Understanding the Closeness of God

When we are dealing with the God who made everything, including every cell in our physical bodies and all the space He inhabits within our atoms – in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) – there is every justifiable reason why we might get confused about hearing His voice or experiencing His presence.  He is so close!  In fact the English word “close” does not do justice to the amazing interaction of God with those He has an intimate relationship with.

So we can often think we are just imagining things when it is in fact God speaking to us.  One of the great things to learn how to do is to recognise that still, small voice that speaks to us out of the chaos and noise of everyday life (see 1 Kings 19:11-13).  To know His presence is even more intricate.  It is so intangible, so outside of, and yet works through, our emotional state.  We forget that we were made, designed, to know these things.  God’s voice and His presence can seem so natural we can just dismiss them as our imagination.  But even our imagination was made to enhance and help us understand the voice and presence of God.

“Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 3:7, 15).  Actually, this is the nub of the matter: Do you really want to hear what God is saying to you (see John 7:17)?  Might He be saying, get out of the way and let Me work?  Possibly, though He will say it, if He has to, more graciously than that.

Leviticus! Chap. 3: Peace

So far we have seen that:

  • Leviticus 1 deals with the need for everyone to have a saviour – a sacrifice that is perfect – before we can come to God.  From the New Testament we learn that that Sacrifice is Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for us (Hebrews 8 & 9).
  • Leviticus 2 deals with our words in the presence of God.  These can be words in song, worship, prayer, preaching or writing such as I am doing now.  In order to please God with our words they should be refined (not coarse), anointed, directed to Him in prayer with no sin and not sensual – inappropriate.

In Leviticus 3 we are introduced to the peace offering and a new type: Fat.

Then he shall offer from the sacrifice of the peace offering an offering made by fire to the Lord. The fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, the two kidneys and the fat that is on them by the flanks, and the fatty lobe attached to the liver above the kidneys, he shall remove; (Leviticus 3:3-4)

Now you don’t have to be a biblical scholar to realise that fat represents excess.

Another part of the peace offering is the blood of the sacrifices poured out on the altar:

And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering, and kill it before the tabernacle of meeting; and Aaron’s sons shall sprinkle its blood all around on the altar.  (Leviticus 3:8)

Blood represents life – see Leviticus 17:11.

So the simple message of Leviticus 3 is that if you want to be at peace when you are before God offer Him your life and all your excess.  Just give it all to Him and you will have peace.  “All excess is the Lord’s” according to v. 16.

Bill Hybels has written a book called “Simplify” and others have recognised the stress we allow to accumulate with our excess.  Excess weight is an obvious one, but excess possessions including excess money also cause stress for a Christian.  Give your excess to the Lord, He will know what to do with it.

In the end it is all going to go up in smoke anyway (2 Peter 3:7).

Leviticus! Chap. 2: Worship Offerings

In chapter 2 of Leviticus there are no animal sacrifices mentioned.  Whereas chapter 1 refers to offerings related to sin, chapter 2 refers to free will offerings or offerings that are made just because of who God is, not so much what He has done.

The elements of a freewill offering (or worship) as described in Leviticus 2 are the following, all of which stand for something:

‘When anyone offers a grain offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. And he shall pour oil on it, and put frankincense on it. (Leviticus 2:1)

Grain – represents words (see the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8; also Jeremiah 23:28).

Oil – represents anointing (see Exodus 30:23-24 and James 5:14)

Frankincense – represents prayer (see Revelation 5:8)

‘No grain offering which you bring to the Lord shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey in any offering to the Lord made by fire.  (Leviticus 2:11)

Leaven – represents sin (see Matthew 16:6 and 1 Cor. 5:7)

Honey – represents sensual pleasure (see Proverbs 24:13, Song of Solomon 4:11)

And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt. (Leviticus 2:13)

Salt – represents preservation, truth (Matthew 5:13).

So we see that when we approach God with our words (spoken or sung) we need to do it in the context of anointing (represented by oil), truth (salt) and prayer (frankincense), without sin (leaven) and without sensuality (honey).  These are the basics of coming to God in prayer and worship in the Spirit (see John 4:23).

I should point out that there is nowhere in Scripture that says honey is a bad thing, quite the opposite (see e.g. Exodus 3:17) but you can have too much of it (Proverbs 25:27) and it is not relevant when you are approaching a consuming fire (Leviticus 2:11).

There is a school of thought that says that the ecstasies and obvious pleasure that many Pentecostals (in particular) experience during worship are not appropriate.  The music is too worldly these people say and the worship too sensual as a result.  As I’ve looked around the churches in Ireland over the last few years – and this applies elsewhere as well – I can see considerable division over this.

However Scripture should not be treated as a rule book. The answer to the question of whether there is too much pleasure (i.e. sensuality) in the worship songs we sing these days is not going to be answered by anyone to your satisfaction except by God.  All I would say is please don’t judge your brother or sister who takes part in these love festivals.  What they do, they do before God and He alone is judge.

The type of music played cannot be defined as sensual in terms of the rhythms, notes or beats employed.  The fact that there is a lot of sensual lyrics set to music that uses the same rhythms, notes, tones or beats is irrelevant.  There is nothing irredeemable in any type of music in my opinion.

The lyrics used on the other hand are far more important.  We could definitely argue about some of those if we wanted to.  It would seem strange though to throw out a complete genre simply because some young song writers alluded to some sensual sounding pleasures in their worship.  Perhaps it says more about the listener than the song writer if that is the approach you take.

Having said that, there is a lot of sensuality around these days.  We do need to remove it from our hearts and the many chambers of our souls if we are truly to be of those who are pure in heart and can see God (Matt. 5:8).  And that is regardless of what songs we are listening to.

