t far out there, but right with you.
The question then is are you looking for him? Because I believe like Shauna writes, that God’s hiding, like a child, in quite obvious and visible places, because he wants to be found
On Sunday we discussed one of the last sayings of Jesus, where he cries out in a loud voice:
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
And this is a verse with a lot of tensions and complexities. Many scholars don’t like the idea of the Father abandoning the Son. This also raises consternation and concern about the Father’s character for me too. So scholars offer two solutions. One, that Jesus isn’t actually being abandoned by God, he is just feeling like he is. But that just seems like semantics to me, and goes against what seems obvious: that Jesus is experiencing being abandoned by God, because he is being abandoned by God.
Other scholars point out that Jesus is quoting Psalm 22 (which he is). And taking the Psalm as a whole, it ends with vindication. That the suffering victim is eventually vindicated, justified, and that God overcomes the wrongful suffering. So they say Jesus is actually saying that he will trust in God to overcome this wrong. They (rightly) point out that speaking on a cross is incredibly painful and difficult. So Jesus couldn’t have quoted the whole Psalm (I agree), so he quotes one verse to bring the whole Psalm into view.
Again though I just think this goes against the plain reading. If Jesus could only quote one verse because of pain, and wanted to talk about God vindicating him, he could have quoted the last verses of Psalm 22. But he doesn’t, he quotes a verse about being abandoned.
So even though I might not like the idea of the Father abandoning or forsaking his Son, I think we are left with the plain reading of Scripture.
But there is one obvious fact that needs to be stated, that actually changes the whole perspective of this verse. It is stated from Jesus’ perspective. We don’t hear the Father’s perspective. So Jesus is being forsaken by the Father, and then we assume, that the Father is above pouring out wrath on Jesus in an emotionless dispassionate state.
People struggle with this verse because it makes it seem like Jesus is nice, whereas, the Father is stern, uncaring, judge, who abandons his son when he needs it most. But this is all based on an assumption, that the Father is unmoved by what his Son is going through. And this assumption is wrong, and what I not only challenged but worked through in more detail (download the sermon for more).
Jurgen Moltmann writes,
“In forsaking the Son, the Father also surrenders himself, though not in the same way. For Jesus suffers dying in forsakenness, but not death itself; for men can no longer suffer death, because suffering presupposes life. But the Father who abandons him and delivers him up suffers the death of the Son in the infinite grief of love…The son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of the Son”.
And here is his key thought: “The grief of the Father here is just as important as the death of the Son.”
And this is what we need to get, that the Father and Son are both affected and separated because of our sin. It isn’t a singular choice on the Father’s side to abandon his son. It is a choice within the Trinity to experience the separation of sin so that we could be welcomed into fellowship with God. The Father doesn’t kill his Son, to forgive us. The Father experiences an abyss of separation from his beloved Son, so that we could become incorporated into the family of God. Sin ruptures, that’s what it does. And it does this at the heart of the Trinity. So yes, Jesus experienced being forsaken by the Father, and the Father experienced the death of the Son.
This led us to some simple but personal conclusions.
First, that we need to be in reverent thanks of what the Father, Son, and Spirit went through to include us in their life. The Son died, so we could live. And this affected all the Trinity, and for that we need to be grateful. We need to be reverently worshipful of the depth of what God went through for each and everyone of us.
Second, we talked about that sin is serious. That sin brought separation to the heart of God, and we need to own that. We did that. We killed the Son (read the Book of Acts). We need to recognize the seriousness of sin, and confess, repent, and rid ourselves of sin. If sin did this to God, we need to work at ridding ourselves of it.
So we ended with a challenge, to sit in thanks to God, and repent for sin. When we see the depth of what God went through, I think that is the right response: reverence and repentance.
Martin Luther said, “God forsaking God, who can understand it?” I know for sure we don’t all understand it because of one sermon (I certainly don’t), but I hope we got a little closer and most of all, a little more reverent and repentant.
