The Nearness of God

We started Journey Church seven years ago now with the hopes of being a church for people who are skeptical about the existence of God, or cynical about the church.  We started it for people who have for whatever reason stalled out on their faith journey but are ready to start moving forward again.
And so we are very glad you are here today.  Especially if this is your first time here. 

Now today we are finishing up a five week series that we’ve been doing that I have been really enjoying.  

What image comes to mind when I think of God.  Is he good?  Bad?  Distant or near?  Is he more like a ticket writing policemen waiting to bust you for some violation?  Is he a petty tyrant who gets upset easily?  

We started this series with a quote from A.W. Tozer who said:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

And so we’ve been asking, How does God WANT us to see him?  How can we see God the way he wants to be seen?  And the first week we learned that God wants to be seen as our Father in Heaven,  Since God is our Father, we dread nothing.  Since God is our Shepherd, we lack nothing.  Since God is our Savior, we are held captive by nothing.   And last week we saw that Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and If Jesus is our Lord, we can obey with Confidence and Joy.  Not fearfully, not like a dog afraid of getting smacked.  We obey with confidence that God who knows everything about living this life is leading us to the best kind of life – and so we obey from the inside out, out of a transformed soul.

This morning I want us to look at one more way God wants us to see him – and it isn’t a title.  It’s not father, or shepherd, Savior or Lord.  Those all describe his relationship to us and they describe roles.

This morning I want us to understand that God is close.  God is close to you.  He is near you.  So very, very close.  And I want to turn to three different passages to address three different kinds of people that I suspect are in this room this morning.

And to start, we are going to turn to the book of Acts.  Acts is the book in the New Testament that details the birth and explosive growth of the church.  And in Acts chapter 17 we come across a very interesting scene.  

It’s about the time the Apostle Paul visits the city of Athens, Greece.  And what a site he beheld.  This is the Acropolis.  Paul would have visited many of the same tourist sites that you or I would this very day.  

He would have visited the Parthenon, already 500 years old when Paul visited it in the first century.  Dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens.  Everywhere Paul traveled in the city he would have seen statues and idols.

The very first lesson a good Jewish boy like Paul would have learned was there is no God but God.  And that there should be no idols – and so it would have come as quite a site to Paul.  There was a proverb about Athens that said, there were more gods in Athen’s than people.  

So Paul begins to debate with the religious leaders, and at first they brush him off as some babbler babbling on about some foreign Gods.  But they quickly learn that Paul is no philosophical slouch.  His arguments were carrying water, and so some people bring Paul to the Areopagus – also called Mars Hill.  And this is a picture of the commanding view of the city from Mars Hill.  

This is like appearing before the supreme court – this is where the big dogs sat around discussing philosophy and religion. Mars Hill was where the most learned people of the city would gather to debate one another.

And so what did Paul say?  We pick up Paul’s sermon in Acts 17.  

22 So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, 23 for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.

Apparently Paul has noticed an idol, and instead of the usual inscription – to Zeus, or Apollo, or Athena – this one basically was addressed to the God we don’t yet know.

A brilliant move by Paul.  He affirms their religious nature.  But Paul here is basically speaking to people we might now call agnostics.  People who think that there might be a god, but aren’t quite sure.

So here’s the deal.  There are some in here that I would say, would identify themselves as agnostic.  Really unsure.  And you haven’t ruled out the claims of Jesus, but maybe the church has left you unimpressed and so you just aren’t sure.

You would say, like the Athenians, you consider yourself spiritual, but aren’t quite ready to buy into Jesus.  

I want you to know that we respect that about you.  And that Journey is a safe pace for you to investigate the claims of Jesus.  And normally we don’t press hard for you to change your mind – we think that when you are ready then you will make that decision to become a follower of Jesus.

And that’s true today as well.  But I want to start this sermon with you in mind.  And I do want to challenge you today to make today the day you decide to become a follower of Jesus.  And so we’ll let Paul do the talking for me – and we can see his outline pretty easily…  He is going to start with the power of God.

1.  God is Great
24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs.

Paul often makes this point.  God has all the power.  He lacks no ability.  He is omnipotent – meaning all-powerful.  

