Omnipresence

God Is With Us Always. V: Be Strong and Courageous

“Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:6–9).

Moses anoints Joshua (holding spear) as his successor. Image by illustrators of the 1728 Figures de la Bible, Gerard Hoet (1648-1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt in The Hague in 1728. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The previous few articles in this series looked at worship as one of our responses to God’s continual presence with us. However, God does not want us to merely sit in church singing hymns or kneel in a corner reading the Bible and praying. As important as these are, God wants us to go where He leads us. He is with us always because He is everywhere. It is up to us to walk with Him. If we practice the presence of God wherever we go, He is still with us.

He wants us to go. He wants us to advance His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. When Jesus ascended to heaven, He commanded His apostles to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), not to sit around together reminiscing about their time with Him. They were to bring His message to those who did not meet Him.

Centuries earlier, Moses had led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. Near the end of his life, he commissioned his servant, Joshua, to complete the work of bringing the Israelites into the Promised Land. In Joshua 1:6–9, God gave the same command to Joshua three times: “Be strong and courageous.” Moses had given that instruction to Joshua earlier (Deuteronomy 31:6–7), along with a similar injunction: “The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Fear is the opposite of faith. It keeps us silent. It discourages us from doing what God commands. It may tempt us to commit other sins. Sometimes, it disguises itself as another emotion, like rage or anger.

God’s command to Joshua was grounded in His promises to the Israelites and His presence with Joshua. Joshua had served Moses for many years: as a personal assistant, military leader, spy, etc. Eventually, Joshua and another man, Caleb, were the last two men alive who had escaped Egypt as adults. (See Numbers 13 and 14 to see why this happened. Joshua and Caleb were part of a 12-man mission to spy out the Promised Land. The then other spies believed that the Israelites would be destroyed if they tried to enter the land. Joshua and Caleb believed God would give them the land. Since the Israelites sided with the pessimistic spies and did not trust God. they were sentenced to 40 years of wilderness wandering until only Joshua and Caleb were left.) Joshua and Caleb had endured 40 years of God’s discipline because of the faithlessness of their 10 colleagues.

Joshua accompanies Moses down Mt. Sinai after receiving the Ten Commandments. Image by illustrators of the 1890 Holman Bible. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Joshua had followed Moses through the Red Sea. He had seen all the miracles God wrought throughout their journeys. But, he had also endured decades of disappointment. After 40 years of trusting Moses to hear from God and give them direction, suddenly everybody was looking to Joshua for guidance. He had seen how often the Israelites rebelled against God and Moses in the wilderness. Would they rebel against him? Would God change His mind and not lead the Israelites into the land He had promised to give them? Joshua could be guided by God’s promises or by past difficulties.

It takes courage to break free from the past. It takes courage to embrace second and third chances when God gives them. It takes courage to serve God. It takes courage to trust God’s leadership, wisdom, and power when the situation looks impossible. Joshua would need that courage.

To build courage and strength, Joshua would need to remind himself continually about God’s presence, promises, and precepts. This is why God repeatedly juxtaposed His commands to be strong and courageous with injunctions regarding His Word:

  • “{B}e careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.” Know God’s Word so that you can do God’s will.
  • “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth….” Keep speaking God’s Word every chance you get.
  • “{Y}ou shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it….” Let God’s Word fill your mind so that you know what to do in every circumstance.

God calls us to be strong and courageous. If we want to receive God’s blessings and see His perfect will in our lives, we must obey His will. We have to be strong and courageous to do so. If we want to gain strength and courage, we must know that God is with us, that He has promised us abundant life in Jesus’ name, and we must know what He wants us to do. Boldness, wisdom, courage, and strength are all necessary if we wish to experience the blessings of God’s presence and power in our lives.

The Serenity Prayer, which is recited at many Twelve-Step meetings, says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Let us seek courage from God so that we can change the things He is calling us to change.