Big Idea: Jesus was abandoned by the Father for us; and the Father experienced the abandonment of the Son for us.
Challenge for Lent: 1) Pray Weekly Prayers of Repentance, 2) Pray Daily Corporate Prayers 2 Chronicles 7:14, 3) Fast Something for Lent
“God forsaking God. Who can understand it?” – Martin Luther
Jesus’ death is a moment of cosmic significance, and the cosmos recognize it by darkening
This passage is not about us, but what Jesus is experiencing.
We need to be honest with text – Jesus is being forsaken
Jesus is stating what is true from his perspective
Just as Jesus was forsaken, so too was the Father forsaken from the Son
If our sin separates Jesus from the Father; it separates the Father from the Son.
The grief of the Father here is just as important as the death of the Son. Moltmann
We cannot understand the depth of our sin, unless we understand that both Jesus and the Father are suffering in this moment on the cross.
The Son is losing the Father, but the Father is losing the Son.
Our sin doesn’t just affect Jesus, but affects God as a whole.
We should have holy and reverent awe for God.
We should repent and cast off sin.
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Have you practiced Lent before? What can you fast or give up this year? Had you ever struggled with the idea of the Father forsaking the Son before? Had you ever thought of what the Father went through when Jesus died? What do you think it was like for him? How does it make you appreciate God? How does it change or deepen how you see sin?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Read the story today with your kids. Talk to them about the verse we read, about how Jesus was separated from his Dad because of our sin. About how hard it was, but that he did that for us. So that we can be loved, and welcomed in. Give them a chance to confess anything to Jesus in thankfulness for what he did.
Challenge for the Week: To sit and contemplate what Jesus went through, confess any sin, and reverently worship him this week
On Sunday we sat and shared stories of what God has done in our lives. We essentially tried to practice this Psalm 77:11-12 corporately. We read this there:
Once again I’ll go over what God has done, lay out on the table the ancient wonders; I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished, and give a long, loving look at your acts.
That verse is such a powerful reminder for us. As I reflected over the past year I realized ways I hadn’t seen God moving. Because the truth is that sometimes we only see God moving in hindsight. During the midst of difficulty, the busyness of life, we can actually miss seeing God move. But as we pause, reflect, and remember we can see how God was moving. This is why this practice of pausing, remembering and sharing isn’t just a good idea – it’s a crucial idea. If we are going to be able to follow God into the next year, we should know of how he moved in the past year.
We ended the service with a simple but practical challenge: share a story of how God moved this past year. That’s it. Just share some of those loving acts. It didn’t need to be big – just real and honest.
For some of us the only thing we can share is that we are still here. That God got us through. For others we have reasons to celebrate – people have kicked addictions, found new hope, or seen miracles. The point is that sharing the things God has accomplished brings us hope and brings God into our present.
So I think the challenge is still a good one for all of us this week. Share with a friend, your kids, your spouse, your neighbor the good God has done. Spend time taking a long look at the loving things God has done, and then share it. Because who knows, this might be the way that God does something in your present, as you share how he moved in the past.
Big Idea: We need to take a long loving look at God’s acts.
Sometimes we only see God’s hand in our lives in hindsight
How has God been active in your year?
Once again I’ll go over what God has done, lay out on the table the ancient wonders; I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished, and give a long, loving look at your acts Psalm 77:11-12
Remember what God has done, and share what God has done.
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? What was funny? What are some of the things God has done in your life in the past year? Do you believe it’s true that sometimes you only see God in hindsight? How come? Who should you share your story of God’s activity with?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Ask your kids one question and then really listen: what did God do for you in the past year? Spend time listening and sharing stories.
Challenge for the Week: Remember what God has done, and share what God has done.
Over the next few weeks we are going to be moving into a new series looking at the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. This is a story that is very well known in general. But what is often true is that the most familiar stories are sometimes the least well known. Meaning that some of the most familiar stories are so familiar that they have lost their initial impact, shock, and experience.
