Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Descent Week 2 - God’s Descent In Our Need

There are many natural joys that come from being a father of young children. When I’m gone for a long time at work, I get greeted as if I’m a conquering hero when I walk through the door. On top of that, even the most simple things can make them laugh. Just the other night, my wife was reading a story to the children on the couch. It was at a tense moment in the story where nosies could be heard off in the distance, and then the nosies stopped. For dramatic effect, my wife paused. At that moment I grabbed one of the kids and yelled. Everyone jumped in surprise, having a great laugh at being startled.
But with the joys of being a father, comes the harder jobs that have to be done. Probably the most frustrating of jobs is discipline. In fact, I recently had a quick conversation with a man who agreed that disciplining children is not something that we find enjoyable. Now I will say, I don’t mind it. It doesn’t bother me to discipline my children, because I know that to discipline them is to help them become who God created them to be. What I find frustrating about disciplining children, is when I walk through the door, and instead of the hero’s welcome, I find that I have to be the disciplinarian.
And I know from experience, and from other people’s experience, that waiting for daddy to get home to administer discipline, is not a child’s favorite part of the father child relationship either. Many a kid has heard the words, “Just wait ’til your father gets home,” and have dreaded every second until he arrives. And as a kid, there’s this thought that, even though your parent tells you they don’t enjoy disciplining you, they really secretly do. As if parents are wringing their hands, just waiting for the next time their child messes up, so they can discipline them. 
Now I don’t know about you, but the truth is, when I get a call, or a text telling me that when I get home I need to discipline one of the kids, I don’t like that either. Not only does it put me in a sour mood, but I also know that the chances of me being greeted warmly are probably zero.
But in order for my children to grow up, they need discipline. And my job is to be one of two disciplinarians in my family. So when I get home and I have to discipline, I do it, because in the long run, it will produce better lives.

And that’s where we come to in our second week of our Descent sermon series. A place where daddy’s coming home and the children know there’s discipline coming with him. But here’s the thing, there’s more to the discipline than punishment. There’s a heart behind the discipline that a lot of times, children and we miss. So if you have your Bible’s we’re going to start in Genesis chapter 3, but we’re going to jump forward to Exodus chapter 3.

And as you open your Bibles to Genesis and Exodus 3, let’s catch up from last week, so we can see where we’re at.

Last week we asked one of the greatest questions humanity can ask, “Why am I here?” Then we looked at four creation accounts from ancient civilizations to answer that question. Three of the accounts told us that the universe was in chaos, from there, war, or strife created earth, and/or humans. These three creation accounts therefore gave us the answer to, “why am I here,” with the answer, “by chance”. This works well with the modern atheist and naturalist belief, that tells us that we are randomly here, with no purpose as to why.
I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sit right with me. Because it leaves so much on the table. Why then should I do anything? What then is meaning? The why’s continue, because these answers to the greatest question on earth, leaves us with a sour taste in our mouths, because they do not give a meaningful and satisfactory answer. 
But then we dove into the Bible’s account of creation, and we found that the Bible does give us a meaningful and satisfactory answer to the question. Because it shows us a very different creation. Where God creates out of a desire, and not by accident. That everything has purpose, and we are his image bearers.
And to understand that God is a purposeful Creator, is to begin to understand Christmas. But there is more to the story, and that’s where we come to Genesis chapter 3 today.

Now a lot of people know the story of Adam and Even and the eating of the forbidden fruit, where God gives the two first humans one rule, you can eat of any fruit in the garden, except for the fruit from this one tree. With that understanding, I want us to fast forward the story a little bit to the aftermath of eating the forbidden fruit. So let’s pick up the story in verse 7. So they eat the fruit and then it says…

7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Here we see what a lot of parents experience on a daily basis. Kids do something they know they’re not supposed to do, and what action do they take? They hide. “Daddy is coming home, quick, clean it up, fix the broke vase, hide the food,” they say. Why, because just like children, Adam and Eve didn’t want what they knew was coming, a discipline.

Now if we continue on into the rest of the situation here, we find out that there is indeed discipline. There’s discipline for the serpent who coerced Eve into eating the fruit. There’s discipline for Eve, who fell for it. There’s discipline for Adam for allowing the whole thing to happen.
And it’s easy to look at God in this situation, and think, he flew off the handle. I mean, it was only one piece of fruit. Did God really need to discipline all of humanity for such a minuscule infraction?
And when we start down that line of thinking, it’s easy to see God as that mean disciplinarian that we’re waiting for as a child to come home. But if we look at God in that light we miss him, we miss the heart of the matter. 

To get at this the heart of God and understand hi side in the disciple that has to happen, to me, there’s no better place to see it than in Exodus chapter 3. Like the story of Adam and Eve with the forbidden fruit, the story of Moses and the burning bush is known by a lot of people. Moses sees a bush that is on fire, but isn’t being burned up, so he goes over to investigate it. It’s there in verse 4 that we pick up the story.

4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

Here we begin to see the heart of God for his creation. He sees Moses and calls out for him to come closer.
But, in verse 5 we see the broken relationship between God and humanity that happened back in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve usually walked with God with no barriers, but because they ate of the forbidden fruit, barriers between the perfect God, and the now corrupted creation were put up. Those barriers are what the Bible calls sin. In Moses’ encounter with God, we see that Moses cannot get any closer to God because God is holy, he is perfect, and Moses is not. God is perfect, but Moses is like his ancestors Adam and Eve, lost in sin. Moses murder someone, causing his own sin to put up barriers between himself and God.
In verse 6, when God introduces himself, Moses recognizes the broken relationship with humanity and God, and his own sin, this is why Moses hides his face. He’s not just physically hiding his face, but relationally as well. Just as Adam and Eve hid from God, so too, Moses hides from him. And it says, Moses was afraid. He understands the perfection of God, and his own imperfection.
And this is the child knowing he has done wrong, and here’s his father coming to the door. I have found my children underneath their covers hiding from me when I have to discipline them. I remember when I was around four years old, I gave another child a bloody nose. I remember running to my house to hide, because I knew I would be disciplined for what I had done.

