Sunday, December 17, 2023

Practicing the Presence of God: Following the beat of the Kingdom

I recall a few weeks back I was trying to get into the mindset of Christmas, so I was watching old Christmas cartoons from the mid 1900s. A fair amount of it was oddly poisonous to my spirit. It was not edifying or encouraging to my inner man. It was a lot of self focused desire for stuff, a lot of santa claus in the red suit giving people toys. So be it. One after another was pretty bad, pretty boring, but then I came along the little drummer boy. It was made in 1968, a stop motion film about the little drummer boy meeting the baby Jesus.

In any case I watched this cartoon and found myself, laughing and kinda thinking to myself man this is stupid. But when I got to the end, something caught my attention that has stuck with me ever since. It’s something where I left feeling that I had been edified by the film, and that God had been in it after all.

The drummer boy comes to the baby Jesus and plays his drum. And everyone starts nodding along to the beat, the people around, the animals, everyone nods along to the beat.

And I realized that’s really what happened when Jesus was born into the world. The kingdom of God came with power, and with that, people became different, something fundamental changed. And a new beat took over, and spread to millions, the beat of the kingdom of God, and it’s so different from the messed up beat of the world. There is a new beat.

The ”beat” of God is what true Christians have, they walk in the mindset of Jesus Christ. They see the world around them through that lens.

There is a competing system, and that is the world system, which is under the control of the evil one. More and more it nearly forms itself into an opposing religion, another all encompassing way of seeing reality.

It vys for the hearts and minds of lost humanity, and claims to be a way out for humanity. Just as Christianity claims to be a way out for humanity.

Like any radio station, we can only tune in to the station if we’re on the right channel. If I want to listen to K-Love and I’m on 107.9 it’s not going to work. I need to turn over to 89.1.

Similarly, you will follow the beat of that which you’re tuned into. If you’re tuned into the world system, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, PBS, NPR, Ny times, Washington post, major academic institutions, political groups, television, Hollywood, celebrity gossip, then you will be in fact tuned into the world system, and you’ll walk in step with the world system. It will dictate how you think, what you think about, and what causes and effort you focus on in the world.

Similarly, if you tune in to the Bible, prayer, daily devotionals, sermons on Youtube, biblical Christian speakers, Christian books, Christian media, Christian newspapers and websites, then you’ll be tuned into God’s system. If you listen to the prophets you’ll be aware of prophecy. If you listen to biblical teachings, you’ll have biblical knowledge. If you study end times, you’ll have knowledge on such things. That’s a good vein to be in. But you can be tuned into the body of Christ, and still not find yourself in step with God’s plan and purpose for your life.

There is a lot of false doctrine out there in the body of Christ, from once saved always saved to cessationism, to Calvinism itself, so we do really have to be careful what teachers we’re listening to in the body of Christ. Because we may just be led astray, if we’re not careful.

To really be in alignment with God’s purposes and plans you need to do something mentioned in scripture, from Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

You need to learn to test and approve what God’s will is. This is done through prayer, asking God for help on a particular, specific topic, and then studying the word for clues about God’s wisdom on the topic you’re questioning about. This also takes time. Give yourself time as you seek an answer from God.

That’s all well and good, but, I’ll tell you this, you will naturally lean toward God’s will in your life if you have something very basic, which is our theme for today: The Presence of God.

If you have cultivated a lifestyle in Christ in which Christ is the center of your life, and you’re in constant communion with God throughout the day, you will walk in the cloud of the presence of God at all times, and you will naturally incline toward God’s will, God’s heart on a particular topic, and God’s purposes for your life, for your state, your nation, and the world.

It will happen naturally if you have the presence of God in your life.

I want to point us back to the theme scripture for our series, Incarnation, which says, ““The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.“ -John 1:14

We understand John to be meaning that Jesus was born as a baby, in a manger, of Mary. But I want you to see another angle: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling in us.

If you are a real born again Christian, you have Jesus Christ living within you. You are in fact part of His body, the body of Christ. You carry His presence with you. The presence of God, with you.

Jesus is here. He’s here right now. That is shocking, isn’t it? He’s with us. We can’t see God with our physical eyes. But we can sense His presence. The environment changes as we sense God move in. Often the presence of God is linked with the wind, as Jesus stated, the Spirit moves wherever it wishes…

“8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” -John 3:8

You’ll need to learn as a Christian, over time, how to attune yourself to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and what the Lord has for you to do each day. You can see the effects of the wind, the trees move, the bushes shake back and forth, but you can’t actually see the wind itself. So it is with the Holy Spirit of God, we can sense the Holy Spirit at work, we see people getting saved, we see God doing things, healing people, changing lives, our part is to catch the drift if you will, and get into alignment with what God is doing in our community.

We find our part to play in what God is doing, he leads us to that spot of where we belong in his plan, and then we get to work for His kingdom.

There are two ways where we can miss that:

First, we can miss it by assuming God doesn’t have a specific plan for our lives. This is taught in some theological circles, basically that God has no particular design for your life, that you just need to accept Jesus as your savior, then you live your life as you please, as long as it’s accordance with general biblical principles, love people, help others, pray, and so on and so forth. But they miss the fact that God has a will for their life, purposes for them to fulfill, people for them to reach. And they miss it with bad theology, that God just has a general purpose for them to simply obey basic biblical principles in their life. Wrong, he has specific purposes for you.

I used to operate that way as a Christian, I’m going to do what I want, in a biblical way. I’m going to pursue where I want to be, what I Want to be, but with biblical concepts, love forgiveness, etc. But that’s not it. There’s more, he has a plan, a specific plan, yes there is freedom in it, but there is a purpose.

Second, we can miss it by getting obsessively neurotic about His will and plan. This is me sometimes. What do I need to do right now for God? Obsessing, praying in my mind all day all the time God what do you want me to do? Where do I go next? And it becomes too much, where I drive myself crazy, and I stress myself out, and I collapse under the pressure I’m putting on myself.

The right way, to find and follow the will of God is in calmness, in prayer, in peace, in the fear of God, in a trembling at his word, and in a fervent desire within to simply be of use for his kingdom. I want to be of use for God’s purposes. Peacefully, joyously, even in difficulty, even when I’m tired or crabby. That isn’t always easy. But it’s not neurotic either.

From Acts chapter 2:1-3, “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested[a] on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

I think this scripture shows us how to walk in the will of God. First, the disciples were gathered on Pentecost. Jesus had told them to gather and wait for the Holy Spirit to come, they did as he said. They were in the right place at the right time.

Second, The presence of God filled the house where they were. God moves in and takes over.

Third, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke from the Holy Spirit.

That is your job in any encounter where God is using you. You’re prayed up, and in the word, so you end up at the right place and at the right time. You’re there. God’s presence takes over. The Holy Spirit fills you. Then you speak from the leading of the Holy Spirit to that person or in that situation.

In all that you’ve done something critical: You’ve tuned into the presence of God. And God is using you. You’re walking in the “beat” of Christ. You’re walking in step with the heart beat of God, his purpose for your life.

Three examples from the night of all nights, the night that Jesus was born…

Mary and Joseph are surrendered to the leading of God. They are also obedient to the government authorities, they are returning to Bethlehem, the town of Joseph’s family, to register for the census. Mary has submitted to God’s will for her to be pregnant with Jesus. Joseph as submitted to the fact that he should not divorce mary, but should continue with his plans to marry her. And by the will of God, Joseph and Mary find themselves in the barn, with the barn animals, Mary giving birth to Jesus in the hay. And this was exactly where God had for them to be at this moment.

Next God moves in with might and power, from Luke chapter 2, “8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

The glory of God fills that night with God’s presence. The response of the shepherds is fear. They are shocked by the presence of God. Sometimes when I sense the presence of God near me, I’m afraid. That’s natural. Other times when I sense the presence of God, I’m filled wit joy. The shepherds go from fear, to joy. That joy leads to praise, “20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

Notice also the shepherds joined with Mary and Joseph in obedience to God’s leading. They went where they were told to go.

I want you to notice that, obedience. It’s huge. Many, many people here who come through the salvation army, I can tell there is a calling over their life. They are called by God to ministry, to service, to the body of Christ. But they are in a state of rebellion against that calling, against God, and they are resisting his leading. My part is to encourage them to simply stop fighting it and embrace God’s calling. But, many walk opposed to it. If you want to be different, do the radical thing, obey God. Simply, like a child. The childlike mindset will inherit the kingdom of God.

Third example, the wise men, gentile wise men, seek after God, and come to find Jesus in the manger.

It says in Matthew 2, 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

These men are actively following the leading of God in their lives. What a rare thing! They are following as God leads, they are tuned in to the signal from God on what to do and how to live.

As a result God does lead them. Just like the Holy Spirit leads us as Christians, to do God’s will, so at the same time, the star leads these wise men to exactly where they belong, at the feet of Jesus. In the same way time and again the Holy spirit will lead us correctly, exactly where we belong.

And this process of being led by God, leads them to great joy. It ends in great joy. And this great joy leads them to worship. And to offer their gifts and talents to God’s service. They give to Jesus, gold, frankincense and myrrh. Similarly we who serve God in the body of Christ offer our gifts and talents to God, for his glory.

Challenge: Are you truly led by the Spirit of God? Do you experience God’s presence in your life? Or do you always find yourself distracted by other things?

Do you do your own thing? Or do you let God use you?

Let’s review:

1. Walk by a different drum – don’t submit to the world, follow God’s leading

2. Test and approve what God’s will is for you

3. Avoid common pitfalls in discerning God’s will (self-driven life, neurotic attempts to follow)

4. Through prayer and scripture discern God’s will

5. Obey God as Joseph and Mary did

6. Encounter God as the shepherds did

7. Rejoice in God as the Wise men did