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Is God With Us Or Not?

In preaching themes like Christ Vicarious sacrifice for humanity’s atonement, Perichoresis (the Divine Dance) to which we are all invited to participate, and the intimate blessings of being abole to know that we are “liked, loved, accepted, included and adopted by God,” I am really attempting to answer one key theological question:  “Is God with us, or not?”

I spoke about this in the sermon preached on September 28, 2014, at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, VA.

 You can watch the video below.  A podcast can be downloaded at the church website:  Patterson Avenue Baptist Church Below the video, you will find a copy of the manuscript prepared in advance of the sermon. Whenever you visit a blog, be kind to the blog publisher.  If you find a post helpful, inspirational, or even a bit controversial, PLEASE SHARE via social media.  There are several links on this page to make such SHARING much easier.

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Is God With Us Or Not?

Philippians 2:1-13

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,  being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,  he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,  in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,  to the glory of God the Father. 

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

 

 

I’ve been doing an inventory of my theological thinking in recent weeks. I have been exploring the doctrinal statements and biblical themes that appear often in the thoughts I think, the prayers I pray, and the words I say.  I have gathered up many of the words and phrases you have heard me repeat as I have stood in this spot to preach and to teach.

You’ve heard me mention the Greek word Perichoresis.  Used by ancient church elders and contemporary theologians alike, this word speaks to the relationship that exists between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The word means to spin about or to twirl as if in a dance.  That’s the style of relationship that exists within God.  It’s a Divine dance. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul writes that we were all “predestine” or “chosen” from “before the foundations of the world” to be a part of this relationship – this Divine dance.  We were created to be a part of the Perichoresis.

You’ve heard me describe this intimacy by saying that we are liked, loved, accepted, included, and adopted. In recent weeks we have explored in worship numerous texts that explore these concepts and use these very words to describe the quality of life we are able to enjoy as participants with God in the dance.

I have also spoke about the nature of our witness. I have spoke about what it means to live FROM God, rather than FOR God.  Far too many of us live our lives feeling a sense of burden, obligation, expectation that we must do something for God to be accepted by God.  The truth, however, is that the Christian life flows from our acceptance. For Christians, BEING always precedes and produces the end result. Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God was not out there somewhere. Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is within us. Christian living is Spirit-filled living.

You’ve also heard me speak often about grace. Grace is the one word in the scripture and theology that most accurately sums up all the rest.  The problem is that our religious culture has often diminished rather than magnified the meaning of this world.

We’ve heard grace defined in terms of the forgiveness of sins. It is that…but it is much more.  We have heard grace defined as mercy – the notion that “we don’t get what we deserve.”  Grace is mercy, but it is much more.

Grace means that we receive unimaginable and underserved blessings from God. It means that Jesus has shared his very life with us.  It means that all Jesus was and all Jesus had was imparted to us when he redeemed us from sin.

So, I have been taking this theological inventory, exploring what I say and why I say it, and in the process I have come to understand that in it all I am trying to answer one simple question:

Is God with us or not?

All of those words, phrases, doctrinal statements, and theological declarations are aimed to answer that question. “Is God present?”  “Is God for us?”  “Is God near us?”  “Is Jesus really the revelation of God as Immanuel – of God with us?”

Is God with us or not?

I am convinced that until we are able to answer that question with an faith-filled and heart-felt YES, that we will not be able to fully experience nor adequately express the hope-filled message of Christianity.

Is God with us or not?

This is one of the single most important questions to be considered for each of our worship gathering and Bible studies. If Paul is correct and we really were chosen from “before the foundation of the world” to live life as children of God – and if it is truly the “life of God” with us that brings us wholeness, peace, and passion then we have got to come to the place that we KNOW that God really is with us, among us, and for us.

A flippant nod of the head or words recited in a statement of confession will not be enough. We need to be able to answer this question with a faith-filled and heart-felt “YES, God is with us always!”

The unfortunate reality is that many of us really do not believe that God is truly with us and for us. We do not believe that God has come to bring us wholeness, peace, and passion.  So we become addicted to numerous other sources that we turn to as a fix for what ails us. We try to replace God with the gifts of God.  But all the stuff is never enough.

I am reminded that C. S. Lewis wrote: “God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.” Yet that’s what we keep seeking.

I watch people all the time who are on the move, trying to find peace and happiness in things other than God. They are on the move…

…from spouse to spouse

…from relationship to relationship

…from one pill bottle to the next

…from one cocktail to the text

…from one partner to the next

…from one job to the next

…from one congregation to the next

…from one preacher, pastor, or teacher to the next

…from one political movement to the next

…from one affinity group to the next.

They are on the move, trying to find peace, happiness, and a meaningful life, but it continually seems to elude them.

What we have to come to understand is that we were created to live life from God. From before the foundations of the world, we were created to live life in the Divine dance of grace. Your spouse will disappoint you.

Your parents will disappoint you.

Your preachers, pastors, and teachers will disappoint you.

Your career and coworkers will disappoint you.

Your friends and families and fellowships will disappoint you.

Oh, and get this, you will disappoint yourself as well.

NONE of those places or people are THE Divine. None of them are God. None of them can satisfy your hunger or give you an abundant life of meaning, purposes, and passion. If you look elsewhere other than God, you will only feel frustrated – and you’ll end up putting that frustration on others.

Is God with us or not?

This is not a new question. In fact, it is as old as the oldest stories from the Hebrew Bible.

Not long after the story of the Exodus, the people of Israel found themselves wandering in the wilderness, looking for potable water – their reserves were getting low. God had protected them from the plagues that had come upon the Egyptians.  God had protected them from Pharaoh’s advancing army.  God had guided them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night.  But the moment that the water started to run low, the people started griping and complaining. “Is God with us or not?”