And we could end there, with an understanding of God as this allusive, and tyrannical disciplinarian. We could end with this understanding that there is a separation between God and humanity. That we need to hide from the wrath of God. And you know what, many people do. Many people see the God of the Old Testament and see a vengeful, wrathful, angry God that is out to discipline humanity for crimes they had no hand in.
But if we do, if we stop there, we miss the heart of this Father. We miss the true purpose of the discipline. We miss the God who is not out to destroy us, but rather to restore us.

Verse 7, God says, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.”
God tells Moses, I have heard their suffering, and I am concerned. I personally know the feeling of concern a parent has for their child. I see that very same concern from God.
But it doesn’t end there. It says in the next verse, “8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…”

This is monumental. We saw last week that God came down to create, and to be with his creation. God descended to create out of a desire to do just that. At the beginning of today, we saw that humanity broke that relationship. It would be easy for God to wash his hands of us and move on. But no, God comes down again. He descends again, but this time it’s to seek to restore his relationship with humanity.
This is why Jesus tells the story of the Father with the Two Sons, or if you like, the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 (11-32). I think of that story as concerning the Father more than the sons. The story is simple, a father has two sons. The youngest wants his inheritance, receives it, and leaves the family. Eventually the youngest son squanders the inheritance, and returns. And this is where we see the heart of the father. Since his son had left, the father had been watching for his return. And when the father sees the son in the distance, the father runs to restore the relationship.
This is what we see from God throughout the Old Testament. God descending to restore the relationship that we broke. Every time we do something that goes against God, we add to the breakage of the relationship that Adam and Eve began.
Yet, God continues to descend. God continues to run to us. God continues to hear our suffering and he is concerned.
The Old Testament is the story of the father returning home to discipline his children, and the children being in fear of him. But here is what we must understand about the father, this is what we must understand about God: the father doesn’t discipline because he wants to break the relationship, the child has already done that, no, the father disciplines to bring the child back into a right relationship with the family.
When I discipline my children, I try to end with two things: talking about the reason for the discipline, and a hug. Children need to know that their discipline is a result of their actions, not the father’s love. The father’s love is in the discipline, because through the discipline, the relationship is restored.
But there is a caveat, the relationship will continue to be broke, because we want our own way more than God’s. And so, we see God in the Old Testament descend again, and again, and again to mend the relationship we continue to break. This is the descent of God in our rebellion, in our need.
And in order to bring a finalized mending, God must descend again, but this time in a different way. This third descent of God is what we will talk about next week.

But for this week I want to challenge you with this: have you recognized your own rebellion against God? How do you hide your life from him? What things have you done, or are doing, that if your father came to you, you would be hiding under your covers?
I want to challenge you this week to search your heart, ask God to search you as well, and then talk to him about those things are you hiding. Remember, God desires to restore your relationship with him, not to beat you down. But we need to recognize in our own lives, what God calls sin, those things that we do that are opposite of what God wants.
And when we confess those things, Scripture tells us he is faith and just to forgive them (1 John 1:9). 
Let us recognize that God comes to us, even while we sin, even while we rebel because he is our Creator, caring deeply for those he has made out of his desire.

Let us look upon God as the father who comes home, and let us be a people who give him the greeting as the conquering hero, and love him as our disciplinarian. Because in both cases, he is there so that our relationship with him would be restored, and we would live a full and joyous life. 
Now may your relationship with your heavenly Father emulate the relationship of the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Descent Week 1 - God’s Descent In Creation

As we’e coming up to the Christmas season, the Sunday school kids are starting to go through the Christmas story. An interesting thing happen last week, in both classes the kids started to ask questions about where babies come from. This put the teachers on the spot, with one of them giving an answer and telling the kids, if they want to learn any more, they need to ask their parents.
Children can be a fount of questions. Asking scientific question like, where does lighting come from, to asking questions like, why can’t I hear when I stick my finger into my ear. Children are curious about the world around them, and through their eyes, we can be challenged by what they ask. And some of these question that children ask, we ask as well. We’re curious about the world around and about ourselves, and so we search for the answers to our questions.

And the most important question humanity has ever sought an answer to is, why am I here? It’s a big question that asks, what is my purpose. It’s a question from which so many other questions can spring from. Because when we start to think about it, there are roughly 7 billion people in this world, how do I fit into such a large population? The question gets even bigger when we start to understand the vastness of the world. We can take all those people, and if we cleared out all the buildings, we could put them in the city of New York. That’s how big our planet is. And if it’s that big, think about the universe. The more we think about it, the more insignificant we become. No wonder we have midlife crises’, the reason why we’re here is a huge question, because it gives reason why we should continue on or not.

To understand our purpose and to answer why we are here, what better place than to look at the creation stories of the world’s religions? For thousands of years, humanity has put forth different ways in which the world could have come into being. I want us to take a look at four of those creation stories, so that we can see which one is the best in answering the deep question of why are we here?

First, let’s start with one of the most ancient creation stories coming out of Babylon. This begins with chaos. Two gods emerge, Apsu and Tiamat, these are the fresh and salt waters. Together they mix and create other gods. But Apsu doesn’t like these gods and wished to kill them. One of Apsu and Tiamat’s children Ea, learned about Apsu’s desire to kill his children. Ea lulled Apsu to sleep and murdered him. Tiamat sought revenge for Apsu’s death, but she was killed by another child named Marduk. Marduk took Tiamut’s body and made the heavens and the earth from it. Humanity was then made out of Tiamut’s second husband. 

