The Wandering Desert Monk

The Wandering Desert Monk

Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Day 2017

Today is New Year’s Day 2017.

What can we count on as we step into 2017?

What will we face in this year?

Heaven, what word do you have for us?

As I sought God, my mind was drawn to another time when God’s people were facing changes in their national life. Moses had just died; Joshua was installed as the new leader. The people were anxious. Moses was their savior – he had lead them out of Egypt. For over 40 years, Moses had lead them through the wilderness. If the people were anxious about their future, the newly appointed leader, Joshua, was understandably even more anxious.

Let's listen into God's conversation with Joshua:

“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:5-9.

God gives Joshua and the people one promise and two commandments.

The promise of God’s presence: I will be with you.

How many people are alone? How many feel alone even in the crowd? Ever feel abandoned? Ever ask, “Who is there for me?”  Ever ask, “Who will be with me if I go from here?”

Inside of God’s promise of God’s presence is the answer to these questions.
God will not abandon you. You may feel abandoned just as Jesus felt abandoned on the cross, the truth is you are not abandoned. God is right there in your feeling of abandonment.

God will go with you wherever you go. You cannot run from God’s presence. You cannot hide from God’s presence.

Many years later the Psalmist would pen these words:

“Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I run 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

Let us embrace the promise of God’s presence as we move into 2017.

The promise of God’s presence is the foundation of the two commands God gives.

 God commands his people to be strong and courageous. By ourselves, even in a crowd, it hard to be courageous.

How can we be strong and courageous in face of challenges of life? In ourselves we cannot be strong and courageous; only in the presence of God can we be strong.

We say, “But I am too weak!.”

Here is the story of St. Paul dealing with a painful situation:

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take (the thorn) away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

If you can live successfully by yourself, you have no need for God. Celebrate your weaknesses because they are moments for God’s victory!

God also commands his people: “Don’t be afraid1”

Many years ago Pastor Robert Schuller asked his congregation to give suggestions for sermon topics. The number one topic was fear. There are two basic human emotions: love and fear. Every other human emotion flows from these two emotions. Love is the seed of all the positive emotions we experience; fear is the seed of all the negative emotions we experience. Insecurity, jealousy, hatred, greed, anxiety, critical, bitterness, conflict and so on all flow from fear. God has a word for our fear: Don’t be afraid!

Why do we not share fear of society around us? Remember God is with us. Our fearless life comes from being secure in the knowledge and experience of God’s presence.

I want to end with a poem about God’s presence. First, I want to share the background to the poem that was written yesterday by my cousin, Henry.

“It is 3 years ago on this New Year’s Eve a drunk man running from the police  and God discovered Erica's body. Erica, my wife, had been missing since Oct 5, 88 days before. It was the longest 88 days I've ever been through! The Lord had given me a word 1 week before she went missing: 'enduring' + I now have a new definition of it - 'one day more than I thought I could yesterday.'  Many lives were somehow touched through it all and the story still isn't finished."

Here is Henry’s poem:

Like footsteps in water,
The Past fades into memories.
The Future beckons, invites  - calls us
Ahead into what we do not know: 
Darkness? mountains? valleys? pain? fire? rain? …rainbows!
But one thing is ever assured:
‘The Way, The Truth + The Life’ has promised us
His Presence: He will never, no … not ever forsake us,
Jesus, ever with us: protecting, comforting, guiding.
We may not understand our Past, nor foresee our Future,
But His Presence always with us is His gift.
Lord, grant us eyes to see...You… here… now… forever.
May 2017 open new horizons of adventure +revelation for you all!

Over 4, 000 years from Joshua to today, the message remains – God will be with you every day in this new year.

Ronald Friesen © 2016

P.S. I will share this as a message at Glencroft Retirement Community, Glendale, AZ

Friday, December 30, 2016

Be a person of prayer

"If you would suffer with patience the adversities and miseries of this life, be a man of prayer. If you would obtain courage and strength to conquer the temptations of the enemy, be a man of prayer. If you would mortify your own will with all its inclinations and appetites, be a man of prayer. If you would know the wiles of Satan and unmask his deceits, be a man of prayer. If you would live in joy and walk pleasantly in the ways of penance, be a man of prayer. If you would banish from you soul the troublesome flies of vain thoughts and cares, be a man of prayer. If you would nourish your soul with the very sap of devotion, and keep it always full of good thoughts and good desires, be a man of prayer. If you would strengthen and keep up your courage in the ways of God, be a man of prayer. In fine, if you would uproot all vices from your soul and plant all virtues in their place, be a man of prayer. It is in prayer that we receive the unction and grace of the Holy Ghost, who teaches all things."
— St. Bonaventure, The Ways of Mental Prayer, p. 25-26

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Kiss the Face of God

Christmas Day 2016 –

What did Mary see when she looked into the face of baby Jesus? In Mark Lowry’s song, What did Mary know, the line goes this way:

And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God Mary did you know?

