The Manifest Presence of God

Steve, a student who occasionally attended our campus ministry meetings, found himself in the midst of a year and half long struggle with depression. On one particular evening I spoke about the importance of Christians seeking the presence of God. Steve seemed a little skeptical, but proved determined nonetheless. He knew he needed something more from God. Later that evening Steve spent 2-3 hours in prayer doing nothing more than crying out for God to reveal Himself. That night our heavenly Father touched Steve in such a real way that his depression completely lifted! An instant in God’s manifest presence can do more than a lifetime of human effort.

Even though He dwells within us, even though our spiritual senses have been brought to life, experiencing God’s manifest presence is not automatic. (Many of us have actually been taught that God no longer relates to humans in tangible ways.) This is where I believe it is essential for us to seek Him by faith. God wants to have a dynamic relationship with His children in this life. But do we really believe that?

Photo by Sam Hakes

Recently I received a gospel tract that included this sinner’s prayer:

“Dear God, I admit I am a sinner on my way to Hell. I believe that you died for me. Please save me from my sin and take me to Heaven when I die. Thank you for saving me. Amen.”

There was nothing of a personal relationship with a living God, only a distant hope for a blissful eternity. Any gospel that seeks to proclaim a message of salvation apart from a very real relationship with God in this life, certainly isn’t the full Gospel.

But even when we do present the Gospel in light of a personal relationship with God, do we give any indication of what that means? How do we have a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe? Does He stop by for an evening stroll like He did with Adam & Eve? Does His presence overtake us and we fall to the ground as with Abraham or Daniel? Do we see Him high and lifted up on His throne as Isaiah did? Does He speak to us audibly the way He did to Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus? While all of these are possible, it’s safe to say that they don’t represent the everyday norm for a New Covenant believer.

The Apostle John recorded some fascinating words spoken by the Christ prior to His crucifixion:

“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” John 16:7 (NASB)

Photo by Sam Hakes

Wow! Could He really mean that? What Christian wouldn’t give an arm and a leg to walk with the incarnate Christ for three and a half years? But if the words of Jesus are to be trusted, and we supposedly believe they are, there is a path of life even better than seeing and walking and talking with Him in the flesh.

Is this a relationship we have by faith, believing that He’s there, but not really having any type of interaction? While faith is always integral to walking with God, it seems to me that this wouldn’t be a relationship at all. Prayerful communication going only in one direction is more of a monologue than anything else. No, there’s something more that God has for us. It’s the very real manifestation of His presence by which He makes Himself known to His children in ways that we are able to perceive.

When we are born from above, our spiritual senses are brought to life; meaning we can learn to hear His voice, at times feel His presence in a very tangible way, and in a spiritual sense, see His face.

Photo by Clarita – morgueFile

I suppose this is where the Gospel begins to move from comforting to scary for some people. The idea that God will always be with me comforts me greatly. But to think that I can hear His voice, well that changes things. I mean, how do I know when it’s actually Him speaking? Will I end up like the crazy guy who shot people in the mall because “God told him to do it”?

Let’s be bluntly honest; many of us prefer a form of religion over a relationship with God. Religious form is neat and tidy, like a basket tied up with ribbons and decorated with pretty bows. Relationships are unpredictable—especially a relationship with God.

The importance of God’s written Word cannot be overestimated when it comes to learning to accurately hear God’s voice, but we also need to understand that there is more to the indwelling presence of God than simply believing by faith that He is there. Our loving Lord wants to manifest His presence to us in so many ways. But do we want Him to?


Do You Impress God?

What’s it like to be on the same page with God? To see as He sees? To think as He thinks? To speak His language? Exactly what  is it that gets the attention of the Creator of the universe?

We often think that God is impressed by our extreme holiness, our great sacrifices or our radical devotion to the cause. Perhaps He is. But it seems to me that there was one issue that Jesus used more than any other to express approval or disapproval of the people He encountered—faith. I see no Scriptural record of Jesus saying, “Oh you of radical devotion.” More than anything else, faith seemed to be the primary attribute by which Jesus identified people. Have you ever wondered why?

The Gospel is first and foremost a message of relational grace. It’s about knowing God and all that entails, not simply attaining to some distant location (heaven) after we die. Faith is what enables us to abide in grace.

One of the most poignant verses of the Bible is Genesis 15:6:

“Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” (HCSB)

Think about it, Abraham (Abram), in many ways the father of the Christian faith, found extreme favor with the Creator of the universe because he chose to take God at His word in the midst of seemingly impossible circumstances. To a certain degree, every one of us is called to follow in Abraham’s footsteps.

