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

 

The Presence of God #5 June 25, 2018

Wait on the Lord; be strong and may your heart be stout; wait on the Lord. Psalm 27:14

Here’s the same verse in the Passion Translation:

Here’s what I’ve learned through it all; Don’t give up, don’t be impatient. Be entwined as one with the Lord. Be brave and courageous and never lose hope. Yes, keep on waiting for He will never disappoint you!  Psalm 27:14 TPT

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When we find ourselves in times of waiting for God to answer our requests, to show up, to step in, to intervene, it can be one of the most difficult disciplines in our Christian walk.  Not just once or twice, but several times in the scriptures we are commanded to ‘wait upon the Lord’.  [Yes, I said ‘commanded’. Sorry, it’s not a suggestion!]  Yet everyone of those verses come with the promise of a blessing for those who will wait and not give up, nor take matters into their own hands.

Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary and they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

Those who wait for Me shall not be ashamed.  Isaiah 49:23

Let’s be honest – it’s mega difficult to wait!  Who likes it? Nobody I know.  Personally I’m a great fan of verse 126 in Psalm 119: ‘It is time, O Lord for You to act!’  I like that one, don’t you?

Here’s the rub: it’s in what I call the ‘between times’ of His conscious Presence with us, that our true spiritual maturity is evident….or not.  Most of life, whether we like it or not, is lived ‘between times’ of His conscious manifest Presence and His ‘unconscious’ Presence with us.  It’s easy to have faith, to worship with soaring devotion and to love Him and one another when His Presence overwhelms us.  But it’s when that conscious, delightful Presence of the Lord is not so evident that our life of faith and trust has occasion to shine.

The book of Hebrews makes clear that without faith, we cannot please God. Our faith is precious in His sight – and perhaps, most precious when answers to our prayers seem to be delayed..and then delayed some more.

I often think of the hundred and twenty in the Upper Room after the Ascension of the Lord Jesus. He had commanded them to return to Jerusalem ‘and wait’.  Acts 1:4

Put yourself in their place for a moment. The Master they so loved, the One they’d lived with for three and a half years had disappeared into a cloud.  They return to Jerusalem.  One day passes, two days, three days…how long did it take for the first person to voice what perhaps many were thinking?

‘Peter, how long do we have to wait? Why hasn’t He come back yet?’

There can be no doubt that they were missing Him, missing His presence.

Now consider this: they had the SAME promise you and I have. ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’  But He wasn’t there, at least not physically.  They couldn’t look into His face.  They couldn’t hear His voice.  They were men just like us. ‘How long do we have to wait?’

There’s only one answer: until the Lord’s perfect moment.  He is never late and He is never early. He is ALWAYS right on time – His time, not ours.

Our willingness to wait in faith believing, is what in part demonstrates how much we love and trust Him.  Look at how Paul amplifies a precious verse from Isaiah:

For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by ear, neither has the eye seen a God besides You, who acts for the one who waits for Him.  Isaiah 64:4

Paul writes to the Corinthians: Eye has not seen nor ear heard nor has it entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.  I Cor. 2:9

Paul didn’t misquote Isaiah.  He made the connection for us between waiting and loving.  Those who will wait upon the Lord, even when His presence seems more like absence, demonstrate their love for the Lord in the waiting.

Application

We have something worth waiting for, brothers and sisters.  Eternal, glorious life in the Manifest Presence of our blessed Lord and the entire cloud of witnesses, those saints who have gone on before us, as well as myriads upon myriads of angels.

Are you waiting right now for the Lord to answer a prayer, fulfill a desire, meet a need?

Be encouraged that your faith in the “between times” is precious in His eyes.  Hang on, wait with joy. Don’t let the enemy tempt you to impatience or discouragement.  His promises NEVER fail and His Presence will NEVER leave you!

The Presence of God #4 June 19, 2018

Truly You are a God who hides Yourself, O God of Israel, the Savior.  Isaiah 45:15

Godhides

Have you ever felt as though God was hiding? You pray, you call out to Him and it seems as though no one is listening?  Oh, you can be sure He IS listening even though it doesn’t seem so to you.