Another creation story comes from China. In this account, like in the Babylonian account, there was chaos. But in this case, there is no god, but rather chaos cracks, and heaven and earth break away from each other. The clear and high aspects of the universe rose to become heaven. While the dark formed the earth. It is here that the first born of the universe, P’an-ku is formed, standing in the middle between heaven and earth bringing stability between the two. As he does this, parasites begin eating his body, and from this, humanity was created.

Still another, more familiar, creation story comes from Greece. Again we start with chaos, from chaos came the earth, Gia. Gia produced the sky to cover herself, the sky was named Uranus. Their children were the Titans, elemental gods. But Uranus did not want these children to be free and tried to lock them away within Tartarus. But Gia loved her children and created a sickle for her youngest Cronus. He used it to castrate his father. Later Cronus fashioned man and they lived perfect lives. Until one of Cronus’ sons, Zeus, overcame his father and made humanities lives extremely hard.

Of these three creation stories, like most ancient creation stories, they have a lot of similarities. Chaos begets chaos. Children rebel and kill their parents. Humanity emerges out of strife. It is the gods who cause strife for humanity.
In almost every ancient creation story, there is one constant idea about humanity, we’re an after thought, or at the most, a nuisance of chance.
Each of these creation stories, answers the question of why are we hear with the same answer that modern atheist give, there’s really no reason at all.

But how does that sit with our own feeling? Why do we pursue more knowledge? Why do we reach for new experiences? Why do we feel a sense that there is more?
Because there is more. That’s the story of God’s creation account.

Since we are looking at ancient creation stories, let’s look at the Bible’s creation account through the lens of an ancient reader. If you have your Bibles we’re going to be comparing the Bible’s creation story to the ones I just shared with you.

The story starts out with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

From the start we see a major difference. Chaos rules and from chaos the gods are formed. This automatically leads into more chaos. But here we see that God proceeds chaos. That from here on out, nothing comes into being without God’s expressed desire for it to occur.

It continues, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

We don’t see accidental creation here. Instead, we see a craftsman at work. A formless empty place, stands before the sculpture ready to be fashioned into anything he desires. So he gets to work.

Starting in verse 3, we see God create light, we see God create time when he marks off the days. We see God create the a canopy of sky to cover his land. Then he creates areas of dry land, adding on to them vegetation.

In verse 14, we start to see God putting lights in the sky. The Sun, the moon, the stars. These are to give the earth cycles of day, night, and seasons.

Then in verse 20, he populates the oceans and sky with life. Blessing it to become full., spreading throughout it’s vastness.
Then he creates land animals, and eventually humans. But, unlike all of his created work so far, humans are different. They require a conversation about how he is going to create them, with the very image of their Creator. A distinction no other creature receives.
Then as we move into the second chapter, not only does he create these humans, he places them in a special garden. A garden where he comes to meet with his image bearers. 
All this, God calls very good, and at the end of the creation story, there is no chaos, there is no fighting, there is only what the craftsman said he desired. A place where he could interact with his creation.

No other creation story brings together the will and power of it’s Creator. Most creation stories tell us that chaos creates chaos. Where strife, war and death are the only constants. In other creation accounts, like that of Hinduism, the creator is unsure what he wants, taking eons to decide.
But the God of the Bible is distinct. He is purposeful in his creation. He is more powerful than it. And he builds it so that his creation has purpose.

As we begin our Christmas sermon series, we are talking about the descent of God. God descending to his creation. What we have to understand is that God descending to his creation is not something uncommon for the God of the Bible. In fact, God created this world so that he could descend to it. He purposefully builds a world where he can meet with his created beings. 

In fact if we take a moment and look at this world as an ancient reader would, we can see how much this first descent of God matters.

In the prophet Isaiah’s book, God says this about the world, “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’ declares the Lord (66:1-2).”

God asks this question, “Where will my resting place be?” This question is a reference to the resting place of the gods of other religions in their temples. A resting place is a place where the gods of other religious would have their statues housed. Their images would rest there. But God is telling the people that they cannot make a place for him to rest, because he has already done that.

This creation is a place for his rest. He has created it, and has placed his own image there. We are his image placed in his temple. 

We also see later on as we read through Genesis, that God walks in the garden in the cool of the day. Later on God would establish a time of sacrifice (1 Kings 18:36). This time corresponded with God’s presence in the garden and God’s presence with his people as they sacrificed.

All of this points to answering that question of why are we here: Because God desired us. In every other belief system, you and I are an afterthought. Something that just happened because. 

But, God descends, crafting his creation into what he desired it to be. Crafting a place where he and his creation meet together. This creation speaks to us, because it answers the question our lives long to hear: you are not random, who are not an afterthought, you were created with purpose.

And in order to get a full understanding of Christmas, we must understand this first descent of God. The descent of creation. God making a space where he could come to meet with this created beings. Where he could house his image. To understand the God’s descent at creation, is to better understand the need for his descent at Christmas. But it isn’t the only descent of God that we need to understand, and next week, we’ll talk about that. 

My challenge for you this week is simply to answer the question why am I here? I know why I’m here, but the question is why are you here? Do you believe you were created by a loving God? Or do you believe you were a product of random chance out of chaos? 
And if you have trouble answering that question, I am available to have a conversation about it.
But each of us needs to ask this question, because when we do, Christmas moves from being another holiday, to being an awesome God’s descent to humanity.

Let us understand God’s descent of creation, so we may understand his descent of Christmas, and accept God’s answer to the question, “Why am I here?” Amen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mark, Week 41 - What Do We Do With Jesus?

