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The Divine Elephant

Reason Enough
for Embracing Today
Part 2
"The Sacredness of Here and Now"
Delivered the weekend of January  17 & 18

          On Monday, January 11, 2009, Tony Dungy retired after seven very successful years as the coach of the Indianapolis Colts.  We happened to be in the Indianapolis area on that day and watched a good portion of the extended live press conference that he held.  At least three times, and maybe more, Dungy referred to “the Lord” in answering the press's questions.  He also referred to attending his church on Wednesday evening.  In one of those references he was talking about being open to the Lord's leading as to what he should do next.  It's well known that Dungy is a deeply-committed follower of Jesus Christ.
            The next day I read in our local paper the Associated Press article about Dungy’s retirement announcement.  Then I read it a second time.  There was no mention of the Lord or of Dungy's church-going!  Given Dungy's frequent references to his faith, God was conspicuous by His absence in the article!  If you know anything about Dungy you know about his faith, and writing anything of significance about him without mentioning his faith in the Lord is ignoring the elephant in the room.
            Day-to-day living in our world usually contains little reference to God in the media, the workplace, or anyplace.  This is amazing, given the fact that there's no one or anything bigger or more important than God.  He is, for all practical purposes, the divine elephant in the room!
            If God really IS, that should make all the difference in the world when it comes to the way we look at life and live each day.  That's why, in this second in our series of six messages on “The Divine Elephant – Reason Enough for Embracing Today” we're focusing on the theme “The Sacredness of Here and Now.”  If God is really God and is present in all places at the same time, including where we live, there's no division between the sacred and the secular.  Everywhere and everything should be considered sacred because God is everywhere and is with everything in existence.
            Let's look at the story of a man who woke in the middle of the night with a tremendous realization that God was right there with him.  His name was Jacob, and his experience can help us put our own daily living into proper perspective: every time and place is holy and special because God is with us! 

Jacob's Staircase
Jacob is considered one of the great Old Testament patriarchs.  His grandfather was Abraham and his father was Isaac.  To make a long and very interesting story short, Jacob’s twin brother Esau was very angry with him — angry enough to kill him — because Jacob had tricked their old, blind father Isaac into giving him the blessing that belonged to Esau.  Jacob was on the run from his brother, heading toward the land of Haran where his uncle Laban lived.  (Laban was the brother of Jacob’s mother Rebekah.)
            At the end of one of his days of travel Jacob made camp.  He used a stone for a pillow, which may explain why he woke in the middle of the night.  After all, you can't fluff a rock!  Actually he woke in the middle of the night because he had dreamed an amazing, very vivid dream.  It was actually what’s called a “theophany,” which means that God revealed Himself.
            The historical record states that “He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  There above it stood the Lord, . . .” (Genesis 28:12-13a)
            What Jacob saw could be translated either as a ladder or a stairway (hence the old song “We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder”).  However, because angels were passing each other going up and down from earth to heaven and from heaven to earth, it makes more sense to picture it as a broad staircase.  A ladder or stairway connects two levels; this one was connecting heaven and earth.
            Then God spoke to Jacob from the top of the staircase: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.  I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.” (Genesis 28:13)
            Then “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, 'Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.'  He was afraid and said, 'How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.'” (Genesis 28:16-17)  He named the place
Bethel.  (Actually it should be pronounced “beth el”, which means “house of God.”  My wife Diann's home church in Leota, Minnesota is named the Bethel Reformed Church, and there are many other churches, colleges, and seminaries with that name.)
            Jacob took his stone pillow, set it on end, and poured oil over it.  The stone was to mark the spot where he had been reminded that God was with him.  This story is recorded so that we, too, might be reminded that wherever we are, God is there.  How many times should we confess, “Surely the Lord was in this place, and I was not aware of it”?           

