Christianity 201

June 27, 2020

Works are Nice, Knowledge is Helpful; But God Wants Your Proximity

But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome. (Matthew 26: 58)

Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. (Mark 14:54)

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. (Matthew 27:55)

This is one of my oldest son’s favorite worship songs, I Just Want to be Where You Are by Don Moen. Because today (27th) is his birthday, it seemed like a good time.

The opening lines are:

I just want to be where you are
Dwelling daily in your presence
I don’t want to worship from afar
Draw me near to where you are.

The line that got to me was, “I don’t want to worship from afar.”

I realize this is rather superficial, but in my years in church I have attended some churches which fill the back rows first, and other churches in which the front rows fill up right away. I’m not sure what accounts for the difference in church culture. I’ve been to seminars and conferences where people will pay top dollar for airfare, hotel, food and conference admission, only to grab a seat in the very last row. But I’ve also seen people at Christian events who run to grab a seat near the front, with Bibles and notebooks already open before the speaker is even introduced.

Turning to today’s scripture texts, we certainly know why Peter followed Jesus from a distance. Jesus had just been arrested, and for all he knew, he might be next. So he became a ‘distant’ follower. Knowing how the lives of Peter and 10 of the other twelve disciples ended, we know that following Jesus came with great personal risk, and this begins after that scene in Gethsemane where the story takes on a new trajectory which, for persecuted Christians, continues to this day.

The same applies to the women in the third verse cited above. Matthew Henry says that either way, it was either the ‘fury’ of those who arrested Jesus or the ‘fear’ in themselves that kept them from getting too close.

Between these two considerations, where do you find yourself?

In terms of the superficial, do you gravitate to the front rows at Christian gatherings, or are you content to stay near the back? Even if life circumstances currently make you one of the people Ruth Graham calls “broken on the back row;” may I encourage you to try moving up. It’s a way of making a physical declaration of the interior intention of your heart.

In terms of the scripture text and today’s song, can you say, “I just want to be where you are;” or are you “following at a distance?” Perhaps where you live there is a stigma associated with Christianity, or a local church. You may already be paying a price for close association with Jesus.

Whatever it is, it probably doesn’t compare to what Peter and the women felt on that terrible night. What if Peter hadn’t denied his connection with Jesus? I can say from personal experience that life changes when you are willing to identify with the body of Christ no matter what may come; when you determine to a public statement that you’re all in.

There’s something about this simple song that intensifies as you hear it. Take time to listen to it more than once. Enter fully into God’s presence.


Bonus item:

This song is not as well known. It was part of the “Jesus Music” revolution that took place in the early 1970s. The songwriter was Gary Arthur and the band was simply called The Way. The song is called Closer to God.

March 31, 2020

Connecting With God’s Presence

Two years ago this month we introduced you to the devotional First 15 — for the first 15 minutes of your day — from Seedbed. Today we’re back with them again. Click the header below to read this at source, where it appears along with the music video for the day or with the option of hearing an audio version of today’s reading.

  • lee esto en español: Read today’s devotional in Spanish

The Reality of God’s Presence

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Psalm 139:7-8

It’s a troubling truth in Christianity today that many believers don’t know about or aren’t experiencing continual encounter with the real, manifest presence of God. The Bible contains story after story of life-changing, world-altering encounters with the reality of God’s presence. From Moses and the tent of meeting to the disciples at Pentecost, we continually read about God supernaturally encountering his people in real, transformative ways. Jesus died so that we might walk in communion with our heavenly Father not only in heaven, but here on this earth. Biblical characters modeled what it was to experience God consistently in both the New and Old Testaments. God, in his desire to have restored relationship with you, has made the reality of his presence fully available to you. Through the death of Christ there is nothing separating you from him. Before we dive into different stories of God’s manifest presence on the earth, let’s take time to focus on the biblical basis for encountering God. Open your heart and mind to the truth about God’s nearness and allow your faith to be stirred for all the ways your heavenly Father would transform your life through encounter with him.

