Carriers

When my son was very young, he got strep throat a lot. So much so, that he had to have his tonsils and adenoids removed. Even then, he would still get it. So the doctor decided to test him to see if he was a carrier. Apparently, someone can be a carrier of strep and constantly have it, even if there are no symptoms. It stays dormant most of the time then flares up occasionally. The good news is he wasn’t a carrier. What a relief!

Being a carrier of a disease is not a good thing. But being a carrier of good things isn’t so bad. How about being a carrier of the Olympic torch? That would be cool. Or a carrier of a letter from the king. There are lots of good things to carry that are not strep. In the Old Testament, King David assigned a group of men to be carriers of something pretty awesome: the ark of God.

1 Chronicles 15:15 And the Levites carried the ark of God with the poles on their shoulders, as Moses had commanded in accordance with the word of the Lord.

Imagine what that would be like? Well, besides heavy. These guys were literally carrying the presence of God on their shoulders. Wherever they went, the spirit of God was there also. What an awesome privilege to carry His presence. Do you wonder what that would be like? Well, you don’t have to wonder, because you, too can be a carrier of His presence.

The late great Jerry Cook, said: “Where I go, He is.” What he meant by that is this – since I am a carrier of the Spirit of God, He is with me wherever I go. Pastor Jerry understood that he was a carrier of God. Where he set his feet was where God set his feet. Where he showed up, God showed up. All because God has chosen to make us carriers of His Spirit.

We don’t carry an ark on poles. But we do carry God’s presence with us. Where we go, He is. You are a carrier. Embrace that today and carry Him wherever you go.

Stay Here

When I was a teen, I took part in an outreach group at my church. We learned extremely important evangelism skills such as balloon animals and street dramas.  We might have talked about how to lead someone to Jesus; I don’t remember. I will say that the balloon animals has come in very handy as a dad. Kids are apparently impressed by a balloon sword or giraffe. That’s right, I’ve got skills.

stay-hereNow as for the drama part, they actually were a great outreach tool. But if you’ve ever been on outreach, you know that the outreach is also an in-reach. It reaches into you. There was one drama in particular that has always stuck with me. It was called “Stay Here.” The premise was that some girl wanted to go out to a party and Jesus tried to tag along. After all, she had asked Jesus to be with her wherever she goes. But she wasn’t having it when it came to him following her to the party. So she tells him to stay here, stay put, don’t follow me. It ends with her nailing him back to the cross to “hang out” until she gets back. Ouch.

This picture has stuck with me throughout my life. Are there places where I go that I intentionally leave Jesus behind? Do I dare continue on my journey without God by my side? Well, in the book of Exodus, God told Moses he wasn’t coming along for the next part of the trip. Moses didn’t think that was such a good idea.

Exodus 33:3, 14  3 “Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”  14 Then Moses said to him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” 

Now I spliced a couple of verses together there, but only for the sake of brevity. Please read the whole chapter so you can see the whole picture. Essentially, Moses asks God to reconsider because he really needs God to be with Him for this to work out. Good call, Moses. Good call.  It was a bold move, because God thought he might kill these terrible people along the way. They might argue loudly in the back seat and God might have to ask them if “they need him to come back there.” Even so, Moses knew that no matter what, having God with them was better than the alternative.

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The good news for us is that God doesn’t think He will destroy us along the way. Instead, He redeems us along the way. Because of the work of Jesus, God doesn’t want to kill us. I know that sounds weird, but the truth is that if I had to stand alone on my own merits, I would be condemned. But because I stand under the sacrifice of Jesus, I am made right with God. I am made holy. I am, essentially, perfect in His sight – even though I am far from perfect in my own sight.

The question I have for us today is this: Do we want God with us? I mean, do we really? All the time? Do we desire His presence to be with us in the midst of trial? You bet. But do we desire His presence to be with us when we are about to do something that we know is sin? I hope so. After all, He is the only one who can deliver us from it.