There are a few reasons why God seems to ‘hide’ Himself from us at times.

He may be trying to get our attention away from those things that have been distracting us.  Let’s face it – our daily lives are full of events and people that can distract us from our purpose, our calling and our spiritual pursuit of the Lord.

It may be that He is disciplining us or as some would describe it, chastening us. What does that mean?  Chastening is essentially God hiding Himself from us.  It’s when we seem to hit a wall, when nothing makes sense and the heavens seems closed. It’s when you feel deserted, when the God who was so real to you three days ago has disappeared and you can’t seem to find Him again.

King David experienced those this.  He wrote: ‘Why do you stand far off, Lord? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?’  Psalm 10:1  And again: How long, O Lord? Will You forget me for good? How long will You hide Your face from me?’  Psalm 13:1

The irony of these times we experience is this: at the very time that the Lord seems the most absent to you, He is actually totally present.  The ‘hiding of His Face’, properly understood, is a blessing in disguise for which we must learn to be grateful.  It is absolute proof that He loves you!

My son, do not despise the discipline of the lord, nor grow weary when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and scourges every son whom He receives.  Hebrews 12:5-6

We love to feel His conscious and manifest presence and wish those times would last forever.  They will…in eternity.  But in this life one of the most important lessons to learn is to believe His Word just as much when we feel nothing as when His manifest presence is all around us.  It pleases Him immensely when we believe His Word during the hiding of His Face from us as much as we do when He allows us to sense His powerful presence.

Think of it this way, when the Lord reveals His presence in a manifest way, He is pleasing us.  When we believe His Word and stand on it unconditionally without the sense of His presence, we please Him. 

And we should get as much joy in pleasing Him as when He pleases us.

Here’s the question we must ask ourselves: Do we want more of God or more from God?

What makes you happier – knowing you are pleasing Him or having Him please you?

Paul told Timothy to be ‘ready in season and out of season’. 2 Tim. 4:2 Fundamentally that means be equally faithful and diligent whether you feel like it or not!

Do you find your joy in knowing that you please Him?  One of the most telling verses in the New Testament is about Enoch who received this commendation: that he ‘pleased God.’  Heb. 11:5

Perhaps you remember your parents saying to you when you needed to be disciplined, ‘This hurts me more than it hurts you.’ Father God feels the same way. He gets no pleasure in hiding from us for after all, He created us for fellowship with Him! He only hides His Face when He knows we need it.

Over the years a number of people have expressed to me or in my presence the fear that perhaps they’re not really saved.  When I hear that, I like to ask them one question: ‘Have you ever been disciplined by the Lord? Convicted or rebuked?’  If they say ‘Yes’ and they all have, my response is: ‘Praise the Lord! God only chastens those whom He loves, so rejoice.’

Here’s what we need to understand about the Lord’s chastening in our lives:

1) He has nothing to prove; He doesn’t turn around the ask the angels, ‘Was that too harsh?’ He is perfect in all of His ways towards us.

2) He never loses His temper when He disciplines us.

3) He doesn’t shout at you or use harsh language.

4) He asks you to follow His ways because they’re the best for you.

5) He doesn’t demand you be perfect, only faithful to His Word

6) He ALWAYS has time for you – always! He never leaves you nor forsakes you.

Our sin nature is allergic to holiness.  The Lord in His abundant love disciplines us that we might ‘share in His holiness.’ Heb. 12:10  He created us to be transformed into the image and likeness of His beloved Son, Jesus. Therefore, He will do whatever it takes in our lives to drive us to our knees, solidify our focus on Him and persuade our hearts to love Him and His will above all else.

Application:

There’s a wonderful song that includes in the lyrics this phrase: ‘He never gives up, He never gives up, He never gives up on me.’

Aren’t you thankful that He doesn’t!