Do you have any thoughts about God’s command to be strong and courageous? Feel free to share by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, Omnipresence | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Is With Us Always: IV. Sacred Space, Sacred Time

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Solomon dedicates the temple. By James Tissot (1836-1902), public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Our previous post reminded us that God is everywhere and that we can worship Him everywhere. Some people find locations that have strong spiritual significance in their lives, which become “thin spaces” where they encounter God in a powerful way.

Jacob’s thin space, where he had a dream in which God promised to be with him throughout his journey, eventually became a prominent place of worship for his descendants, Bethel (Hebrew for “the house of God”). We can indeed meet God anywhere, but sometimes God’s people are inspired to set a sacred space apart specifically to worship Him.

Centuries later, one of Jacob’s descendants, King Solomon, built a temple in Jerusalem. This became the place to worship God. The Scripture verse above is part of the prayer he said while dedicating the temple.

Solomon acknowledged that his building, no matter how grandiose it was, could not contain God. The Lord is bigger than the universe. If the universe cannot contain Him, neither can a building that was only about 90 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 45 feet high.

Artist’s rendering of ancient Jerusalem with the temple. Public domain, from the Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.

So, why would God have commanded Solomon to build a temple? Why would He want us to gather in churches now? Should we have church buildings?

First of all, we need to worship together:

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23–25).

The Christian life is best lived in community. When life gets difficult and the entire world seems to be turning against the believer, we need each other. We need to stimulate one another to love and good deeds; we need to be challenged; we need to be encouraged. We need reminders that our God is real. Without fellowship—without recognizing that my God is the same God my brothers and sisters in Christ worship—I can easily begin to worship a figment of my imagination, a god that I have created in my own image.

We need each other. We need sacred time and sacred space to worship together. Ideally, a church building will be a sacred space that God’s people have set apart to remind ourselves that He is always present. We can indeed worship God anywhere, but those who have met God in a church setting will be more likely to seek His presence outside church.

It will be a sacred space, set apart specifically for His worship. A sad feature of much modern worship is the way it can resemble a concert or a lecture. Many churches, in an attempt to seem “relevant” to the culture, replace the altar with a stage. The worship band is front and center. The pastor takes the microphone and takes center stage after the lead singer is finished. They are the stars. Other churches are set up to look like a lecture hall, well-suited for an introductory psychology course in college. One is a concert where the audience is entertained; the other is a lecture where the audience is instructed and informed. A person is the center of attention. There is no cross, no altar. The minister has claimed the central focus that should belong to God alone.

Interior of St. Patrick’s Church, a small church in Kickapoo, IL. A church does not have to be elaborate to be a sacred space to worship God. Photo by Arthur Greenberg, Environmental Protection Agency. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I would encourage all pastors and worship leaders to look at their worship space and ask, “Is God really the center of attention?” Let them pray like John the Baptist: “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30). Let that sacred space be a reminder that we worship a God Whose glory far exceeds all that we can imagine, One Who is worthy of all our attention.

We need sacred time as well. Yes, we can and should worship God anytime—not only on Sunday morning. In the Old Testament, God told the Israelites to hold several “holy convocations.” Some were annual, including the first and last days of Passover, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), Rosh Hashanah (the Feast of Trumpets), and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). However, every Sabbath was also a holy convocation. While the Sabbath was a day of rest, it was also a time for God’s people to gather together.

God’s children still need space and time. Corporate worship serves several important purposes for our daily lives:

First, it reminds us that God is holy. He is not to be taken lightly but deserves all of our devotion.

Second, it reminds us that all of our lives belong to Him. My worship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, in the house of the Lord, begins my week. It also propels my life for the rest of the week. It sets the tone for my everyday life.

Third, it reminds us that everything else belongs to God as well. A church building is sacred because God’s people have set it apart for His worship. God’s children can set aside other parts of our world as holy ground.

Your living room, including its television, can be holy ground. Your computer can be holy ground. Your desk at work can be holy ground; even if you cannot pray or read your Bible there, you can do your work “as unto the Lord.”