Which is important.  What good is it to have a God who is compassionate and kind and yet unable to tend to our needs?  Who is unable to stop the forces of the universe?

But the Bible makes it abundantly clear that God is all powerful, and particulary, that Jesus is the one with all the power.  No place is that more clear than in Colossians 1.

Of course, the greeks were not surprised to hear that this God Paul speaks about is powerful.  But in greek mindset, the gods were capricious and unkind.  People were the playthings of the gods.  And the gods themselves were petty, often angry with one another, they were lustful and stole from each other.  Pretty much miserable gods living miserable lives and taking it out on humankind.

So Paul will next talk about the character of God.  And that God is, above all good.

He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26 From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.

In a Greek pantheon of gods – humankind lived to serve the gods – humans lived to satisfy their needs.  But here Paul says – the God he is speaking about – he tends to our needs.  It is This God who gives us our breath.  This God is a Good Shepherd.  

It is this God who even delivers life and breath.  The breath’s you are taking automatically are controlled by God.  It wasn’t the alarm clock that woke you up this morning.  It was God.  

So not only is God Great, but God is good.  

Jesus is great, and he is good, and the last point Paul makes before calling for the people to decide is that He is a God who is close.  

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.

If he is not great, then who cares if he is close.  If he is not good – then we don’t want Him close.  But if God is great – all powerful.  And if God is good – then to hear Paul declare that he is close, findable, not far away from any single person in this room – well then that becomes good news indeed.

He is not far from any one of us.  He is not far from you.  In fact he is close.  In him, through him, by him, for him, we live, we move, we breath, we exist.

Would you consider yourself someone who is seeking God?  If you think there is a God, I would assume you are seeking him, right?  I assume you want to know what that God is like?

I want you to know – he is like the Father, and so we dread nothing because he is in control of all things.  He is like a shepherd, who leads us and provides for us, so we lack nothing.  He is a rescuer – a savior, a deliverer – so nothing can hold us captive. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, so he rules and reigns and we can obey confidently and joyfully, obey his teaching.

And he is so close to you right now.  He wants you to find him.  He wants you to believe in Him.  When Jesus walked the earth he called people to follow him.

He gave them time to check him out.  Come and see – he told his disciples.  And after a time, Jesus upped the ask.  “Come and follow”  

Question for my agnostic friends…
Maybe you been seeing for a time – is today the day that you sense Jesus calling you to come and follow him?  
He is not far – and – according to Jesus – if you seek him, you will find him.  If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. – That’s Jeremiah 29:13

Is today the day you are willing to lay down and surrender your kingdom, in order to be part of the larger kingdom of Heaven?  Are you ready to call for the question?  To cast a vote?  

We like to say around here faith is a Journey.  And God may have brought you a long way in your journey already – the fact that you are sitting in a church this morning?  It wasn’t long ago you might have thought that would never happen.

Well, why did it?  Because God has never been far from you.  He is close.  So close.  But make no mistake he will not force you to follow Him.  That’s the way of despots and  dictators.  Instead you have received an invitation – to be part of an alternative kingdom.  It’s available to you, upon request.  When your soul, the inside part of you, says, okay Jesus, I’m convinced as I think I need to be.  

You don’t need to be convinced beyond any doubt.  Bring you doubts with you.  Faith always has an element of doubt because you are dealing with unseen thing.  

It’s not doubt or faith, it’s faith and doubt.  But when the scales have tipped in favor of faith, then it’s time to say yes to him.

He is close to you.  So close.  You can stop and chat it out with the Lord even now. Your soul communing with His.  Where you say Yes to him.  And you can just hash it out with the lord right now within your spirit.  In your heart.  You talk it out if you are ready.  

While you are doing that – I want to talk to a second group of people that might be here this morning.  People who are like Moses.  

We read about Moses in the book of Exodus, which is the second book of the bible.  Moses was a follower of God.  And God had called him to lead his people Israel out of slavery and into the promised land.  

But we are going to turn to Exodus 33 – and by this time God had led all the Israelites out of Egypt through a series of miracles.  He had split the red sea like you part a child’s hair and the entire nation walked through on dry ground escaping the Egyptian army.  

