Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Presence That Shakes The World

It’s been a while since the last blog entry about God’s desire to dwell in the midst of His people, and I continue to find this strongly on my heart.  Our need for Him is beyond words these days.  How I long for Him—that is, that we His people be characterized not by the doctrines we hold or the churches we go to, but by this One Thing—that He Himself dwells in us, and so those around us are aware of His Presence!

No one has to prove the existence of God to me; I know by first-hand experience His Presence in my heart.  “Know ye not,” says Paul, “that ye are the temple of God, and that His Spirit dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. 3.16).  Yes, I do know.  The Holy Spirit dwelling in me means that I am a temple of God.  But oh for that same Presence I love so dearly to go forth so that others might know Him!  Surely if others could sense His Presence as I do they would love Him as I do.  Surely if others could see Him…  I remember years ago listening to an old taped message by Pentecostal preacher John Wright Follette.  He was an old man at the time, and he said with broken voice, “I don’t know why they didn’t love that young Man.”  It struck me that Follette called Jesus a young man.  But He was young.  He was only 33 when they crucified Him.  It pains me to think I as a young man actually had a hand in that.  He is so precious to me now.  One day in His Presence is better than a thousand years elsewhere.

Yet, there is something further to His Presence than this preciousness.  Isaiah cried out for the return of The Presence that would melt the mountains and make the nations tremble (Isa. 64.1-3).  This is what it meant, Moses’ cry, I mean—that the Presence of God Himself would go with them, that He would forgive their disobedience and not abandon His great desire and plan for a tabernacle in their midst so He could dwell with them on the way to Canaan.

And he said unto Him, If Thy Presence go not with me, carry us not up hence (Ex. 33.15).

God hearkened to Moses, and before long the tabernacle was prepared and set up, and the cloud of glory filled it, and they were on their way to Canaan together—the people and their God.

But what does this look like—God dwelling in His people and marching through the wilderness?

LORD, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water.
The mountains melted from before the LORD, [even] that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel. (Judges 5.4,5).

This is how the prophetess Deborah described the people coming through the wilderness of Seir on their way to the promised land.  “When thou wentest out of Seir…”  Yes, there was a vast multitude of people involved, but her prophetic eye was fixed on the One who had now taken up His habitation in their midst.  It was GOD in His people coming through the wilderness and entered Canaan the promised heritage.  And the earth was shaking, mountains were melting.

And remember—this is from the Song of Deborah the prophetess; this is a prophetic word for you and me.

Here is more from another prophet—the psalmist David.

When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah was His sanctuary, and Israel His dominion.
The sea saw it and fled, Jordan was driven back.
The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs.
What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest, thou Jordan that thou wast driven back?
Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams, and ye little hills like lambs?

Yes, David, tell us; what was it?  What caused all this shaking?

Tremble thou earth at the Presence of the LORD, at the Presence of the God of Jacob,
Which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters (Ps. 114).

Is your heart as hard as a rock at times?  Hard as flint?  That’s what His Presence can do—it can turn that dry hard wilderness place into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of water!

It (that is, He) can make a way through the sea—a way where there is no way.  His Presence—He Himself—can cause the Jordan waters of death to part and make a way over on dry ground!

His Presence can—and will—cause the mountains and hills (all the kingdoms of men) to shake!

Oh, to see this!  Oh to see these shakings!  But this is what the Presence of the Lord does!  Here is Israel coming up out of Egypt and becoming God’s sanctuary, the people in and from whom He rules and has dominion. He dwells in them and is enthroned in them.  It is not just a rag-tag band of former slaves coming into their promised land.  God dwells in them.  And so another prophecy:

God came from Teman (in the wilderness) and the Holy One from Mount Paran.

I will just quote bits of it here, but read that whole prophecy, Habakkuk Chapter Three.  It’s awesome.  (How I wish the word awesome hadn’t become so trivialized!  It means that something is fearsome, and fills you with trembling and awe.)  Habbakuk calls this prophecy a prayer.  Let it become our own prayer, then.