At this point two significant questions come to mind:

1. Why is faith such a big deal in God’s eyes? My short answer is that without trust two individuals cannot share genuine intimacy. Think about a person that you like, but don’t necessarily trust. To what degree are you willing to open the true depths of your heart; to allow that person access to vulnerable places? In all likelihood, painful experiences of the past have taught you to share intimate thoughts only with those you trust.

I’ll write more about this in the future, but faith also serves as the only effective antidote for pride, disarming the power of Sin. Human nature desperately seeks to validate itself by measuring up to various standards; only to gloat in victory when it feels it succeeds. When we trust Christ for salvation, we have no grounds to boast in ourselves, only the cross.

2. What is faith? Once again we highlight a great misconception of contemporary Western Christianity. Many view faith as merely some sort of mental ascent to the existence of God. In reality, Biblical faith is all about a confident trust in the person of God—a belief so strong that we are willing to rest the sum total of our hopes and dreams upon our faithful and loving Father. Obedience to God and the willingness to take love-motivated risks are both expressions of Biblical faith. If our beliefs don’t compel us to some type of action, they probably aren’t rooted in real faith.

(For a more in-depth illustration of Biblical faith, check out this Blondin clip from my Search for Me Identity Series.)

The Bible teaches that the righteous will live by faith (Romans 1:16-17). This is very different than simply possessing a mental belief in God. It’s only when we begin to actually live by faith that our heavenly Father’s heart starts to race with excitement. Now we’re speaking His language!

It Matters to God!

Photo by Darnok - morgueFile

We don’t get it! That’s the truth about western culture. We simply do not understand the absolute nature of a covenant according to God’s design. We see a covenant in the same light as a contract, and of course, we all know that contracts are made to be broken. They are good only so long as they serve our purposes.

Regardless of the cost to Him, God has been sure to abide by the terms of any and every covenant He established with humankind. Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, David—God was absolutely faithful to His covenant promises with each of these individuals. The only covenant He changed was the Mosiac Covenant, which was fulfilled in Christ so that the much better New Covenant might take precedence. An insightful reading of Scripture will show that our merciful God actually went above and beyond the terms of just about every covenant He established with humans—covenants which God initiated because of His extreme love for us.

Several stories in Scripture help us to grasp a better understanding of how covenant relationships work and of God’s perspective regarding the whole matter.

Many of us are familiar with the guile of the Gibeonites in Joshua 9. This Canaanite nation saw that God was with the Israelites and how they crushed every nation that dared to oppose them. Gibeonite representatives pretended to come from a far off land to make a covenant (treaty) with the Israelites. Joshua and his leaders failed to consult the Lord on the matter and exchanged oaths with the Gibeonites, only to be outraged when they found out the truth—these guys lived less than twenty miles up the road. They had made a covenant, however, and so rather than kill the Gibeonites, they made them servants.

A short time later (Joshua 10), five Amorite kings attacked Gibeon because of their newfound relationship with Israel. What did the Gibeonites do? They sent to Joshua for help. What did Joshua do? He mustered his army and marched all night in order to rescue the Gibeonites.

Through that battle that God gave us a glimpse of His perspective on Joshua’s faithfulness to a covenant. God “threw large stones from heaven” on the Amorites. Then, toward the end of the day, when Joshua needed more daylight to finish the victory, he prayed, “O sun, stand still at Gibeon, and O moon in the valley of Aijalon.” Verse 13 says it all, “So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies.”

Joshua Praying by John Martin - Wikipedia

God honored the Israelite leaders who honored their covenant with the Gibeonites—even though they were at fault for making the covenant in the first place. But there’s more to the story!

In the days of King David a three-year famine came over the land of Israel. Try to imagine three agonizing years with little or no rain! Frustrated and wondering what was going on, David looked to the Lord for an answer. God’s reply? “It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” 2 Samuel 21:1 (NASB)

Scripture is silent about the reason, but King Saul attacked and killed Gibeonite people, violating a covenant that had endured for over 400 years! The treaty meant nothing to Saul but it certainly mattered to God. Even after 400 years God looked upon Israel’s covenant with Gibeon as though it had been made only a few days prior.

Covenant relationships may not mean much to our western culture, but they still matter to God. If we continue to take lightly what God values so highly, our version of Christianity will forever be dysfunctional!

Economic Uncertainty–What an Opportunity!

Photo by endiaferon - Creative Commons 2.0 License

Did you hear about the rioting currently taking place in parts of Europe? Governments are trying to cut back on their massive debts by imposing austerity measures such as cutting salaries and workers benefits. This all takes place while those in power continue to grow in wealth. Such economic disparity creates a breeding ground of extreme discontent from which all sorts of violence (including terrorism) draw their strength.