This is what I hope to explore over the next few weeks. Because this story is shocking in what it reveals.
It shows a God willing to divide up his life for people to make the wrong choices.
It shows a God willing to accept and offer forgiveness before it’s asked for.
It shows how we can break the rules, and obey all the rules and still miss God.
It shows how our own righteousness and obedience to the law can distance ourselves from God just as much as running away.
And most of all, it shows a radical picture of God that differs from the unchanging, cold, distant entity in heaven; instead it shows a God radically open, relational, and filled with reckless love.
So that is where we are going for the next few weeks; looking each week at one of the characters in the story and how our lives might line up with theirs. But before we do that, why not spend sometime and slowly read and digest this story. Listen to it as if for the first time and discover not only who God is, but also who we are.
Luke 15: 11- 32.
“A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
On Sunday we are going to be looking at a really odd story found in the Bible. It’s one where God uses a star to direct people to his Son. It’s odd because the story is really about how to find God, but generally we never say to someone searching…”Well look up at the stars”. So on Sunday we’ll find out what this story can teach us about finding God. Because I think in our lives we want to find Jesus, we want to have a deep vibrant relationship with him, we want the full life he talks about. And to find the full life Jesus talks about, means finding him.
So the question I have for you is this: how do you find Jesus? Are you looking for him in your life and all around you? I think it’s a question worth pursuing.
So how have you found him in your life? What did it take? What helped? What was tough? Because what has been my experience is this. God isn’t hiding, but I’m not very good at looking. I give up too fast, I give in to doubt and dejection too quickly, and I forget that my God is looking for me too. But what I’ve learned is that finding God is the most important discovery of my life. So on Sunday we’ll talk about how this Christmas we might all make the same discovery…and we’ll discover it has a lot to do with stars and sacrifices…
On Sunday we looked at the reality of Jesus entrance into the world. And it should give us so much hope because Jesus shows up in the midst of a mess.
On the first Christmas there was family drama because as Mary and Joseph come home they end up staying…in an Inn. Which means they weren’t welcome at home. They were rejected while being nine months pregnant. They have travelled, are dirty, tired, sore, and now hurt. There is a chance for division between them as they talk about their families and the rejection. They can’t find anywhere to stay and Joseph must be wondering how am I to be a father to the messiah if I can’t even find us a place to stay. They end up in a barn with a manger. Jesus in a feeding trough. Jesus born in the midst of dirt, messiness, and family drama.
What I love about this is that Jesus decides to show up in the midst of a mess. So if in your family Christmas can bring with it some drama, division, and rejection. If in this Christmas your finances are in a mess, your personal relationships or your family, this doesn’t stop Jesus from showing up. Because God chose for Jesus to show up for the very first time when everything wasn’t perfect, pristine, and pretty. God chose Jesus to show up in the midst of a mess and to start to transform things from there.
So this Christmas, if your life is feeling a bit messy in places, then invite Jesus to show up there. Remember that messiness in our lives doesn’t stop Jesus from coming, because it’s the first place he chose to show up. And so if he chose way back then to show up in the midst of a mess…my theological guess is that your mess isn’t too big for him to show up there too…
So look for him, invite him, and trust that even in the midst of a mess the Messiah comes…
Big Idea: Jesus chooses to show up in the midst of our mess
Advent is then a period of intense training that directs us decisively to the One who has already come, who will come and who continuously comes. Pope John Paul
We tend to base our hope on our present reality…rather than the reality of Jesus.
Even in the first Christmas there was a mess…family drama, division, and hurt feelings, but it doesn’t stop Jesus from showing up.
Focus on Jesus to find him in the midst of a mess…
We are far to easily pleased. C.S. Lewis
Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stood out to you from this morning’s talk? What made you laugh? What made you think? What was new? Spend a moment and think and picture what it might be like in when Jesus was born. As you reflect on it, what strikes you? Where in your own life is there a bit of “messiness”? Do you believe and trust that God can show up there? What stops you from trusting in that truth? What helps you to trust in the truth that God wants to show up? How might you focus on him this Christmas season and not get distracted by the mess? When has Jesus shown up for you in the midst of a mess? How might he do it again this season?
