NEARNESS TO GOD

Ps.73:28 – But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works.

The Psalmist recognized his need for God. He concluded that being in God’s manifest presence was the “good” in his life. This revelation changes the emphasis of your life. He is not talking about a one time event or even occasional experiences, he is describing a walk with the Lord. Here is how Montagu Villiers describes this way of life.

“To draw near to God. It is not one isolated act. It is nor merely turning to God, and saying, “I have come to him.” The expression is draw. It is not a single act; it is the drawing, the coming, the habitual walk, going on, and on, and on, so long as we are on earth. It is, therefore, an habitual religion which must be pressed and enforced upon us.”

That was the lesson of Enoch, Enoch walked with God and God took him. Tasting the goodness of God puts us on a new track in life, we are now on a pursuit that is only content in nearness to Him. Charles Spurgeon also spoke of the blessing of being near, check this out.

“The greater our nearness to God, the less we are affected by the attractions and distractions of earth. Access into the most holy place is a great privilege, and a cure for a multitude of ills. It is good for all saints, it is good for me in particular; it is always good, and always will be good for me to approach the greatest good, the source of all good, even God himself. I have put my trust in the Lord God.”

Notice what Spurgeon said, not only is His presence the source of all good, it is also a cure for a multitude of ills. Much of our struggle in life starts with being discontent. That malady leads to all sorts of bad choices; sexual activity outside of marriage, consumption of alcohol, drug and substance abuse, and even a lust after the riches and treasures of this world. Yes, restless hearts wandering through life, drinking from the wrong wells. Jesus taught us to focus our hunger and thirst toward Him. It is in the nearness of God that our souls find contentment and finally begin to rest.

THE RIVER IS HERE

 

Psa. 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

As much as things seem to change they never really do. I was struck recently reading one of Martin Luther’s sermons from the 1500’s. He was expressing frustration that the people in church were treating the presence of the Lord in church as common or ordinary. He sounded like he was in utter shock. How could anyone treat this amazing being, the Holy Spirit as just insignificant. Jonathan Edwards experienced a similar feeling in the 1700’s, he couldn’t believe it when his church became apparently bored with the fact that God was in their midst. He preached a sermon about the happiness we have in God’s presence as a response to their apparent apathy. Here is an excerpt from that sermon.

“The river that supplies the city of God, is a full and never-failing stream: there is enough, and it never is dry. And they that trust in God, and whose hope the Lord is, they shall be like trees “planted by the waters that spreads forth her roots, and shall not see when heat comes, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, nor shall cease from yielding fruit”. God has promised that he will never fail them, nor forsake them. The people that has God amongst them, they have the fountain of all good in the midst of them. There is a full fountain, indeed an inexhaustible and infinite fountain, enough for the supply of everyone, under all their circumstances and necessities: whatever anyone wants, he may go to this fountain, and there he may have a supply. Such a people that have this God amongst them, may glory in him, and say, “The Lord is our shepherd; we shall not want…”
At the end of the day we are all only looking for happiness. The stunning thing about our Christian faith, it is the source of all of our happiness, not the experiences or possessions of this world. It’s not a new car (or in Edwards day, a new horse), or a new job, or moving to another city, or finding a new church. That may be where we begin our search but our joy, the kind that lasts, can only be found in Him. Don’t let yourself be counted among those who are bored and treat the Lord’s presence as common. You can be one that lives in stunned silence in His presence.

MORE THAN YOU THINK

Psa. 73:25 Whom have I in heaven but you?

And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

David really got it! He could have lost everything and still been happy. He had learned to be happy in exile or to be happy in the King’s palace. What was the source of his joy? He tells us clearly in today’s verse; God Himself was David’s joy. It wasn’t because the Lord had given him victories, great wealth, unprecedented talents, or even the King’s throne. David had more than all of those gifts, he had God Himself in his life. Paul said the same thing. He said he had learned the secret of happiness. He was happy in front of crowds and just as happy in prison. You say you don’t believe it? Maybe that’s because you haven’t tasted what David or Paul had tasted. The good news is that you can. Here is how Jonathan Edwards described this happiness.

