Sunday, July 11, 2010

Some Thoughts on the Manifested Presence of God

John 15: 19. “A little longer, and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me...”
Rev. 1: 10-17. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice as of a trumpet…And I turned to see the voice that spoke to me…and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength…”
1 Cor. 15: 3-8. “…He rose again on the third day…and was seen…by Cephas…by the twelve…by over five hundred brethren at once…and after that He was seen by me also….”

To see or not to see?
The natural man comprehends God in the same way as a blind and deaf man would view a brilliant sunrise or listen to beautiful music. He would be oblivious to the wonders around him no matter how brilliant the sight or how loud the sound. The revelation of God works on the same principle. The person who has a heart after God will see or hear Him in the smallest sign, while the one who has rejected God in his heart will see nothing or explain it away, no matter how powerful the Presence or how obvious the miracle. Jesus said that no sign would be given to an evil and adulterous generation. He hides Himself from the proud but reveals Himself to the humble and to those who seek.

It is amazing how those who reject God can close their eyes to His manifested presence.
The Pharisees knew first-hand that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. They witnessed with their own eyes the awesome effects of this miracle on the people around Bethany and Jerusalem. They responded by plotting to kill Lazarus (again) and silence his testimony.
The people of Israel trembled before the presence of God on Mt Sinai, and yet at the foot of this very mountain they made a golden calf and fell into idolatry.
Jesus rebuked certain cities where most of His mighty works had been done because they had refused to repent even in the face of such powerful evidence.
Jesus told of the man in hell who begged “Father Abraham” to send someone back from paradise to warn his brothers not to come to “this place of torment.” His argument was, “If one goes to them from the dead they will repent.” The Divine response was, “If they will not hear Moses and the Prophets (their Bible) neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”
The lesson is clear. The heart of man determines how he responds to God’s presence and initiatives. If he is inclined toward God, he will see the evidence and embrace the Lord. Otherwise, he will remain blind.

God’s Presence Has Implications for us.
People often resist the presence of God because of the significance of its implications to them personally. The presence of God automatically shines a spotlight on our own nature. The more clearly we see God the more clearly we know ourselves. This is one reason for our tendency to keep God at a safe distance away. When He shows up we are forced to face certain realities in our lives. The manifested presence of God automatically creates a consciousness of our responsibility to respond to Him. If He shows Himself and we see Him, then we have lost our excuse for not seeking, serving, and obeying. The more silent and distant God is, the more we feel we can in good conscience ignore Him. But when He shows up we are forced by His very presence to say “yes” or “no” to Him. Nominal Christians and people who are spiritually unresponsive are threatened by the manifested presence of God because it disturbs their complacency. And complacency is another form of saying “no” to God. To know Him greatly means to follow Him deeply. If He “stays away” then I can be lukewarm and live my life without being bothered. But if He shows up, I am then forced to deal with where I am in my relationship with Him.

Stephen was stoned because God showed up. The power of God was on Stephen so strongly that his words could not be resisted by the council before whom he stood. When stubborn and rebellious hearts encounter the irresistible words of God at this level they cannot remain neutral, and they cannot hide underneath a cloak of pretend and complacency. Unable to resist Stephen’s words, they had to either receive his words or kill him. They chose the latter. They actually stopped their ears, and shouted loudly as they ran at him and stoned him to death. On a side note, we should take note of the fact that the ones who resist God the loudest may be the very ones whose hearts are being pierced by the word God is speaking.

What is the attitude of churches toward the presence of God?
In many cases the attitude of churches can be described as follows. They want the Lord to be present; but they want Him to behave. They want Him close enough to keep watch, but not close enough to be seen. They want God to be generally and mystically around but not specifically and pointedly obvious. They want Him to move in a general sense quietly and unnoticed over an audience of passive spectators waiting to receive a warm feeling as they focus on what is happening up front on the platform.
Pastors want God to be present in the church, but are often afraid of the risk involved in letting God show up in His people. They want God to work, but they don’t want Him to use people. They are afraid of what might happen if the Holy Spirit is free to work through people in a supernatural way. Therefore, the agenda and programs tend to quench the working of the Holy Spirit. It is "safer" to prohibit than to learn from experience and actually lead.

We stand and pray for God to move among us and we appeal to people to take initiative and be spiritually aggressive, while at the same time we create an atmosphere that prevents both. We quench the Spirit, and we do not allow people to really express themselves. We want God to act, but within our pre-set parameters. We want people to act, but only in our pre-cast organizational slots that exist to serve the institution. In other words, we ask God to show up and people to function, but in reality are afraid of both.

We should hunger for His presence.
Since I was a teenager I have never been able to understand why people who know and love God would not be passionately hungry and desirous to see Him and His works. Why would we be afraid of the miraculous visitations of His presence in our gatherings or out in the streets as we tell people about Jesus Christ who was crucified for our sins and who is now alive and working among us by the power of the Holy Spirit? Why would we not be willing to take the risks involved in learning to be vessels to whom He can reveal Himself, and through whom He can reveal Himself to a world that so desperately needs Him.

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down…to make Your name known to your adversaries.” Isaiah 64: 1-2.
“And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness…and with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was on them all.” Acts 4: 31, 33

Click on the Youtube song below to hear a beautiful worship song about the glory of God's presnece.