The Presence of God #8 July 17, 2018

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are you ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.  Isaiah 55:8-9

I have learned that God loves to show up in unpredictable ways. He is always the same God but manifests His presence in a multitude of ways, including some that surprise us. He has His reasons for doing so.

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If God showed up the same way all the time, no faith would be required of us to accept His ways. We might even take Him for granted.  Once He presented Himself as the fourth man in the furnace with the three Hebrew boys.  Another time He shut the mouths of lions to save Daniel’s life. In Hebrews 11 we read that ‘some were sawn in two…slain by the sword’ but others ‘escaped the edge of the sword’.  But God was with both groups – giving abundance of grace for martyrdom to those who were slain and abundance of grace to those who escaped.  As opposite as these two experiences are, both were accomplished through faith. His presence was as real to the martyrs as to those who escaped martyrdom and it is His presence that strengthened them all.

Believe it or not, if God showed up the same way all the time, we might get bored. Just look at Numbers 21:5 when the Israelites got tired of the manna falling from heaven every day. Think about it:  they were being nourished supernaturally every single day and they got tired of it!!!

God can do anything He pleases and may show up in our lives in a variety of ways but one thing is sure – every manifestation of His presence will be consistent with His Word in one way or another.

Is there a difference between the way Adam and Eve experienced His presence and how we do?

Adam and Eve ‘heard the sound of the Lord God’. it says in Gen. 3:8 Have you ever wondered what that ‘sound’ was?  It seems from the context that it was His voice for God called out, ‘Where are you?’ (vs. 9)  Was His voice angry? Was it sad?

Though they had walked with Him before, this time they hid themselves.  They felt shame for the first time because they knew they had sinned.  What made them conscious of their sin? The Presence of God.

Isaiah had a similar experience. In Isaiah 6 the prophet had a magnificent vision of the throne room. ‘I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.’ vs. 1  Almost immediately the prophet cries out, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined. Because I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.’  vs. 5  The manifest presence of God convicted Isaiah of his sinfulness.

In Luke 5, Peter had been fishing all night and caught nothing, but when Jesus came on the scene,  he hauled in a boat load of fish. What did Peter say? ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ Luke 5:8  Did that ever strike you curiously? He didn’t burst out in praise for the large catch of fish which is what we might expect him to do.  Peter instead acknowledged his own sinfulness when confronted with the Presence of the Lord.

The greatest saints in church history saw themselves as the greatest sinners.  Yet in our day, we hear so little preaching about sin.

The presence of the Lord also manifests as joy.  ‘In Your presence is fullness of joy,’ David wrote in Psalm 16:11.  Nehemiah told the people of his day, ‘the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ Neh.8:10

God gets our attention by convicting us of sin but quickly forgives and restores us when we repent, which brings joy. Listen to David once again: ‘Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.  Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones you have broken may rejoice.’ Psalm 51:3, 7-8  Forgiveness and restoration always being joy to the soul.

His presence may also introduce fear – the fear of the Lord which is completely different from human fear.  The fear of the Lord is both joyful and scary.  There IS a heaven and there IS a hell. God is merciful and He is also just. The fear of the Lord is a deep respect and awe for Who He is accompanied by a revelation of who we truly are in light of His transcendent glory.

Part of the fruit of Pentecost was that ‘fear came to every soul.’ Acts 2:43  When Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead, ‘great fear came on all those who heard these things.’ Acts 5:5  The early church knew the presence of the Lord in its various manifestations.

Another manifestation of His presence is in healing sick bodies.  There is something called ‘a healing presence’ that accompanied the ministry of Jesus and still manifests to this day. Luke 5:17 And the power of the Lord was present to heal the sick.

Many a disciple has sensed the presence of the Lord in their private prayer times, as well as in community worship. It is always such a blessed gift from heaven when God shows up in our worship services.  The more we praise, the more His presence is released to us, for God ‘inhabits the praises of His people.’

Perhaps one of the most thrilling experiences of the presence of the Lord is when He illuminates a passage of scripture to us. It may be something we’ve read 48 times but the 49th time, it leaps off the page and we ‘see’ in the verse that which we never saw before. Insight into His Word can come at any time.  I’ve had ‘light bulb’ experiences driving down the road or washing dishes. He can show up anytime for He is always with us. Grasping a deeper meaning of scripture than we previously had is one of the most exciting experiences with God and He often does it at the most unusual times.