For it is God who is at work in you to will and to do of His good pleasure.  Phil. 2:13

 

The Presence of God #3 June 12, 2018

Where could I go from Your Spirit?  Where could I hide from Your Face?  If I go up to heaven, You’re there; if I go down to the realm of the dead, You’re there, too! If I fly with wings into the shining dawn, You’re there.  If I fly into the radiant sunset, You’re there waiting!  Wherever I go, Your hand will guide me; Your strength will empower me.  It’s impossible to disappear from You or to ask the darkness to hide me, for Your Presence is everywhere, bringing light into my night.  There is no such thing as darkness with You.  The night to You is as bright as the day; there’s no difference between the two.  Psalm 139:7-12  (The Passion Translation)

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We have already learned that there are two ways to understand God’s presence. His conscious, manifest presence is when everything in you is aware that He is in you, before you, behind you and surrounds you.  His unconscious presence is when He is just as much with you but you are not aware or ‘conscious’ of His pervading presence.  However, the fact that you don’t ‘feel’ Him doesn’t mean He isn’t there.  Moreover, the fact that you may not believe He is with you doesn’t mean He’s gone away for Paul clearly declared to Timothy (and to us) that God ‘remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself.’ 2 Timothy 2:13

The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.  Prov. 15:3

Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I do not see him? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD.  Jeremiah 23:24

Never underestimate the reality of His presence in your life at ALL times.

Think of Jacob who as a young man could not have imagined that generations would repeat the phrase, ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’; Jacob would could not have imagined that his name would be changed to Israel and would become the name of a nation.

And it all began at a place called Bethel where Jacob felt nothing!  Remember what he said after he awoke from his dream.  Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it!  Genesis 28:16

Bethel was also the place that Jacob was commanded to return to when he’d drifted away from his earlier awareness of the LORD’s presence.

Put away the foreign gods that are among you.  Purify yourselves and change your clothes. Let us arise and go up to Bethel and there I will make an altar to God who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone Genesis 35: 1-3

Years after his first awareness of the LORD’s presence, notice what Jacob says.  God ‘answered me in the day of my distress’ and ‘has been with me wherever I have gone.’

This was after his mistreatment at the hands of Laban and after his daughter, Dinah, had been violated.  His family was in trouble and Jacob was fearful after his two sons had murdered all the men of Shechem in retribution for the defilement of their sister.  It was then that God spoke to him and said, ‘Go back to Bethel’.  In other words, go back to where you first experienced My Presence, Jacob.  Let Me refresh and renew you. Seek My Presence again for it is only there that you will find peace and direction for the future.

God demonstrated to an unworthy Jacob the greatness of His grace and mercy.  There is no sin too great, no failure too final, no discouragement too hopeless.  When God’s people ‘arise and go back to Bethel‘, they find a loving LORD waiting with open arms to restore, renew, heal and empower those whose hearts are after Him.

What am I saying?  Bethel is symbolic of that place where you and I commune with the LORD privately, personally and passionately.  It is a metaphor for our personal, set-aside time to be with Him.  Like Jacob, we may not ‘feel’ anything but be assured by the Word of God, that the LORD is ALWAYS with you, listening.  He delights in hearing from His children.  He delights in your yearning to be with Him.  He delights in answering you in the day of your distress, confusion or questioning.  He has promised that if we seek Him, we WILL find Him.

Are you thinking: this is too good to be true? Is it really possible that the presence of God has been with me, even on my worst days? Even before I surrendered my life to the Lord?

Yes, it IS true! For His presence does not depend on your works, but on HIS faithfulness.

Bethel is a lasting symbol of hope.  When you and I feel absolutely bereft of spirituality or any kind of goodness, when our confidence is lower than low, Bethel reminds us that our God is a God of surprises, that He never leaves us or forsakes us.  Bethel is the reminder that when you think there is no hope, there IS hope for the Lord is with you like He was with Jacob even when you ‘don’t know it’.