Here is the story behind the song in the words of the writer, Mark Lowry:

“Well, my Pastor asked me to write the Christmas program for our church, called The Living Christmas Tree, & I wrote some monologue to go in between the songs. I started thinking & wondering if Mary realized the power, authority & majesty that she cradled in her arms that first Christmas. I wondered if she realized those little hands were the same hands that scooped out oceans & formed rivers. I just tried to put into words the unfathomable. I started thinking of the questions I would have for her if I were to sit down & have coffee with Mary...you know, "What was it like raising God?" "...What did you know?" "...What didn't you know?". Over time, it (the song) just happened & I had the lyric.”

In this Christmas season I have been thinking with Mark Lowry what it must have been to be Mary looking into and kissing the face of God.

As I meditated on this thought I came up with three thoughts for us to consider if we were to kiss the face of God today.

When you kiss the face of God you kiss the face of love.

When you kiss the face of God you kiss the face of hope.

When you kiss the face of God you kiss the face of grace.

I know there are four themes during Advent: love, joy, hope and peace. I want to focus on two of those: love and hope and introduce a new one: grace.

When Hal David and Burt Bacharach wrote, What the world needs now is love, in 1965 the United States was just beginning to bet involved in what would be known as the Vietnam War. If the world needed love in 1965, 41 years later the world still needs a lot of love. Not Hollywood love but sacrificial, life-changing love.

The power and magnitude of God’s love is summarized in this well-known scripture -  John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his uniquely born son. The babe in the manger is the Father’s love gift.

I read a story on Facebook that exemplifies the kind of love God unleashes when we kiss the God of love and let God kiss us with love.

Mike Friesen, no relation to me, shared this story on Facebook.

I'm walking around the deli in Target when a woman walking beside me on the phone says, "I feel horrible. Another year of not being able to get my kids gifts. I'm tired of feeling like a failure in their eyes. I'm tired of not feeling like I'm enough." I walk around looking for meat and walk in front of her. While checking something on her phone, she slams her cart into my Achilles. I turn around and she grunts into frustration, "I'm so sorry. I can't do anything right right now." I told her it was okay. I begin walking with her behind me again and hear a deep breath met with a sad whimper, I stop, and she slams into my Achilles again. She said, "UGH, I'm sorry." I laughed and told her it was my fault. I looked at her and said, 

"I overheard your conversation back there and I'm so sorry. I've gotten so many gift cards from here this Christmas, can I give you them?"

"What? Why would you do that? Why would you be so generous?"

"Well, generosity is a trust that I have enough. It's easy to become anxious when you feel like you don't have enough. I can do this because someone has been generous too me. I feel like I have enough because these don't represent monetary things but that I have succeeded in my work, that I am valued and loved by the people who gave them to me."

I handed them to her and told her the amount. She started crying and thanked me. She asked me if I would help her pick out gifts for her kids. I told her that I would walk with her but would be of no help since my toy buying stopped at video games in my adolescence (and still occurs today).

She told me about her kids. Her son, 10, who is obsessed with Star Wars, so that's what she picked out for him. She told me that she feels he'll be an artist of some sort someday and that he's really talented. She hopes to find a way to get him classes to develop those skills. She also told me about her daughter, 8, who is really into animals. She got her Secret Life of Pets, with some coloring books and action figures. She hopes that she'll someday be a vet or a vet tech.
We checked out together and she thanked and hugged me at the door. She thanked me deeply saying that I alleviated that feeling of humiliation. When I was walking out, Luke 16 popped into my head and that God's economy is about friendship. A man gave work and money to accumulate friends. I felt grateful, even as I felt a little poorer, because God has been generous with me and God is inviting me into a less lonely world with friends surrounded by me. I feel blessed that that's the world that God wants me in. A world where we can love and be loved.

Have you let the God of love kiss your face?

When Mary kissed the face of love, she also kissed the face of hope.

Long before Mark Lowry wrote Mary did you know, Mary sang a song after she heard of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, a song we often call The Magnificat:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,

    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful

to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Notice Mary’s words are all in the past tense.  Mary sings this song as if it has already accomplished, yet, Jesus is barely a seed in her body.

We usually think of hope as something that will happen. In the baby Jesus hope is not something hoped for; in baby Jesus hope is fulfilled. Do you need a miracle in your life? Come and kiss the face of hope and let hope kiss your face.

Not only did Mary kiss the face of love and hope, she kissed the face of grace.

Listen to the description of Jesus in the word of John the Evangelist:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14).

What is grace? The gift of acceptance based not on what we do but purely on the choice of the giver. Jesus accepts not because we are worthy of his acceptance. He forgives not because we have so little to be forgiven. He wraps his arms around us not because we are so loveable.

Being kissed by grace is to be accepted as we are.

Listen to a more contemporary reflection of what we mean by God’s grace in the words of Brennan Manning, a pastor who struggled for years with alcoholism:

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last 'trick', whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

'But how?' we ask.

Then the voice says, 'They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'

There they are. There *we* are - the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life's tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.”

What are you searching for this Christmas?

Love? Let yourself be kissed by the God of love.

Hope? Let yourself be kissed by the God of hope

Acceptance? Let yourself be kissed by the God of Grace.

Ronald Friesen © 2016


Shared on Christmas Day 2016, Oasis for the Nations, Phoenix, AZ