 

If you build it, He will come

photo posted on www.post-gazette.com

In 1989, Kevin Costner starred in the hit film, Field of Dreams. It’s a movie about a farmer who hears a mysterious voice tell him, “If you build it, they will come.” Even though all his neighbors thought he was nuts, he built a baseball field on his farm. And when he did, the ghosts of baseball’s legends showed up to play – led by Shoeless Joe Jackson. Great movie!

In Exodus 25, God speaks to Moses and says this in verse 8: “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”

If you build it, I will come. Up to this point, God had been hanging out with Moses at the top of the mountain. His presence was in the clouds and his voice went out to one man. But God was about to come down and dwell among all the people. They just needed to prepare the place for him to dwell.

Today, God is still looking for a sanctuary in which to dwell. It’s not a building, though. It’s you. If you will clear out the clutter and make room for Him, He will come. He will fill every empty space in your life. 1 Peter 2:5 says, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

You are the tabernacle. You are the sanctuary. You are the field of dreams. And so you must make room for the Lord to come and dwell. Build a place in your life where God can show up. If you build it, He will come.

In the presence

Recently I attended a worship conference that concluded with a time of corporate worship. It was heavenly. I discovered during the time of worship that there were some things within me that were broken. While I was worshiping I was overwhelmed by the presence of the Lord and I sensed Him speaking to me. He spoke simply, but His words repaired my heart. If you’ve ever had a moment like that, you know how precious is the presence of the Lord.  Moses had moments like that. Let’s look at one of those moments in Exodus 24.

Exodus 24:15-16 15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud.

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What a moment! Moses was hanging out in the glory of the Lord. Now if you read this fast, what you see is that the glory of the Lord was there and that the Lord spoke to Moses. But if you slow down, you’ll see that Moses hung out in the glory for six days and the Lord said nothing. It wasn’t until the seventh day that the Lord spoke.

This is something I have been learning to do this last year – just hanging out in the presence of the Lord. So often, my relationship with God can become about what I need from Him. So I go to Him in prayer. I ask Him to speak. I wait on Him for vision. I place my hope in all that He can do. He is my lead, my provision, my strength, my song. He is my joy and my peace. All of these things He does for me. So I go to Him with my needs. (There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact there is everything right with that)

At the same time, He is not just to be my personal vending machine. Because that’s not how relationships work. Often in a relationship, you simply spend time together hanging out. And so this past year, I’ve tried to do more of that. I’ve attempted to still my thoughts and my mouth and just spend time in the presence of God. I have spent time in His presence while worshiping. I have spent time with Him out in nature, where trees and rivers and rocks cry out His praise. I have spent time with Him in silence, just enjoying the fact that He is my God.

Moses was at the top of a mountain waiting to hear from God. And for six days, God said nothing. He just was. He was present and Moses got to experience His glory. Today, I challenge you to spend time in the presence of the Lord. Do it with no expectations, no requirements, and no limits. You’ll be amazed at what the glory of the Lord will bring to your life!

We can’t have church today…too cloudy

1 Kings 8:10-11  10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. 11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple.

I love this! Solomon finished building the temple and brings the ark (presence) of the Lord into it.  The presence of the Lord descends onto the temple physically in a cloud.  It was so thick, they couldn’t have church!  Imagine their surprise as they tried to perform the ceremonial duties as required by the Lord.  They wanted to make the sacrifices, say the prayers, and read the scriptures.  But the presence of the Lord was too thick!

Today, most churches have a plan as to what their Sunday service is going to be like.  There is a planned out worship set and a planned out sermon.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that those things are not inspired and anointed by God.  Worship and the Word are good things!  But what would happen if the presence of God came so strong that it began to mess up the plans?  What if His presence was so great, we couldn’t have church?

Would we forge ahead with our structure and plans, or would we allow the presence of God to put us in awe of Him?  Sometimes, I think churches administrate God right out of their services.  Yet He is what they are supposed to be about.  David wrote that better was one day in His courts than a thousand elsewhere.  And I say that better is one day at church basking in the presence of God than a thousand days at church where He doesn’t show up!  