God Is Always with Us
It's interesting that the location that Jacob chose for a camp was a nondescript one.  The text simply says, “When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set.” (Genesis 28:11)  The time and place seemed random.  He made camp for the night wherever he happened to be when the sun set.  He didn't have to go anywhere special or be at that place at a certain time.  Where he happened to be is where God happened to show up!  When we meet someone we always ask “where and when?”.  However, we don’t have to do that with God, because He’s present in all places all the time!
            The psalmist David wrote, “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.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:7-10)
            Jean Pierre de Caussade was a French Jesuit priest who lived in the 1700s.  He's most famous for his book The Sacrament of the Present Moment.  In it he wrote about God that “He is by your side, over you, around and in you.” (p.18)
            We may feel that we're not at a very good place in life right now; it may be hard to believe that God's right here with us.  Maybe if we could get to a better place in our lives, we’d be in a better position to experience God, relate to Him, and be “more religious.”  However, that’s not so.  Remember, Jacob realized that God was with him in a place that was nowhere in particular.  The text simply calls it “a certain place.”  That's exactly where each of us is, isn't it?  God isn’t waiting to meet us where we aren’t; He’s willing to meet us where we are!  We don't have to get to a better place in life before we can experience the presence of God.
            We also may feel that we're not worthy enough for God to track us down.  The truth is that we aren’t worthy, but it's OK because God is a God of grace and mercy!  Jacob wasn't all that great a person either, when you stop and think about it.  He was a liar and a cheat, a man who had conned his twin brother out of what was rightfully his and tricked his elderly father in the process — yet when God shouted down the stairs to Jacob He didn't give him thunder (a common weather condition that exists when God shows up).  Instead, God talked about being with Jacob and promised him a great future.
            Jacob responded in a positive way to his new, profound awareness of the presence of God.  He continued his journey and ultimately continued the lineage that resulted in a great nation of people: the Israelites.  How should we respond to the ultimate reality that God is very much present with us all the time and everywhere?  We should live every day with a sense of the sacredness of the here and now! 

The Sacredness of the Here and Now
One of the most important habits we can establish is practicing the presence of God.  One of the best classic Christian books is a little volume by a 17th century monk named Brother Lawrence.  The book is called The Practice of the Presence of God.  The book's message is simple: we should practice thinking about and affirming the presence of God even while we’re doing simple things like washing dishes.  Jean Pierre de Caussade stated, “To discover God in the smallest and most ordinary things, as well as in the greatest, is to possess a rare and sublime faith.”
            Richard Foster, a modern-day writer about the spiritual life, stated about God that “He takes the moments of our days and the simple duties that make them up and gives them sacramental significance.”  I remember thinking when I was cleaning out my chicken coop last year that I was as much in God's will and His presence doing that as when I stand before you, preaching!
            We’re supposed to find joy in having God with us as we go through our day-to-day activities, as humdrum as some of those activities are.  He’s with us even in them, so He makes the humdrum holy!
            Jesus only had an active ministry — preaching, teaching, and healing — for the last three years of His thirty-three years of life on earth.  That means that probably from the age of 15 or so until He was thirty — for about 15 years — He worked in His stepfather Joseph's carpenter shop.  Here He was, the Son of God on earth among us, sawing wood, pounding nails, and sanding wood.
            Because God has made us, loves us, is willing to forgive us, and is always with us, we should see every day as special and sacred.  It’s true that life has many troubles, and we'll be addressing that in a later message in this series, but no matter what else comes into our lives, including things that aren’t good, we can still have God in our lives — and He can make all the difference in the world!
            When we practice the presence of the Lord — that is, always seeking to be mindful of His closeness — we’ll find other reasons to take delight in each day.  We'll be more like little children.  Have you ever noticed how little children find delight in the smallest things?  Have you ever noticed that they can do the same little thing over and over again and insist on your being part of the repetition?
            In an article in Parade Magazine Cesar Millan, known as “the dog whisperer,” wrote about what our pet dogs can teach us: “For a dog, every morning is Christmas morning.  Every walk is the best walk, every meal is the best meal, every game is the best game.  We can learn so much by observing the way our pets rejoice in life's simplest moments.  Take time every day to celebrate the many gifts that are hidden in the ordinary events of your own life.”
            Erwin McManus wrote, “God created us so he could enjoy us and we could enjoy him and we could enjoy life.” (Wide Awake, p.192)  Joy is one of the nine fruit of the Holy Spirit's presence in our lives: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, . . .” (Galatians 5:22)  The Bible commands us to have joy!  The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)  That means that joylessness is a sin!
            We may not always find joy in a situation, but we can always find joy in knowing that God is with us in that situation!  Psalm 118 is litany of bad things that happened to the psalmist, but he affirmed that God was still working in his life.  He declared — and so should we — “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

            If God is really God and is always with us, that should make all the difference in the way we view each day.  He's the divine elephant in the room; let's not ignore Him!  Let's learn from Jacob's experience; he declared, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”

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