God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran.  Selah.  His glory covered the Heavens, and the earth was filled with His praise…
Before Him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at His feet.
He stood, and measured the earth: He beheld, and drove asunder the nations, and the everlasting mountains were scattered, and the perpetual hills did bow…
The mountains saw thee and trembled…
The sun and moon stood still in their habitation…
Thou didst march through the land in indignation…

…All these great shakings taking place!  It is the prophetic imagery of the coming of the Lord… who dwells in His people, and together they dispossess the wicked inhabitants of Canaan from the land which is to become His people’s own inheritance.  This whole picture is highly prophetic of God’s intent in our lives—to accompany us into the heavenly realm and dispossess the principalities and powers of darkness who rule there over the hearts and minds of men in the earth.

But this will not happen apart from His Presence with us!  And so… oh, to see God’s people begin to hunger for His Presence in our midst!  And seek Him earnestly for this!  This is to be what characterizes us as the people of God.  And nothing less will do what needs to be done in this hour!  Nothing less will vanquish the forces of darkness, nothing less will break the bondages these forces of darkness hold over the inhabitants of the world and set them free.  Nothing less will remove the veil from their eyes so they can see openly the One who dwells in His temple—you and me!

I assure you, no one will be doubting the existence of God in that hour.  They will have all the proof they need right before their eyes.  And this is just how Habbakuk introduces his powerful prophetic prayer:

But the LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him (Hab. 2.20).

Defined By His Presence

Sometimes I think I should write on every page of the Old Testament of my Bible the following words:

Unto us they did minister.

I am thinking of Peter’s words that the prophets of old greatly longed to know what the Spirit of Christ in them had in mind by the things they were prophesying when they “testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.”  They wondered when these things would take place, and realized it was not they themselves God had in mind when He inspired them to write these things.

To whom it was revealed that not unto themselves but unto us they did minister the things which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into (1 Pt. 1.12).

Unto us they did minister.  And so when I read my Old Testament I must continually bear this in mind.  These things were written for me, and I need to discover what God had in mind.  How does this apply to me in this present day?

We talked last time about God’s desire to dwell in the midst of His people when He brought them out of Canaan.  He was not content to stay up in Heaven and supervise their journey from there.  He wanted to dwell in their midst on the way.  And so when Moses went up into Mount Sinai to commune with God and receive the tablets of the Law, God instructed him to have the people bring an offering, “And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them”  (Ex. 25.8).

You mean the God of heaven actually wanted to come down and dwell in their midst?  What wondrous words!  Never before in the long history of this people had their God said anything like this!

Going to my New Testament I discover this same eternal desire of God’s, but it is not a tent of skins He desires for His dwelling place now.  It is you and I, who are “builded together an habitation of God by (or, in) the Spirit” (Eph. 2.22).

But I want to go back to my Old Testament and read further.  There is a solemn lesson there we dearly need to learn.   When Moses came back down the mountain with the tablets of the law and the instructions for building the tabernacle he was greeted with the sound of wild partying.  In his long absence the people had grown weary of waiting for his return.  They wanted to get on with their journey to Canaan.  And so they pressured Aaron, who took an offering from them—their golden earrings—and fashioned a golden calf that would go before them.  Now they were feasting and dancing around the calf in unbridled abandon, their enemies apparently watching them gleefully all the while (Ex. 32.25).

I don’t have to spell out how painfully this parallels our own day, and we all know the story of how Moses, when he saw what was happening, smashed the tablets of the law at the foot of the mount.

I encourage you to read the whole story; I can’t go through it all here.  I just want to compress one thing that has impacted my own heart deeply.

God told Moses that, as a result of this apostasy, He was done.  His anger was so hot that He was going to wipe this people out and make of Moses a great nation instead.  Unthinkable, Moses replied.  If you do that Your enemies will blame you, not them.  They’ll say Your intention in bringing them out of Egypt was to do them evil.

And so with this intercession Moses persuaded God to repent of the evil He said He would do (Ex. 32.14).  Was God was just testing Moses through this to see if He had a man who was beyond seeking gain for himself in the things of God?  I think that’s what is behind this.  I think God was secretly rejoicing to see Moses making intercession like that.