“When so great and holy a God dwells among a people, he not only able to supply them with all good, but he himself is the sum of all good. God is theirs, and therefore they are happy, if they have nothing else. If all other things fail, the enjoyment of God is sufficient to make them completely happy. They that have God for their portion, they have a sufficient portion. Such a people may well glory in their portion, and make their “boast in the Lord” [Psalms 34:2], and say, “The Lord is the portion of our inheritance and our cup: thou maintains our lot. The lines are fallen unto us in pleasant places” [Psalms 16:5–6]. “Whom have we in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that we desire beside thee” [Psalms 73:25].”

This is that unexplainable aspect of our Christian faith. There are some things so special that they can’t be explained; they have to be experienced for ourselves. I thought I knew about the anointing and even wrote a book about the Holy Spirit in my early days as a minister. That was good but I really had no idea what was really available to us. Today, I at least know enough to tell you that your thinking and my thinking is way to small. The Lord is more real, more powerful, more available, and more indescribable than we can imagine. Did I say more available? Absolutely!!! Draw near and you may get more than you think.

AM I ENOUGH?

Psa. 73:25 Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.

I can remember laying on the floor at the end of a morning service in our church on a Monday afternoon in September of 1994. I was enjoying this new season of God’s manifest presence when the voice of The Lord began to pose a question in my heart. “Am I enough for you?” I thought instantly, “Of course You are Lord”. But He wouldn’t stop. The question kept resounding in my heart. “Am I really enough? If there is nothing else? If you no longer have this church, if your church never grows, if some of your secret desires and prayers are never realized, am I really enough?” I finally got it. I had always connected God to my success and His many blessings but He was talking a different language. He was on another topic. For the first time I was seeing Him as the treasure, He was the answered prayer, He was the object of my desires”. This changes everything. He was the object of my joy, not what He does or provides. This is the secret of contentment Paul spoke of to the Phillipian church from his imprisonment in Rome. Here is how Joseph Caryl describes his value of God.

“What have we in heaven but God? What’s joy without God? What’s glory without God? What’s all the furniture and riches, all the delicacies, yea, all the diadems of heaven, without the God of heaven? If God should say to the saints, Here is heaven, take it amongst you, but I will withdraw myself, how would they weep over heaven itself, and make it a Baca, a valley of tears indeed. Heaven is not heaven unless we enjoy God. It is the presence of God which makes heaven: glory is but our nearest being unto God. As Mephibosheth replied, when David told him, “I have said, thou and Ziba divide the land:” “Let him take all, if he will,” saith Mephibosheth, I do not so much regard the land as I regard thy presence; “Let him take all, forasmuch as my lord the king is come again in peace to his own house,” where I may enjoy him. So if God should say to the saints, Take heaven amongst you, and withdraw himself, they would even say, Nay, let the world take heaven, if they will, if we may not have thee in heaven, heaven will but be an earth, or rather but a hell to us.”

This is the very definition of freedom. It is the worries, fears, and desires of this world that enslaves us and ultimately steals the joys it has promised us. I was tapping to a new day of freedom on the floor that glorious Monday afternoon. All of the things that had troubled me for so long lost their control over my life. I finally had the answer to the Lord’s question. Yes Lord, you are enough and much more than enough for me!!!!

TURN ON THE LIGHTS

TURN ON THE LIGHTS

Psa. 73:25-26 Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever

Parris and I went to our first Super Bowl party this year (that’s kind of an inside joke). We ate too much food and watched a game we weren’t really interested in and joked about the funny commercials like everyone else did. We were surprised at how much promo the half time show got. When half time finally came we quickly turned the television off. What was supposed to be entertainment and fun for the whole family looked strangely like old fashioned porno. It’s seems like the world keeps changing (not for the better) and the definition of entertainment and fun has become quite weird. No wonder people are not interested in the real heaven. It is quite unattractive to those who find their pleasure in other things. Here is a quote from Jonathan Edwards about the pleasures found in God.

