The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Presence

Christmas Presence. That’s not a misspelling. Though we might feel as though Christmas is primarily about getting and giving presents, it is supposed to be so much more than that. In fact, Christmas is supposed to be primarily about a presence. When the angel of the Lord was announcing the birth of Jesus to Joseph he quoted Isaiah saying:

Matthew 1:23 - Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (cf. Isaiah 7:14; 9:6).

Christmas is meant to celebrate Immanuel, God with us, the presence of God, Christmas presence.

In our secularized Christmas it’s not surprising that the presence of God has been hijacked by presents. In 2009 the buying frenzy included the following statistics:

• For the holiday season from November 1 to December 20, US online retail sales reached $24.8bn, a 4% increase over the same period in 2008.
• Spending on 'Green Monday' December 14 was $854m, 1% less than the previous year, but the three following days each surpassed $800m.
• Tuesday, December 15 set an individual day spending record with $913m. By comparison, spending on Cyber Monday (Nov. 30) was $887m.

Christmas is big business. The livelihood and continued existence of some companies and businesses is determined by sales during the Christmas season. The result is pressure to buy, buy, and buy. We are inundated with commercials and “great buys” and “sales,” and a host of other marketing propaganda to get us to spend, spend, spend. Now there’s nothing wrong with giving. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Getting is not that bad either. But when the material aspects of this sacred holy day of Christmas crowd out the core purpose of it, we need to reassess and get back on course. If we miss the presence of God at Christmas, we’ve missed Christmas.

How’s your Christmas spirit? Or more importantly, are you in the Spirit this Christmas? Are you focused on the presence of the Lord or presents under the tree? Maybe you’re just having a real hard time sensing the presence of the Lord this year. Maybe you’re grieving the loss of a loved one. Maybe you’ve lost a job or are in danger of being laid off. Maybe you’re finances are so deep in debt you can’t imagine going further into debt for Christmas presents. Maybe, for whatever reason, you have a severe case of the Christmas blahs. There’s cure for that. The cure is Christmas presence. Let’s look at what God says in His word about His presence, the reason some people don’t sense it and how we can enter into and live in the presence of the LORD. Let’s ask a few questions and answer them. Hopefully we will, with God’s help, experience true Christmas presence as a result.

Where is the presence of the LORD? The presence of the LORD is everywhere. The Bible says:

Psalm 97:5 - The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the LORD, At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.

• Psalm 114:7 - Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, At the presence of the God of Jacob,

• Psalm 139:7-10 - Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.

God’s presence is everywhere. The theological term for this is omnipresence. God is everywhere all the time. You can’t escape God’s presence.

What is the presence of the LORD like? In Psalms the presence of the LORD is described in the following way:

Psalm 16:11 - You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

It should be noted that on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Apostles and disciples of Jesus in power that Peter quoted this verse in his Pentecostal message that led to the salvation of thousands (Acts 2:28). That sounds pretty wonderful; that’s something that everyone should yearn for and live in. The presence of the LORD is the greatest present. But why don’t people seek out the presence of the LORD?

Hell is described as being removed from the presence of the LORD. In scripture it states:

2 Thessalonians 1:3-9 - We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, 4 so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, 5 which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; 6 since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, 7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,

The greatest punishment is being removed from the presence of the LORD. If God’s presence is so great why then do some people run away from it or just don’t care about it?

Why don’t we sense the presence of the LORD? Why do some people flee from the presence of the LORD? Why don’t we sense God’s presence? Why don’t we feel it or experience it? The problem is not with God. He is not limited in any way or absent from any place. The problem is with us. Why can’t we sense the presence of the LORD? The simple profound straightforward answer is sin.

There was a time when humanity was first created that God walked and fellowshipped with us. It was a beautiful loving time of fellowshipping with God in His presence in the Garden. But Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God (Gen. 3). The consequence was our first parents no longer felt comfortable in the presence of God:

Genesis 3:8 - And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

Sin caused a great disconnect between humanity and the presence of God. When we disregard God’s word and act like Adam and Eve we too will feel uncomfortable in the presence of the LORD.

IT should be mentioned that sometimes even Christians miss the presence of the LORD. This may be due to simply living in fallen bodies affected by planetary sin, or the physical problems connected with the physical fall of creation under the influence of sin (Rom. 8:18f.). But there are other times when we are indeed to blame for not experiencing the presence of the LORD.

Cain and his jealous unloving self-centered premeditated murder of his brother Abel resulted in departing from the presence of the LORD:

Genesis 4:16 - Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden.

When we act like Cain in a jealous unloving self-centered manner, we too will be sent from the presence of the LORD.

Rebellion against God leads to people fleeing from the presence of the LORD. Jonah rebelled against God’s call and tried to flee the presence of the LORD. He was tracked down by God with a serious storm and great fish at sea (Jonah 1:3, 10). That got his attention and finally he turned back to God (cf. Jonah 1-4).

Sin desensitizes us to the presence of the LORD and its blessedness.

Satan exacerbates the departure from the presence of the Lord by coming into the presence of the LORD himself to bring accusations against Gods people (Job 1:12; 2:7).

And sometimes we sinfully simply forget to make God a priority in our lives. The following poem makes this point:

Into The Day

I got up early one morning
And rushed right into the day;
I had so much to accomplish
I didn’t have time to pray.
Troubles just tumbled about me
And heavier came each task.
Why God doesn’t help me, I wondered,
He answered, “You didn’t ask.”
I tried to come into God’s presence,
I used all my keys at the lock.
God gently and lovingly chided,
“Why child, you didn’t knock.”
I wanted to see joy and beauty,
But the day toiled on grey and bleak,
I called on the Lord for the reason—
He said “You didn’t seek.”
I woke up early this morning
And paused before entering the day.
I had so much to accomplish
That I had to take time to pray.
—Author Unknown

How can we experience the presence of the LORD? The answer is that we need to repent of our sin. In the New Testament at Pentecost Peter in the power of the Spirit said:

Acts 3:19-21 - 19 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20 and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, 21 whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.

If we want to experience the presence of God we need to repent of our sins. The word “repent” (μετανοέω -mĕtanŏĕō, met-an-ŏ-eh´-o) means to reconsider, to think differently, to change one’s mind. Repentance is a change of heart that leads to a change in life. The word “converted” (ἐπιστρέφω - ĕpistrĕphō, ep-ee-stref´-o) means to return, turn back, convert. The idea is to come back to what God’s original intent was for you. God wants us to live in His presence with Him. When we repent God blots out our sin on the basis of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection that verifies it satisfies God’s just requirement for the forgiveness of sin. With sin removed we can enter the presence of the Lord. This is beautifully expressed in the inspired words of Hebrews which state:

Hebrews 10:19-23 - Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

The reference to the “Holiest” brings to mind the epicenter of the Temple where God made His presence known to Israel. Once a year only the High priest on the Day of Atonement could enter this room where the Ark of the Covenant was placed. He could only come with the blood of sacrifice and made atonement for the nation. Now through Jesus we can come into the presence of God all the time by the blood of Jesus. This is an incredibly rich blessing. It is an expression of the lavishness and abundance of God’s grace. This is the culmination of God’s dealing with the separation caused by sin. Now we can come into His presence all the time through the blood of Jesus. Hallelujah!

We need to forsake our sinful ways and ask God’s forgiveness through faith in Christ. That forgiveness is offered to us as a free gift of God by His grace (Eph. 2:8-9). When we do that Acts 3 tells us our sins will be blotted out and “times of refreshing” will come “from the presence of the Lord.” That’s what Christmas is all about.

Isn’t that what we need this Christmas, a time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord? The word “refreshing” (ἀνάψυξις - anapsuxis, an-aps´-ook-sis) means literally rest relief, refreshing, recovery of breath, revival. Do you want to experience a revival that flows from the presence of the Lord? Go to God in prayer and ask Him to search you and then repent of any sin He points out (Psalm 51; 139). Then times of refreshing will flow into you from the presence of the Lord. We need a revival. Our nation needs a revival. It will come through repentance and conversion by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.

Recently on You Tube there was a video clip of a “random act of culture” performed by the Opera Company of Philadelphia (event of October 30th, 2010). They went to a mall and performed the Hallelujah chorus of Handel’s Messiah. It was beautiful and on the surface inspiring. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. But when the end credits were given listing the participants, among those involved were the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus. Handel was a godly man who felt his work The Messiah was from God. What would he think about gay men performing his glorious work? What does God think about those who disregard His word, rebelliously live in a way He calls sinful, and not only that but promote their sinful lifestyle as acceptable enough to sing praises to Him? Through Isaiah God said, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; . . . Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20, 21). I don’t mean to single out homosexuality as the worst of sins but it is sinful according to God (e.g. Romans 1:18-32; 1 Co. 6:9-11).

It is very revealing that those living in such sin feel no qualms about singing praises to God Almighty. What must they have thought when they were singing “King of kings and Lord of lords . . . and He shall reign forever and ever . . . Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”? It’s hypocritically sinful to sing of God’s reign and lordship while living in rebellion to His word by the sinful lifestyle you persist in. And doing so with an attitude that nothing is wrong compounds the sin and affront to God. It’s defiance not praise. How can a defiant sinner praise God? God says He won’t hear those who “regard iniquity” in their heart (Ps. 66:18). “Iniquity” (אָוֶֶן ˒âven, aw-ven’) is wickedness, evil. Those at the event may have enjoyed what they heard (some not knowing who was participating and others willfully excusing those who should not have participated), but God did not hear it. It is an indictment of our godless society that people can disregard what God calls sin and then mock Him by singing praises to Him. If we want the presence of the Lord there must be repentance. Without repentance there is only God’s “Woe” to look forward to.

Notice that when we repent of our sins not only will we receive refreshing from the presence of the Lord but Jesus will come to us; we will come close to Him and experience His abiding presence. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing. With Him nothing is impossible (cf. John 15). Come into the presence of the LORD.

Examine yourself and let God point out any sin in your life. Don’t be too quick to think you are without sin. The apostle John was inspired to say if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and if we say we have no sin we make God a liar (1 John 1:8, 10). We need to humbly go before God and ask Him to search us and point out any sin that is keeping us from His presence (e.g. Psalm 139:23-24). If we casually allow sin to go persist in our lives, God will wait and let us try to live without His presence until we confess and repent of our sin (Psalm 66:18). If we confess our sins God is faithful and will forgive us (1 John 1:9). If we want to experience the presence of the Lord we must confess and repent of our sin.

Repentance to conversion by God’s grace through faith in Jesus leads to two other practical ways to come into the presence of God. The two particular times God’s presence is manifested according to scripture is in the praises and fellowship of His people.

In Psalm 22:3 it states, “But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel.” What is interesting about this verse is that the word “enthroned” (yâshab, yaw-shab’) means literally to sit, to dwell, to rest, to remain, or to sit down. It is translated enthroned because of the idea of God’s people seating God on His throne when they praise Him. Some translations translate the word “inhabit” (e.g. KJV). When we apply the broader meaning of this word the idea we learn is that God dwells with, rests with, sits down in the midst of His people when they praise Him. If you don’t sense the presence of the Lord, praise Him! Praise is enthroning God. We may not feel like praising God but when by faith we do, it ushers in the presence of the Lord.

A second time God’s presence is manifested is when God’s people gather together. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there In the midst of them” (Mat. 18:20). The word “midst” (μέσος - mĕsŏs, mes´-os) means in the middle of, in the midst, before them, or between them. Fellowship is another way to usher in the presence of the Lord. Fellowship is gathering together “in My name,” or the name of Jesus. That means believers gathering together with Jesus as the center of attention. It is not merely hanging out. Fellowship is a much richer gathering than that. When believers come together in fellowship they share about Jesus. They may study His word or worship or talk about what the Lord has done or is doing in their lives or even what they hope Him to do, but Jesus is in the midst of them. Fellowship therefore ushers in the presence of the Lord. When people are depressed or discouraged they tend to isolate themselves from others. That can lead to a sense of loneliness. We may want to get alone with the Lord and that is fine. But another way to come into the presence of the Lord is to gather together in fellowship with other believers. We need to heed the words of Hebrews which state, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-5). Fellowship ushers in the presence of the Lord.

How should we respond in the presence of the Lord? Once we are in the presence of the Lord how should we respond? Scripture tells us:

Respond to God’s presence with silence -

Zephaniah 1:7 - Be silent in the presence of the Lord GOD; For the day of the LORD is at hand, For the LORD has prepared a sacrifice; He has invited His guests.
It’s always good to spend some alone time quietly before the Lord. Get alone with Him and take in His awesome splendor.

Respond to God’s presence with reverence -

Haggai 1:12 - Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him; and the people feared the presence of the LORD.

The fear referred to here is reverence for the Lord. The context of the verse is speaking of the disobedience of the people and God’s discipline of them because of that. They are now returned to the holy City of Jerusalem and commencing with the rebuilding of the Temple of God. As God has mercifully brought them back from captivity the leaders and the people are now humbly committed to follow the Lord. God’s word to them was, “I am with you, says the LORD” (Haggai 1:13). God is with you too. Sit reverently before the Lord and thank Him for His presence.

Respond to God’s presence with humility -

1 Corinthians 1:29 - that no flesh should glory in His presence.

God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5-6). We need all the grace of God we can get. James states, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8). In humility we come into the presence of the Lord.

Respond to God’s presence with thanks -

Psalm 140:13 - Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name; The upright shall dwell in Your presence.

There is so much to be thankful to the Lord about. If you can’t think of anything to thank the Lord about, start with thanking him for your very existence. Paul spoke to the Athenians quoting one of their own poets saying, “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Paul applied their teaching to open their eyes to the gracious provision of God in their lives. God sustains all people (e.g. Mat. 5:45). He hopes as many as possible will turn to Him to spend eternity with Him in His presence (2 Pet. 3:9). Every good gift comes from God (James 1:17). We have a lot to be thankful for. Come into His presence with thanks.

In another African dialect, the Karre, the expression for thankfulness is “to sit down on the ground before” another. A thankful Karre will go to the home of his benefactor and sit on the ground before his hut. No word need be spoken; his silent vigil signifies his gratitude. The man who is thankful to God, therefore, sits before God to enjoy his presence. He is never satisfied merely to tip his hat to God as he passes; gratitude demands that he seek God’s presence and fellowship
. —Roger William Thomas

And we should respond to God’s presence with worship:

Psalm 100:2 - Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing.

All of our responses to the presence of the Lord are summed up in worship. For all the Lord has done for us, we ought to worship Him. Since God inhabits the praises of His people, worship creates a cycle of His presence for us to dwell with Him in. Worship is the climax, the hallelujah chorus of experiencing the presence of the Lord. Glory! Glory in His presence. Glory to God in the highest!

Christmas is more than presents. It is, or should be, about the presence of God. It is about Immanuel, God with us, the presence of God. I pray you have a merry Christmas presence. God bless.

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