His presence will also surprise us at times.  Remember when Peter and John were on their way to the temple in the afternoon? As they passed by a disabled beggar, the Spirit of the Lord stopped them and Peter said to the man, ‘Look at us.’ Then he added, ‘Silver and gold have I none, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.’ Acts 3:4-6  The beggar was instantly healed. I rather think that Peter was amazed.

Application:

By His wonderful presence God directs us, gives us inspiration, understanding and wisdom; He shares His joy with us and assures us of His love. There is nothing like the comfort that His presence brings.

May we each recognize His presence as it manifests in our lives and embrace it with our whole heart.

The Presence of God #7 July 10, 2018

In Your presence is fullness of joy.  Psalm 16:11

If you have participated in a worship service where the presence of the Lord invaded the place, you know already that a liberating joy comes with it.  It can be so powerful that people will lose the awareness of those around them and express their worship without any thought to what anyone might think of them. I have seen people take off running around the sanctuary, weeping at the altar, dancing like David did and shouting the praises of God with all their might. Personal dignity takes second place to responding to the sweeping presence of God in a service – or, for that matter, in your private prayer time at home.

Great revivals of the past have witnessed many a phenomenon. Dozens of people face down on the ground.  No one pushed them – they fell to their faces of their own accord in utter submission to the presence and power of God.  Some lay still for so long that it was feared they were dead.  They weren’t – they were just absorbed in God.

As we consider these reports, some of which I have witnessed myself, we are challenged to realize that the greater the presence of God, the less we care about what people around us think. Our focus is to worship the Lord.

And we will also discover that in that blessed atmosphere, the Spirit of God will frequently deal with our integrity.

Integrity may be defined as being governed by the truth, even when it hurts. According to Psalm 15:4, a blameless man ‘makes firm commitments and follows through, even at great cost.’  Words mean something and for the disciple of the Lord, keeping our word should be a top priority.

integrity

Integrity is demonstrated in a number of ways: 1) godly stewardship over money and goods, 2) purity in moral issues, 3) reliability in our words, and 4) a hunger for truth.

Jesus said a great deal about money in the Gospels and I believe it was John Wesley who said that the last part of a person to be converted is his wallet!  Being ‘squeaky clean’ in our financial affairs is a demonstration of integrity and honors the Lord.  Maintaining our integrity may cost us but the person with integrity will not be swayed.  Too many people can be bought if the price is right.  For the disciple of the Lord, being ‘bought’ is never an option.

Where morality is concerned, integrity is key. Undisciplined private lives lead to public humiliations – secret affairs that lead to broken marriages, promiscuity and children deprived of a parent.  Winston Churchill once said: ‘The price of greatness is responsibility.’  The greater the position one attains, the greater the responsibility to maintain moral integrity.

We will all one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of what we have done, ‘whether good or bad‘. (2 Cor. 5:10)  In I Corinthians 3, Paul described the scene by saying that our works will be tested by fire.  If they survive the fire, we will be rewarded.  If they don’t, we will still be saved but ‘as one escaping through flames.’ (vs. 14-15)

With regard to our words, integrity means that you tell the truth and what you say is what you will do.  You can be depended on to keep your promises.  It is impossible for God to lie.  We believe His word is true and He can be utterly depended upon to keep His word. We are called to do the same.

A child does not need to be trained to lie – it comes naturally! Rather we ALL need to be trained to tell the truth.  Once we have been born again, the Spirit of Truth comes to dwell within us.  So if we walk in the Spirit we will only tell the truth!  Simple honesty, straightforward conversations, showing up when you said you would, paying what you said you would pay – all of these are evidences of integrity.

Integrity will also stir up in us a hunger for the truth.  Sometimes that means changing our position about certain beliefs.  Life is a journey of learning and many of us were taught things early in life which we later discover are not quite true.  Perhaps you were taught that the gift of tongues is not for today, or your denomination held to a particular interpretation about the end of days.  As you grow in the Lord and learn more of the Word, you may discover that what the Word of God says does not quite agree with what your denomination told you.

What are you going to do?  Integrity loves the truth.  You choose to receive the greater understanding of the Word, even when you know it may cost you – perhaps in relationships with others.

Let me add something very important right here. In growing in truth we must also grow in graciousness.  John wrote that Jesus was ‘full of grace and truth’. (John 1:17)  It is possible to be full of truth but lacking in grace! The Word of God is not a club to beat people with; it is the Sword of the Spirit, not your sword!

