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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The With Us God

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My text is Acts 23:11
The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’

Wouldn’t it be great if the Lord stood near you and me and said: ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome’; or, as He did on another occasion: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent’; or “Quick!” he said. “Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me”; or ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (see18:922:1827:23; 2Co 12:7–10). Wouldn’t it be great if God actually spoke to us as He did to Paul; that we could be so aware of His presence that we could say, as Paul does on other occasions that we sense the Lord standing next to us? What is it for God to be with us and how do we live with the presence of God? There’s a lot about this in the Scripture and in our reading today Paul (but several other NT characters as well) alludes to the fact that he has this awareness of God’s presence to the extent that he can say that the Lord stands next to him and speaks to him.

Can you and I have the same experience? Think very carefully before you answer, because your answer says a great deal about you and about your God … in fact your answer reveals whether you have a god who is created in your image, or whether you have a God whose image is revealed to us in the Scriptures and ultimately in Christ. The Biblical, and especially the Christian answer, is Yes, of course I can have the same experience of the God who is the same yesterday, today and forever; the God who has not changed one little bit, ever. Or, is your god a god who has changed?

So, what is it for God to be with us and how do we live with the presence of God? I want to say right up front that what we are talking about tonight follows from what I said last Sunday when we looked at the invitation to abundant, full life (which remember has absolutely nothing to do with whether I’m rich or poor, healthy or sick, happy or sad, suffering excruciatingly, or going like a boeing) … we talked about Christ’s offer of life to the full, here and now. Today I’m going to say that full, abundant life is your and my birth right when we are born again into Christ. What have you traded your birth right for this week … Esau traded his for a bowl of stew … what did you trade yours for? A bit too much booze, a few swear words, some malicious thoughts, a bit of porn, etc, etc, etc. These things steal our joy, suck the very life out of us, yet we trade them for Christ’s offer of abundant life now.

Oh Lord have mercy.

And with the trade comes a loss of a sense of the presence of God.  How is God with us and how can we know it?  

In Romans 8 Paul speaks about the transformation that takes place in people when they are given new life in Christ. It starts with those very famous words there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and goes on to build a picture of what it is like to live in Christ. Among the highlights are verse 28 all things work for the good for those that love God; that are called into His purposes; but then he goes on to build the position, the wonderful position that people are in that are in the hands of Christ and finally asks who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall …. But I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels or principalities, nor … and you can finish the list with whatever you want of things that scare you. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Nothing can separate us from the presence of Christ in our lives and in His life … and in that situation you are perfectly safe, no matter what may happen. You are perfectly safe … this world/universe is a perfectly safe place for you to be no matter what happens. This is a source of great peace. As the Psalmist puts it: Even though I walk through the valley in the shadow of death, I will fear no evil …. (why?) … because Thou art with me. This is the sufficiency of God in your life and mine and the Bible is full of examples of this truth … of God with us. Jesus at the end of Matthew’s gospel: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Now what does that mean? Hebrews 13 I will never leave you or forsake you. You have all you need and nothing can separate us from that. Ps 73: The nearness of God is my portion.

Now, there are 2 ways that God is with us … His omnipresence that we looked at a few weeks ago in our Nature of God series. God is everywhere and in Him we live and move and have our being. However, He is with you, but you might not know it. He is with you, but not actively engaged with you. So there is another form of His being with us, and that is His personal manifest presence. His being with us is an ongoing, interactive, personal relationship .. we act with Him and He with us. This is His intent for us … to live in His manifest presence (Aaronic blessing) … Emmanuel.

How does this work? 3 words Perception, Provision and Power. These are the three main ways that God’s being with us is spealt out.

Perception: This is just awareness … God is with us through our being aware of Him, His presence to our minds. The Bible has many examples of this: Moses in Hebrews 11 is described as seeing Him who is invisible. If we are going to be aware of Him, we must turn our minds towards God. Seeing the invisible … our awareness of His presence. If you don’t want to see God, you don’t have to. If we want to see God, we have to seek Him. Seek the Lord while He is near, says Isaiah. Seeking Him is the condition of being aware of Him. Sometimes God makes Himself strongly present to us, but for the most part we have to seek Him … seek first the Kingdom of God, says Jesus.

How? … we turn our mind to God, we fix our mind on God. When we first start this, we might find it difficult and think God is off somewhere else … but that’s the way it goes. If you’re going to see something in the world around you (bird) you have to search and fix your eyes on it. You have to commit yourself to it, it doesn’t just happen. God wants us to want Him. He wants us to want Him enough to seek Him. None of us like to be with people who don’t want us to be with them. We want to be wanted. God could make Himself overwhelmingly visible to us so that we have no choice but to see Him, but that would make normal life and character development into what God wants us to be very difficult/impossible and so God has decided for our own good that it is better if we seek Him. The main way we do this is to turn our attention to Him. If our mind is not on something, our work, our marriage, those things will suffer. If we want God present in our lives, we must resolve to place Him foremost in our minds. Brother Lawrence is a wonderful example of “a simple attention to God.” It took him 10 years to develop the practise, but he stuck to it. Now we might say well. “I can’t do this” … and that’s like saying “I can’t play Beethoven’s 5th” … of course you can’t, but if you put your mind to it, committed to it, practised … it probably won’t take 10 years. That’s the function of attention. Do this with God and He becomes increasingly present … you become aware of Him more and more. If you want that, you can develop that. The presence of God then begins to have certain effects on us … one being we are aware of when He is speaking to us. This is really what Paul calls the renewing of the mind … taking charge of what our mind is focussed on.

Provision: God’s provision is one of the ways of Him being present with us. God’s presence to us is known by His supplying of our needs. If we are focussed on ourselves, rather than God, then we will try and provide our needs on our own, and if we do this, generally speaking, God will that us do that. If we have it under control, why should He step in? If we want to know the presence of God in our lives, we need to abandon the project of taking care of ourselves. So, you say, …. Don’t we still work? Yes, you work and you do what you need to do, but the difference is this: You do your best, but you don’t trust your best. You trust the presence of God with you … and when we do this we come to know God acting in our lives. Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these other things will be added to you, said Jesus. Seeking Him and all that means, sets God free to provide our needs … not our wants, as we looked at quite some time ago, but our needs.

The final way we can know God’s presence is in Power to accomplish what we cannot accomplish on our own. This is often only seen when you look back and realise “That must have been God, because I couldn’t have done that on my own.” You were part of something but you cannot account for the effect it had and the sign of God’s presence with you is always that the outcome of your actions far exceed the possibilities of your abilities and talent (Dwight Moody). We still do our efforts and we do them the best we can, but we don’t trust our best, we trust God … we then open our lives to God’s presence. Paul, when he reports back to the church after his first missionary journey, speaks not of what they did, but of what God did with them (Acts 14:27).

So, we have 3 aspects of God being with us: 1) Perception: The vivid awareness of Him … something we seek by learning to keep our minds on him, (Ps 16:9 I have set the Lord always before me). Scripture of course turns our mind to God … read your Bible with the idea of becoming more aware of Him and He will increasingly become more apparent to you.

2) Provision: Look at his provisions and anticipate them … rely more on God and less on yourself … ask the Spirit constantly for help.

3) Power: Try and do things beyond what you know you can accomplish and that are His will for us to do … and you will experience His presence in His power. Step into a place where God has to intercede in order for us to accomplish what we are trying to do … He will not leave us or forsake us and is preparing us for a great future.


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