The question isn’t, “Is God with me?”. It’s “Am I aware of his presence?”. In this message, we learn how to overcome by becoming aware of what matters most – God’s presence.
Alright, everybody. Welcome to Valley Creek Church. I am so glad that you are here with us today. We want to give a big welcome to all our campuses. Whether you’re in Denton, The Venue, Flower Mound, watching online, wherever you are in the world, we are so glad that you are here with us and I’m so glad you’re starting off 2017 with us here at Valley Creek Church. And if you happened to miss last week, last weekend we talked about our theme for the year. We said that 2017, we believe the theme that God’s giving our church is healthy relationships. That there’s going to be a divine favor, a divine grace in that area of our lives this year that if we will lean into it, God’s going to move in a profound way. And so if you weren’t here, make sure you grab one of these cards at the information center that kind of puts it all out there for you. And make sure you watch last weekend’s message because it’s going to be the theme or the thread that we’re going to go on this journey together for throughout most of 2017 in healthy relationships. And we’re going to really kind of start it this week with a new series called With.
And for the next few weeks, we’re going to talk about the presence of God in our lives and we’re kicking off our 21 days of prayer and fasting. And I really want to invite you to be a part of this with us. For the last few years, every year at the beginning of the year, we do 21 days of prayer and fasting and if you are new and you’re saying, “Okay, what is that, prayer and fasting?” Prayer is just conversation with God and fasting is just giving something up to create space in our lives to meet with him. Fasting disconnects you from the world, prayer connects you to God. And while we can’t make God move, we can always create more space in our life for him to fill. And so, I want to invite you for the next 21 days to just consider prayer and fasting with us. Like for the fasting, maybe it’s you give up a meal every single day or you give up social media or TV or entertainment or a hobby or an activity, something in your life that takes time and energy. And instead of spending the time and energy on that thing, you’ll create a hunger and a desperation in your heart for God, spend that time praying.
Talk to him, listen to him, hear what he has to say to you because God has some great things in store for you for this year. And so when you walked in, you should have gotten one of these. It kind of gives you all the details of the next 21 days. And what I want to invite you to do, if you’ve never done it before, you can text VCCFAST to 41411. You can do that now with your phone if you’ve never done it before. VCCFAST 41411 and basically what we will do, we’ll send you one text message every day for the next 21 days around prayer and fasting that will just encourage your heart and give you confidence to keep moving. And we’ll remind you that thousands of others of Valley Creekers are going on this journey as well, okay? So you can text that at any point in time. We would love for you to be a part of that. And here’s what I’ve learned as we’ve done this the last few years. What I’ve learned is that sometimes when we get into prayer and fasting, we get so focused on what we’re giving up that we forget to actually add something in. In other words, we get so focused on fasting that we actually forget to pray. Like we can get so into “I gave up social media and I can’t handle it. I haven’t had a cup of coffee in like nine days, I’m dying.” You know, like we get so focused on what we’re giving up but the whole point is to add something in.
And so this year, I want to challenge you to be more focused about what you’re adding in than what you’re actually giving up. And there’s three things in particular and that thing lays it all out there for you. First thing is this. I just want to invite you to read one chapter every single day for the next 21 days. One chapter of the Bible. It’s all laid out there for you, day-by-day, what chapter it is. You can know that everyone else is doing it with you because you see this is the Word and the wisdom of God. Jesus says, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Just like you need to eat a meal every day, you need the Word of God every day to nourish and satisfy your soul. And God writes like he speaks. So this is actually God’s voice in your life and the more you read it, the more you’ll know how to listen to his voice and he has some amazing things he wants to say to you. One chapter a day for the next 21 days, all there for you. You can do it.
Second thing I want to invite you to add into your life is to consider memorizing and meditating on five different verses, all that have to do with the series that we’re in together. But there’s something about the Bible that I think sometimes we get – we have a misconception. Here’s the deal. We don’t work on the scriptures, the scriptures work on us. Like, you don’t have to work on the Bible. The Bible works on you. You just got to get it inside of you. Hebrews 4:12, “The Word of God is living and active.” Like it’s alive, put it in your soul and it will start transforming you from the inside out. Well, how do you do that? You’ve got to memorize it. You’ve got to meditate on it. So five simple verses because Romans 12:2 says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Change the way you think and it will literally change the way you live, okay? So consider adding that into your life. And the third thing is this. I want to challenge you. Every person in this room, over the next 21 days, to take one next step on your journey with Jesus here at Valley Creek Church. If you hang out with us at all, you know our vision is to help people take the next step on their journey with Jesus.
But sometimes we’re not sure where our next step is. So we can kind of get paralyzed or get stuck. So what we’ve created is a next step journey. That if you’re not sure what your next step is, my hope is that every person in this church, whether you’ve been here for years or you just showed up today, that at some point in time, you will go through this entire journey because God has something great for you. Like I hope every one of you, you will accept Jesus as Lord and be water baptized. And then I hope you’ll engage in our gatherings and not just show up stoically with your arms crossed, but engage with faith, hope, and love. And then I hope you’ll go to our pathway classes which happen right out in the next steps room every Sunday. And it talks about who we are and what’s happening and how you can be a part of it. And I hope you’ll get in a group, that you’ll meet some other people to walk with Jesus together with. And then I hope you’ll join a serve team, because God has given you gifts and talents and abilities to impact the world around you. And then I hope you will find freedom. I hope you’ll go to our freedom gathering because freedom is not a one-time event, it’s a lifestyle.
Healthy people get healthier and free people get freer. And then as you get free, I hope you become a leader. In whatever sphere of society you may be living in, you are created by God to be a kingdom leader. And we want to help change your thinking about that, so go to leader step where we can help you. And then I hope you’ll just live a lifestyle of next steps on mission with God. You see, you have to remember, at the end of the day, we’re not trying to give you a nice church experience. We’re trying to help you become like Jesus. And that’s the greatest church experience you’ll ever have. Do you agree with that? And so my hope for you in these next 21 days is that you’ll engage, you’ll add something into your life. You can do it. This is very manageable, very bite-sized. We can all do it together. And then I hope everyday you’ll pray this one prayer. “Lord, help me be aware that you are with me.” It’s probably one of the most significant prayers you can ever pray. “Lord, help me be aware that you are with me.” Because you are never meant to be alone.
Loneliness is a sorrow the human heart was never meant to experience. And yet, if we are honest with each other, we often feel very alone. Loneliness attacks us all. There’s not a person in this room that doesn’t have to deal with loneliness. You can be lonely when you are in your bed late at night by yourself or you can be lonely in the middle of a crowd. You can be lonely on your drive to work or you can be lonely at a family gathering. You can feel alone when you have everything. You can feel alone when you have nothing. You can feel alone when you’re surrounded by people or when you have no one to call. We have all had to deal with loneliness. And if I’m honest with you, if I look back over the course of my life, I’ve struggled with loneliness. But loneliness has chased me through most of the seasons of my life and as I’ve looked back on it what I’ve discovered is that I often feel more alone when I’m around other people than I do when I’m actually by myself. In fact, as I was thinking about this, I was thinking there’s two moments in my life probably the two most lonely moments in my life. One was when I was a sophomore in college and I played college lacrosse.
Now, if you know anything about me, you know I’m kind of an all or nothing kind of guy like I’m all in or I’m all out but I don’t ride the fence, okay? And so I’m in college, I’m actually at the school to play lacrosse so I’m all in like this is why I’m there. I go to bed early. I wake up early. I train. I eat right. I work hard because this is going to be our year and we’re going to win the national championship. And so we go through the whole year practicing, playing, training, doing everything that we need to do and we get to the end of the year, we’re in the national championship game, it’s the fourth quarter, we’re ahead by a couple of goals, the horn sounds, the ref blows his whistle, we win the game and it’s like you see on TV, gloves and sticks and helmets all start going flying through the air because this is lacrosse, not field hockey people. We don’t wear skirts. We have helmets and sticks and we whack people with them. Some of you people on the south need to catch up on what lacrosse is? And so it’s all flying around and we did a big toddle and everybody is jumping and somehow we fell down and I ended up on the bottom of the pile. Can I just tell you don’t every end up on the bottom of the pile?
You literally cannot breath. And so I’m on the bottom of the pile. We’ve just won the national championship and I’m lying there and all of a sudden this loneliness just overtakes my heart. I just got what I had just spent the last five years of my life pursuing and the moment I got it, it left me feeling so alone because the truth is sometimes when you get the very thing you’ve been pursuing, it makes you feel even more lonely than you already were. One of the second moments of loneliness in my life was the weekend we opened the farm on worship center. For a few years we have prayed and sought God and cast this big vision and we’re generous and move forward to some possible thing and on the weekend we opened it, we opened up this place and thousands of people came and it was packed and it was amazing. Everyone is worshipping and they’re taking pictures and celebrating the goodness of God. We could see it and I remember one of the services I was over sitting right on the edge of the platform and everyone was still here like moving around in the room and I remember feeling so alone.
Here’s this thing that I just been leading everybody towards for the last few years and the first weekend we’re into it, I felt alone because sometimes when you spend your life doing things for God instead of with God, you’ll feel an incredible amount of loneliness in your heart. And as I’ve looked back on the pattern of my life, the truth is is that I often feel more lonely or I would say to you like this my moments of greatest success have been my moments of greatest loneliness because of different lies that I believed and I bet that if you look back on the pattern of your life, you can tell us stories of loneliness that you’ve experienced and I bet you if you look there’s a pattern that if you sat long enough and thought about it, you’ll see a pattern that emerges over and over because of some lies that you believe, things that constantly make you feel alone. But here’s the deal, you weren’t created to be alone.
In the beginnings when God created Adam and Eve, He put them in the garden that they might live in His presence. He created them to be with Him. In fact Genesis 1:28, God says, “Be fruitful and multiply.” “Fill the earth and subdue it.” He says, “Hey, we’re going to do this together like you’re my delegated authority on this earth. You’re going to rule and reign on my behalf. We’re in this together.” They knew their identity. They lived in relationship. They had purpose. It was perfect, a loving Father with His children. God walked with them and says, “In the cool of the day, they were birthed in love by a God of love to live in love.” In fact Psalms 16:11 says, “In His presence there’s fullness of joy.” The human heart is only fully alive in the presence of God. His presence was always meant to be the center piece of our lives but the moment Adam and Eve sinned and took that fruit, they were separated from God. Shame, nakedness, failure, sin, condemnation entered into the world and for the first time loneliness, the ache of loneliness penetrated the human heart. And the truth is that loneliness often makes us make bad decisions. Like if you think of that and even the first thing they do is they go and they hide and they make fig leaves and they — and all these fig leaves that cover themselves is a picture of self-righteousness, self-effort, self-works, religion. Or think about Noah. Noah gets off the boat and when he realizes he’s one of only eight people left on the earth, it says he gets drunk, gets naked, passes out in his tent and his kids find him. Let’s just agree that’s not a good day for the guy that just saved the world, right? Loneliness.
Or how about David? I mean, David — King David, yeah, the David that writes about God. He got lonely. It says he’s on his palace late at night. He’s all by himself and he’s alone. So he sees this beautiful woman named Bathsheba and he goes and gets her, another man’s wife, sleeps with her, she gets pregnant and has her husband killed. It goes from bad to worse. How about Elijah? Who thinks he’s the only person that’s actually following God. So he asked God, “God kill me. Literally take my life.” I wonder what you do when you feel lonely. We try to numb our loneliness with things that only increase it like pornography and substances and over addiction to Facebook, codependent relationships and workaholism. And the interesting thing about all those things is they may take the edge off for a moment but when it’s done, it leaves you feeling even more lonely than you already were. The things of this world just add gasoline to the fire and I would bet if you look back through your life you’ve made some of the worst decisions in your life in moments of great loneliness. And the interesting thing is the reason you can feel totally — you can be totally surrounded by people and yet feel completely alone is because you will never feel connected to others until you first know you’re connected to God. You will never feel found fully known by other people until you know you’re found by God. You see, the truth is that we’re all playing a game of hide and seek and inherently we know that like you know you’re playing hide and seek with God, only we think He’s hiding and we’re the ones that are seeking, right?
Like God, He’s hiding somewhere way off in the cosmos, this mysterious illusive God that nobody really knows much about and where He is. He is really, you know, good at finding different hiding spots and if we can try really hard to our life, we may catch one fleeting glimpse of Him and He goes from hiding place to a hiding place. But the truth is this that we’re the ones who is hiding and He is the One that is seeking. The moment Adam and Eve take the forbidden fruit, they run and they — Come on. They? And thus began the first game of hide and seek in all of human history. And it says God comes walking through the garden, “Adam, where are you?” Or how about Moses? He kills a man in anger so he runs out to the dessert and he’s hiding out as a shepherd and God comes to find Moses through the burden bush. “Moses, where are you?” Or how about David? Sleeps with Bathsheba, gets her pregnant and has her husband killed, he knows what he’s done is wrong so he’s hiding out in his palace and God comes walking through David’s life through the prophet Nathan, “David, where are you? I wonder where you’re hiding and I wonder why you’re hiding.”
You see, the truth is we’re really bad at hiding. He’s really good at seeking and He never loses. God wants to be with us more than we want to be with Him and what I’m trying to tell you is you don’t have to seek God’s presence because God’s presence is seeking you. Now, if you got a Bible, flip it over with me to Genesis 28 quick. Genesis chapter 28, this is the story of Jacob and if you know anything about Jacob, Jacob is not really a good dude like the bible paints a pretty accurate picture of Jacob. He’s a manipulator. He’s a liar. He’s a thief. He’s a deceiver. And Jacob is twin brothers with the guy named Esau. And the Bible tells us that Esau was a hairy man and Jacob was a smooth skinned man, okay? The Bible gives us all the details we’ll ever need for any story in life. And it tells us that Jacob is the younger brother so he tricks Esau out of his birth right and then as their father is getting older, Jacob because he’s the second born, he wants the blessing from the father and so because his brother is hairy, Jacob goes out and kills some goats, puts raw goatskin around his arms to go into his blind father. So when his blind father reaches out and touches his arm, he’s going to think it’s his brother so he can get the blessing. I’m just saying you desperate and deceptive if you’re wrapping raw goatskin around your arms, okay? So that’s Jacob. So he does that. He steals the birth right and the blessing. Esau finds out about it and he wants to kill Jacob so Jacob’s mother sent him fleeing to go find a wife. So in Genesis 28 we find Jacob, he’s running for his life trying to find a wife, maybe you’ve been there. Genesis 28:10, “Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran.” He’s lonely. He’s by himself and he’s hiding. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set, taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth with its top reaching to heaven and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord and He said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth and you will be spread out to the west, to the east, to the north, to the south, all the people on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land and I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised. When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it. He was afraid and said how awesome in this place. This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven. So again, here’s Jacob, a sinful, deceiving, manipulative guy. He’s on his own. He’s lonely. He’s hiding out in the dessert. Jacob isn’t thinking about God. He’s not seeking God. He don’t even want anything to do with God.
He’s living his own life, doing his own thing, going his own way. One night he goes to sleep and God shows up and interrupts Jacob’s life with presence. In that moment, God shows up and reveals Himself to Jacob and Jacob makes one of the most profound confessions anyone can ever make. Surely, God is in this place and I was not aware of it. And in that moment, he has an awakening. An awakening to the presence of God and awakening that God has always been with him and awakening that he is not alone and everything changes. And I read that story too because that’s our story. Like Jacob, we’re not always the greatest people. Sin and brokenness and manipulation and deception in our lives and we’re going about our own life, doing our own thing, going on our own way, we’re not thinking about God, let alone even seeking God often. And yet in the midst of all that work and school and kids and activities and all the things we’re a part of, God is constantly showing up trying to interrupt your life with His presence.
He’s trying to get you to be aware that He is with you. It’s kind of like my kids if I’m not paying enough attention to them, they’ll start doing crazy things to get my attention like they’ll come running through the living room with underwear on their head, you know, or those — make up some crazy dance or start throwing things at me like, “Dad, you’re not paying attention to us.” God is constantly interrupting your life, trying to get you to be aware that He is already with you. And what we learn from Jacob is that God is not with us because we are good, God is with us because He is good. Surely, God is in your marriage and you’ve just not been aware of it. Surely, God is in that job you hate and you’ve just not been aware of it. Surely, God has been in that circumstance, that sickness, that situation, that loneliness, surely God is in this church and we were just not aware of it.
You see, the question is not is God with me? It’s am I aware of His presence? It’s not is God with me? It’s am I aware of His presence? And if we’re honest, very few of us, we don’t know much about the presence of God. No one has ever taught us about it so we’re not sure if we’ve ever experienced it so we’re not really sure what to do with it and it’s easy to say, “God is with me” out of theory or intellectual knowledge of some Bible verse that you can quote but here’s the reality, God’s presence isn’t information to know. He’s a person to experience and His name is Jesus. He didn’t want you to just cognitively know. He wants to come to bring you to an awakening and awareness that he is with you and I would prescribe to you that God’s presence is simply our awareness that He is with us and revealing Himself to us. It’s all it is that we’re aware that He is constantly with us and that He is constantly revealing Himself to us in new and profound ways and like Jacob, we need an awakening to His presence in our lives.
And so there’s five ways that the bible invites us to have this awakening that I want you to try to grasp in your heart so you can have this awakening. Are you still with me on all that? Okay. A couple thoughts for you. First thing is this, where is His presence? His presence holds you together. God’s presence holds you together. Colossians 1:17, “In Him, all things hold together.” Like the presence of God is literally holding the fiber and the fabric of the universe together. In this moment, God’s presence is holding the cells, the molecules, the atoms, the DNA, the nerves, the tissues of your very body. His presence is literally physically holding you together. In fact, the chair that you’re sitting on is being held together by the presence of God and if God’s presence would be removed from it the chair would go flying apart and you would fall right to the ground. There is nothing that exists independently of God. And so when your job, your life or your marriage feels like it’s flying apart, are you aware that His presence is literally holding you together?
The second awakening you need to have is that God’s presence surrounds you. God’s presence surrounds you. Psalm 139:7, “Where can I go from Your spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?” The psalm has literally said there’s nowhere you can go to get away from the presence of God. His presence is before you, behind you, to the left of you, the right of you, above you, below you, wherever you go, there He is. There’s nowhere you can hide. There’s nowhere you can run. There’s nothing you can do. You cannot get away from the presence of God. It’s like the air we breathe. He’s all around us all the time. We’re just unaware that it’s there. But the moment it would be removed would be the first moment you would be aware of the air that’s no longer there, correct? Sometimes it’s when it’s not there that you really take notice. The Bible says we are no longer lost when he says we are found. We are no longer alone because he says he is with us. So as you’re walking through life, are you aware that God’s presence has literally gone before you and is behind you everywhere you go?
Third thing is that is his presence is literally within you. John 20:22, “Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” The moment you put your faith and your trust in Jesus, the Spirit of the Living God comes and dwells inside of you and brings you back from the dead, clearly raises you to life. The same God that brought Jesus from the grave is the same Holy Spirit that now resides inside of you. And he’s not only in you, he’s upon you. He takes up residence in your heart. 1 Corinthians 6 says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. You are bought at a price; therefore, honor God with your body.” He says, “Hey, God does not live in temples or buildings made by human hands. He lives in the hearts that he has raised from the dead.” In fact, if you can catch this, God does not live in heaven, heaven lives in God. God does not live in heaven, heaven lives in God. You say, “Well, how is that possible?” Well, Genesis 1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” So heaven actually exists in God. God does not exist in heaven. You say, “Then where does God live?” In you. He chooses to reside in you, of all the places that he could be. All the vacation resorts in the universe, God chooses your heart. Galatians 2:20, “I’ve been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, it’s Christ who lives in me.” So when you need power and wisdom and guidance, are you aware that he is literally inside of you?
The fourth thing is that his presence is in our Godly relationships. Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered, there I am also.” Jesus says that when you get together with other believers in a small group, serving team, just together with people to pray or talk and Jesus is the center of your conversation, that he himself shows up among you, that God himself will literally show up in those moments with the unique measure of his presence. It’s like Jesus brings a chair to the table and he sits down with you to bring his comfort and his compassion and his hope. This is why, for no other reason, you need to be involved with other believers on an intimate, regular basis, because if you’re not, you’re missing out on one of the most profound, unique encounters with the presence of God. Some of the greatest moments that I’ve had, the greatest experiences I’ve had with God have been in small group settings. I mean, just this week, I was in a small group, we were talking about Jesus and it’s like the presence of God just shows up. It’s like Jesus pulls up a chair and all of a sudden, he’s there and you can just feel it.
I mean, have you ever been just with another believer and you’re talking about something or they share a verse with you or something, then something just like catalyzes in your heart or brings you peace and hope? Do you know what I’m talking about? You just feel something. What is that? It’s not, “Wow, that person is really mature and awesome.” That’s the presence of Jesus showing up. So when you’re in those groups, and those serve teams with other believers, are you aware that Jesus himself has just pulled up a chair to give you everything you ever need? And the fifth thing you need to be aware of is that his presence is tangible in our worship. Psalm 22, “God inhibits the praises of his people. He is enthroned on the worship of Israel.” Two different translations there, but basically what it’s saying is this. God comes where he’s wanted. Wherever God is wanted, he will show up in that space. And what it’s telling us is that God inhabits our worship where he is enthroned upon. So when we gather like this, as a group, and we show up as the Church of Jesus and we start worshipping, even on the days we don’t want to, we raise our hands, we raise our voices, we raise our hearts, we sing songs to the Lord, what is literally happening is that your worship, by faith, is combining with everyone else’s worship in this room. And in the spiritual realm, right in the middle of the room, your worship is constructing a throne for Jesus. God is enthroned on the praises of his people. He inhabits them. When we build a throne in the spiritual realm, you got to believe this by faith, and then Jesus himself comes and sits on that throne to come and rule and reign over our lives. And wherever Jesus rules, his life will reign and he comes to take authority over the fear, the circumstances, the doubt, the sickness, the brokenness in our lives and do what only he can do. That’s worship.
That’s why sometimes you’re sitting in a worship service and all of a sudden, you start crying. Come on, it’s not [indecipherable] [27:20] people. You know what I’m talking about, right? What is that? It’s the presence of God showing up in the room. Even if you weren’t choosing to worship, other people did and his presence came and he just showed up as Lord. So when you’re worshipping or when you show up, are you aware that your worship is creating a throne? Surely, God is in this place and I was not aware of it. The question is not is God with me, it’s am I aware of his presence? And that’s our problem. We’re just unaware. We’re so focused on what’s happen gin in front of us in our lives that we miss God all around us. Like, if you’re anything like me, if I’m honest with you, I’m a pretty aloof person in my daily life. Like, I just kind of don’t notice a lot of things. Like, I’ll go to a party with my wife, we’ll walk in and within 30 seconds of walking in the door, she’s got the whole place scoped out. This person was discouraged. This person was struggling. This couple, they were fighting. Did you see that? This person over here, they needed some help. And this was happening over here. And we’ll get back in the car and she’ll tell me all of that stuff and then she’ll look at me, she’ll say, “What did you notice?” That the chips were good? I mean, I don’t know what you’re looking for here. I didn’t see much, you know.
We’ve got a running joke in our home that I can be working on something, reading, or writing or in my office or whatever, and she can literally walk in the room, sit down in the chair next to me but I’m so focused on what I’m doing that I’m completely unaware that she’s even there. And after a while, I’ll look up and she’ll be staring at me and I just kind of do one of these like, “How long have you been there?” “A while, you know. A while and you haven’t noticed.” Okay, listen, that’s what we do with God. We are so focused on our pain, our doubt, our anxiety, our worry, our fear, our circumstances, our kids, what’s happening in our life that we miss God all around us. Self-consciousness is the enemy of God awareness. Self-consciousness is the enemy of God awareness. The more I’m focused on me, the less aware of him I will be. You can see it all over the Bible. Do you remember the story of the road to Emmaus? Jesus has just been crucified, he’s dead, he’s buried, he’s gone. Here’s two disciples and they’re so heartbroken, so defeated and discouraged that they’re walking down this road to Emmaus so consumed with their discouragement that the resurrected Jesus shows up, starts walking with them, and they don’t realize it’s Jesus. Seven miles, people. Seven miles by foot, they walk with Jesus. But they’re so self-conscious about their discouragement and their doubt they can’t even become aware of the God who is walking next to them.
Or how about Peter in John 21? He’s failed Jesus to a servant girl. Jesus is dead and gone. He thinks his blue. He goes out fishing, he sits in a boat by himself and he’s so focused on self-condemnation, all the things he did wrong that the resurrected Jesus shows up on the shore and Peter can’t recognize that it’s Jesus. So self-conscious that here’s Jesus who then says at some random stranger guy, “Throw your net over the side of the boat.” They do it, it’s so full of fish, Peter still doesn’t even recognize it’s Jesus until John says, “Peter, it’s the Lord.” It kind of is funny, actually. Or think about the Israelites. They’re on their way from Egypt to the promise land. They are led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It never goes away. And they are still focused on their hunger and thirst and the battles they don’t want to fight and their fear, they miss a flaming ball that exists above them at all times, okay? How about you? What are you so focused on that you can’t see him? I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is the most ignored person in church. Go to any church on a Sunday and there’s a lot of lonely people. But you know who’s ignored even more than that? The Holy Spirit. He’s showing up trying to get our attention and saying like, “Hey, like notice me.” I mean, just let’s be honest with each other. Me too, I’ll throw myself in this. We show up, we’re just so preoccupied with ourselves. Where we got to go, what we got to do, what we’re going to have for lunch? This kid is doing this. And am I going to get that promotion this week? Are the cowboys going to win today?
Thinking about it, in the last service, someone yelled, “Yes, they are.” And I said, “Not if you’re not thinking about the Holy Spirit, they’re not.” Bad theology, but it’s funny. We get so focused on what’s in front of us that we miss him all around us. And our unawareness of God’s presence has cost us so dearly guys. It’s not just like, “Oh, that’s just cute, we should notice God more.” No, when you’re unaware of his presence, you leave this place with your insecurities and your fears and your doubts and your sicknesses and your loneliness. And he’s showing up saying, “Hey, I’m trying to interrupt your life because I’m here for you.” So notice me. I want us to be a presence-based church and a presence-based people with a constant, continual hunger for more of the awareness of God. In 2 Corinthians 4:18, “So we do not fix our eyes on what is seen.” Because who cares what you can see with your eyes? “But what is unseen, for what is seen in temporary.” It’s going to go away tomorrow. “But what is unseen is eternal. It’s what matters and it’s called it’s the presence of God. We got to change our perspective, change our look, change what we’re thinking about faith is the belief that God is with me even if I can’t feel him. And I don’t know about you, but I would rather be more aware of the God that’s with me than the world that’s against me.
And if we’re honest, we are consumed with a world that’s against us. And the more you think about the world that’s against you, the bigger it will grow, the more overwhelming it will become and the more it will suck you into its darkness. I want to be convinced that I have a God who is with me. And by faith, you get to pick which ones of those you’re looking at. Are you with me on that? You see what I think is so cool about Jacob’s dream is that if you look at it in Genesis 28, it says, “Jacob has this dream and he sees staircase going from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending upon it.” What is that a prophetic picture of? Jesus. Hang on on that verse, you blew me on that one. You got ahead of me. It’s a prophetic picture of Jesus. And really what we learn this moment is that this isn’t Jacob’s dream, it’s God’s dream for humanity. God’s dream for humanity is this that we would live under an open heaven in Jesus. It’s a prophetic picture of what was to come because John 1, now you can put it up there, Jesus says, “You’ll see the son of man.” “You’ll see angels ascending and descending upon him as heaven opens.” Jesus is the gateway to heaven. What he’s saying to Jacob in this moment is this that my dream for every believer is that they will live forever for all time under an open heaven. And you say, what is an open heaven? It’s everything in Genesis 28. God is with us. The Father’s voice of love in our lives, a life full of blessing, the authority to reach into heaven and bring it to earth and God’s promise that he will fulfill our destiny for us. We don’t have to do it for ourselves. All you got to do is be aware of it.
See the presence of God changes everything. Let me close it for you with this. Look at this, verse 18, “Early the next morning, Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, although the city used to be called Luz. Then God made a vow saying, if God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I’m taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God and this stone I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” What? This is Jacob, the lying, deceiving, selfish manipulator. And he has one moment of being aware of God’s presence and he becomes humble, he worships and he becomes generous. How is that possible? How do you take selfish person and instantly turn them into a passionate worshipper? When he sets up the stones and pours oil, that is his worship. It’s worship, physically, by faith. And then how do you take a guy that’s so selfish and so greedy that he steals from his own brother and instantly turns him into a generous man where now he’s tithing and giving back to God? Only the presence of God can do that. It is the greatest change agent on the face of the earth. And from this point forward, God is now known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and – Not because Jacob is good. But because God is good. And what God is saying in this moment, “Jacob, I’ve always been with you. You just now understand that you are with me.” Everything changes. If God is here, right here, then all of the love and the power and the wisdom and resources of heaven is also here. You might be sitting in this place and you might be a stay-at-home parent and you think you can’t do it one more day. If God is with you, you already have all the patience you need.
You might be a businessperson and you don’t think you have what it takes. Well, if God is with you, you already have all the wisdom you will ever need. You might be here and you might be a student and you might think you don’t know your place. If God is with you, then you’re already more significant. You have more significance than you will ever need. Maybe you’re single and you feel like you’re alone and by yourself. If God is with you, you have more companionship and love than you will ever need. Maybe you’re overwhelmed and you think you can’t make it. Well, if God is with you, you already have all the piece you will ever need. Surely, surely, God is in place. And I was not aware of it. Loneliness is simply an invitation from God to be aware of his presence. Satan wants to use loneliness to trick you and make you make bad decisions. God wants to use loneliness as a tool that moves you to him. You don’t have to make God come. You just have to be aware that he already has.
So you close your eyes with me. And can we just stop for a moment and be aware of the presence of God. Surely, he is in this place right now. God’s presence is not information to know, it’s meant to be experienced. And so for a moment, can you just choose to be aware of him? Can you feel him on your skin as he surrounds you? Can you by faith believe that he’s burning within you as a Father of Jesus? Can you take a big breath of air and taste and see that he is good? Can you just be conscious for a moment and for the last hour, there’s been a throne in the spiritual realm ruling and reigning over this place? And can you maybe be aware that because we gathered in his name, he is sitting in the very chair next to you? God is not here because we are good. He’s here because he is good. And he showed up today because he wants to reveal himself to you. And so Jesus, may we be aware that you are with us. And would you continue to reveal yourself to us? May we be a people that have a Jacob encounter, a Jacob transformation when we encounter your presence in our lives. Thank you for the open heaven, the gateway that Jesus created. So you’ll never leave us nor forsake us. But you are with us forever. May we walk with that wisdom and that courage today. Jesus, we choose to be aware of you. In your name – amen.