The Infinitesimal Drama of the Virgin Birth

Incomprehensibly constrained to the size of a pinhead, the Lord of the Universe marches down through the ages and arrives Immanuel in a young girl’s womb.

From the first glorious image of Adam through patriarchs and kings, Matthew parades the central march of God’s history before us and brings us to a place of wonder – a few cells in a wonderful dwelling.

“Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected
So we might know that Love would go that far?”

That whole long march, funnels down and focuses like a laser on this tiny point.

Matthew 1.

Music taken from the album “Music inspired by the Story” 2011.  Song sung by Francesca Battistelli.

Worship

I believe worship is primarily presenting our bodies a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) before God.  Worship is surrendered presentation of our bodies, an out poured soul and an entering into the joy – sometimes ecstasy- of the Holy Spirit’s rejoicing in the finished work of Christ.  He spends all His time rejoicing and we enter into that when we worship.

Corporate worship is something better again.  This is worship together, ascending to the assembly of the first born in heaven, the spirits of just men made perfect and, again, the blood that speaks a better thing than Abel’s did – the vengeance was poured out on Christ and now, His blood, forgive them, oh forgive, it cries!

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.

Hebrews 12:18-25

So when we worship together we join angels and others worshiping around the world as well as those who have died in Christ.  But our focus is on the mercy seat where the blood is sprinkled (Daniel 7:13,14) and the Father is satisfied and comforted in the work His Holy Spirit is doing in His creation.  For He is making us those who lift Him up, he sits enthroned on our praises (Psalm 22:3).

The most beautiful name

Jesus is the most beautiful name of all.

Not the letters in the name or even the sound of the name itself.  No, it is His character that is the most beautiful.  The ideal image of a man as portrayed in movies by any hero strives to capture His character but never can fully.  Only Jesus has that combination of absolute authority, compassion, vulnerability and humility that comes with being the Son of God and Son of Man.

No one else can compete with Him either imagined or real.Superman

The Sea

Many years ago a preacher pointed out the curious statement at the beginning of Revelation 21:  

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.  Also there was no more sea.”

I’ve been thinking about that ever since (among other things).

Now I am going to make some bold statements about it all and back it up with some Scriptures.

  • The sea that is referred to is the one before the throne in the “old” heaven, i.e. the heaven that is there now (Rev. 4, 5).
  • This heaven is also known as the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2) and is the place where God’s throne currently is.
  • The sea (Rev. 4:6) is the way time and events on earth look like to an observer in the third heaven (Dan. 7:2,3; Rev. 13:1).  Spirits (winds) blow upon it and things are stirred up and come up out of the sea before the throne.  However the most wonderful sight is that of the spirits of men worshipping God (Hebrews 12:22-24; Rev. 15:2).

So why is there no more sea when the new heaven comes along?

Well there is no more time nor difference between the spirit and the flesh in the new heaven.  In this life the life of this mortal body is in the blood (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:11,14), in the new heaven the life of the immortal body will be in the spirit (Luke 24:39; 1 Cor. 15:44).  When we are seen in the existing heaven it is our spirits that are seen.  However in the new heaven we will be body and soul with the Lord forever.

There is also a very clear picture about being born again here.  What happens when we are born again?  Well, a baby moves from a place of breathing and living in water to breathing and living in air.  So we too, according to this picture of rising above the surface of the sea in heaven, move from death beneath the waves to life in the spirit above them.  The first time we do this is when we are raised together with Christ from death to life when we are born again.  I believe that walking in the spirit means walking on water (on the sea) which explains one of the main points of that miracle (Matthew 14:22-33; John 6:19).

So if it helps you, the next time you are worshipping God either on your own or at church imagine that your spirit is rising up out of the sea before God’s throne in the third heaven.  Because that may very well be what is actually happening (cf. Hebrews 4:16).

Format the same, experience different

I believe it is a sign that the church is being led by the Holy Spirit that I can be in worship one Sunday and be in a march across the county and the next Sunday in a love-in holding hands with angels (ok my imagination, indulge me) and knowing intimacy with the Holy Spirit as a dove (Psalm 68:13).  Yet nothing in the format of the meeting changed – same band, similar songs, mostly same congregation.  God having His way with His people.

I believe God showed me the way He sees things in a measure.  Whereas we hear the sounds and see the sights, He sees the relationships between the people.  No matter how professional the production, if  there is back biting and gossip, discord and anger God sees that.  What is pleasing to Him is the love being shared throughout the congregation.

Visions during Worship

Corporate worship where God is moving in the Spirit is amazing.  I am sure all sorts of things are happening while we worship that we are probably only dimly aware of.  For sure there is more going on than most of us realise.

This morning during worship I had a series of visions – or perhaps imaginings, maybe still valid for all that.   Hopefully the imaginings or visions are of the kind spoken of in Acts 2:17.  So here they are, judge for yourselves:

During the first part of the worship I found myself in the Spirit accompanying the Lord’s army going around Kildare from pagan high place to well taking them for the Lord.  There were not too many and the battles were not fierce though real enough for all that.  We raised some from the dead during that phase.

Afterwards I was shown another vision, this time of the religious strongholds throughout the county.  These were far more numerous and far more effective in keeping people bound in darkness.  They were like a grid upon the county, like a lattice keeping people in their graves. 

Then we got ready for battle and passed through the county breaking down the religious strongholds and releasing people out of their graves, raising them from the dead.  These battles were fierce and difficult.  Sometimes we had to fell the towers, putting a sledgehammer to the bases of them.

In the final phase there was a victory ride through the county following Our Lord on horse back, He of course on a white one.