Pastor Craig Carter
As our regathering and rebuilding process continues over the summer, we’re looking at what is essential to our existence as a congregation in a sermon series by that title. So far, we have identified that the most basic ingredient needed is God Himself and secondarily, we need each other to truly be the Church, the Body of Christ.
Now we’re exploring specific things provided by God and His people. As we resume in-person worship for the first time in three months and occupy a place to call our own after 20 months, I’d suggest we don’t want to go a step further without God’s presence.
Since I’m sharing this message on Father’s Day, 2020, let me say Happy Father’s Day to all the dads and grandpas out there. As we discuss God’s presence today, all the dads reading this will probably relate. After all, we’ve all experienced a child who disobeyed or disregarded our teaching, right? Certainly we’ve all heard our kids complain. And we’ve all caught them doing something they shouldn’t be doing, especially when they’ve been left unattended for awhile.
There were times when I wanted to say to my wife, Lee: “You need to get in here and take care of your kids otherwise I may just kill them!”
If you’ve responded in such a way, don’t feel guilty about it because that may, in fact, be a godly response. Let me explain…
During the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, Moses went up Mount Sinai where He received the Ten Commandments and the Book of Law from the Lord. When he descended from the mountaintop, he heard the noise of singing and found the people celebrating around an idol of a golden calf they had constructed.
Needless to say, both Moses and the Lord were very angry with the Israelites, and justifiably so, since God’s people had already violated His first two commands.
The Lord was so incensed He suggested Moses should take the people and go on to the Promised Land without Him:
“Go up to this land that flows with milk and honey. But I will not travel among you, for you are a stubborn and rebellious people. If I did, I would surely destroy you along the way.” (Exodus 33:3 NLT)
Essentially God said, “You take care of them. Otherwise, I might kill them!”
See, when we feel that way, we’re just responding like God does! 😃
Moses then asked the Lord to reconsider. He even went so far as to make this request, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place.” (Exodus 33:15 NLT)
Moses was willing to stay in the Sinai desert rather than enjoy the fruits of the Promised Land if going there meant going without the Lord. Moses was convinced that neither he, nor the people of Israel, could live without God’s presence.
And God obliged. The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest – everything will be fine for you.” (Exodus 33:14 NLT) Another translation reads: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (NIV)
Like Moses, I don’t want to go another step if God doesn’t go with us. God’s presence is absolutely essential for us – both individually and as a congregation. And, according to Scripture, the good news is that our God is with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9), we cannot escape His presence (Psalm 139:7), and He will never desert us (Hebrews 13:5)
Given that truth, what can we expect to happen when we travel with the Lord? That is, what are the benefits of God’s presence that makes it so essential?
Drawing from the experience of Moses and other biblical characters, let’s identify four of them. God’s presence is essential because He brings…
There is something very comforting about having someone present with us, especially when we are going through difficult circumstances.
Most of us don’t want to be alone when we’re sick or grieving a loved one’s death. In those tough times, we don’t need a lot of answers or advice, we just want someone to be there who cares about us and sympathizes with our plight.
I know it’s Father’s Day but I didn’t get to preach a Mother’s Day sermon in person, so to keep my late mom from haunting me, let me mention something about her. My mom was the only person who was able to comprehend just how serious my condition is when I’m sick. I was glad when she moved nearby for the last ten years of her life because she understood my plight and constantly tried to convince my wife Lee that she needed to sit right beside me and cater to my needs. Man, I hope I don’t get COVID-19, because I’ll have to go it alone now! 😉
If having another person with us is comforting, how much more valuable is it to know the presence of the Lord. After all, Jesus labeled God’s presence in the world, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Comforter. It’s what the Lord was trying to tell Moses when He spoke these words to him: “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest – everything will be fine for you.” (Exodus 33:14 NLT)
When we experience God’s presence it’s like having someone beside us, reassuring us with words of comfort, “I’m right here with you. It’s going to be all right.”
We know how essential God’s presence is, don’t we? Over the past 20 months, during some very dark and difficult days, His presence has brought us peace and comfort, both individually and as a congregation.
There is strength in numbers, so when we’ve got someone with us we feel more confident.
It’s why a teenage girl takes her best friend with her when she goes to talk to a boy who has captured her attention.
It’s why, as a little leaguer steps to the plate, he looks in the stands for his mom and dad. Even though they can’t swing the bat for him, he feels better about himself and his abilities knowing they’re there.
It’s why I was much more apt to tackle home improvement projects when my dad was still living.
I have some limited skills but I’m always a bit hesitant to get started on a job. But my confidence soared whenever my dad came to visit because he was a carpenter by trade and was knowledgeable in many areas. He didn’t have to do all the work – although he usually did – but I just felt more positive about my own abilities when he was around, knowing he’d affirm me when I got things right and correct me if I got off-track.