Psalm 139:7-8 says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Acts 17:26-28 says,

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Scripture is clear that God is omnipresent and his presence can be tangible to us. David describes God’s presence this way: “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

The sons of Korah wrote in Psalm 84:1-2, How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Then in verses 10-12 they declare,

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

There is no doubt in looking at Scripture that God’s presence is real, good, and available to us. Rest in the truth of that for a moment. You can consistently enter into the tangible presence of your heavenly Father anywhere and anytime. Have faith today that God created you to experience him. Encountering his presence is made possible entirely by his grace, so it is available apart from any good or bad thing you do. But, know that God will never force his presence on you. He only fills up what is open and ready to receive. He sweetly calls you to meet with him and waits for you to make space in your life to receive what he longs to give.

There is no more life-giving pursuit you can embark on than the pursuit of God’s presence. Spending time resting in him is meant to be the satisfaction that lays a foundation for you to live the life of abundance made available to you through Jesus. Your role in encountering God is simply seeking him. If you will make time to encounter him, open your heart, and have faith in his word, then you will discover the wellspring of life, joy, love, and transformation that is the presence of our heavenly Father.

Deuteronomy 4:29 says, “You will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Seek and find the presence of the living God today as you meditate on his word and pray.

Prayer:

1. Meditate on the availability of God’s presence. Allow your faith to be stirred up in response to God’s word.

“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” Psalm 145:18

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Psalm 139:7-8

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” Acts 17:26-28

2. Now meditate on the goodness of God’s presence. Allow your desires to be stirred as you read about the wonders of encountering the living God.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” Psalm 84:1-2

3. Open your heart to receive his presence. Ask the Spirit to make known God’s nearness. Seek his presence and have faith in his word that when you seek him you will find him.

“But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 4:29

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6


That wraps up ten years of Christianity 201. Tomorrow we begin year eleven!

September 21, 2018

Relationships Need Presence

NIV I Cor.13.8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Six months later, we’re back highlighting the work Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds and Anxious. Amy is currently at the forefront of the intersection of Christianity and the study of mental health issues.  Her new book is Blessed are the Unsatisfied: Finding Freedom in an Imperfect World (InterVarsity) and you can read chapter one from the book for free at this link.

Your Long-Distance Relationship Is Not Enough

When my husband and I were dating, we spent some time living 1000 miles apart. I was in college in Illinois, and he was attending seminary in Colorado. During those months, we sometimes felt desperate to be close to one another. No matter how many much time we spent on the phone, there was no real substitute for face-to-face conversation and physical closeness. In fact, eventually we reached the point where we could no longer handle the distance and Trevor made his way back to Illinois. If our relationship was going to move forward, we had to be in each other’s presence more often.

For us, this separation lasted only a matter of months and came after we had already met face to face. Nowadays, many couples meet online and develop their relationships from a distance. But especially if they’re going to make a long-term or until-death-do-us-part commitment, there’s still no substitute for being together.

The same thing is true of your relationship with God. You may not have thought of it this way, but you are essentially in a long-distance relationship with him. Sure, he is close to you. Yes, you are always in his presence. Yet your limitations as a finite creature, your rebellious heart, and this cursed world mean you experience God at a distance. And there’s nothing you can do to bridge that gap. Jesus has made the once-for-all sacrifice necessary to bring us into true and close relationship, but we don’t yet experience the full impact of that reconciliation. We do not know or even fathom what it means to see God face to face.

1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (above) talks about this dynamic. You can know God’s love now, but you can’t know it as you will. You understand, see, and may even prophecy–but what you have is only a part of what you will have in God’s unadulterated presence. If you know and follow Jesus, you will see him face to face. You will know him without interference from your sinful nature, your limited understanding, or the boundaries of space and time.

It will be wonderful.

But in the meantime, you live with the distance. And here’s the thing: God doesn’t want you to be satisfied or comfortable with these circumstances. He wants you to yearn for him, just as you would yearn for a loved one you rarely see. Part of living well in this unsatisfying reality is living with patience. Part of it, paradoxically, is living in great anticipation and hope for what is to come.

The next time someone suggests that your relationship with God should be enough to satisfy all your spiritual and emotional needs, here and now, remember this. Your long-distance relationship isn’t meant to be enough to satisfy you. God wants you to love him enough that you long to be with him. He wants you to desire a deeper connection with him. He wants you to live in the hope that you will one day see his face.


If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, check out my most recent book, Blessed Are the Unsatisfied!



Our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, ran a piece on Thursday morning about using our imagination and our smartphones to introduce people to the scriptures in places where it might not otherwise work for them to read from a printed Bible, or situations where they might otherwise refuse to do so.

I would love to share it with you and hear your thoughts; just click this link to read Your Smartphone and Family Gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

November 9, 2013

Practical Christian Living: Walking With God

Walking With God from Sermonview dot com

Last week we shared a short excerpt from David Murray’s excellent book, Jesus on Every Page. Today, I happened to visit David’s blog at HeadHeartHand.org and discovered the piece which follows here. There isn’t a key scripture verse today, you need to look up the references. You are strongly encouraged to read this reprint from an article David did for a Reformed periodical, at source, where it appeared as Walking With God In Everyday Life.

The Bible says that “the Lord was with” Abraham, Joseph, David, and Hezekiah. We’re also told that Enoch and Noah “walked with God.” These are two sides of the one coin, two perspectives on the same experience of God’s special presence with His people.

This was a gracious experience. Humanity had severed itself from God by sin, but God in mercy came down to humanity again to reconcile, to re-establish, to re-connect, and to re-commune. These were all sinners separated from God by sin, and distant from God by nature. Yet God drew near to them, drew them to Himself, and filled them with His own presence. By God’s gift of faith in the coming Messiah, these Old Testament believers experienced forgiveness of their sin and God’s love shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit given to them. The Lord who had been against them was now with them.

This was a spiritual experience. If you looked at Enoch or David you would not have seen another physical figure with them. God was not with them physically. He was with them spiritually. By His indwelling Holy Spirit, God connected and communed with these men. The “withness” was a spiritual “withness.”

This was a personal experience. It wasn’t “the force” that was with them, but a person. It was not some impersonal power but someone with a character, a personality, a will, an ability to communicate, etc. As such, there was a sharing of personal thoughts, feelings, plans, hopes, etc. There was conversation between the Lord and those He was with. We don’t know how much the Old Testament believers understood of God being three persons, but they certainly knew a personal God.

This was a transforming experience. God cannot be with someone without it making a difference in their lives. Enoch and Noah stood out from everyone else in their generation. Heathen kings and officials, like Abimelech and Potiphar, noticed a difference in those that God was with (Gen. 21:22; 26:28; 39:3). God’s presence produced inner qualities of holiness, peace, contentment, and courage. In the Old Testament it was also associated with outward prosperity and success (e.g. Gen. 39:2-3; 1 Sam. 18:14; 2 Kings 18:7).

This was an enjoyable experience. This was not some unwanted and terrifying invasion of these men’s lives. No, this was the God who was their best friend, coming to walk with them through life’s journey. What a wonderful experience, especially when these men were often so otherwise alone in their spiritual pilgrimage!

This was a varied experience. Though God never leaves any believer in whom he has come to live, there are times when he withdraws the sense of His presence, the feeling of his nearness. For example, we’re told that God left Hezekiah to test him (2 Chron. 32:21). That cannot mean  God was with him one day and gone the next. Rather, it means that at this time Hezekiah did not have the conscious sense of God’s presence. God was there, but he was silent and still. Yes, the Spirit could be grieved in the Old Testament too, and such painful times taught these men how much they needed God’s active presence in their lives.

It was an everywhere experience. It was not confined to the Temple or Tabernacle, but God was with His people in building projects, in prison, on the throne, and on the farm. Wherever they went, whatever time of the day, they could enjoy God’s companionship. They could talk to Him, sing to Him, worship Him, enjoy Him wherever, whenever, whatever.

If Old Testament believers experienced this divine “withness,” this divine presence, how much more should we New Testament believers, who see Christ more clearly, who have the fullness of the Spirit’s indwelling, and who have so many other helps in our lives, families, and churches?

Today’s graphic is available as a banner in various sizes from SermonView.com — click the image to see variations. Graphics are also available as slides for preaching series and both traditional Bible imagery and contemporary designs are offered.