For some of you history buffs out there, the name Hiroo Onoda might ring a bell to you. If the name doesn’t spark in your mind, then his story might. Hiroo was a Japanese man who died in 2014 at the age of 91. In World War 2 he was a young intelligence lieutenant stationed on Lubang Island near in the Philippines.
He was given one order, to conduct guerrilla warfare and not to die. So for twenty-nine years, Hiroo carried out his orders. With three other soldiers by his side, Hiroo conducted attacks on the local population killing about 30 people. Attempts by search parties and leaflet drops were made to stop Hiroo, but he chalked them up to America ploys.
Finally in 1974, Hiroo’s former commanding officer was flown in to rescind his original orders.
Hiroo was a man who fought with everything he had. For almost three decades he followed his orders. Even when all the world had moved on, even trying to bring Hiroo along with them, he still did what he signed up for.
Hiroo believed he was still in a war, and for almost 30 years, nothing could change his mind.

That’s where we come to the last chapter of the Gospel of Mark today, a place where what we believe is called into question.

Now, this is the last chapter. There’s no more from the hand of Mark as he listens to Peter speak about Jesus. And to understand everything so far, let’s take a step back and get a snapshot of what we are supposed to walk away with.

From chapters one thru four, Mark focused heavily on who Jesus was. He was a person who held authority over God’s Word, and both the physical and spiritual realms. Again and again, through these chapters, we see that Jesus is no mere man, but God come who entered our world.
Then in chapters four through eight, we saw Jesus’ focus shift from teaching to great crowds, to purposefully building up his disciples to take over from him. Culminating in Jesus’ question to Peter, “Who do you say I am?” When Peter answers, “The Messiah,” Jesus’ agains shifts his focus, this time to the cross.
And from chapters eight through fourteen, Jesus works with his disciples and their lack of understanding and faith. It’s a two steps forward, one step back type of situation. 
Finally, at the end of chapter fourteen and into fifteen, Jesus is arrested, tried, and crucified.
Mark’s Gospel is a journey for us to take, to see what we will do with Jesus. We start out with Jesus, learning about him as the disciples did. We experience their victories, but as soon as we do, we begin to see their defeats. And with every moment of movement closer to understanding Jesus, there’s a new revelation about him, that challenges the way we think. We are to walk this journey with the disciples as they discover who Jesus is. And we are challenge, just as the disciples were, to be prepared for a time when our faith will be rocked. Jesus tells us to be on our guard. Then the moment of trial comes, and we are faced with the question, do we still believe? When Jesus is ripped away from us, do we still believe? Or have we become like the disciples who left Jesus?

It’s at this point we come to Mark’s final chapter. Let’s read starting in verse 1.

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.
12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.
14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.
15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Now, in most Bibles you’ll see that there is a break between verse 8 and 9. It’s says something like this, “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.”
That means that as we discover older and older manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark, the older manuscripts don’t have verses 9-20. Now, if the earliest manuscripts didn’t have verses 9-20, then why do we keep them in? 
Are they unbiblical? Well, no, we see similar words and actions by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, and the book of Acts.
Should we cut them out? Well, they have been a part of translations of thousands of years, and are consistent with biblical teaching, so we don’t. But we are made aware by the translators that it could be that the Gospel of Mark ends at verse 8.

Here’s my thoughts, if God desired that these words not be put in, it would have been a simple process for him to keep them out. So we’re going to approach this by including all 20 verses. But, no matter if we stop at verse 8 or at verse 20, the point of Mark is the same.

In verses 1-8, we pick up from Jesus being laid in the tomb. Mark doesn’t give us the details about the guards, or the conspiracies that surrounded Jesus’ missing body that are talked about in the other Gospels. Instead, all we’re told is that a handful of woman showed up to perform the proper Jewish burial rituals, but find that Jesus is gone.
Instead of Jesus, the women find a man, an angel, in a white robe, and he tells them that Jesus has gone to Galilee. The man also tells them to tell all the disciples, singling out Peter, that Jesus is on his way.
And what do the women do? What any sane person would. They run off and they keep their mouths shut.
Now if we end here, there’s some interesting things: First, we get no final dialogue from Jesus, no final words to close on from him. We just end with the angel’s words that the women need to tell the other disciples that Jesus has risen. Secondly, Peter is specifically called out for restoration. The angel’s words are meant to let all the disciples know that Jesus is desiring to meet with them. With Peter being assured that Jesus wants to meet with him as well.  The thirds interesting things, is that the Gospel would then end on a choice. What do the women do next? Mark is sharing, do there as to be more to the story about what happens after the close of the Gospel.
If we end here, we could come away with the question looming over our heads, “What would you do if Jesus rose from the dead? Would you keep quiet, or would you go tell?”

A good cliff hanger to end on. This type of ending brings us back to the question that Mark has been trying to have us answer. The question that Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” With Mark’s cliffhanger, we’re asked the same question in a slightly different way. The question becomes more of, “What are you going to do with Jesus?”
Are you going to follow Jesus, or are you going to reject him?

Yet, we know there’s more to the story. And whether we just haven’t found the older manuscript with this ending, or it was a way for the early Church to remind people that Jesus sent his disciples to spread the Gospel, it gives us a little more insight into what that more is.

From these we see that the women eventually did share with the disciples that Jesus had raised from the dead, but, in what has become their regular routine, the eleven disciples didn’t believe. 
If fact, we’re told twice that they didn’t believe. And when Jesus eventually does show up, he rebukes them. Chastising them for not believing. But really, what else did Jesus expect? They haven’t really been believing Jesus since they had their spiritual high back at the end of chapter five. Their still living in past victories.
This passage ends with Jesus sending the disciples out, in his authority, and them actually doing it.

So, with this ending we get a more happy ending, and who doesn’t like a happy ending? The women believe, the disciples believe, and everyone’s out there fighting the good fight.

So, as we finish up the Gospel of Mark after forty-one weeks, and around a 100,000 words said, what do we walk away from this whole experience with? Well, I wish I could be a better preacher, a better teacher, a better expositor of God’s Word, but you know what, I only get one thing.
And that’s, it’s hard to believe. No matter if we end at verse 8, or verse 20, I see the same people struggling to believe. The women struggled to believe that Jesus had risen. The eleven struggled to believe that Jesus had risen. And if I’m honest with myself, there have been times when I find myself just like these disciples.