And as we read further we find Moses continuing to make intercession, because, although God changed His mind about wiping them out, He told Moses that He Himself would not go with them to Canaan now.  In other words, the sanctuary He had in mind, the tabernacle, the dwelling place for Himself in the midst of His people… yes, He had given Moses the plans for this in the mount.  But this was off now.  He would be faithful to keep His promise to Abraham, He would bring the people into the promised land.  But only by the hand of an angel.  He Himself would not go with them.

For I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people… (Ex. 33.3).

This was very bad news.  You mean God would not go with them any further?

And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned… (Ex. 33.4).

How encouraging to see the repentance, this time their own, and so once again Moses makes intercession on their behalf, speaking with God face to face “as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Ex. 33.11).

All this takes place within a few verses that we read too quickly, and so when we come to God’s response to this intercession it’s easy to miss its impact.  We know the outcome; Moses and the people did not.  The situation was very intense.  The people were back in the camp stricken with grief, wringing their hands and trembling, hardly able to cast even a glance toward the tent where Moses is speaking with God on their behalf.  What will He say?  Will He change His mind?  They are waiting with bated breath.

And God responds, “My Presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.”  What a relief.  This is a complete reversal of what He said just a few verses earlier.  He had said He would send an angel to guide them to Canaan.  Now He says that His Presence shall go with them after all.  In other words, the plan for His tabernacle in their midst is on again.  And very shortly we find Moses in the mount again receiving further instructions for this.

Notice now Moses’ response to God’s words.

And he said unto Him, If Thy Presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.  For wherein shall it be known here that I and Thy people have found grace in Thy sight?  Is it not in that Thou goest with us?   So (or, by this) shall we be separated, I and Thy people, from all the people that are on the face of the earth (Ex. 33.16).

I wonder how many churches would get very excited and consider themselves privileged if someone suddenly prophesied that God was about to commission an angel (or some renowned preacher) to take them to their destination… and would entirely miss the desire of the heart of God.  He Himself wants to dwell in our midst, each and every person in the church being part of this, and filled with His abiding Presence!

And when there is true repentance, oh how ready He is to visit us with His Presence.  Oh how He longs to hear those voices of repentance and intercession asking Him… and saying to Him, Lord, if you don’t go with us, we aren’t interested in going anywhere.  We’re not interested in church anymore if You Yourself are not present.  We are calling a halt to it all till Your Presence is dwelling in our midst.  It is this, not our creeds and doctrines and programs and activities and great preachers, but this—Your Presence—that is to be the defining characteristic of the holy people of God in the earth.

Is God Home?

Years ago I saw a cartoon in a religious magazine that showed a small boy standing on the doorstep of a large church.  Apparently he has just knocked on the ornate door, for the door stands open and a clergyman with his hand on the doorknob is looking down at him.  The little boy, neck craned upward, asks, “Is God home?”

How cute, eh.  Who but a child would expect God to actually be at home in the house of God?  But, out of the mouth of babes…

So let me ask a question.  Why did God save you and me?  Most likely we answer that He saved us because we needed salvation; we realized we were bound in sin and about to get our wages (death).

And that’s true.  But let me ask another question.  Why did God save Israel out of Egypt?  We need to know this, because the story of the children of Israel coming out of Egypt and entering into the Promised Land is one of the Bible’s great building blocks.  It’s this prophetic story by which God builds our understanding of His great plan of eternal salvation in Christ.  There are other building blocks, but as we read our New Testament we discover that this one is certainly a major one.  Paul tells us that “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5.7), and this is of course a reference to the night Israel was delivered from Egypt by the Passover lamb.  Peter has the same event in mind when he tells us we have been “redeemed… with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pt. 1.19).

Then on one occasion in the wilderness when the people were bitten by poisonous serpents, God directed Moses to set up a serpent of brass on a pole.  Whoever looked up at the brazen serpent was delivered from the poison at work in his system.  One moment they were on their way to the land of the dead; the next they were in the land of the living.  Jesus Christ selects this event to open our eyes to Himself, telling us that “even so must the Son of man be lifted up (on the Cross of Calvary), that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3.15).

And so with Israel’s salvation story, God opens our eyes to our own salvation story.

Which is why I asked those questions.  Why did God save you and me?  But why did He save them?  Once we discover the answer to why He brought them out of Egyptian bondage we will have a better understanding of His objective in our own salvation.

So let’s read what God had in mind by delivering Israel from Egyptian bondage.  Here are three verses in which we have God’s reasons from His own mouth.

I am the LORD your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright (Lev. 26.13).

This is the reason that most usually comes to mind when we think of why God brought them out of Egypt.  The Israelites in Egypt were under the grievous yoke of slavery.  They cried to God in their bondage and He sent a deliverer to set them free.  By the blood of the Passover lamb He redeemed them from “the house of bondmen” (Dt. 7.8), and they were happily on their way to the Promised Land.  This was their gospel—their good news.  And here we have a close parallel to our own Gospel, the Good News of our redemption in Christ Jesus, our salvation from the bondage of sin by the blood of Christ our Passover.  We have been redeemed, we are free!  But free to do what?  Here’s another verse:

For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy (Lev. 11.45).

This second verse tells us that God brought them out of Egypt to be their God.  What did He mean by this?  Wasn’t He their God in Egypt?  Yes, but bowed down in the yoke of bondage they were not free to worship Him.  He wanted to be their God… and He explained what being their God implies.  If God is to be their God, they must be holy—separated unto Him.  This they could not be while serving Pharaoh in the iron furnace.  God liberated them to the intent that they could worship and serve Him unhindered.  And since He is a holy God, this would mean holiness on their part, something that the New Testament writers enjoin on us as well.  Peter calls us to holiness, quoting the same words God commanded Israel when they came out of Egypt.

Be ye holy, for I am holy (1 Pt. 1.16, Lev. 11.44).

This brings us to another verse.  And to get the impact of it let’s put ourselves back there in Egypt.  We have known nothing but grinding slavery all our lives, and it would take an absolute miracle to be free.  But one day there is good news making the rounds among the slaves.  And suddenly the impossible miracle is actually happening!  Oh, what a Name this mighty God is making for Himself!  He judges Egypt and brings us out of Egypt and parts the Red Sea and brings us through and utterly destroys our enemies… and we are on our way to the Promised Land rejoicing!

And we come to Sinai, and… what is Moses asking?  During the time of the giving of the law at Sinai God tells Moses we are now to bring Him an offering—gold, silver, bronze, blue, purple, scarlet, fine linen, rams skins dyes red… oil, spices, onyx stones….  What’s this all about?  We are on our way to our Canaan inheritance, but what does this great God who has delivered us have in mind?

And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them (Ex. 25.8).

Do we see open mouths and wonder on the faces of those around us?  I am sure this would have been a real jaw dropper back then.  These people had a long history with God.  He was the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.  But now what’s this?  He wants to dwell in their very midst?  This is something utterly unheard of.  Never before had this great God of their fathers mentioned anything like this.

But this, He says, is why He brought them out of Egypt.

And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them; I am the LORD their God (Ex. 29.46).

What a wonder.  Here they are, the Red Sea behind them, hearts full of expectation about the promised inheritance before them.  And how wonderful to think that the God of their fathers who just made for Himself an everlasting Name by bringing them out of Egypt would bring them into the promised inheritance.  What more could they ask?

But this was not enough for God.  He wanted to dwell in their midst on the way there.  He wanted a Sanctuary—a Holy Place—so that He the Holy God could dwell in their midst.

Fellow Christian, let us lay this to heart.  The great God who accomplished for us so great a salvation in Calvary’s cross is not content to just save us so we can live out our lives and then go happily to Heaven.

He wants to dwell in our midst on the way there.

So I can’t help asking one more question, and I wish more were asking it.  Oh, how thankful we are for the salvation we have in Christ Jesus our Lord.  But…  is God getting the desire of His heart among the saved these days?  Is God finding His Sanctuary, His Dwelling Place in our churches?  Is God actually home?