When Jacob first prayed at Bethel, he felt nothing.  He simply prayed and went to sleep! But a few hours later he was able to declare, Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it.  Then he added, ‘How awesome is this place!’  Gen. 28: 16-17

May the conscious presence of the LORD increase in each of our lives as we choose to spend increasing time seeking Him.

The Presence of God #2 June 5, 2018

“When God shows up, there is no limit to what can happen,” said the preacher one summer evening many years ago.  His statement floated back into my mind as I was pondering this week’s lesson.

There is no doubt that when the manifest presence of God invades a community that has gathered for worship, that gathering becomes not only memorable but life-impacting for each person present.  I had the privilege of being in just such a gathering last night.  I will never forget it.  Miracles of soul and body occurred, including the healing of a woman who had been afflicted with MS for thirty-one years!  The joy of the Lord invaded the place as the worship ascended powerfully and passionately from the people to the very throne of Almighty God.  It was a night to remember and the tangible sense of His presence still lingers nearly 24 hours later.

manifestpresence

We love the manifestation of God’s presence in our midst and pray to be ever open to however He chooses to grace us with such a tangible Presence.  What we must know just as convincingly, however, is that His ‘unconscious’ Presence is every bit as real as when we feel His closeness.

God has unique ways of letting us know He is with us.  He shows up in unpredictable and unprecedented ways during times of awakening and/or revival.  But the fact remains that He is just as much at work in us and for us when we are UNCONSCIOUS of His presence as when His Spirit blows through our congregational meetings in such power that we literally feel His presence.

We are very much like Peter, James and John on the mount of Transfiguration. Having seen the glory of God as Jesus was transfigured before their eyes, Peter said, “Lord, it’s good for us to be here.”  We would like gatherings like the one I was in last night to be the norm of our experience. But like Peter, James and John, after a powerful worship experience, we have to ‘come down the mountain’ and back into daily life.  Does that mean we relegate what we experienced to a place in our memory and turn away to ‘mundane’ living?  No – what it means is that we take His presence with us into what we otherwise view as ‘mundane’ living.

The unconscious presence of God only means that we don’t feel Him close to us yet He is ALWAYS with us and His presence is more real than what we can see with our eyes or touch with our hands.  It is only the ‘sense’ of His presence that we sometimes lack, NOT His Presence itself!

I am reminded of Jacob.  He left home to run away from his brother, Esau, who wanted to kill him.  Having reached “a certain place” (Gen. 28:11) Jacob took a stone to use as a pillow and went to sleep, tired from his journey.  There was nothing spectacular about the place, no sign that said, ‘This is a sacred spot’.

But as Jacob slept, God visited him in a dream which made Jacob know that the God of his grandfather, Abraham, was his God as well.  The promise God made to Jacob in that dream was too good to be true! (Gen. 28:11-15)  Jacob’s life was radically changed from that moment on.

But notice – Jacob was at a place where he felt nothing at first – no sense of God’s presence, no heavenly music, no fellowship with others of like mind. Just Jacob with his head on a stone, falling asleep.  Yet that very place was pivotal not only for Jacob but for countless millions throughout history.  The name of the place was Bethel, which means ‘the house of God’.

After he woke up from the dream, Jacob said, Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it.’ (Gen. 28:16)

Jacob’s declaration is one that we could make many, many times throughout our lives: God IS in this place but I was not aware of it!

The FACT of God’s presence with you twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year is an absolute reality whether you ‘feel’ Him or not.  It’s NOT that He is with us when we feel Him and has left us when we don’t.  NOT AT ALL!

He is with you when you’re struggling and when you’re having fun.

He is with you in your most embarrassing moment and when you have it all together.

He is with you when you’re tired and afraid and when you feel like you could kill a lion with your bare hands.

He is with you when you’ve messed up and when you’ve won a great victory.

He’s with you!  He’s promised it and God cannot lie.

I will never leave you nor forsake you.  Hebrews 13:5

I am with you always, even to the end of the age.  Matt. 28:20

He’s just like that – always with you. Why? Because He passionately loves you and provides you with everything you will ever need to become like His beloved Son.