“The Mohammedans, for instance, suppose that in heaven are to be enjoyed all manner of sensual delights and pleasures. Many things which Mohammed has feigned are to the lusts and carnal appetites of men the most agreeable that he could devise, and with them he flattered his followers. But the true saint could not contrive one more agreeable to his inclination and desires, than such as is revealed in the Word of God – a heaven of enjoying the glorious God and the Lord Jesus Christ. There he shall have all sin taken away, and shall be perfectly conformed to God; he shall spend an eternity in exalted exercises of love to Him, and in enjoyment of His love. If God were not to be enjoyed in heaven, but only vast wealth, immense treasures of silver and gold, great honor of such kind as men obtain in this world, and a fullness of the greatest sensual delights and pleasures – all these things would not make up for the want of God and Christ, and the enjoyment of them there. If heaven were empty of God, it would indeed be an empty, melancholy place. The godly have been made sensible, as to all creature-enjoyments, that they cannot satisfy the soul; and therefore nothing will content them but God. Offer a saint what you will, if you deny him God he will esteem himself miserable. God is the center of his desires; and as long as you keep his soul from its proper center it will not be at rest.”

I remember someone noted the emptiness of that Super Bowl half time extravaganza. That is the way the whole world appears once you have tasted the goodness of Christ for yourself, everything seems empty. The pursuit of pleasure in the things of this world will always leave you with a giant void in your soul. Christ alone can satisfy the soul. Would somebody please turn on the lights?!

WHY DO YOU WANT TO GO TO HEAVEN?

Psa. 73:25-26 Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.

Do yo want to go to heaven? You may think that is a really stupid question but I think it is a question we need to ponder. You may say you want to go to heaven but not just yet.
That actually reveals the truth hidden away in our hearts. It’s not that we want to go to heaven it’s just that heaven is a huge improvement on the other options. Over the last fifteen years I have been influenced dramatically by the teachings of Jonathan Edwards. He made it a habit to think about heaven on a daily basis. His focus on heaven poses some interesting questions. Listen to some of Edward’s thoughts about heaven.

“What is it which chiefly makes you desire to go to heaven when you die? Indeed some have no great desire to go to heaven. They do not care to go to hell; but if they could be safe from that, they would not much concern themselves about heaven. If it be not so with you, but you find that you have a desire after heaven, then inquire what it is for. Is the main reason, that you may be with God, have communion with him, and be conformed to him? That you may see God, and enjoy him there? Is this the consideration which keeps your hearts, and your desires, and your expectations towards heaven?”

These words can be quite disturbing if your heart is not right with the Lord. You see heaven is not about golden streets, loved ones and no more sickness or poverty. Of course all those things are part of heaven but that is not what makes heaven heaven. Heaven is heaven because Jesus is there. He is the central focus of heaven. This is why Paul said that to depart and be with Christ was better for him but for him to stay on in the flesh was better for the church.

Edwards went on to expose some of the misconceptions about heaven with these words.

The Mohammedans, for instance, suppose that in heaven are to be enjoyed all manner of sensual delights and pleasures. Many things which Mohammed has feigned are to the lusts and carnal appetites of men the most agreeable that he could devise, and with them he flattered his followers.–But the true saint could not contrive one more agreeable to his inclination and desires, than such as is revealed in the word of God; a heaven of enjoying the glorious God, and the Lord Jesus Christ. If God were not to be enjoyed in heaven, but only vast wealth, immense treasures of silver, and gold, great honor of such kind as men obtain in this world, and a as men obtain in this world, and a fulness of the greatest sensual delights and pleasures; all these things would not make up for the want of God and Christ, and the enjoyment of them there. If it were empty of God, it would indeed be an empty melancholy place.”

HOW’S THE CROWDS AND HOW’S THE MONEY

Psa. 73:25-26 Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.