Discussion Questions for Young Families: Read over the Christmas story with your family. Have the kids picture the story and share with them how Jesus came in the midst of a mess, that whenever we are in a mess he wants to be there with us too.
“We believe that the divine presence is everywhere” – Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 19
On Sunday we discovered how embedded in Psalm 84 is the idea of creating and walking paths that lead to God’s presence.
So today I want to share a few ways “paths” that lead me to God’s presence in my life. These are rhythms I seek to practice to help me connect with God.
The first is awareness. Jesus says in Matthew 24:23 “Pay attention” I just want to take that seriously.
The fact is that God is all around me. His presence is something I can’t escape from as the Psalmist says, “If I go to the heights of heaven, God is there. If I go to the bottom of the depths, God is there.” So the point then is to become aware of his presence, that He is a part of my life. The point is to pay attention. I just need to walk around my life with eyes wide open to discover God.
To help this I’ve done this through a few simple but concrete rhythms. The first is when I start talking with someone I often pray: “God be with me.” I seek to remember that God is present in the conversation, so I look to him, seek his guidance, and hope to be found by God in the midst of that dialogue with another.
Other ways I try to develop awareness is I have random text messages sent to me throughout the day from echoprayer.com reminding me of God’s presence. I seek to see intrusions in my day as chances to get a glimpse of God. I remind myself that God has created the day, is a part of it, and wants to find me ~ so I need to look for him.
The point is we pray “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”. So are we looking for God’s Kingdom all around us? Are we open to discovering him in conversations, connections, creations, and communities?
So one path that leads me to God is simply paying attention. Not rushing through conversations, seeing intrusions as possible connections, and believing God is around me to be discovered. What about you though? How do you pay attention and seek out God in your daily life?
To end, Iris Murdoch wrote:
“Prayer is properly not petition, but simply an attention to God which is a form of love”
This seems to be a very important question if you are a Christian. Or maybe it’s better put “How do you let God find you?”
This is what we are going to be looking at on Sunday. The point is that the Bible is very clear, Christ is in you, the Spirit is in you, and the Father loves you. So how do we live in light of these realities? How do we experience the presence and connection with God that I think many of us desire?
So that’s what we’re going to be looking at on Sunday from Psalm 84. But before we get there, what about you? What do you do in your life that helps to connect you with God? What is it in your life that allows you to be found by God?
This is not about creating new rules or laws to connect with God; it’s about creating some healthy rhythms that cultivate relationships. For example, with my wife,we have rhythms of eating, sitting outside together, and cooking together that sustain our relationship. None of these are rules, but when this rhythm fades because of busyness or a lack of priority our relationship suffers. If I miss one meal with my wife, our relationship won’t suffer. If I don’t make it a priority to eat any meals with her, our relationship will quickly fade. I think the same thing can happen with God. The point is that if you miss your “quiet time” one morning with God you’re relationship with him isn’t in danger. If though, you never put any time or effort into it – how can you expect it to grow?
So, for you, what rhythms help to develop your relationship with him? Is it music, dancing, conversation, creation, or something else? For me I often find God in conversations, in regular moments with a cup of coffee, a stolen moment of silence at work, or when I’m creating something. But what about you? What brings you closer to God? What rhythms or practices have helped you to cultivate a relationship with him?
And lastly, and most importantly, are you practicing them? Because when we seek God, as we’ll find out on Sunday, the promise is we will be found by him.
Rabbi Jason Shulman writes, “There are many books that tell us how to find God. But the truth is that God is not lost or hiding. In fact, it is the actual continuous, omnipresence of God that is so hard for the human mind to fathom.”
So today why not create some space to be found by God, and realize he’s already with you…