To enjoy His presence, we all must learn to appreciate His unconscious Presence and honor it by faith even when we don’t feel it.  For without faith it is impossible to please God. Hebrews 11:6

I wish that all of us would frequently experience the kind of gathering we enjoyed last night where the manifest, tangible Presence of God swept over an entire congregation, where everybody was engaged with it and lifted higher in worship and praise.

But I pray as well that our worship and praise, our confidence and trust would be just as  passionate when FAITH is the vehicle rather than feeling.

Keep seeking His Face!

 

The Presence of God #1 May 29, 2018

Welcome to a new study in our ongoing quest to know the LORD, to love Him with all our heart, soul and strength and to learn His ways.

presenceGod

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.  1 Cor. 2:9 NASB

Most of us read this verse and apply it to what lies in store for us when we get to heaven.  While that is absolutely true, there is more to be said about this verse in the here and now because of its context.  Look at the very next verse:

But God has revealed them to us by His Spirit. I Cor. 2: 10

Look at it in the Passion Translation:

Things never discovered or heard of before, things beyond our ability to imagine – these are the many things God has in store for all His lovers.  But God now unveils these profound realities to us by the Spirit.  I Cor. 2: 9-10  TPT

Can we actually know and sense His presence here and now on this earth? YES – unequivocally YES!

To be sure, when we get to heaven we will be changed. We will be glorified as our perishable bodies will be exchanged for imperishable ones (I Cor. 15: 51-53) We will see Him just as He is and all of what Paul calls ‘the former things’ will have passed away –  sin, sickness, pain, sorrow, insecurity, anxiety and the like.  What a glorious day that will be!

However, here on earth in this life, we can experience the presence of God and in doing so, get a taste of what heaven will be like.  Look at I Cor. 10 again: But God has revealed them to us by His Spirit. (NASB) and But now God unveils these profound realities to us by the Spirit. (TPT)

Our study over the next few weeks will demonstrate that we not only can experience the presence of God in this life but even more, that the Lord wants us to.  Knowing and sensing His presence now is an appetizer for what’s to come in eternity.

We know that without faith, it is impossible to please God. Hebrews 11:6  Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

Therefore, faith is the foundation for learning everything and anything contained in the Word of God. There is no miracle, no healing, no experience in God that will ever remove our need for faith.  You will never experience the manifest presence of God on this earth without faith as the foundation of that experience.

Yet when God at times makes Himself so real to us, we may momentarily feel as though we’ve somehow reached a place beyond faith. Not so, for the manifest sense of His presence in our lives here on earth does not last indefinitely but the memory of it is a gift that lasts a lifetime and engenders a hunger in us for more and more of Him.

To actually feel the presence of the Lord is beyond wonderful for His presence is far greater than anything that we can say about it. But we are often like Jacob, who upon awakening from the dream of a ladder going up into heaven, cried out, Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it. Genesis 28:16

The disciples en route to Emmaus had the same problem. Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the way? Luke 24:32a  Jesus was manifestly present yet they did not recognize Him.  In this series we want to become more conscious of the presence of the LORD and explore some of the surprising ways in which He may decide to show up in our lives.

Know this as we begin: though we be unconscious of His presence, He is as real and as operative in our lives as in those moments when His presence is manifest. He is constantly at work in us, even when we are clueless! Paul wrote: For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to do His good pleasure. Phil. 2:13

Before we embark on this quest of experiencing His manifest presence, let us first thank Him for His ‘unconscious’ presence in our life every moment of every day of our earthly sojourn.  He is ALWAYS with us, He will NEVER leave us.  On that bedrock truth, we stand in utter faith.  You are NEVER alone!

If you are hungry for more of God in your life, if you long to sense His vibrant presence in your daily walk, stay with us for the next few weeks and together, let’s learn how to enjoy His manifest presence more than we ever have before.

The Power of Words #12 May 22, 2018

With the same tongue, we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men…Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  James 3:9-10

Worship is one of the greatest privileges and responsibilities of the disciple.  It honors our beloved Lord and looses blessing into our own lives.  Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, you may remember, that ‘the Father seeks those who will worship Him in spirit and truth.’  John 4:23

I dare say that our worship on earth, at its best, is less than perfect for perfect worship will be our joy once we are in the presence of God in heaven.  Eternally gracious as He is, God accepts even our imperfect worship.  However, for the heart that loves God with passion and devotion, there are guidelines for making our worship as honorable to the Lord as possible.

In the verse quoted above, James directs our attention to an important consideration.  With the same tongue that we spit out sarcastic or hurtful words to someone, we then turn and ‘worship’ God.  Considering everything we have pondered in the past eleven lessons, this one may well be the most important of all.

In writing of praising God and cursing men with the same tongue, James by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, calls us to sit up and take notice.

1. Do we bless the Lord in the morning in our private prayer time and with the same tongue criticize and judge others throughout the day?

2. Do we sing praises to God in our fellowships while holding a grudge towards another?

3. Do we glance at our watches while singing the praises of the Lord, wishing it would end?

4. Do we meet with the Lord in our quiet place with no shame or remorse over the gossip we spread yesterday?

5. Do we express our love for God while outside of church or our place of prayer we easily slip into making critical and judgmental remarks about our fellow disciples?

6. Do we listen to the Pastor’s sermon and apply it to everyone but ourselves?

7. Do we faithfully attend church yet routinely speak critically of the pastor?

8. Do we enter into praise and worship with anger in our hearts towards another so that our lips sing the words but our minds are on revenge or self- defense?

9. Do we thank the Lord for the power of the Blood of Jesus in washing away our guilt while we easily send others on guilt trips?

10. Do we sing our praises while being jealous of the person singing next to you or in the seat in front of you?

James says very simply: ‘this should not be.’  James 3:10

Not only is our worship imperfect in situations such as I have described, but additionally, we grieve the Holy Spirit.  ‘Do not grieve the Holy Spirit with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.’ (Ephesians 4:30)

Before Jesus ascended, He promised that the Holy Spirit would be given to us as our Helper and our Teacher. He would abide with us to remind us of all the Jesus said and He would ‘show us things to come.’ The word ‘grieve’ in Ephesians 4:30 literally means ‘to get your feelings hurt.’  There is a reason why the Holy Spirit is often portrayed as a dove.  The dove is a very shy bird that cannot bear tension and dissension.  It will fly away quickly. When we grieve the Holy Spirit – which means when we are acting and speaking in ways that do NOT reflect the presence of Jesus within us – we grieve Him and the result is that we are left to ourselves, usually irritable, confused and less than pleasant to be around.  Entering into conversations that Jesus would never enter into grieve the Holy Spirit.

James asks: ‘Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?’ James 3:11.  Every born again child of God has a well, a spring within their spirit.  That well is the Holy Spirit and that which flows from Him is described in Galatians 5 as love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, etc.  Grieving the Holy Spirit most often happens when we open our mouths and what comes out bears no resemblance to Galatians 5: 22-23.

It is offensive to the Lord – and it should be to us as well – to worship and praise Him, sit under anointed teaching of the Word and enjoy the fellowship of those with like precious faith and than allow words to roll off our tongues that reveal bitterness, anger, jealousy and selfishness.

‘Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you know how to answer everyone.’  Colossians 4:6

‘Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.’  I Peter 3:9

Here’s a simple guideline to help us improve in controlling our tongues?  Ask your self these four questions before you speak.

N – Is it necessary?

E – Is it liberating? Will it free or bind the listener?

E – Is it inspiring and edifiying?

D – Is it dignifying to the listener?  Does it affirm them as a child of God?

Do I N-E-E-D to say this?  If it doesn’t meet the criterion, let’s zip our lips.

This series on the Power of Words comes to a close today with this final post on the subject.  I pray that it has been an exhortation and encouragement to all of us to grow in the area of tongue control so that when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, He will be able to say to us ‘Well done, My good and faithful servant.’