If the church (and the church service) is going to be effective, He needs to show up!  This should be our main concern: that the glory of the Lord fills the temple.  I love it when God ruins the plan on Sunday mornings.  It’s His church, His people, and His plans… not mine.   As a pastor, I must keep this perspective.  As His people, we must pursue the same in our own lives.  Invite His presence to live each day in you.  Plan for a cloudy forecast and cancel your religion.  It will change everything!

Jesus gives me heartburn

Luke 24:32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

You know that feeling.  It’s the one you felt many years ago.  It was sometime in middle school, probably.  She walked in the room and your heart started leaping.  He passed by you brushing your arm and you about fainted.  These are the emotional highs of puppy love.  You feel like your heart is on fire and don’t know how to contain it.

The disciples had a feeling, too.  They had been walking and talking with Jesus, but didn’t know it was him.  But their hearts knew it.  Their hearts were burning as they were in his presence.  It wasn’t puppy love; it was the feeling of his presence.  It was the feeling of excitement mixed with peace.  It was the feeling of anticipation and wonder.  It was the feeling of being with Jesus.

Do you know what it feels like to be in his presence?  Does your heart remember the last time it burned for him?  Because spending time with him is an experience like no other.  And I don’t ever want to get to a place where my heart doesn’t burn for his presence.  Yes… Jesus gives me heartburn.  And I don’t want a prescription, I want more of it.  Yet I go so many minutes, hours, and days just living life.  I take for granted his presence and don’t pursue it.   So my prayer today is for my heart to burn.  My prayer is that I will take time to walk with him along the road and experience the wonder of who he is.

What to do on Holy Ground

Joshua 5:13-15 13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”  14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”  15 The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

I just couldn’t move on past chapter 5 today.  This passage of scripture has so stuck with me since I read it yesterday.  This situation takes us back even to Exodus 3 and the burning bush when God spoke the same words to Moses.  It was holy moment that would not be forgotten.  And as I read this, I tried to put myself into Joshua’s sandals and imagine what the experience was like.  Here he is, having crossed the Jordan – he is now approaching enemy territory.  A man with a sword drawn appears before him.  Now get this: Joshua walks up to him.  He doesn’t ask him if he is an enemy from a distance.  He walks up to him and THEN asks.

There must have been a sense in Joshua that there was something very different about this man.  His spirit must have resonated with the fact the someone mysterious was standing before him – someone heavenly.  It’s that sense we get when God seems to be in the room.  It’s that place of peace where we know that God is right here, right now.  And Joshua found himself in that place. He was in the presence of heaven.

What strikes me with this exchange is the contrast between what I believe was Joshua’s expectation and the man’s response.  It seems as though Joshua was awaiting some kind of marching orders.  After all, if God was going to send the commander of His army, he must surely be here to tell him what the battle plan is.  So he asks what the message is.  The response, I believe, was unexpected.  In fact it must have been alarming.  This messenger instructs him to remove his sandals because the place where he was standing was holy.  In other words, “you are in the presence of God, so respond to that.”  I can’t help but think that this was no angel at all.  Does an angel really make a place holy with it’s presence?  Or  was this Jesus, the true commander of all heaven and earth?  Certainly His presence would bring holiness to this desert place.

I love Joshua’s response to being told to remove his sandals due to the holiness.  He didn’t ask a whole bunch of questions.  He didn’t wonder, “is that you God?”  It says this: And Joshua did so. He realized that God had chosen him to appear to.  He realized that He was in a real encounter with God.  The response was beautiful, it was a response of awe.  He allowed himself to simply BE… in the presence of God. He allowed himself to take in the holiness of that moment.

What about us?  We live on the other side of the cross, the side where God has made his presence available to us on a regular basis.  It is not a once in a lifetime experience in His presence.  It is an everyday experience if we choose to go there.  But what do we do with that time?  Do we bring our wish lists, our letters to Santa, or our complaints?  Do we talk more than we stand in awe and listen?  I wonder if we ever respond like Joshua did to the presence of God. I wonder if we ever just simply BE in His presence. Where God shows up is holy ground.  So the next time you find yourself in His presence, I challenge you to figuratively take off your sandals and be in awe that He showed up to you.