Job teaches us another caution. He was blameless yet when the pressure was on, his self-righteousness began to spill out.  He said to his three friends: ‘ I will never admit you’re right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity.’ Job 27:5  Self-righteousness and integrity don’t mix very well.  Job was ‘righteous in his generation’ but had allowed a certain measure of pride (self-righteousness) to creep in.  Our character is tested when we are under pressure and in Job’s case, what came out when he was squeezed was self-righteousness.

Fortunately, he came to his senses in the end and humbled himself before God.

Application:

The reward for integrity is the manifest presence of God and the reward for dwelling in His presence is integrity.  They work together as long as we maintain a teachable and humble spirit to submit ourselves to the dealings of God in our lives.

As I heard a pastor say years ago: ‘Don’t let the devil make you proud of your humility!’

 

The Presence of God #6 July 3, 2018

Has God every nudged you?  Did the nudge surprise you?  Did you dismiss it as a ‘random thought’?

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A natural fruit of spending time in the presence of the Lord is to hear from Him. Sometimes it’s a revelation from His Word and sometimes it is a nudge to action of one sort or another.

Does that mean that every time I have an impression or inclination to do or say something it’s always God? No.

Inner nudges can come from three distinct sources: the Holy Spirit, the enemy or our own flesh. We are all quite capable of conjuring up all kinds of ideas and the enemy is certainly adept at projecting his own deceitful suggestions into our minds.

So how do we answer for ourselves the question: Is this from the Lord and not?  Ask yourself the following:

1) Is the action I’m considering in keeping with the Scriptures?  What does the Bible say?  There may not be a specific verse you can recall that addresses the action before you but is it consistent with principles in the Word?

2) Is there an open door for me to do this or am I trying to knock the door down?  If you have to force your way into it, stop.  The Lord opens doors for what He tells us to do.  If what we are sensing is from Him, He will open the door in HIS time.  Wait for Him.

3) Is there a sense of confidence in the Lord’s grace to accomplish through you what you believe He is telling you to do?  Or are you nervous, anxious or in fear of the face of man?

4) How do you honestly feel within yourself? Integrity demands that we be honest with ourselves as well as with others.  Is there a sense of godly peace as you consider the proposed action?

One of the best petitions we can include in our prayers on a regular basis is this one: Lord, grant me the ability to recognize quickly what is of the flesh, of the devil and of Your Spirit that I may only accept and act upon what your Spirit says.

It goes without saying that knowing the Word is foundational to walking in the Spirit.  Our commitment to spend time in God’s Word on a daily basis must be paramount. It is through the Word that we learn to let go of our own self-righteousness which is despicable in God’s eyes though it’s usually the last thing we see about ourselves.

What does that have to do with discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit?

Everything.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding.  Prov. 3:5

It is incredibly easy to be infatuated with our own opinions and ideas.  Remember when Elijah declared, ‘I alone remain as a prophet of the Lord.’ (I Kings 18:22)  Wrong! Just a day or two earlier he had learned that Obadiah had hidden one hundred of the Lord’s prophets in two caves!  Elijah’s self-righteousness told him that he alone was hearing from God.  He dismissed what God might be speaking to one hundred other prophets!

When Proverbs 3:5 tells us not to rely on our own understanding, it is reminding us that our knowledge and insight is limited.  In the book of Acts, Paul and his companions wanted to go into Bythinia, ‘but the spirit of Jesus did not allow them.’ (Acts 16:7)  How easy would it have been for Paul and the others to reason within themselves: ‘Our mission is to preach the Gospel to all the nations so of course we should go!’  Yet the Spirit of the Lord was saying ‘No!’

We do not need to know the WHY of God but it is imperative to know His Voice and to obey.

Application:

Spending time in the presence of the LORD should yield the precious fruit of increasing our ability to hear His voice more clearly and accurately.  However, it is incumbent upon us to guard against a pride that the devil would love to stir up in us that we – and we alone – are hearing correctly from God. Religious pride is the worst kind of pride there is.

Let us seek His presence to know Him and to love Him and when He chooses to nudge us or speak to us, let us obey.  May we do exactly as He instructs us – not adding to what He said nor diminishing what He said but obeying as Jesus obeyed the Father: ‘I do only those things which I see My Father do.’  John 5:30, 14:10