What is it that really makes you happy? Is it a four day weekend or maybe a vacation at a remote Caribbean hideaway? Or maybe it would be a new car or a brand new wardrobe. For someone else it may be a house in the country or winning the lottery so that you never have to work again. For others it may be to have success in your chosen field, to have your name known for doing something exceptional. For many years as a pastor I think my happiness was totally connected to my success in ministry, you know, “how’s the crowds and how’s the money?” None of us ever really face the stark reality of what makes us happy. I did that for the first time in 1994. It was that phrase “How’s the crowds and how’s the money?” that finally got to me. That was what a pastor friend of mind asked me after he had heard that the joy of the Lord had broken out in our church in New Orleans. I hate to say it but I heard myself in his words. The Lord began to deal with me about joy and what real joy was all about. Jonathan Edwards spoke often about the source of a Christian’s joy, listen to his powerful words.

“that whatever changes a godly man passes through, he is happy; because God, who is unchangeable, is his chosen portion. Though he meet with temporal losses, and be deprived of many, yea, of all his temporal enjoyments; yet God, whom he prefers before all, still remains, and cannot be lost. While he stays in this changeable, troublesome world, he is happy; because his chosen portion, on which he builds as his main foundation for happiness, is above the world, and above all changes. And when he goes into another world, still he is happy, because that portion yet remains. Whatever he be deprived of, he cannot be deprived of his chief portion; his inheritance remains sure to him.”

Have you ever seen God as your chief portion in life? I am not talking about His gifts or His blessings, I mean God Himself. That is the dilemma I found myself in in 1994. I had to face the ugly truth that my joy had always been based on the Lord’s blessings on me and my ministry and not on God Himself. The outpouring I was experiencing was, thankfully, not only exposing my sin but also making this life of joy in Christ available to me. Before that encounter, I really I had no idea about the Lord being my portion. Now I finally understood. The crowds and the money can come and go in the church world, but the joy of the Lord is eternal.

GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER

GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER

Ps.73:17-19
Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors.

Sometimes it’s seems like living right doesn’t pay. Often you see the worldly, compromising people apparently prospering. It seems like the ungodly get away with murder. That’s exactly what David was dealing with in this Psalm. David said that he was “envious of the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked”. If we look at the way things appear, it looks like it doesn’t pay to live right, the cheaters and compromisers seem to be running ahead in this game called life, but the way things appear is not always accurate. David said that when he went into the sanctuary of God he understood. What happened in David’s sanctuary that changed his opinion? David’s sanctuary was the tent he pitched on Mount Zion that contained the ark of the covenant. In that old tent the Glory of God would come down. In the atmosphere of the eternal God, David finally understood. He saw the end of the ungodly. No one gets away with anything, there is a righteous God watching over everything. There is a day of judgement and justice ahead for all of us. Charles Spurgeon made some interesting observations on this very topic.

“The cure for envy lies in living under a constant sense of the divine presence, worshiping God and communing with Him all the day long, however long the day may seem. True religion lifts the soul into a higher region, where the judgment becomes more clear and the desires are more elevated. The more of heaven there is in our lives, the less of earth we shall covet. The fear of God casts out envy of men.”

Spurgeon went on to describe the sudden and total overthrow of the ungodly. One moment it seems like their ungodly lifestyle has paid off, in an atomic instant, total devastation.

“How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! This is an exclamation of godly wonder at the suddenness and completeness of the sinners’ overthrow. Headlong is their fall; without warning, without escape, without hope of future restoration! Despite their golden chains, and goodly apparel, death stays not for manners but hurries them away; and stern justice unbribed by their wealth hurls them into destruction.”

Have you ever been envious of the prosperity of the unrighteous? If you are like me you have not only been envious but outright angry. You have been especially angry if their prosperity came at your expense. If that’s the case, you need to take a trip to David’s tabernacle. In the atmosphere of God’s house, David saw everything clearly. Instead of being angry, you find yourself moved with compassion toward your perceived enemies. When you see the end of the wicked you’ll understand. Nobody ever gets away with murder.

