Thursday, August 30, 2012

Presence of God: Part 2

In my last blog entry, I talked about the importance of the Presence of God to His people. I can't seem to stop thinking about this topic. So, here's more...

Exodus is one of my favorite books in the Old Testament. It describes how God called an enslaved nation out of bondage and into a journey of faith. In doing this, He transformed them from a crowd into The People of God.

To do this, He raised up a prophetic leader: Moses. He intervened miraculously, crushing the pagan deities and powers of darkness and leading the people into a kind of baptism through the Red Sea. He guided and provided for His people. He brought them to the mountain where He formed His covenant with them.

He gave them the ceremonial, political and ethical laws that enabled them to walk in that covenant relationship with Him. Included in this were even the blue prints for the Tabernacle, the ceremonial tools, the priestly garments and the instructions in how to consecrate themselves for service.

The people were flawed. They grumbled, they were strong-willed and resisted God's instructions and God's prophet. But God still remained faithful.

If the creation of the People of God is the plot of Exodus, the Presence of God is the theme.

God's Presence is first revealed to Moses through the bush that seemed to be in flames, yet was not consumed. Then, God's Presence appears as a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night to protect His People from the pursuing armies of Pharaoh as they seem to be trapped by the Red Sea. God's Presence is with them continually to lead them from site to site. And even before the Tabernacle was constructed, God's Presence appeared to Moses at the Tent of Meeting (Ex. 33: 7-11). Moses brings the elders with him onto the mountain where they all experience God's Presence. And of course, when Moses ascends up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, God's fearsome Presence seems to consume the whole top of the mountain.

And, as I highlighted in my last post, the climax of the entire book is the coming of the Presence of God as a thick cloud on the newly-built Tabernacle, finally consecrated for service in the wilderness.

With this in mind, one little verse has always stuck with me. The first part says, "Yahweh would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend..." (Ex. 33: 11a). This verse awakens a deep yearning in my heart to have this kind of friendship with God. Oh, that I could say, "God would speak to Mark face to face, as a man speaks to his friend."

And the rest of the verse also speaks to me: "Then, even when Moses had to return to the camp, his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent" (Ex. 33: 11b). And even when others walk away, Lord, can I just hang around in your Presence as long as possible?

Let us recapture the true theme of our identity as the People of God--the very Presence of God in our midst.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Presence of God

At our Sunday evening gathering this last week, when the last notes of "Breathe" by Marie Barnett still lingered in the air, everyone sat silently, most of them with eyes closed. There was a palpable sense of God's presence there and no one wanted to break the atmosphere by speaking.

This is what drew me to the Vineyard over 25 years ago. And it is what, I believe, people everywhere are yearning to experience as well--the manifest Presence of God in our midst.

In Exodus 33: 15-16, Moses says to God, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?"

Of course, God promises to go with Moses and the people. In fact, His Presence is first manifested through the cloud during the day and the pillar of fire at night. In the climax of the book of Exodus, with the completion of the Tabernacle and all of the articles of worship and the consecration of Aaron and his sons--then the Presence of God filled the Tabernacle.

And with the completion and dedication of the first Temple of Solomon, we have a similar phenomenon: "When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of Yahweh (the LORD). And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of Yahweh (the LORD) filled his temple" (1 Kings 8: 10-11).

But by the time Jesus arrived, the third temple (of Herod) was being built and sacrifices were continuing, yet the Presence had left. As Ezekiel described in his 10th chapter, the glory of Yahweh had departed the Temple.

And Jesus expressed his anger at the market that had been set up in the Court of the Gentiles, effectively pushing, not just people, but God Himself out of the way. Driving the merchants out and turning over their tables, he said, "Is it not written, 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?' But you have made it ' a den of robbers'" (Mark 11: 17).

When Jesus ascended into heaven, he left a new People, who themselves are the new Temple. "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you (all)?" (1 Cor. 3:16).

The point is this: God's Presence is the hope and the promise and should be the legacy of the People of God. Do we hunger and thirst for Him enough to set aside our agendas so that we make room for him? Let us have the same zeal for our Father's house (that's us) so that we settle for nothing less than His very Presence manifest in our midst.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Living Water

There's nothing like chocolate to soothe me when I'm feeling down--and that's the problem.

Gerald May, in his fabulous book, Addiction and Grace, says in effect, that humans are created with an ache to be filled in our hearts in a way that, ultimately, only God Himself can fill. Saint Augustine said something similar, that is, that each of us has a kind of God-shaped vacuum.

"Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee" (Augustine).

The problem for us humans is that we tend to look to sensual things to scratch that itch when the answer is really spiritual.

Jeremiah says it to Israel: "My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jer. 2: 10).

A cistern was a huge sunken vessel, like a water-well, that provided water in arid places. Obviously, a broken cistern would leak and become useless. Going to a broken cistern for water is futile.

For Israel, the "broken cisterns" were the idols of the nations whom they had begun to worship instead of Yahweh, the One True God, who had actually redeemed them from Egypt and given them the Promised Land. How could those who had been so miraculously delivered turn away from God?

"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jer. 17: 9).

The answer lies in the deceptive nature of our own hearts. And who does our heart deceive more than ourselves? When I yearn to be filled with God's comforting love and presence, I convince myself that something other-than-God will satisfy me. For me it is chocolate. For others it is alcohol or work or spending. You name it, you can go to it for water and find that it does not really satisfy.

God is the source of living water. And we know that Jesus claimed this moniker for himself.

"If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink," Jesus said in John 7: 37. And when we learn to bring our deepest thirsts to Him, when we draw from the well of living water, there will be an overflow from within us. "Whoever believes in me, as the scriptures have said, streams of living water will flow from within him" (John 7: 38).

Let's learn to go to the True Well of Living Water when we're thirsty.