You would think would be the most grateful, most obedient, most trusting group of people ever to walk on the face of the earth.

Instead, Moses gets a crash course in humanity – and he discovers that instead, these Israelites are stubborn, stiff necked, ungrateful, grumblers.  And Moses has a heart to heart with God about this whole deal.

He has no doubt about the greatness of God – but Moses needs assurance that God isn’t going to desert him.  He needs assurance that God is staying close by.

12 One day Moses said to the Lord, “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. You have told me, ‘I know you by name, and I look favorably on you.’ 13 If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.”

Are you catching Moses’ exasperation with the situation God has placed him in?  Hey God, this was YOUR idea.  You are the one who called me to do this stuff.  

Have you ever felt like God asked you to do something, and you obeyed, only to see things fall apart?  You act with all belief in your spirit that you are doing the right thing, only to discover down the road that, it seems, God has it out for you?  That God asked you to jump into the deep end and only after you leap do you see that the pool is mostly empty?  The landing is going to hurt?

Maybe it’s a business deal gone south?  You leave your work for a new job only to be laid off shortly after?  Maybe God instructs you to take a risk personally, and you just heard a sermon last week that says you can obey God with confidence and joy, and so sure thing God?  

But a short time later?  Wa wa wa wa….  (Price is right theme song)

I think that’s how Moses was feeling.  So how does the Lord respond to this discouraged Moses?

14 The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”

Can I ask you something?  Do you believe these words apply to you today?  I know this is God talking to Moses, but they apply to you too you know.  Everything will be fine for you who follow the Lord of Lords, the King of the Universe, the creator of all things, the one in whom we live and move and have our being.

God responds to Moses by reassuring him – I personally will go with you.  I personally will be with you.

You might feel all tied up in knots about whatever it is that is dogging you, but God says, I will be able to give you rest.  I can make you lie down in green pastures…  I will restore your soul.

God reminds Moses of his presence.  His closeness.  He is there.  And everything will be okay.

I want to go back again to the New Testament – the first book – Matthew, and the last words of Jesus.  We touched on these words briefly last week.  But I want to highlight them once again.  

Matthew 28: 18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Notice once again – the greatness of Jesus – all authority.  All power.  and notice the closeness of Jesus.  I will be with you always.  Every day.  To the end of your age.  This day and tomorrow and until the end of time.  

Jesus is saying, I am powerful enough to do anything, and I’m not going anywhere.  He is as close to you now as the breath in your nose.  And he’s not ever leaving you.  

“I will never fail you.
    I will never abandon you.” Hebrews 13:5

Be encouraged friend.  God is at work in your life.  He has placed you in the context of your life because he needed someone there.  He created you for a reason.  And he is close.

Now let me briefly touch on a third group of people.  Because though God is close, there is one group of people he is especially close to..  And it’s important to know.

Because there are going to come times when God will feel far away.  The psalms are filled with expressions of feelings – those times when it feels like God has abandoned us or turned on us.

And there are times, especially when life is most painful, that God wants us to know he is closest to us.

And, you know, I’m not a tattoo kind of guy.  I’m a blank slate.  But if I were to get a tattoo, I think this verse might be in the running.  Because I think it sums up the heart of God right here.

Psalm 34:18 – The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

You might be going through a very difficult season.  You know, bad things do happen in the life of followers of God, right?  

Not everything that happens to you will be good.  We know that.  But we also know that God is able to bring all things – even those things we see as bad things – he can bring them to some good within the kingdom of God.

God never wastes our pain.   God is the only one who can sense of our suffering.  He makes sense of the brokenness of this world.

Now when we experience these kinds of seasons of life, it’s easy to feel like God is far away.  But sometimes we have to inform our feelings – we need to challenge our feelings.  Your feelings can be wrong you know.  

Sometimes God feels far away.  And in those times what is called for not panic – but patience.

Wait and see.  Be patient.  God is able to weave even bad things into the tapestry of your life.  He is close to you even now.

And so all we can do is wait and see what God is up to.  We wait and see.

But in the meantime, be assured that God has never been closer.  Because he gives his word to be close to the brokenhearted.  And to save those who feel crushed on the inside.

Post a comment