The people bring their complaint to Moses who is to communicate with God. Here’s what they ask:  “. . . did you bring us out of Egypt” just “to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”

So, God puts Moses in front of a rock at Mt. Horeb. Moses strikes the rock and when he does God sends from it a stream of life-giving water.

Now you’d think that the people would have praised God and experienced greater faith as they watched the waters flow, but “no!” Instead they remain remarkably aloof and rebellious.

When you read the story you see that they defined the reality of God based on the circumstances of their lives. They thought God was only near when things were going the way they wanted.  They thought that if things were not going as they expected, God must have distance themselves from their lives. The truth is that the presence of God transcends our wants, whims, and wishes.  The truth is that the presence of God transcends our feelings as to whether our day has been good or bad.

The presence of God cannot be determined by whether we feel our needs have been met in a way that we think is best. We cannot collapse the activities of God into concerns for our own health, wealth, comfort, and happiness.

Scholar Walter Breuggemann compares Israel’s approach to God in this story with modern day commercials.  You know how commercials work.  They present a problem that causes us to feel a need that could only be address by acquiring a certain product.

Breuggemann says that people in this story looked toward God as though He was merely a “product” to solve our problems. We’re often like that, too.  When we do not get what we want, we grumble, complain, and ask that question: “Is God with us or not?”

The Israelites were not seeking God as much as they were the things that God could provide.

“Is God really with us?”

If we are getting what we want, the way we want in, and in the quality and quantities we desire, we think God is near. But if we are not getting the stuff, we grumble, gripe, complain, move on, move out, and move on our way.

“Is God really with us?”

That brings us to the reading from Philippians. Paul writes: “. . . don’t look out only for your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

Then he gives us the example of Jesus, as he says: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” the one who “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

Notice here that Jesus did not did not identify the presence of God by looking toward the fulfillment of his own desires. Rather his desires and the direction of his life were defined by God.

Jesus assumes that God is near – even in the shadow of the cross. He assumed that God is was, even in the dire circumstances of his life.  The cross did not negate the presence of God.

A difficult day does not negate the presence of God. A trip to the hospital does not negate the presence of God.  Financial stress does not negate the presence of God.  Sickness, sorrow, and suffering does not negate the presence of God.  The funeral home and graveyard do not negate the presence of God.

“Is God with us or not?”

Was God with the Israelites in the wilderness when the water started to run low?

Was God with the King David even after he had sought his own way and sinned against God?

Was God with Jonah even after he rejected God’s call and ran in the other direction?

The Psalmist declares that we can never escape the presence of God. “Even if we make our bed in the pits of hell,” the Psalmist writes, “God is still there!”
“Is God with us or not?”

Paul writes to the church as Rome, saying: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“Is God with us or not?”

Was God with Israel in the wilderness when the water ran low?

Was God still with David even after he sinned?

Was God still with Jonah after he rejected & ran from God’s call? Was the Father still with Jesus even while he hung on the cross?

 

The Psalmist declares that we can never escape the presence of God. “Even if we make our bed in the pits of hell,” the Psalmist writes, “God is still there!” “Is God with us or not?”

Is God with us with we feel lonely?

Is God with us when we feel rejected?

Is God with us when we face sorrow, struggles, and strife?

 

“Is God with us or not?”   

The answer MUST BE a faith-filled & heart-felt YES

As that becomes the case we will KNOW God is with/for us

And this is why I will keep reminding YOU (and myself) about

God’s grace – that we liked/loved/accepted/included/adopted

And while I’ll keep saying that life & witness flows FROM God

And that eternal atonement and redemption are ours in Jesus

“Is God with us or not?”

 

 

 

God Is for Us
by: C. Baxter Kruger
publisher: Perichoresis, Inc., published: 2008-01-01
ASIN: 0964546515
EAN: 9780964546516
sales rank: 237168
price: $4.96 (new), $5.50 (used)

“That God should be ‘for us’ will be a remarkable and transforming discovery for those who have grown weary under the whiplash of a theology that drives us to ‘do something for God!’ I wish that overburdened pastors could read this book before ever preaching another sermon and uninspired Christians could inhale its fragrance before going to church!”
– Ray S. Anderson
Professor of Theology and Ministry, Fuller Theological Seminary

“When I picked up God is for Us I read it through in one sitting, in an hour. I could not tear myself away from the sheer goodness of the triune God that Baxter Kruger conveys in this short book. But then I had to go back and read it carefully through again, in order to allow the deep truths to penetrate my life afresh. Here is a clearly presented exposition of the profound truth that we are created to be with God forever!” – Graham Buxton
Senior Lecturer and Head of Ministry, Tabor College, South Australia
God is for Us is a must read for those working with damaged people. As flowers open up to the sun, so wounded souls open to the light of God’s goodness. Many mentally unwell patients have been transformed by the reality of God’s goodness to us in Jesus Christ as laid out in this little book.”
-Dr. Bruce Wauchope
Medical Practioner, Bedford Clinic, Adelaide, Australia

C. Baxter Kruger is the Director of Perichoresis, an international ministry sharing the good news of our adoption in Christ with the world. He and his wife Beth have been married for 25 years and have four children. He earned his Doctor of Philosophy degree under Professor James B. Torrance in Aberdeen, Scotland. Baxter is the author of seven books, including The Great Dance and Across All Worlds, and teaches across the United States, Canada and Australia. He is an avid outdoorsman and holds two United States patents for his fishing lure designs. He is the founder and President of Mediator Lures.

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