The Nearness of God

We started Journey Church about 7 years ago specifically because we know there are people out there, and maybe you are one of them, who say they like Jesus, but aren’t so sure about the church.  And we will tell you that we understand that.  But we also want to tell you that there is room for you here as we do our best to live our lives as followers of Jesus.

Before we get going I would like to welcome the kids to church today.   Every summer we t ake a few weeks off to give our teachers a break.  And so you all get to sit in church today and listen to me.  Goodie Goodie, right? 

Any kids in here doing the Pokemon Go thing? In case you are unaware, there is this game you can play on your phone where your phone can see what your eyes are unable to pick up.  Your phone can see these Pokemon, and if you see one you can capture it in your phone, and later humanely dispose of them, I assume, at the Pokemon Rendering Facility being built right now in Fremont.  Is that how it works?

Now – little known fact – I can actually see Pokemon with my own eye – I don’t need a phone – for instance – I can see one right there.  Do me a favor and snap the picture and then send it to the screen for me?  You will see that there is a pokemon sitting on the curtain. 

And they usually like me – I can usually get on to land on my hand if I call it. Isn’t that cute?

Little known fact – pokemon like to be punted. It’s okay they like it.  Look he’s back again.  Also – little know fact.  Pokemon are delicious.  I have to be honest they don’t enjoy that as much as being punted, but it’s okay because they are tasty.

As a matter of fact I created my own app – instead of Pokemon Go it’s called Pokemon To Go.  And it’s a virtual drive in resteraunt and what you do is you look around for – well here’s one here.

Virtually Finger licking good. 

Okay I think I’m all out of dumb pictures.   But it’s an interesting concept, isn’t it?  What is you had a device that could actually view invisible realities? 

What if you could download an app and you could look through it and see – not pokemons, but what if you could see angels, right now.  

Hey moms of a newborn, how would it change how your slept at night if before you went to bed you could look at an app that showed you the guardian angel watching over your baby?  The angel is giving you the “I got this – you go get a little sleep” look?  

What if we could see the spiritual realities around us like that?  What if you could see Jesus himself.  And he is sitting next to you right now?  

How would your life change if you could actually see Jesus right next to you, right now?  Would it change the way you live?  How?  

If you could see him what do you imagine his facial expression is telling you?  Hopefully we wouldn’t degrade Jesus into some kind of Nanny, who is looking at us to tsk tsk us.  Some people have that opinion of Jesus – but we don’t get that opinion when we read about the life of Jesus – which you can read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John – the only four books in the bible that detail the life and times of Jesus – you don’t walk away with people viewing Jesus as some kind of overseer.

In fact you find that he was described by Jesus’ enemies – the religious leaders of the day – do you know what they called him?  A friend.  Specifically – a friend to sinners, which should make all of us feel good about our chances, right?  Jesus is a friend.  

Jesus himself said I call you my friends!  Now he’s th ebest kind of friend – that good friend who is willing to call us out and address stuff they see in us – but always in love and kindness – as any good friend would.  

Imagine if we could look through this app on our phone and see the present nearness of our friend and Lord – Jesus.  He is close.  He is as close to us right now as the breath on the back of our hand.  

By the way, this isn’t some kind of New Testament thing – it’s always been this way.

Psalm 145:18 The Lord is close to all who call on him,
yes, to all who call on him in truth.

And the Bible places a special emphasis, for obvious reasons, I’d say, on the closeness of God when times are difficult.  And how encouraging it should be to us to know God’s eyes are tuned toward those whose hearts are hurting.

Psalm 34:18  The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. 

But the truth is that Jesus is near, always.  Do you know what Jesus’ final words were to his disciples, according to Matthew?   And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20  I am with you always.  Even to the end of this day in this age. 

And maybe you are thinking, well I’m not even sure God exists, are you telling me that he is near me too?  And I will just inform you of what Paul, one of the most important leaders in the early church, and the guy who wrote half the New Testament, had to say, when he was preaching to a bunch of people who would call themselves skeptics in Acts 17:27  “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist.

God is near to us.  He is close.  It is foundational to understanding how we live our lives as people of faith to recognize that God is both great and he is near.  He is as close as the breath we breathe.  

It’s like flour to a baker.  Or mortar to a mason.  The nearness of Jesus is foundational stuff for all followers of Jesus.  Jesus doesn’t live on the far side of the universe, twiddling his thumbs, looking for something to do until he returns.  He is living today his kind of life through us.  And he is thoroughly enjoying the ride.  

