Mark 7:6-8 – Jesus said to the religious people of his time –
“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
You may consider this scripture to be strange indeed when you consider the sermon title you see, “The Benefits of Experiencing God.” During the present times, we seem to be in a period of chaos, a period of change, a period of upheaval. When I just said that, I can’t help but wonder exactly what you were thinking, frankly it does not matter because this morning, and all through the Sunday’s of Lent, the Lord has laid it on my heart to focus on experiencing God more in our life. May we not be lukewarm. May we not just honor Him with our lips. May our heart be aligned with God’s heart.
Yes, it is time for each of us to consider ourselves and our relationship with God, with Jesus – the width, the depth, the priority, the amount that we truly experience the true Presence of Him. I fear that the world sees us followers of Jesus as shallow people who all too often honor Jesus with our lips but our hearts are revealed in our actions and priorities as far from God. Yes shallow worship exists that is focused more on form than worship. Yes, during this Lenten season, is it a time to ask ourselves if we are lukewarm?
It is a time to desire to choose to get closer to God, to choose to experience His Presence in our day to day life and the benefits will be incredible. All of us long for God’s Presence, and we sense it – occasionally. But for most of us, many of us, our faith tends to slip easily into a religion of beliefs about God and His Word, and it is knowledge, it is biblical knowledge, it is knowledge of the step-by-step principles and practices that we know we should do and sometimes do, but it is shallow, lacking depth. We know what practices we should do, but all too often they are just motions.
Yes there are times when what we call a “relationship with God” is really nothing more than a shallow relationship with these beliefs and behaviors. No depth of participation.
We relate to the words on the printed pages of the Bible, to people at church. We relate to the devotional stuff we are supposed to do, to ministry activities, and to our own sense of obligation to do what’s right – and then we call all THAT a relationship with God. What’s missing? Real encounters with Him, with Jesus. Yes now and then we have heard his voice, now and then, but all too often it is really just now and then. It is shallow.
It is kind of like those of you who are on facebook and you have a bunch of friends there, but are they really friends? I have hundreds of friends on my page, but let’s consider what they really are, almost all of them are acquantences, no offense to those of you friends on my page. We all know that true friends are those in our life with whom we have real encounters, in depth encounters, encounters that are more than just passing by at times.
So it is with God. We desire, we crave, a sense of God’s Presence more. If you feel lost, lonely, out of touch, out of rhythm, then I propose that you crave this, and you need to choose to run after God’s Presence. Yes, we will not be wholly and totally in God’s Presence until we get to eternity, but this is what God desires us to want more of.
I ask you to consider this week what you wanted more of. Take a moment and consider this, make a list, now where is God on this list? During this Lenten season will you choose to want more of Jesus in your life? We need to feel His touch and there is one promise that we find in our Bible – we can feel His touch more. There are things we can do to become more aware of Him and there are places we can move ourselves too in our life to experience Him more – if we understand where He is and how He shows Himself.
God is everywhere we say, so if He is always with us, why discuss this as though His Presence fluctuates? Because there is a difference from Him being everywhere and us experiencing His Presence. If we are honest we aren’t as aware of Him as we’d like to be. Here is our desire, we don’t just want Him to be present; we want to actually encounter God and when we do it changes us, it changes our outlook in this world, it makes each day different. Encounters with God changes our witness, our worldview.
Yes, God is everywhere yet sometimes our Bible shows us that we can’t encounter His Presence but that is only temporary. When it comes to this sense of God’s presence, I am reminded of that saying – you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. But we have the promise that God will show His presence to us again. God says He goes with the humble, the meek, the brokenhearted, those who desire to draw near to Him.
Some might consider this idea of experiencing God’s Presence to be somewhat mystical, and it is. That’s because the Christian faith is by nature somewhat mystical. If you feel it isn’t, please consider that fact. If your faith is geared towards the mechanics of our faith, the living by the rulebook, frankly just going through the motions, then consider changing that for the next forty days. Strive to hear His voice, get mystical.
Jesus spoke to His disciples about oneness with them and about the Holy Spirit coming to speak to them, see John 14 & 17 it’s mystical; Paul wrote about encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus and of receiving inexpressible revelations in the third heaven, see 2 Corinthians 12 it’s mystical; and scripture in general is filled with many who encountered God and heard His voice. Clearly, the Bible describes mystical things and encounters between Jesus and mankind. Search it out, the benefits will be great, great for you and great for His kingdom. You will be close to God.
Saying things a bit differently, my challenge to you and me is simply this, restore the intimacy into your relationship with God. This begins with the question of what are you most connected to? Job? Money? Family? Cell phone? …..God? What things do you do or grab on to each day before you go to God? Are you so busy that God is getting the leftovers? Do you check your cell phone, TV or newspaper before you pray each day? What do you think would benefit you the most? Is God in the proper place in your life?
How deep is your friendship with Jesus? How intimate? Is He just like another friend or acquaintance that you might have on facebook? Said differently, is God a casual friend or your true best friend? I propose that your best friend is the one who you desire to encounter the most. Best friends have deep ongoing relationships. Best friends enjoy being in the presence of each other.
I admit that my thoughts this week are a bit more rambling than normal so it’s time to close this out. My final thought about experiencing God is this, when it comes to experiencing God we need to develop FOMO on God. Many of you may know what I am describing. This has developed thanks to smart phones as well as the internet.
Ever notice how so many people, yes young and old people, American and yes Rwandan people, have their face glued to the phone or computer a lot of the time? Well for many of them they have FOMO. This is actually a disease and it has become insidious and highly habit forming. FOMO is “fear of missing out.” Yes missing out on seeing the number of likes you have. Fear of missing out of the news. Yes, paying too much time with that television on can be FOMO – especially those news stations – FOMO can consume your life and cause you to miss the people in front of you and around you.
This Lenten season, consider concentrate on getting one disease that will be incredibly beneficial to your life – FOMO on God. Yes, it’s time we develop a fear of missing out on God in our life. Pray first each day and during the day each day, do devotions each day, study – not just read – but study the Bible each day, purposely search out the presence of God each day, put down technology more each day, notice people and engage people each day….and watch what happens, watch what benefits will happen, watch the joy and love happen in your life.