GOD IS MY GOOD

GOD IS MY GOOD

Ps.73.:25,26
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Somehow, in the eighties, a good portion of the preaching came off of the rails. It seems every sermon preached (including most of mine) was focused on all of the earthly things the Lord would give us because He loved us. The sense of the message was that following God was good because it enabled us to live our best life now. The reward of spiritual choices was earthly things. The big problem with that thinking was this; earthly things can never satisfy our hungry hearts. We were made for far greater things than that. Humans were created by God with a need for eternity in our hearts, nothing less than God Himself will do for us. In the early nineties, the Lord began to pour out His Spirit on His church again. Out of that outpouring, many of us discovered that our message was wrong, God Himself was the gospel, not the good things He would do for us. During that season I was introduced to John Piper and Jonathan Edwards. Here is a quote from Piper’s book “God’s Passion for His Glory”, where he describes the God centered message of Jonathan Edwards.

“The love of God for sinners is not his making much of them, but his graciously freeing and empowering them to enjoy making much of him. As Edwards says, “God is their good.” Therefore if God would do us good, he must direct us to his worth, not ours. The truth that God’s glory and our joy in God are one radically undermines modern views of self-centered love. God-centered grace nullifies the gospel of self-esteem. Today, people typically feel loved if you make much of them and help them feel valued. The bottom line in their happiness is that they are made much of.”

I love that, the bottom line of our happiness is not that we are made much of by God, it is that we have been given God Himself as our portion in this life. One of the Christian cliches that I often think of is this, “God is good”. This is said with the expectancy of the refrain, “all the time”. Every time I hear that saying now I am reminded of the words often spoken by Jonathan Edwards in his sermons, “God is my good”. Can you see the difference? It may be subtle but it is hugely important. The “God is good” cliche rings of the self centered gospel of self esteem, God is good because He gives me what I want. When I hear “God is my good” it changes everything. I suddenly become aware that God Himself is the reward, He is the treasure hidden in a field, He is the pearl of great price, He Himself is my exceeding great reward. The next time someone greets you with “God is good” join with me in the refrain, not “all the time” but “GOD IS MY GOOD”. This changes everything.

LOVE DESIRES UNION

LOVE DESIRES UNION

Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Ps.73:25,26

We have been created in the image of God, that carries with it some unexpected surprises. Have you ever thought about the God-sized hunger for happiness and love that is inside of all of us? Inside of every human is an enormous desire for joy, or pleasure, but unlike the Lord, our desires have been twisted by the fall. We carry in us this frustrated, misguided hunger that pushes us into places we never thought we would go. Much of this passion is aimed at other humans (mostly of the opposite sex) that can never satisfy this God-sized hunger that we have churning in our belly. The good news is this, through the awakening of our souls, by the grace of God, this yearning begins to turn toward Christ. When that happens, this troubling passion becomes a blessing. It’s force is not diminished, it is just redirected. The object of our affection becomes the One who is Altogether Lovely. Jonathan Edwards spoke about this spiritual hunger for love, pay close attention to his comments.
“Love desires union. They shall therefore see this glorious God united to them, and see themselves united to him. They shall see that he is their Father, and that they are his children. They shall see God gloriously present with them; God with them; and God in them; and they in God. Love desires the possession of its object. Therefore they shall see God, even their own God. When they behold this transcendent glory of God, they shall see him as their own. When they shall see that glory, power, and wisdom of God, they shall see it as altogether engaged for them. When they shall see the beauty of God’s holiness, they shall see it as their own, for them to enjoy forever. When they see the boundless ocean of God’s goodness and grace, they shall see it to be all theirs.”
These word of Edwards make absolutely no sense to the unsaved, there is no attraction to the Lord in the lost. To those who are experiencing spiritual stirrings in their soul, He becomes simply irresistible. Like Edwards says, love desires union. What do you love? The object of your affection is ultimately what you will be joined to in this life and the life to come.