Let our daily walk with Jesus be grounded in worship on holy ground with His people in such a way that our worship in church guides our lives throughout the week.

How has holy ground and holy time shaped your daily walk with Jesus? Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, Omnipresence | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Is With Us Always: III. Holy Ground

“He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’” (Genesis 28:12–17; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Version).

Have you ever experienced God in such a powerful way that the location seemed to be holy ground? A popular worship song of the 1970s and 1980s rejoiced that “We are standing on holy ground, and I know that there are angels all around.” Early in my relationship with Christ, I assumed such holy ground was always a house of worship. Since then, I have found other “holy ground” locations.

One particular location was a Catholic retreat center in the Hudson Valley, where my church held several retreats. Mount Saint Alphonsus had a magnificent chapel and incredible places of worship. However, the grounds around the building were where I would most meet God. I would often refer to these grounds as “the New York annex of heaven” because I always seemed to meet God there: particularly sitting by the river. There was nothing particularly unique about the location, but people came there expecting to meet God, so He did not disappoint them.

The retreat center at Mount Saint Alphonsus, Esopus, NY. Photo by the author.

The ancient Celts had a term, “thin spaces.” They believed there were places where the veil between the physical world and the spiritual realm was very thin and supernatural spiritual experiences could be expected there. For me, Mount Saint Alphonsus was a thin space. Was the place inherently holy? Maybe not; but the property had been set apart for the Lord’s service in 1907, people went there expecting to meet God, and He will honor an expectant, receptive heart wherever He finds it. For those of us who devoted a weekend to meet with God, that land became holy ground. (Sadly, the retreat center closed in 2012 due to very natural-world-type financial difficulties.)

The entire earth belongs to God (Psalms 24:1). Any ground can be holy when we acknowledge Him there. Any space can be thin. Perhaps at least part of the reason why so many Christians feel God’s presence when they visit Israel is that they come expecting to meet Jesus in His earthly homeland. For those of us who may not get that opportunity, any place can be holy ground: a favorite campground; a quiet place along a shoreline; or any location where a significant moment in your life occurred. The spot on the boardwalk where my best friend and I accepted salvation through faith in Jesus may have been just a nice place to take a walk in the summer for most people, but to this day, I cannot go there without remembering that I met God in a powerful way there. For me, that part of the boardwalk becomes holy ground, no matter how other people approach it.

The Book of Genesis recounts several occasions where the patriarchs built altars to remember an encounter with God. One such case was the story of Jacob. He had tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing he had intended to give to Jacob’s fraternal twin brother, Esau. Now, Esau was furious and intent on killing him. So, Jacob was fleeing from his family’s home to seek refuge with his mother’s family in Haran, about 400 miles away. Along the way, as we read in the scripture passage above, God met him in a vision while he slept.

An artist’s rendering of Jacob’s dream, from Figures de la Bible, Gerard Hoet (1648-1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt in The Hague in 1728. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In that vision, God reminded Jacob that He would be with him always. Even though Jacob was now isolated from his parents—in fact, from everybody and everything he had ever known—he was not away from God. The God he worshiped was not restricted to Beersheba. He was not limited to the shrines or altars where Jacob’s ancestors had worshiped Him. God assured Jacob, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” The covenant God had made with Jacob’s grandfather Abraham stood secure, no matter where Jacob went.

Because of this encounter, Jacob recognized the place as holy ground. He assumed that he had slept at the very gate of heaven. The location, a town called Luz, may have been just an ordinary place. Jacob was resting his head on an ordinary stone. However, he had an extraordinary encounter with God.

There is only one reasonable response when God appears to us and hallows the ground on which we stand. We must worship Him. Jacob set up his stone as an altar. The ordinary rock became a place to worship God. Centuries later, his descendants, the Israelites, continued to worship God there. Luz became known as “Bethel,” the house of God. Centuries later, it was one of the most popular places to worship God before the temple was built in Jerusalem.