And his presence changes everything for those of us who have decided to cross the line of belief.  When we belief Jesus is who he said he was and make a decision to follow him with our life, then everything changes for us.

We are ushered into the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus begins to govern the days of our life with wisdom and kindness.  We walk with God daily.  

This morning we are coming down the home stretch in our summer series in the book of Philippians, and this morning we have a very encouraging portion of scripture from Philippians chapter 4.  And I am going o submit to you that the reason it is so encouraging is because of one line.  One foundational truth.  See if you spot it hidden in the middle of this great passage.  And I will read it today in the NIV Version and I will explain why shortly.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Did you find the foundational statement that we’ve been talking about?  Verse 5.  The Lord is near.  

Now the reason that I am reading the NIV is because the NLT translated these words, which were originally written in greek – like this:  Remember, the Lord is coming soon.  But gang, do you notice the little footnote mark on the top?  When we click on the footnote it tells us exactly what the greek says:  The Lord is near. 

Now certainly the translators of the NLT weren’t trying to hide anything, they are doing their best to make it easy to understand.  So if it says the Lord is near, then why did they chose to translate it that He is coming back soon?  

And I will simply say that it is because we have lost sight of the nearness of God.  We have in our thinking, sent God to live in some kingdom floating on clouds in the sky somewhere very very far away.  And we have this picture that we will not run across God in any way until either we die or he comes back again soon.

I would say that based on the reality that it has been 2000 years since Paul wrote this letter, it ought to have been easy enough to translate as it was written.  He is near.  Right now, as close to you as the air you breathe.

And it is this reality that makes all these other things in this passage a blessing rather than a burden.

For instance – let’s look again at verse 4.  Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Is this a blessing or a burden?

Well, if we look at this as a law – as a command, then we walk away with this feeling that God desires – no, demands – that I live in an unreal world, where I pretend to be happy all the time – and I have to be or else.  Rejoice, or else!  

So we try to put on a happy face?  We hum Pharrell’s song – I’m happy happy happy, or else I am sinning and God is upset and I’m in trouble.  So I faking, faking, faking faking.  

This becomes a burden to us if we look at it as something we gotta do.  And not only that, can I say that it is a cruel command.  If God is demanding that I always rejoice in all things, then what do I do when tragedy comes?  Is God so heartless that He demands I never grieve?  Never weep?  

The statement to rejoice in all things becomes a cruel burden unless we realize we pair it with the promise that the Lord is near.  That’s when these words become a blessing.

1.  Since the Lord is near, we can rejoice in all things.

If indeed we could see God next to us as he lovingly leads us through all situations, all circumstances – then it’s possible to be able to weather life’s storms with joy.  

If you know that Jesus is with you today, you will be able to endure that which you are presently enduring, and you will be able to endure it without that thing wrecking the deep seated joy that comes from a friendship with Jesus.  

Now of course the mind immediately wants to find the exception to the rule.  it wants to go to find the worst imaginable crime or injustice in order to find something that falls outside the boundaries of things in which I might be able to rejoice.

And it’s not difficult to find them.  There is no shortage of events in this broken world that leave us heartbroken and sad. 

It doesn’t take much for us to take our focus off of the nearness of God, and instead put the wrong, the crime, the heartbreak, the tragedy between Jesus and me.  

Let’s be honest, it’s not natural for us to rejoice in all situations.  In fact, isn’t it much more natural to feel cheated, to feel wronged, to feel victimized in life?  it’s not natural to rejoice in all situations.

Which is why I think Paul comes across rather forcefully here.  It’s almost as if he can hear the arguments coming. – “Rejoice in the Lord”, yeah but Paul, if you understood what I was going through you would, “Always.”  Yeah but, My job!  My kids, “I will say it again.”  My health “Rejoice!”

Paul firmly but lovingly redirects the feelings of our heart.   Did you know your heart has feelings?  Of course you do.  Sometimes we need to redirect the feelings of our heart.  

Because sometimes what happens is this – I remember going to this concert one time, and we were able to get to the floor of the concert and we were working our way up to the front.  And as we got close we noticed that lot’s of people wanted to be close to the front. 

And what would happen is someone would come up close by you and kind of stick an elbow in front and then a foot and all of a sudden that person was between me and Michael Bolton. (Time, love and tenderness!) How’d it happen?  One elbow at a time.