Despite his great success in securing the release of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, Moses still wasn’t too sure about his ability to lead. So he said to God, “You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me.” (Exodus 33:12a NLT)
Moses wanted someone else to help him with this enormous undertaking. The Lord answered his inquiry in a way that surely caused Moses’ confidence to soar: “I will personally go with you…” (Exodus 33:14a NLT)
Later on, the torch of leadership was passed to another man who had some pretty big shoes to fill as the Israelites moved into the Promised Land. Joshua, Moses’ successor, voiced his own concerns and the Lord reminded him: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous…Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:5b-6a, 9b NIV)
In other words: Act boldly and confidently, have no fear…for the Lord your God is near.
If the past year and a half has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t know what the future holds. But we can face uncertainty and any challenges that stand in our way with confidence.
We have a God who can always be counted on and, not only that, He is infinite in power and might. Given that reality, as His followers we should exude such confidence that we’re willing to storm the gates of hell armed only with water pistols!
It was the great missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, who uttered this truth: “All of God’s greats have been weak [people] who did great things for God because they reckoned on Him being with them. They counted on God’s faithfulness.”
Our God is indeed faithful to all generations and we can bet our lives on the truth that He will never leave us or forsake us. What confidence that gives us to tackle anything and everything that stands in our way!
Throughout Scripture, one thing consistently occurs whenever God shows up: Human beings become aware of their true condition, which is a sinful condition.
When the prophet Isaiah encountered the presence of the Lord in the temple, he exclaimed, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips…” (Isaiah 6:5 NLT)
This must have been how Moses felt as he came down from the mountain into the valley below. He had just been in the holy presence of God and now he was thrust into the midst of a dreadfully sinful people.
He had just heard the Lord say, “You shall have no other gods before me…You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything.” The sins of the people were abundantly clear now in the light of God’s Law. It’s no wonder that he refused to go on without the Lord. He stared directly into the face of what life lived without an awareness of God’s presence looked like – and he wanted no part of it.
So while God’s presence can be comforting, it can be just as discomforting to those who are living in ways contrary to His will. This is one of the purposes of His presence in the world.
In speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin…” (John 16:8 NLT).
Convict means to “convince” (i.e. awaken).
Perhaps one of the reasons sin is so rampant in our world today is because, by and large, most people are not aware of God’s presence and live apart from Him.
Without the Lord’s measure of holiness, human standards have sunk woefully low. From my personal example I can tell you that, as a young man, I lived apart from God for a time. And during that time I was content with the condition of my soul. But then I met a man named John McWhorter and was “convicted” by his godly example.
When God becomes a living reality in our lives, we begin to see ourselves as we really are – a sinner, who stands in need of His grace and forgiveness. Also, an awareness of God’s presence serves as a restraint for future sin. If we really believed that God was our constant companion, would we do the things we do, say the things we say, or even think the things we think?
Do you behave the same way in church as you do at home?
Do you use the same language with your pastor that you use with your friends and co-workers? What would God say about it?
In God’s presence, our lives are brought into light and we become convicted of all the ways in which we fall short of His glory. Therefore, His presence is essential for us if we want to fulfill our destiny and become holy, even as the Lord is holy.
Moses and the Israelites were bound for the Promised Land where they knew that a fight awaited them. They were to defeat and drive out all foreign armies.
Moses knew this ragtag group of former slaves had no hope without divine intervention: “How will anyone know that you look favorably on me – on me and on your people – if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.” (Exodus 33:16 NLT)
Moses was fully aware that God’s presence would make all the difference in the world. With the Lord on their side, nobody else stood a chance.
It’s like the phenomenon known as “dad strength.” You know, it’s what enables a father to lift a car off a trapped child or defend his family against a mountain lion attack while hiking.
It’s also what allows a dad to whip his son in a fight no matter their ages. 😃 One time when my son Zac wanted to box me, I reminded him of the last time we fought when I pinned and humiliated him, not once but twice when he was in junior high. I’m still undefeated because we haven’t “fought” since. I’m very careful in choosing my battles so maybe it’s not “dad strength” so much as “dad smarts.” In any case, our God, who is our Heavenly Father, has supernatural “dad strength.” He’s undefeated against any and all comers and He won the ultimate battle through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”.
That’s because “the One who is in us is greater than the one that is in the world” and, with the Lord’s presence, we are not just conquerors, but “more than conquerors.”
God’s presence brings us victory over any and all enemies – sin, sickness, even death.
Again, this congregation is well acquainted with this important truth. God is with us and God is for us, so who can be against us? Not a Category 5 hurricane and not a pandemic.
So, since we face a legitimate Enemy, it is essential that live in God’s presence.
I want to close today with this thought from A.W. Tozer, a great preacher and writer from the 20th century:
“If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.” (A.W. Tozer)
I hope and pray we’d be like the New Testament church if that ever happened. That is, if the Holy Spirit was withdrawn, everything would come to a screeching halt in the Lynn Haven UMC.
But for that to be the case, we have to realize that God’s presence is essential. So let’s echo the prayer of the psalmist who wrote, “Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:11 NLT) Amen.