Now that’s probably not something that you want to hear. A pastor struggles with Jesus’ resurrection? And the reality is yes, there have been times when I have. 
Even though I know the arguments, even though I know the evidence, there’s that voice that says, “Did he really?’

And it’s easy to not believe, because people don’t seem to raise from the dead that often. In fact, I’ve done a few funerals, and not one of those people has came back to life yet.

But Mark leaves us on that idea, it’s easy to not believe. What’s hard is to trust and follow Jesus. After 16 chapters, we end with this, it’s easy to not believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and it’s hard to trust and follow him.
Yet, that’s what God calls us to do. To believe, to trust, to accept his word on the subject, and to move forward. To go out and be a part of his work. To share with others, what Jesus has done. To draw ever closer to him when the good and the bad happen.

There are some amazing things Mark tells us about Jesus. Things that, even in our day, people don’t do. I’ve seen a magician try to walk on water, to with he did, but as he said, with the help of about a dozen people. I have seen great people speak and open Gods’ Word to me in new and different ways, but they always point me back to Jesus, who was greater at it.
And we are called to believe this Jesus, who we have never met in the flesh, like these disciples did, and it can be hard to believe it.
When are physical things of this life, poverty, stock market crashes, being laid off from work, people dying. With all those things, we are called to believe this Jesus. Mark is calling us to believe this Jesus, and even those who were with him have trouble doing it, just like me. It’s easy to not believe. 
And when I do step out in trust of Jesus, I find that it is hard. It is hard to trust, when I see people suffer. It is hard to trust, when I see the struggles. It’s hard to trust, when everything around me says don’t.
But it’s when I trust, when I move past my unbelief that I find it all makes sense. And the closer I cling to God, the more clear the picture becomes. And everything Mark is asking me to believe in, falls into place.

So the natural question then is, where are you? Where are you in your relationship with Jesus? Have you started? Have you accept Jesus’ work on your behalf? Have you recognized your sin, and your need for God to save you? Each of us has to come to a place where we recognize that we are fall short of God’s goodness, because it’s only at that place that we are ready to believe what Jesus has done for us to bring us into God’s goodness. Not by anything we have done, but because of everything he has done for us. If you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Savior, now is the time to take inventory of what you have done, the perfection that God requires, and the work of Jesus on your behalf. Then all that is needed to receive God’s gift of salvation is to accept it and to follow.
If you have accepted Jesus as you Savior where are you now? Are you doubting? Are you disbelieving? Are you at a high point, or a low point in your relationship? Are you active with God in his work? Or are you taking a break?
At the end of Mark we are all challenged to evaluate our relationship with Jesus. To ask, am I moving closer to him, or further away?

My challenge for you this week is to answer this question, “Where am I in my relationship with God?” And be honest. If you have no relationship, I challenge you to seek the truth. Learn the arguments for and against God. Challenge your thinking of who he is.
If you have accepted Jesus, then where are you now? Is he just a roommate in your life, or is he the Lord of it? Are you working for him, or trying to get him to work for you.

Let us be honest with where we are, because if we’re not, how can we move on from Mark, when we’re not willing to answer it’s most important question, “Who do we say Jesus is?” 
Now may the Father who sent the Son to die for us, empower you by the Spirit to move ever closer to him in relationship. Amen.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Thanksgiving Through the Words of the Presidents.

 "As we have grown and prospered in material things, so also should we progress in moral and spiritual things. We are a God-fearing people who should set ourselves against evil and strive for righteousness in living, and observing the Golden Rule we should from our abundance help and serve those less fortunately placed. We should bow in gratitude to God for His many favors.”

President Calvin Coolidge said these words in 1925. 

In the proceeding year, President Coolidge was the first president to have his inauguration broadcast over the radio. 

In that  year, the first public demonstration of what would become TV happened.
Famous people like the baseball player Yogi Berra, civil rights activist Malcom X, and first lady Barbara Bush were born. 

The world had come out of the war to end all wars only a few years prior.

The world was changing, the pace of life was hurrying along at speeds no one could imagine.

Companies like the Chrysler Cooperation were founded.

And the first weekly broadcast of the Grand Old Opry began.

So many things were looking up for America when Coolidge gave his Thanksgiving proclamation. 

Yet, in only a few years the stock market crashed, proceeding the Great Depression. 
From there, another Word War engulfed our nation.

Did Coolidge’s words about bowing in gratitude to God for his many favors no longer ring true? Because the United States was in a time of desperation, was it then that we retract our giving thanks?

Two Presidents later, then sitting president FDR said this in 1942:
  "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord." Across the uncertain ways of space and time our hearts echo those words, for the days are with us again when, at the gathering of the harvest, we solemnly express our dependence upon Almighty God.
The final months of this year, now almost spent, find our Republic and the Nations joined with it waging a battle on many fronts for the preservation of liberty.
In giving thanks for the greatest harvest in the history of our Nation, we who plant and reap can well resolve that in the year to come we will do all in our power to pass that milestone; for by our labors in the fields we can share some part of the sacrifice with our brothers and sons who wear the uniform of the United States.
It is fitting that we recall now the reverent words of George Washington, "Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy Protection," and that every American in his own way lift his voice to heaven."

Tomorrow is a very America holiday. Not because it’s a feast, other countries and people’s have feasts. No, Thanksgiving has always rested, not on the best of times, but understanding the best we have even in the worst of times. 

From the pilgrims who almost lost their lives, making a home in a new land. To President Lincoln, at the hight of the civil war declaring a national day of Thanksgiving.

It’s recognizing that there is a God in heaven who cares for his creation. So much so, that even when his creation rebels against him, he still desires the best for them. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of the strife, pain and sorrow in this world comes from our own actions. Our own actions that put us at the center, and so, cause a lot of problems. We want things our way, we are doing, what God calls sin. And because of that sin, we are separated from God and the blessing of a full relationship with him. Not just in this life, but also in the life to come. A separation that isn’t merely by location, but in full knowledge that all the peace, the joy, the acceptance, and love we ever felt will be gone. And we will be living a second death. But God loves and cares for us too much to leave us to that fate, so he sends Jesus to die on a cross. That death was to pay for the consequence of our sin. Jesus died for our rebellion. And when he was raised to new life, everlasting life was now available to anyone who would accept his offer. And when we accept what Jesus has done for us, we can return to the blessings he has for us. Which start now and go into eternity.

If you have never accepted Jesus’ work on your behalf, to bring you out of sin’s death and into eternal life, don’t let another Thanksgiving meal pass you by without Jesus. Tonight, if you haven't accepted Jesus as your Savior, I want to talk with you after our time here, about what that means. 

Thanksgiving can too easily focus on what we have done, but the heart of it is what God has done for us. 

If we can recapture this understanding of Thanksgiving, the storms of life will never topple us, because we will not be found in our own strength, but in the strength of the God who loves us.

Before we pray, I want to leave you with these words, from the great philosopher and theologian Charlie Brown, “What if, today, we were grateful for everything?”

Let’s pray the words of Thomas Jefferson,

“Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people, the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those whom in Thy name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Mark, Week 40 - Kids Will Be Kids

My son is all boy. He loves being outside playing in the dirt. He has designed and redesigned our backyard several times. He loves working along side anyone who is building anything. He loves to cut down tree limbs, go shooting, and run around. He can get pretty crazy at times, bouncing off the walls as if he was Tigger from the Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. 
At one point my wife asked my mom, “Was Jeremiah like this?” “Oh yes,” she said. “Probably worse.” 
Apparently, when I was younger, I was a terror. I remember doing some pretty bad things, that if I did them today, would’ve made me an internet sensation, or haunted me ’til my grave. I remember climbing trees, building forts, riding my bike all day long, getting muddy, and never thinking should I slow down? I never asked the philosophical question, is this who I am?
I just remember being a boy. And when kids do something, that’s what we say right, “Kids will be kids.” When a child sticks something in their mouth, when a baby vomits on your new shirt, or when a kid breaks their arm for the fifth time, we just say, “kids will be kids.”
We recognize that it’s a part of who a kid is, to have all that energy and run around until they crash. 
So, we take our kids to the play ground and tell them to run; run until they can’t run anymore. And then as they sleep in the car, we very quietly unbuckle them and take them to their rooms.
Because that’s what kids do, they run until they can’t and then you have to move them, or else they’ll just sleep in the car. And apparently, my wife informed me, you just can’t leave them over night, by themselves in a car. Go figure. 
But with the fun side of kids being kids, there’s also those times when we have to correct them. Disciplining them to correct some unwanted attitude, action, or disposition that is not acceptable. Who hasn’t had to deal with a look, a word, or an action from a child that wasn’t acceptable and had to be corrected? Whether through a verbal correction, a time out, or a swift swat on the butt. But that too is a kid being a kid. They learn, they grow, and they need to be molded in a way that glorifies God.

And it’s with this understanding that “kids will be kids” that we come to Mark chapter 15 verse 16. A place where we must understand that the idea of “kids will be kids,” is a rule that can be applied in other places of life.

As we get into verse 16 of Mark chapter 15, let’s take a look at what we talked about last week. Last week we saw the turmoil in Jesus’ judges’ life. We saw how the world around Pilate played into his decision to crucify Jesus. With his protection from the Emperor being taken away, he had to tread a little more carefully when dealing with the Jewish people. And we talked about how we too can easily do the same thing. We can allow the world around us to influence us greater than God. When we allow the circumstances, media, investments, and relationships to dictate what we think or do, we can lose sight of the work of God right in front of our faces. Yet it’s only when we are shaped by God that we see the work of God in greater ways. It’s only when we allow him to transform our minds, that we experience him the way he intends us to.

That brings us to where we’re at in the book of Mark today. Jesus has been sentenced to crucifixion, and now we’ll see that play itself out. Let’s pick up this event in verse 16 of chapter 15 in the book of Mark.

16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium {Pre-u-tor-e-um}) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

This is the first of three sections we’re going to cover today. We’re coving these three sections, because since we started the book of Mark, we’ve been trying to see how the book flows together. 

Here we see the soldiers who, like Pilate, don’t really like the Jews that much, and who take great pleasure in their duties of mutilating and humiliating Jesus. Even though Mark doesn’t get into the gory details, we know from the other gospel accounts, that these soldiers used a whip with nine strands of leather that had at it’s ends, glass, pottery, and other sharp objects.
But Mark doesn’t give us those details, because as he is writing down Peter’s words, we are meant to focus on the person of Jesus, and the mocking of the soldiers.
The soldiers mockingly place royal status symbols onto Jesus. A robe with purple dye was extremely rare and expensive. That’s why only royalty or nobility would wear it. In fact, it was the color of the Roman Emperor himself. And so the soldiers cover Jesus in the robe, mocking his kingship.
The soldiers add to the robe, the crown of thorns. The crown again representing the mockery of the kingship of Jesus, but this time a painful mockery being dug into his head. The thorns that came up from the ground because of Adam’s sin, now mockingly crown creation’s Maker.
The mock praise from the soldiers, and the physical assault follow. All this mocking, just the pre-show to what happens next. Let’s pick up the text starting in verse 21.

21 A certain man from Cyrene (Ci-ri-nay), Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.
25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews.
27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. [28] 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

In this section, we see the mocking move from the Gentile, non-Jewish soldiers, to a group of Jewish people, and their religious leaders.
They mocked Jesus’ words from chapter 13, where Jesus’ disciples looked at the grandness of what the Jewish nation had built, but Jesus told them to not look at the grandness of this world, but be on guard for the work of God, because all of it will fall. 
They mocked Jesus’ words of forgiveness that he spoke in chapter 2, when he told a man that he was forgiven of sin, and the religious leaders balked at him, because only God can forgive sins. But they didn’t realize that God was in their midsts.
They mocked the revelation that Peter said about Jesus; that Jesus was the Messiah, the prophesied Savior of the world. Jesus told Peter that the revelation of Jesus being the Messiah did not come from human understanding, but came from a revealing by God himself.
They mocked Jesus’ miracles, requiring just one more from him, before they would believe. The paralyzed man, the 5,000+ fed, the walking on water, the demon’s cast out, the little girl raised from the dead, none of it mattered to them. They wanted one more, before they would believe.

The mock praise of the Jewish community continues into verse 33.

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

More mocking, this time at Jesus’ distress. As the sins of humanity weighed on him, the words from the crowd twisted Jesus’ cry, and they mocked him for it.
Then, with Jesus’ last painful cry, the mocking stopped. The need for a separation between God and humanity stopped, hence the torn curtain in the temple.
And there stood one man, a Gentile, who recognized just who it was that was crucified before him. The Son of God, ridiculed and mocked, lifeless on the Roman’s greatest symbol of disgrace.

Jesus’ death and this man’s revelation leads us into our final section.

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

Jesus’ scorn didn’t stop at the cross. Being that it was so close to the Sabbath, there wasn’t enough time to prepare a proper burial for Jesus. So he was quickly wrapped in linens and buried. We find out later that the women we have been reading about came after the Sabbath to properly anoint Jesus’ body.
But for now, the Messiah was laid in a tomb not purposefully prepared for him by his family. Laid in a tomb without any of the proper preparation for the deceased.

Through these verses, again and again we see the mockery and scorn shown to Jesus. First by the people we would expect it from. The Roman soldiers have no love for the Jews. This Jesus is just another Jew, being prepared for the slaughter. Who was he to them? Nothing. And so, he was treated with no respect, no dignity.
Then, Jesus was mocked by his own people. Those people that he once told a Gentile woman, were children, compared to the dogs which were the Gentiles. Who was Jesus to the Jews? Just another failed Messianic figure. 
Then, Jesus was scorned even in death. Not given the proper burial for a Jew, though Jospeh tried to give him something.

This mocking usually enrages me. How could the people mock Jesus? Look at all he had done. All the miracles. All the revolutionary teachings. All the lives changed. Yet, he is mocked.
Even today. Look at what Jesus has given to this world. A greater sense of morality. A sense of freedom, and equality. It’s because of Jesus, that we have the United States, with it’s concept of divine rights, and equality of humanity. Yet, Jesus is mocked even now. And it usually enrages me.
But as I read these passages, I realized something, it’s par for the course. The mocking of God is the M.O. of humanity. We have mocked and scorned God from the garden, to the ark, to Egypt, to David’s kingdom, to the Exile, to the cross, and to today. Humanity mocks God no matter what he does.
And I am not immune to it. I have mocked God in the past as well. Through my thoughts, through my words, I have been a part of humanity’s mocking.

But why does it enrage me? Why am I surprised when the world around me mocks the God who created it? Really, it shouldn’t surprise me that the world mocks Jesus. It shouldn’t surprise me that the world mocks God. I mean, Paul wrote about it in his letter to the Roman Church, “29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy (1:29-31).” 

No, the mocking of Jesus shouldn’t surprise me, kids will be kids after all, and the los twill be the lost. What should surprise me is my enragement towards it. I mean, Jesus didn’t get enraged by the mocking. In fact, we read in another Gospel account, he actually says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).”
This world mocks Jesus, because they are lost. They mock Jesus, because they have no love for him. They mock Jesus, because they need just one more miracle to believe. And in my enragement I succumb to my own mocking of Jesus. Not by overt words, or actions, but because I am not following my Lord in the way he has called me. I am not loving those that are lost. I am not looking for the one sheep that’s not with the flock. Instead, I am mad at people living in darkness, when they know no other way.
I mock Jesus, by not being the light I am called to be. By not being the salt I am called to be. By not being the one who loves my fellow believers, so that this world may know that Jesus wasn’t just a blip on history’s radar, but he is the God of Creation.

When people mock God, we too easily fall into the trap of getting upset. But God calls us to a greater place. A place of graceful love, of love that sees past the mockery, and to the lostness of humanity. But this can only happen through our reliance of the Holy Spirit to work through us.
What we need to remember is, just like kids will be kids, the lost will be the lost. It’s no excuse, but it’s the reality. Kids are kids, because they don’t know any other way. The lost are in the same situation. They do, because they do not know what else to do. So we can be enraged, but how far will that get us with children? Wouldn’t that cause a divide between us and our kids?
How far will that get us with those who are lost? Wouldn’t it cause the same divide? Let us not be enraged by the lost when they act lost, mocking God, but rather, let us remember that children act the way they do, because they do not know any better, and so do those who don’t know God.

This brings us to our challenge this week. I’m sure there will be someone in the coming days in the media, or a neighbor, or a family member that will mock God. My challenge to you this week, is to pray for them. Turn away from rage, and realize they are lost, and they don’t know what they are doing. Use the mockery, as an opportunity to go to God in prayer for that person, that God would not hold their mockery against them, but rather would work in their lives to bring them to repentance.
Then, if given the opportunity and without being in rage against them, press into God for the words to say, that would bring that person to eternal life. Out of their lostness and mockery, and to God. 

Let us not fall into the trap of mocking Jesus ourselves, by becoming enraged by those who are lost in their mockery, but rather, let us be people who’s hearts break for their eternal destination. 

May God give you the strength to speak as Jesus speaks, so the people around you may know God and be with him in eternity. Amen

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Presence of God (Answering Three Questions Series)

We have covered two topics that came out of the question I ask several weeks ago, “Why do or do you not accept Jesus as your Savior?” The first topic we covered was, God is unrealistic and contradictory. We tackled this topic by exploring astronomy and the evidence that the universe has for being created, and not just randomly occurring. We also looked at the Bible and the contradictory passages; seeing that, in reality, the passages are not contradictory, but rather we just don’t understand the literary style in which they were written.
Then last week we talked about the question, why do bad things happen? And we focused on the heart of the issue, us. Too often we looked to God and blame him for the bad things, but in reality, bad things happen because of the evil that we create for ourselves, and in turn, create in other people’s lives. And if we would actually follow God, that evil would decrease.

This week we’re going to now focus on the last topic that was brought up: God doesn’t seem to be there.

Now, I’m going to give you the reason why, we don’t feel the presence of God from two Christians. And then, I want to share with you the reason you might not be experiencing the presence of God.

In the Screwtape letters that we listened to a few weeks ago, C.S. Lewis used Screwtape to answer the statement, God doesn't’ seem to be there, this way: “Now it may surprise you to learn that in his efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, he relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of his special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. the reason is this. to us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. one must face the fact that all the talk about his love for men, and his service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. he really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of himself — creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like his own, not because he has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to his. We want cattle who can finally become food; he wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, he wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; he is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which our father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the enemy wants a world full of beings united to him but still distinct. and that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the enemy does not make more use of his power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree he chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the irresistible and the indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of his scheme for- bids him to use. Merely to override a human will (as his felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For his ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little over-riding at the beginning. he will set them off with communications of his presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But he never allows this state of affairs to last long. sooner or later he withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. he leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs — to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature he wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away his hand; and if only the will to walk is really there he is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys (Screwtape Letters, Letter 8).”

In C.S. Lewis’ explanation, there are times when we can’t feel God’s presence, because God himself has taken it away from us, so that we would continue to rely on him. That means that even though I might not feel the presence of God, God wants me to still trust that he is there. Which in turn strengthens my relationship with him, which pleases God all the more.

The second answer, I want to share with you, is from the book Why does God Allow Evil, written by Clay Jones, Pastor Jeff’s brother. In his book, Professor Jones writes, “If God wants us to be significantly free (know the king of freedom we possess now), then God can’t make His presence too apparent; He can’t make His presence too “saturated.” His presence in the world is not smothering, like an overbearing parent. He is not an ever-present “helicopter God” (philosophers call this epistemic distance or divine hiddenness). This is sos because if God’s existence were at every moment absolutely unmistakable, then many people would abstain from desires that they might otherwise indulge…In other words, if Christianity were unmistakably true, then people would have less free will and they would be compelled to feign loyalty (page 111-112).”

That means that God would be like a cop that hung around all the time. When people drive down the road and see a police car, they automatically slow down, so as to not get pulled over. We don’t do bad things when we could get in trouble. Not because we don’t want to do those bad things, but rather, because we don’t want the punishment. So God does not make his presence fully realized to us. Because if he idd, they there’s a good possibility that we would follow him just so we wouldn’t get in trouble, not because we truly wanted to.

Now those are two theological reasons why we don’t experience the presence of God. But do you know the real reason we don’t experience him? It’s because most of us, don’t really want the presence of God in our lives. To be in the presence of God means to hurt, like you never have hurt before. Because it means loving people that hate and hurt you. It means being put into positions where you will experience the pain that we inflict on God. It means that your life might experience a call to literally die for God. And in the suffering know who God is, because his presence is found not in the ease of life, but in the pain. And not just the fleeting pain of a moment, but the pain of looking past our our struggles and into the lives of the struggles of the people around us.

What we want when we talk about experiencing God’s presences, is an emotional high from singing some songs. Or we want the loud voice and big movements of God. But in reality, the greatest experience of God, is when all around us is pain, and we have given fully into the work of God, and it’s there that we find him. Because that is where he is, that is where he calls us into; moving beyond what we need and speaking God’s word into the pain and suffering of others.

Why did the prophet Daniel experience God? Because he went into the lions den. Why did the prophet Jeremiah experience God? Because he saw the destruction of Jerusalem. Why did Peter experience God? Because he was beaten for speaking about Jesus. We may get hints of the presence of God, but to really experience him, means to move beyond ourselves, immersing ourselves in his word, and his work.
But we don’t want that, because that is hard. It takes time, effort, and giving up what we want for what he wants. And so, if we’re not ready to move beyond ourselves, then we’re not ready to experience the presence of God, and we’ll always say, “God doesn’t seem to be there.” And the reason is because we’re too focused on ourselves to see him.

See the Psalmist got it write when he wrote, “7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, 'Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you (Psalm 139:7-12).”

God is not there, not because he really isn’t there. No, it’s because we’re not really wanting it. We’re not willing to give up ourselves to him, and therefore not willing to experiencing his presence, even though it is all around us.

So how do we get to that point? How do we get to the point of Moses at the burning bush? We dive into God’s Word. We have God change our minds from what we believe, to what he says. We stop focusing on ourselves and begin to focus on him. And we start to love, like he loves, and not like we are right now. That means we have to forgive the unforgivable, and be taken into places where the pain will be deeper than we have ever experienced before.

My question to you tonight is simple, do you really want the presence of God. If the answer is yes, be prepared to lose everything you think you know, for a greater understanding of yourself and the world around you. If the answer is no, then I will say one simple thing to you: you’ll never know yourself or this world in the way you were created to and that means you’ll always be searching for something more.

What is you answer?