Here in the U.S. recent census results show that the income gap between rich and poor has now increased to its widest margin on record, double what it was just 40 years ago. Considering the continued growth of our national debt, it’s simply a matter of time until we face even more extreme circumstances than we see today.

I certainly don’t see myself as a fatalist resigned to accept a dark foreboding future for the western world, but I am convinced that we need to confront the realities of our day through the eye of faith. I speak not of an ignorant, self-imposed blindness, but of a confidence in God that looks through and beyond very real circumstances. Natural circumstances are not unimportant, but an eternal perspective carries far greater weight.

Ours is a living hope found only through our relationship with Christ. If our hope is focused elsewhere, we will be severely disappointed—especially in our current economic times.

Hope springs eternal through identification with Christ. Hopelessness will ever bear the dark fruits of discouragement, depression, cynicism, hardness and eventually violence. It’s in this vein that I am so touched by the heroes of the faith who have gone before us. Read what Hebrews 11:8-10 has to say about Abraham:

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going. By faith he lived as a foreigner in the promised land as though it were a foreign country, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who were fellow heirs of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (NET)

Abraham was so characterized by an eternal hope that he was unwilling to see even the Promised Land as home! Abraham’s real promise was God Himself. As a result all of heaven holds Abraham in the highest regard.

Photo by cohdra - MorgueFile

Abraham looked beyond his natural circumstances and fixed his gaze upon an eternal land of opportunity. The political and economic rumblings of our day compel us to do the same. How privileged we are to live in an era that will not allow us to firmly place our trust on the ever shifting sands of human design!

We are immersed in a course of world events that supersede our individual wants and desires. Life as we’ve known it is coming to an end, while both the kingdoms of light and darkness steadily rise. Ongoing economic uncertainty will continue to challenge us to evaluate the focus of our trust. What an amazing opportunity to pursue Christ and to lay hold of the eternal, living hope found only in Him!

Facing the Impossible?

Photo by kaagen - MorgueFile

Disappointment. Discouragement. Frustration. All are words that often characterize our responses to difficult, if not impossible, circumstances. As I look back over my life I see so many difficulties and impossibilities. Why, I ask, is it that life always seems to be so hard? Why are there always so many challenges and so many limitations? If I am truly walking with God, then I should think that life and ministry would be much easier than the reality I’ve experienced.

And yet when I stop to consider the big picture I can see the hand of God at work in a truly powerful way. Based on the circumstances I’ve faced, my life really shouldn’t have worked out as well as it has to this point. What’s up with that?

In a sense I’ve always known that God wants to perfect His faith in me, but still I’ve struggled with the limitations and difficulties I continue to face. And then it dawned on me. (I’m sure I heard it before, but something didn’t quite register.) How many significant people in Bible can you name who did not face impossible circumstances? The Son of God Himself was born into an impossible situation and given an impossible mission!

Can we name a few Biblical notables who faced a wide array of incredible difficulties?  Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Esther, Ruth, David, Mary, Paul . . . and the list goes on and on and on. Actually, a far greater difficulty would be to name a handful of heroes of the faith who had it comfortable and easy! How is it that we have come to think that a blessed life should be a walk in the park?

Photo by xandert - MorgueFile

God likes to grow people, but growth never comes by way of comfort. Personal discipline certainly helps. But there’s nothing like impossible circumstances when it comes to forging our character and firmly establishing our faith—if, and only if, we latch onto the promises of God when it appears as though He is devilishly absent.

There’s something noble and romantic about responding to an altar call to be willing to attempt the impossible for God. But that’s when you’re standing on a spiritual mountain top where the presence of God is thick and emotions are running high. Any and everything seems possible then. To come down from the mountain to face the day to day realities of trench warfare, or simply mundane living—well that’s an entirely different matter.

What would happen if we stopped lamenting our impossibilities and began embracing them as opportunities to see God move? As opportunities for us to grow in a faith that is more precious than gold? I can’t say exactly, but I am in the process of finding out. And truth be told, there is very little disappointing, discouraging and frustrating about seeing God reveal Himself in powerful and amazing ways!

“Against hope Abraham believed in hope with the result that he became the father of many nations according to the pronouncement, ‘so will your descendants be.’ Without being weak in faith, he considered his own body as dead (because he was about one hundred years old) and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God. He was fully convinced that what God promised he was also able to do. So indeed it was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” Romans 4:18-22 (NET)