‘Think on these things.’  Philippians 4:8b

The Power of Words # 11 May 15, 2018

This week I want us to look at one verse and in particular one word.

No man can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  James 3:8

We’ve already learned that our words mirror the state of our heart.  As we listen to what we say, we get a glimpse of what our heart is really like – and sometimes we cringe at our own words, don’t we?

The verse quoted above says that the tongue is ‘full of deadly poison’.  James is speaking about an undisciplined tongue that spews harsh, angry, sarcastic, hurtful and profane words without compunction.   He’s talking about his own tongue, Peter’s tongue, Daniel’s tongue, Isaiah’s tongue, Abraham’s tongue, King David’s tongue…and your tongue and my tongue.

So let’s talk about that word ‘poison’.

poison

Poison destroys. In order to injure, cripple or paralyze members of the Body of Christ, the enemy of our souls appeals to our fallen nature to speak words that our full of deadly poison; i.e. to say things that make other people look bad and feel bad.  That’s the currency he trades in – words that kill.  Didn’t the Lord say ‘The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy…’ John 10:10?

The old saying, ‘Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me’ is utterly false!  Words can do far more damage to the human soul than physical violence.

Because the Word of God tells us that the tongue is ‘full of deadly poison’, it follows that the degree to which we say unkind, hurtful and negative things to and about other people is the degree to which we have an undisciplined and un-Christlike tongue.

Speaking without thinking is tantamount to swallowing deadly poison, writes R.T. Kendall. It is almost like committing spiritual suicide.

So, how do we poison others? When we speak harshly, sarcastically, profanely, unkindly to other people it is tantamount to giving them poison to ingest.  Poison can make you deathly ill, or kill you.  There are too many people walking around today deeply wounded inside from the ‘blows’ of another person’s tongue.  They may look alive on the outside but their emotional person inside is bleeding and perhaps dying slowly because of verbal abuse.

It really doesn’t matter whether the person you’re speaking to is old or young, saved or lost, red, yellow, black or white, each person is made in the image and likeness of God.  Mark Twain once wrote: ‘Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.’

Never assume that people are unmoved or untouched by what you say.  They may cover it up but your negative or harsh words leave an internal scar. People who appear to take everything in stride and therefore we think they’re thick-skinned are often the most sensitive of all.  Even Jesus was affected by what people said.  The only difference between Him and us is that He was able to handle it without sinning.

Secondly, it’s not just what we say to people but what we say about them behind their back that emits a poison.  Gossip and slander poison the attitude of others towards the person you’re talking about and it poisons your own soul because gossip and slander are sins.  And here’s something else to remember: Don’t assume that what you say about someone will never get back to them.  More often than not, it does and that never ends well.

What about those ugly or unpleasant things that people say to you?  You have a choice.  Will you drink the poison? In other words, will you take it to heart and get angry, resentful, bitter?  Or fall into the trap of shame, guilt and self-condemnation?

Or will you make the godly choice to forgive quickly lest the poison make you spiritually ill?  You may say, “I forgive but I can’t forget what they said.”  That’s understandable but not an excuse for holding a grudge or staying angry.  The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.  James 1:20

So what do you do if you find it difficult to forget what was said? Maintain a forgiving spirit, remembering the forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling.  When the thoughts try to get you down, put on some praise and worship music, get busy with a worthwhile activity or find something to distract you from the devil’s attempt to chain you to anger or depression.

The whole purpose of James’ letter to the early disciples – and to us – is to change lives, to help us in practical ways as we seek to become more like Christ in our thoughts, words and deeds.

Application:

We react with horror when we hear that someone committed suicide by drinking poison or murdered someone else by poisoning their food.  As tragic as those situations are, there is something more tragic that affects all of us.  A holy fear and awe of the LORD calls us to be utterly serious in disciplining our tongues that words of life, peace and encouragement would be the currency in our relationships with others.

‘The words that I speak to you are spirit and life,’ said Jesus in John 6:63