Let me ask you, have the issues of your life been elbowing their way and now it sits in the chair between you and Jesus?  If we aren’t careful what happens is suddenly there is one and now another and we feel further and further away from the one we want to be near.

Can I just encourage you this morning?  The promise of Jesus is that He is near.  You are not on your own.  You do not need to fend for yourself.    Jesus is near, and so again I say, rejoice.  

Because the Lord is near, I can rejoice.

Because the Lord is near, I can respond to any situation with gentleness.

Did you know that Jesus one described what kind of person he was, and he used two words, these are the only two words Jesus used to describe himself?  What words do you think he used? 

Matthew 11:29  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

The word Gentle here is actually the word ‘meek’ but we rarely use that word in the English language anymore – and partly because it sounds like weak.  Jesus is not weak.   And when he says he is gentle it actually conveys power under control.  Like an oxen pulling a plow – there is great power but it is under control.

Jesus is gentle.  He is under control.  Things don’t get to him.  He isn’t easily rattled.  He’s cool under fire.  He is unshakable.  And he is transforming us into that kind of person as well. 

Now if you were able to look into your phone app and see Jesus with you.  How does that change the way in which you respond to the situations of life?  

When I was 12 years old there was this movie called My Body Guard.  It was about a kid who kept getting picked on in school so he hired the biggest kid he knew to protect him.  And here’s the picture of the kid on the back of the bike being peddled by the body guard.  And all I can say is – look at the face on that kid.  He is rejoicing.  He looks like the weight of the world has been lifted off of him because he knows that someone had got his back.  

Do you know that Jesus has your back?  And that means you can respond to life’s situations differently.

Jesus is under control.  Does that describe you when things don’t go your way?  Or do you freak out, melt down, wig out, lose it?  

The one who knows the Lord is near need not blow gasket’s when things don’t go their way.  They can respond with gentleness because they know that God is able to everything and that he is near.

One of the greatest blessings of placing our faith in Jesus is the ability to weather the storms of life with dignity and grace.  We can face life fearlessly and free.  He is with us and we can remain calm and respond with gentleness to the challenges of life.

Because the Lord is near,

We can rejoice in any situation.

We can respond to any circumstance with gentleness,

and Lastly, we can live above worry.

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Do you ever struggle with worry?  We live in the kind of world where the internet and 24 hour news stations serve up a daily doses of stories that would fan the flames of worry in the stoutest of hearts.  

But I will tell you what you already know.  You already know that worry is an unworthy option.  It’s a lousy option.

Because worry cannot change a single piece of reality.  Worrying is in it’s essence futile.  Worry cannot put bread in my mouth or bread in my bank.  It will not bring health to my body – quite the opposite, right?

Worry is completely powerless to change one single aspect of our present situation.  

Even though we know these things are true, our heart wonders into worryville, like my dog wonders into my neighbor’s yard.  There is some kind of fundamental brokenness in the heart that meanders toward worry instead of God.

I think this is why Jesus speaks so eloquently, passionately even, about worry and anxiety in his most important sermon – the sermon on the Mount.  Jesus reminds us to look at the birds, and the wildflowers – all taken care of by God – how much more valuable are you then the wild flowers.  Seriously.  How much more valuable are you than a sparrow.  

(We are all creatures created as equals – No!  You aren’t!  Put down your granola and face reality.  You are worth far far more than a sparrow and a wildflower.)

Instead of worrying – turn to the Lord, who is near – and speak to him.  Tell him what you need.  Remind your heart to be thankful.  It’s actually very hard to overstate how important a spiritual discipline it is to remember to be thankful.  

And Paul very simply says – that if we pray and turn our worries over to God – if we train our minds to be thankful, then we will receive in return a peace from God that is beyond easy understanding.

Many people have decided they don’t believe this is true.  They have decided that even though they have not tried it.  And I would simply say that since the Lord is near, and he is loaded – richy rich, and generous beyond imagination.  

Imagine an app that would right now allow us to be able to see how near to us Jesus really is.  How would it change the way we think and feel about the circumstances we endure?  

The fact that such an app does not exist does not change the reality that Jesus does.  And that He is near to you right now.  He is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.  

So let us rejoice and be gentle and not be anxious about anything- instead – let the peace of God that passes all understanding guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.

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