Perhaps we cannot force God’s hand and tell Him where He can give us our life-changing revelations. But, we can make ourselves ready to receive His presence and blessings. We can set aside sacred time and sacred places in our everyday lives to meet with Him. He will meet us wherever we choose to meet Him. Pick a time every day; find a place to worship Him in prayer and Bible reading; and consecrate that time and place. Choose holy ground, and God will choose to meet with you.

Do you have a particular “holy ground” or “thin space” where you encounter the Lord regularly? Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, Omnipresence | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

God Is With Us Always: II. Presence, Power, Purpose

“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16–20; all Scripture quotations from the New American Standard Version).

Stained glass window of the Great Commission, at the Cathedral Parish of St. Patrick in El Paso, via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The Great Commission seems to be a timely passage for several reasons. First, this article is appearing online on Trinity Sunday, the day that many churches celebrate God’s eternal existence as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Second, it fits well with a series about how “God Is With Us Always.” Third, it guides us during a time of chaos and conflict.

The disciples had endured extreme ups and downs in the weeks before the ascension. Less than seven weeks earlier, they entered Jerusalem with Jesus while crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). Some probably thought Jesus would cast out the Romans, sit on an earthly throne, and assign them prominent offices in His new kingdom. Four days later, those hopes were shattered as Jesus was arrested. The next day, He was crucified; of all the disciples, only John dared to stay nearby until the painful end. Their grief soon gave way to joy, and perhaps a lot of confusion, when Jesus rose from the grave. Over the next 40 days, He paid them periodic unexpected visits. While they were thrilled that He was alive, were they confused that He just showed up for a quick visit and then left? Life was not the same for them. It was obvious that they could not go back to their old life, but it was not yet obvious what their “new normal” would be.

Shortly before His ascension, the last time His disciples would see Him on earth, Jesus described the new normal for them: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

For three years, they had spent a lot of time with Jesus. His presence was real: they could feel it; they could expect it; they probably always knew where He was. But, during those three years, His presence was limited to a particular location. He could not be in Nazareth and Jerusalem at the same time. To be with Jesus, they had to stay in one place.

However, Jesus is no longer limited by place. “I am with you always.” No matter where we are, Jesus is with us. He can be in Nazareth, Jerusalem, Long Island, or any place on earth at the same time. Wherever God’s people dwell, Jesus is with them.

Jesus is not limited by time. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” His death, resurrection, and ascension occurred nearly 2000 years ago, but He is still present among His people. We can still teach people to obey all that He commanded His disciples because He is still with us. Times have changed, technologies have developed, and societies have risen and fallen, but Jesus is still with us.

The Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is with us wherever we go. We may not see Him now, but we can be certain that He is with us because He has sent us His Spirit:

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:16–20).

The disciples had seen Jesus exercising divine power for three years because the Holy Spirit was upon Him. Whether they realized it or not, they knew the other “Helper” (some translations say “counselor,” “advocate,” or another term; the Greek word “parakletos” does not have a specific English translation). Although Jesus would no longer be with them physically, His Spirit would be in them. The Spirit who, like Jesus, is God, would abide within each of His disciples, and this promise lasts to this day. Therefore, we can know that Jesus is in the Father, we are in Him, and He is in us because His Spirit dwells within us.

He dwells in us in power. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. Therefore, He sends us as His delegates to minister in His name. The Holy Spirit within us gives all the power that we need to His work.

Jesus sends us with a purpose: To preach the Gospel. He sends us forth to make disciples and baptize them in His name. His message of salvation should be our core message.

We live in troubled times. Over the last few months, we have been ordered to take drastic action to slow the spread of a deadly virus. Just as local communities were beginning to reopen businesses and loosen restrictions, protests and riots in response to a case of police brutality unleashed new chaos and confusion in our lives. Many no longer wonder “When will it end?” Instead, they ask, “Will it ever end? Will life ever return to normal?”

God has not given His people a spirit of fear or timidity, but one of power, love, and discipline or a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). If the world around us is all we have, we should be afraid. If we place our faith in our political leaders, we should be really afraid. If we rely on our efforts to solve society’s problems, we will be powerless. If we hear the messages that are being shouted from 24-hour cable news channels, we will be driven to hatred. The news can drive us to despair, defeat, depression, discouragement, and so on.

The world needs to hear the Gospel now! Jesus sends us with a message. We must repent of the idolatry of exalting our political heroes and media pundits as if they have the answer. People need the power of God to do what is right. We need the love of God to love our neighbors as ourselves, including the following neighbors: those who are not like us, those who may find it hard to like us, and even those whom we may never meet face to face.

Jesus has given us a message that provides answers to society’s problems now as it did 2000 years ago. Let us go forth and change the world for His glory. He is with us always, He gives us the power to do His work, and He has sent us in His name.

How have you personally answered Jesus’ call to share His Gospel? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

[If you do not have a place to worship, you may visit Cathedral Church of the Intercessor at http://live.intercessorchurch.com; services stream at 9:30 and 11:30 AM on Sundays, 12:00 noon on weekdays, and 6:00 PM Saturday evening (all times ET).]

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Majestic Attributes, Omnipresence | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Is With Us Always. I.

“Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me” (Psalm 139:7–10; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

“‘Am I a God who is near,’ declares the LORD, ‘And not a God far off? Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:23–24).

Matthew 28-20 P8100007
A marker with Matthew 28:20 engraved on it, outside the Valparaiso University Chapel of the Resurrection, Valparaiso, IN. Photo by Chris Light via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons 4.0 license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0).

In the next few posts, I would like to look at the last of God’s “omni” attributes. God is omnipresent—always present—just as He is also omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing).

The Bible usually mentions God’s omnipresence in the context of His relationship with His people. It is intricately tied to His nature as the Creator of all things, but His Word usually mentions it when He speaks to His people.

Psalm 139, which we also quoted in our discussion of God’s omniscience, speaks also of His presence everywhere. There is no place where we can escape from God’s presence. Of course, He is in heaven. The Psalmist tells us that God is also in Sheol, the grave or, as some translations put it, hell. You cannot go so high or so low that God is not there with you.

You cannot flee across the ocean to escape from God. Many of Israel’s neighbors believed their gods were tied to a particular location. Thus, YHWH—the Lord, the God of Israel—would supposedly be limited to the land where His people dwelt. He would be especially connected to His temple in Jerusalem. As the prophet Jonah discovered, God was not bound by location: If he tried to escape, God would follow him across the Mediterranean Sea, then into the sea, and into the belly of a whale, before leading him to the pagan land of Assyria. God was everywhere; there was no way to escape. That is still the case today.

We can always trust God to fulfill His promises because He is always present. He never changes. He will not go back on His Word, and He will always be available to do what He said He would.

We may be tempted to lose sight of God’s promises during difficult times. Many are becoming discouraged or distracted. All we hear about on the news these days is covid-19. One would think that this virus is omnipotent and omnipresent, but it is not. God is all-powerful. God is everywhere. The virus may be in many places, but it does not have the whole world in its hands, and it can and will be defeated.

Do you think you have wandered too far from God’s will? You cannot wander too far from His presence.

Does God seem distant when the world’s crises surround you? He is with you in whatever storm, flood, or valley you find yourself in.

God is with you. Reach out to Him. Trust that He is with you. Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). You are not alone. God is always present.

How has the assurance that God is always present helped you in your life? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below and sharing your ideas or experiences.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

[If you do not have a place to worship, you may visit Cathedral Church of the Intercessor at http://live.intercessorchurch.com; services stream at 9:30 and 11:30 AM on Sundays, 12:00 noon on weekdays, and 6:00 PM Saturday evening (all times ET).]

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, Omnipotence, Omnipresence | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: