I am with you always

What’s the Bible tell us about the heart? It is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked! And we’re trying to bring Jesus into our heart and make it ready for Him and have it be a nice little cozy fellowship with Jesus in our hearts? If Jesus is half as discriminating as Cheryl, He’s not going to like your heart! He’s going to say, “That place is a mess! It’s foul, it stinks!” And you want a commitment from Christ that’s greater than to your lousy heart. You want a commitment that is to the church, to a bride, to an institution that will go on and on no matter how wicked you are because you are a part of His bride. This is the promise.

The 2011 ClearNote Fellowship Conference was titled The Great Commission. Here is Pastor David Bayly’s sermon, titled I Am With You Always.

(This is sermon 5 in a series; see also sermon 1, sermon 2, sermon 3, and sermon 4.)


Outline

Four misconceptions
Misconception #1: This is a personal promise
A promise to the church
The heart as a place for a nice little cozy fellowship with Jesus
You want a commitment from Christ that’s greater than to your lousy heart
A pretend picture of a pretend Jesus over a pretend mantle in our hearts?
Others think of the mind as the center—and disdain the church of Jesus Christ!
Misconception #2: Christ’s presence in our lives is for our comfort
It’s always something that’s a little startling and scary
Heads up!
We don’t practice the presence with a mantra
Misconception #3: Jesus is with us to our comfort because we will fear the world
Misconception #4: The cause of the church is one of elegant defeat


It’s good to be with you this afternoon. Thank you for the invitation to join you on this happy weekend, a weekend made all the happier by what’s ahead of us tomorrow and the ordination service tomorrow afternoon and evening for those great young men of God who are being ordained to the work of the gospel tomorrow—what I’m staying for and the biggest draw of the weekend for me, to be around these men on that time.

I appreciate your prayers and thoughtfulness for me as I’ve been sick. I’ve not been wanting to make a big point of it in my own congregation, and here I think Tim’s made a real big point of it; so I’m happy to tell you that I’m feeling very good, that I was down in Cincinnati this past week together with Tim and Dr. Spaetti visiting a hepatologist (a man whose specialty is the liver) and came back with what both Adam and I viewed as fairly good news: first that there’s treatment that he wants to do for my liver rather than saying, aw, it’s gone; and then second, that my recent jaundice may not have been the product of the underlying liver condition but may have been largely the product of something else known as Guillain-Barré syndrome, which means that it’s not a product of Hepatitis C and it may well be something that is independent of that and doesn’t signify liver damage. So I’m grateful to God for that.

And I thank you for your prayers. And it was great having Adam and Tim down there. It’s been great having David—or Max—come up and be with us; it’s been absolutely wonderful that Mike Boles has been up doing such a beautiful work of God in our life up in Toledo, and yet sad this weekend because he’s not able to be here today; we’re pouring concrete on the first floor of our new building and it’s a big day and he’s down there—I got some pictures this morning of the process already going on and the floor being laid down there. So it’s exciting for us, but Lisa I’m sorry that your husband’s not here. But I do know that because David Abu-Sara is about to be ordained he will be back tomorrow.

And I want to say finally as we turn to the Word of God that in my church—I think it’s the case here—there’s a certain division among the staff and among the young guys in the church, and there are the thin guys who are unhappy, yeah? And their thinness is a product of their unhappiness. And then there are the rather pleasantly plump guys who are happy—and I know you’re looking at me and you’re saying, ‘You’re a thin guy,’ but that’s only the result of sickness, and at heart I am at least as big as my son Nathan there, closing in on Tim, and I’m a happy guy. And so I am not like some of these young men, I look and I say if they got any thinner they could go through a door sideways with it closed.

Our passage this afternoon is the Great Commission. I have the end of it, and I’d like to read the entirety of it beginning in 18, but the clause begins with ‘and’ at the end of verse 20. So reading beginning in verse 18,

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.”

“And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The Word of God. Let’s pray.

Father, we ask that You will speak to us through Your Word this afternoon, that You will apply it to our hearts and that we will employ it in ways that are right. Guide our path. May it be a lamp unto our feet, a light unto our path, so that we might not sin against You. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Four misconceptions

I’d like to give you a four-part outline which I intend to follow in our time together this afternoon. I hope to keep it relatively brief. Four parts to this outline are:

First, this is a personal promise. “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” This is a personal promise, a promise of Christ’s presence that is to us personally.

Second, Christians are primarily comforted by this presence of Christ. That the purpose of this presence of Christ and this promise is to comfort us;

Third, it is of comfort to Christians because Christians will fear the world; and

Fourth, our hope as Christians is found after the conclusion of the earth, after the end.

Now, of course everything I just said seems to be an application of this passage: that this is a personal promise of Christ’s presence in our lives personally; that we are to be primarily comforted by this presence in our lives, that its purpose is to bring us comfort in the midst of hard things; because, third, we will fear the world, but Christ after this world comes to a crashing end, will give us hope and bring us out of the crash, out of the disastrous end, to glory.

Now all this sounds like standard teaching on these verses, and in particular the conclusion to this passage, the promise that “I am with you always, even to the end of the age”—and yet, actually these are four falsehoods that we believe. So I’m not advocating this, I’m saying these are four false premises. These four things I’ve said to you are four things that we need to clear our minds of.

There are certain ways in which they’re true:

Of course it’s a comfort that Jesus is with us.

Of course there is an end which is going to be more glorious than now—there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

Of course we will fear the world; and

Of course we will be personally benefited by the presence of Christ in this earth and by this promise of His, of His being with us until the end.

But in the end, taking it in these ways: personally, comforting us because we’re frightened and we’re looking to a return of Jesus that will make all things good after all things have gone bad—this view that is so common of this is an absolute mischaracterization of the verses that we have before us.

Misconception #1: This is a personal promise

A promise to the church

And I’d like to begin with the first, which is the misconception that this is a personal promise, that this is a promise to you individually, that Jesus in speaking this is speaking to a cluster of grapes and He’s speaking to them not as a cluster but to each grape individually. That this is a promise you can claim and say, “I know Jesus is with me,” about.

Now, I’m not saying Jesus is not with you. And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be comforted by it. But think about the passage, the context which my brother Tim spoke about yesterday, which I’d like to just remind you of this afternoon: Jesus is speaking to the eleven apostles. He’s speaking to the ones who are closest to Him.

This is not His ascension. His ascension takes place, we’re told, from Bethany, which is just outside of Jerusalem. This is somewhere else in the 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension, probably during that period that’s recounted at the end of John when Peter’s gone back and returned to fishing. (He doesn’t know what to do; he says, “I’m going to to go fish,” and the disciples have gone back north 60-70 miles from Jerusalem up to Galilee and Peter has returned to fishing in the Sea of Tiberias, which is also known as the Sea of Galilee, and he’s there fishing and Jesus appears to him.) And so it’s an entirely different locale from both the resurrection and the ascenscion. Jesus’ disciples have gone back there in part because they’re discouraged, they’re not quite sure what to do with events, the way things have gone since the crucifixion. It’s at that point that Peter is confronted by Jesus and told to “Feed My sheep, feed my flock.” Restored.

And apparently at some point during that time in Galilee He said to the eleven, “I want you to go and meet Me on a mountainside,” and this is the occasion which they’re with him. It’s a mountainside up in Galilee sometime between the resurrection and the ascension, and it’s just the eleven. Now why is this significant? Well, it’s significant because Jesus is making a promise to the eleven that “I am with you always, even to the end of time.”

The question is, who is the “you” that Jesus is making this promise to?

Initially it seems apparent it’s to the eleven, right? But He’s making a promise to the eleven that He’s going to be with them “to the end of the age,” to the end of the eon, that He will be with them till—the word actually means consummation. Until the consummation. That Jesus is going to be with the “you” that He has spoken to and given the promise to, until the end of time.

So does Jesus expect the Eleven to remain alive to the end of time? Does He think that they’re going to be around—Jesus said, “No one knows the day and hour of My return, only the Father, not even the Son of Man is aware of it.” So does Jesus think that perhaps the Eleven are going to be around, that His return is going to be so quick that they’re all going to be alive when He comes back?

Obviously not! We know it from several different sources. We know it from John 21:18-19, it’s at the very end of John, where Peter is told by Jesus that “When you were young you dressed yourself and you walked where you wanted to go, but when you are old you will be dressed by others and you will be led by the hand,” and we’re told there that by that means, Jesus made Peter aware of the method of his death.

Jesus wasn’t under any illusion that Peter was going to remain alive to the end of time. He had told him, “You will be a martyr. You are going to lay down your life for My kingdom.” The great joy of the passage that again Tim read yesterday of James and John seeking to be seated at the right hand of Jesus in His glory, they say “May we have your right and Your left hand?” Jesus says to them, “Can you drink the cup that I will drink?” And they, we think in their pride and in the arrogance of their hearts that made them ask for that privilege in the first place, say to Him, “Yes, we can drink that cup!” And you say, what? You really think you can go through the crucifixion? You really think you can die as Jesus died?

Remember the very next thing Jesus says to them: “You will drink that cup, but it’s not Mine to give that privilege, it’s the Father’s.” What a powerful promise that was to James and John, that they would drink the cup. Imagine being told you will give your life for Christ. That’s a beautiful thing, that they will share His sufferings. And He’s told them that they’ll drink it, that they’ll be fit—so there’s no question that these men are men who are going to die.

In fact, because of Him saying to Peter that you’re going to die this way, someone turned to John and said, “Master, what about him?” and He says, “If he is to live to the end of time, what concern is it of yours?” then out of that we’re told in John a legend developed that Jesus had said that John was going to live till the end of time—but John says that wasn’t the case; all He said was, “If so, what does it matter to you?”

Jesus knows they’re going to die. What does that mean? Well it means, very obviously, that when He says, “I’m going to be with you to the very end of the age,” He’s not speaking simply to the eleven. This is a promise that is to the entire church. He’s speaking to the foundations and the pillars of the church and He’s saying, “I’m going to be with what you’re building to the end of time.” It’s a corporate promise. That is what we have here. It is a promise of commitment to the bride of Christ.

And course it is absolutely in accord with what Jesus says elsewhere, “Where two or three are gathered in My name,” where the church is, “there am I also.” Now, does this mean that Jesus is not with those who are individuals? No, through the Holy Spirit He is with them; but there is a promise, the Son of God will be in a particular and powerful way with His people when they are gathered corporately, when they are with each other as the church, as the bride of Christ, that is a promise that even goes beyond simply that we will be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It’s a gift to the church, the Bridegroom’s gift. Now I make this point because, as has been said by almost everyone who’s preached this weekend, there is the sense in which the Christian world in which we live has taken every promise like this and applied it to me.

The heart as a place for a nice little cozy fellowship with Jesus

Some years ago I dated a young woman for a brief period of time who was the daughter of a man and a woman who had gone to Wheaton College in the 1940s and 1950s, which means that she was sort of the daughter of evangelical royalty. That era at Wheaton College was the Elisabeth Elliot, Billy Graham era, it was just the heyday. And her parents were there during that time. Her father was an elder in the church that I was an intern at. He had been head of the elder board. It was a famous church with one of the most famous preachers in America of the last half-century as its pastor.

She had grown up in that church. She had gone away to I think Biola College. After Biola College she got out of college and she applied to an evangelical mission board. She got sent by a very conservative, evangelical mission board to Belgium, where she had done a whole term as a missionary. She was on her furlough at the time I met her, having come back from years in Belgium as a church planter. (Now not the church planter but working as part of a team.)

And that year that she had come back, you know what this woman, daughter of an elder—graduate of a Christian school, missionary to Europe—you know what that woman decided that she was going to do that she had never had done before in her life? I asked this in the car as I was driving up here, I was talking to some of the people that came with me, they said, did she decide to date? That’s a good guess, but no. It’s more logical that she’d suddenly begin to date at 25 or 26 than what she actually decided. She decided that it was about time that she got baptized! Can you believe it? A 25 year old woman in one of the most well-known churches in the evangelical world, her father the chief elder of that church over the years, graduate of a Christian school, missionary to Belgium, taking communion probably since she was 12, but she decides at 25 that she’s going to get baptized!

Why? Well, I think her heart felt like getting baptized at about the age of 25. And it was a good feeling of her heart, and she thought she was about ready to be baptized, and so she said, you know what, I want to be baptized. I’m going to be baptized now. Now you think about it and you go, what on earth is going on here? What’s going on, that this young woman who’s a child of evangelicalism thinks that it’s about time at 25, after years as a missionary, to be baptized?

Well I’ll tell you what’s going on. This is a woman who’s been taught the evangelical way, which is that Jesus comes to live in our heart and we have to establish a home for Him in our heart that’s conducive to His presence, and that everything that goes on in our lives is really about our heart, and we need to work at the heart level. And my heart’s the important thing, and I want Jesus in my heart, so I’m working on constantly renovating my heart, and I want my heart to be right, and she’s at the point where she’s got the foundation of her heart down and she’s going to build the first story of her walk with God by being baptized at 25. She’s now ready to be baptized. Everything in her life was a feeling of the heart. Everything came down to how she felt.

And you know, honestly I wasn’t very different. I think back on my response to her and I said, wow, that’s great, you’re going to get baptized. I think back on that, I think, what was I thinking? Why didn’t I say to her what on earth—are you sure you should be baptized? I mean, you didn’t get baptized years ago, you haven’t done it, are you sure you’re actually a Christian? Maybe you shouldn’t be getting baptized. Maybe since you’re obviously credobaptist you’d better examine yourself and find out whether you really believe the things that you’ve been teaching over there in Belgium. If you haven’t done this basic thing because your heart hasn’t been in it, where is your heart? Who owns the key to your heart?

You want a commitment from Christ that’s greater than to your lousy heart

What’s the importance of this promise being to the church? Why is it an important distinction to make, that this is not a promise to our individual hearts but to the church? The importance of it is that it’s a very different thing to be committed to an institution rather than being devoted to a sinful person.

Let me explain. Some years ago, my wife Cheryl and I were having one of the epic battles of our lives, one of the few times that she got angrier than I got during the battle. And I’m sure I had just said something really nasty to Cheryl, and I don’t remember what it was, but it’s one of those terrible times in a marriage where you actually try and hurt your wife by what you say, I’m sure it was one of those times—where you want her to know that you want her hurt. And I remember Cheryl looking at me—this was more than ten years ago—and saying to me, “David, you know what? There’s only one reason I’m still with you.” I looked at her and I thought, Whoa! That’s something from Cheryl. What would she say is the one reason that she’s still with me? I thought, I don’t know if I want to hear. I thought, I’d better ask, because this could be illuminating. So I waited a little bit, and in a sort of timid voice, I said, “And what’s that reason? Why?” She looked at me with disdain for me and she said, “I’m still with you because I said I would be.” I thought, Oh!

Now that’s what I want in a wife, you know? I want a wife who’s committed to her word, a wife who’s committed to the institution of marriage, a wife who is committed to God and her standing before Him, and who is not a woman who is looking at my heart and saying “I hate that heart, I don’t like that heart, I don’t want to be with that heart anymore.”

What’s the Bible tell us about the heart? It is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked! And we’re trying to bring Jesus into our heart and make it ready for Him and have it be a nice little cozy fellowship with Jesus in our hearts? If Jesus is half as discriminating as Cheryl, He’s not going to like your heart! He’s going to say, “That place is a mess! It’s foul, it stinks!” And you want a commitment from Christ that’s greater than to your lousy heart. You want a commitment that is to the church, to a bride, to an institution that will go on and on no matter how wicked you are because you are a part of His bride. This is the promise.

A pretend picture of a pretend Jesus over a pretend mantle in our hearts?

There’s a little book called The Practice of the Presence of God. It’s by Brother Lawrence, who is a Carmelite monk in the 1600s, lived for 80 years, he was not ordained, he was a lay fellow in the Carmelite monastery where he lived in the 1600s. And he was the dishwasher in the monastery. And he actually did not write this book—it’s not actually a book, it’s actually a collection of a few letters that he wrote and the recollections of some of his superiors in the monastery—actually a cardinal of the Catholic church—a collection of their remembrances of conversations with him, so sort of working retroactively to remember what he had said to them at points. So it’s a set of conversations recalled by those who held them with him, and of letters.

And it was given the title The Practice of the Presence because this man, working as the dishwasher in the monastery, was known as the happiest and most godly man in the monastery. And so after he died these things were collected to be sort of a guide to future monks and other Christians as to how we might enjoy the presence of God. And it’s actually a wonderful little book. But there is a sense in which the title of the book has become the entirety of the book for many in the evangelical and Reformed world, that the practice of the presence of God is something we engage in, that it is something that we have to practice, knowing that God is present.

As a young Christian I used to walk down the road and I’d pray. And I felt like my life was sort of departing from God, because I wasn’t in Alaska where I’d come alive as a Christian, and my prayer life wasn’t quite as exciting, and so I thought how am I going to make it clear to God that I know He’s here? And so for about a year I walked like this. Can you imagine as I’d walk and pray for an hour in the evening what I was doing by going like this? I was holding hands with God. And it was a mnemonic device, it was a way of jogging my memory, to say I’m holding hands with God. And it’s the practice of the presence of God, right? As I walk with my hand I’m practicing the presence, I’m recalling that He’s here in my heart.

And this is not what is actually taught by Brother Lawrence, but this is the way we look at it, like, “I’m going to practice that God’s present. I’m going to remind myself real hard that God’s with me here. I’m going to hold His hand as I’m walking”—Of course, what’d been a far better way to know the presence of God than using my hand as I walked down the road to grip an invisible arm of God? Well I tell you, I could give you about a thousand different things:

It would have been far better, and a far more perfect realization of the presence of God, if I had taken that hand, put it in my wallet, taken out a $10 bill, walked by a beggar and given him the $10 bill. Do you understand what I’m saying? Use the hand for something. Use it for something that God has commanded.

It would have been a far better use of the hand if I’d gone down to the local nursing home where we did have a Bible study (my father led it first and then Cheryl and I led it later) — go down there and push them around on the grounds of the nursing home. Do something that God commands. Show love to the widow. Be kind to the orphan. Give alms to the poor. There is the presence of God. Am I making sense here? It’s not something you conjure up in your heart! You don’t sit around like a contemplative monk and say, “I feel you, I feel you, I feel you.” His promise is that He’s with us! He is with us.

How many of you heard this little booklet that’s published by InterVarsity Press, My Heart—Christ’s Home by Robert Boyd Munger? How many of you heard of it as a good thing when you first heard of it? How many of you have ever heard anyone criticize it? Far be it from me to criticize it. You know, it’s InterVarsity Press, it’s great stuff (well, it’s old InterVarsity Press, and therefore it was once great stuff). But listen to this: the whole theme of this little booklet is that when we become Christians what we do is we invite Jesus into our heart. And the first paragraph is this:

Without question, one of the most remarkable Christian doctrines is that Jesus Christ Himself, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, will actually enter a heart, settle down, and be at home there. Christ will make the human heart His abode. One evening I invited Christ into my heart. What an entrance He made! It was not a spectacular thing, but very real. It was at the very center of my life. He came into the darkness of my heart and turned on the light. He built a fire in the cold hearth and banished the chill. He started music where there had been stillness, and He filled the emptiness with His own loving, wonderful fellowship. I’ve never regretted opening the door to Christ and I never will, not until eternity.

And then he goes through the house that he’s built and he says how embarrassed he is to invite Jesus into his library. The library of his heart, you know, the things that he gives himself over to, the books he reads—and Jesus says to him, “Oh, this room. Take all those books, get rid of them, and fill the shelves with the books of the Bible; and in the center, over the mantle, hang a big picture of me.” As though Jesus wants us to hang big pictures of Him over our mantles. It’s this kind of thing that we pretend that Jesus is there. Let’s pretend He’s there. Let’s hang a picture, a pretend picture of a pretend Jesus over a pretend mantle in our hearts so that we can practice the presence of Jesus!

Nonsense.

The heart is deceitful above all things, desperately wicked. Who can know it? You can’t know your heart. You can’t understand it or reform it. The only way that our hearts are made right is by our being in conformity with Jesus Christ, and that begins by being ingrafted into the church of Jesus Christ, where He lives, where His power has been promised.

Others think of the mind as the center—and disdain the church of Jesus Christ!

It may be that there are some here who don’t think of the heart as the center where Christ lives but they think of it in the mind. In fact, in the Reformed world many people don’t talk about the heart but they do think that Jesus takes up residence in their mind. So they don’t try and reform their heart but they try and get straight thinking. They think if they can get their intellect and their logic down straight, they’ve brought Jesus in to the center of life. So they transfer the love for the heart and the emphasis on the heart to the mind. And they talk about renewing the mind. And they are so concerned the mind. And they think if they get their mind down—and they disdain the church of Jesus Christ!

It’s the tragedy of Arthur Walkington Pink, A.W. Pink. How many of you have read books by A.W. Pink? Are you aware that A.W. Pink in the last decades of his life grew so disgusted with the church and said it was so lousy that he just stopped going to church, and that for decades he didn’t attend any church at all? Well why? He had Jesus in his mind! He had his mind, his mind was right, you understand? It wasn’t the heart, it wasn’t like the girl I’m talking about that wanted her heart right—he had his mind right.

I think of Reformed men, and we’ve got some of them in our church, who drag their family hours away to a church that has what they think is proper theology. If you’ve known the Reformed guys that will go three hours on a Sunday to church, it’s a mind game for them, it’s all about the mind. They’re driving for three hours to get to a church where their minds are stroked, where they can feel among the cognoscenti, the elite who know things, and they’re passing by fundamentalist Baptist church after fundamentalist Baptist church after good, sort of, but gnarly reformed Baptist church so they can get to a place where there is infant baptism. Now I believe in infant baptism. But I’ve said to these guys when they drive two hours to come to my church, passing by good baptist and nondenominational churches on the way—I say, what are you doing? You’re not part of the life here, you’re here for your mind! You don’t want to be part of the life of the church where Christ is found, you want your mind stroked. It’s a tragic thing.

Misconception #2: Christ’s presence in our lives is for our comfort

Second point: “Christ’s presence in our lives is for our comfort. It’s for our comfort because life here is difficult.”

And this is again a misconception, but it is a common one, that Jesus comes in and He’s sort of liquid comfort for the believer in the midst of the pain and the trials of this world. That Jesus comes into our lives sort of like morphine rather than as an antibiotic. He dulls the pain, He doesn’t make us well, He just makes us able to endure. Doesn’t transform or change us, but He makes us able to stand in the midst of the trial, in the midst of the inferno. And I want to say as you look at the passage, you’ll notice it says, “Lo, I am with you always.” (And that’s not l-o-w. I remember Billy Graham preaching on this once and saying that a nun who was frightened of flying was fingering her rosary, and the guy next to her said, “Don’t you know that Jesus said, ‘I am with you always,'” and she says, no, it says, “Low I am with you always,” not in a plane.)

It’s always something that’s a little startling and scary

That ‘lo’ is the Greek word idou. And it’s an interjection. It’s a word that sounds like “Watch out!” Or “Look sharp!” If you find all the “Beholds” in Matthew, and if you look throughout all the gospels and you see where Jesus says, “Behold,” it’s never, idou, or “Look sharp!” or “Behold, isn’t that a pretty rose.” It doesn’t follow. “Behold! A cute cat” It’s never anything like that—it’s “Behold! The Master’s going to return.” “Behold! There are angels in the sky.” “Behold!” It’s always something that’s a little startling and scary.

Heads up!

I take my 12-year-old to baseball games all summer, and the thing I can think of that comes closest to this “Behold” that Jesus says is when we’re at a baseball game and there’s a foul pop-up, and the people who are watching the game and not sitting there on their phones doing email shout “Heads up!” and everyone goes, “Oh!” Everyone jumps! “Where’s the ball? Where’s the ball?” you know. And I wasn’t as aware of the danger of it until about a year ago when that ball came down on the front fender of my car. And I’ll show you the dent, it’s this deep in the car—you think about that hitting your head—so now when I hear a “Heads up” in the midst of a game and I’m on my phone—I go, “Ohhhh!” you know? It’s a scary thing. That’s what Jesus is saying here. “Look sharp! Pay attention! Behold! Lo! and behold.” Now. What it means is, Lo—behold—I am with you always. It’s not a warm fuzzy, it’s a “Look sharp. Heads up! I’m with you always. Heads up! I’m with you. Heads up.”

I had a heads up yesterday. Everything that everyone has said, including Joseph of the pocket dialing is something that I was thinking about as I was preparing for this, this afternoon. Yesterday morning I was driving over to our new church building to look through it with a guy named Jason that’s a pastor with me at Christ the Word. We were driving and we were talking about another pastor on our staff who’s taken a new church. And his name is Andrew. We were talking, and I was pontificating in my seat. I said, “This is what Andrew should do in the new church. He should do this and this; and because he doesn’t have strength here he shouldn’t do that but he should do this,” And I’m talking, and Jason’s saying yeah, yeah; and 20 minutes we’re talking about what Andrew should do as he leaves us and takes a church in Spartansburg, North Carolina.

We get to the church and we start talking to Mike Boles, and we’re going around watching the concrete be poured, and suddenly Jason disappears; and when he comes back to the small knot of us who were talking together and watching the concrete, Jason, who never looks abashed by anything, looks ashen. He says, “David. C’mere. C’mere.” And Jason never says anything at less than 110 decibels, and he never whispers it to you, you know, he’ll say it in front of the whole world, and I’m thinking what’s the matter? He says, “C’mere, David.” He says, “I just got a call from Andrew.” “Oh?” He said, “My phone pocket dialed him on the car ride here.” “Oh.” “He said he has a 20 minute message on Google voice and he can hear us talking about him.” Even now I’m sitting here frightened. I think, what did he hear me say? And it was a terrible morning—it was a ruin of yesterday to us. We went back over that conversation for two hours and said, what did we say? What did we say? What did we say?

Well, that’s what we’ve got before us: Jesus saying, “Look sharp! I am with you always. I’m with the church. I am with you. I’m watching what you’re doing. You’re not operating in some vacuum. I’m watching you. I have My eyes on you. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given Me and I’m expecting you to do the job I just gave you. Look sharp!”

We need to remember that looking on Jesus is a cause for fear and warning. We’re told that we will look on Him, the one we have pierced, and we will mourn for Him. We will weep. That Jesus’ presence with us is not liquid comfort, it’s chastening. It’s fear. Yes it brings comfort, but only as we go through the chastening and the fear and the power of God with us and the church.

We don’t practice the presence with a mantra

Brother Andrew wrote this little book. It’s always given as an example of “Isn’t it it nice to practice the presence of God,” as though practicing the presence of God is like the woman in the bed and breakfast Cheryl and I went to just before we went into the ministry—we came to the little house in Dixon, Illinois; the woman learned that we were going to be a pastor and wife in Ohio, and she disappeared. We were the only guests in the bed and breakfast—she disappeared. It was clear that she didn’t want anything to do with us. She had all these wicca things all around the house. And when we came down to breakfast she’d laid out a breakfast but she didn’t appear.

She had everything there, and what we heard from another room the whole time we were there in the morning was an Ommmmmammmmmmmmmmm. Cheryl and I were looking at each other, we thought, is the refrigerator broken? Is there some kind of a bulldog underneath the door that’s slobbering and making a noise? And we were looking at all the Buddhist books—and then we realized that she was doing her mantra. She was doing it because she didn’t like us. She didn’t want us around.

Some people say it’s the opposite, that we do this mantra of God’s presence and we get to know Him the way that the Buddhists do a mantra. Nonsense! Listen to Brother Lawrence. He’s written about how it is that he came to know God’s presence.

He said,

Now some people say you should do this and that…

The prayers of the monastic order, the practices of the monastery; and he says,

Some people say you should do that, but I have not followed all these methods. I don’t know why, but on the contrary, I know that they’ve discouraged me, these methods.

These ommms, these prayers, these disciplines of the monastery.

This is the reason why at my entrance into religion I took a resolution to give myself up to God as the best return I could make for His love, and for the love of Him to renounce all besides. For the first year…

That he was in the monastery,

…I commonly employed myself during the time set apart for devotion with the thought of death, judgment, heaven, hell, and my sins. Thus I continued for some years, applying my mind carefully the rest of the day and even in the midst of my business to the presence of God whom I considered as always with me, often as in me.

Such was my beginning, and yet I must tell you that for the first ten years I suffered much. The apprehension that I was not devoted to God as I wished to be, my past sins were always present to my mind, and the great unmerited favors which God did me were the matter and source of my sufferings. During this time I fell often and rose again presently. It seemed to me that all creatures, reason, and God Himself were against me and faith alone for me. I was troubled sometimes with thoughts that to believe I had received such favors was an effect of my presumption which pretended to be at once where others arrived with difficulty; at other times that it was a willful delusion, that there was no salvation for me.

When I thought of nothing but to end my days in these troubles…

The troubles of a conscience: not a heart that’s saying I’m ready for God; a heart, a man who for ten years is convinced his heart is not worthy of God,

When I thought of nothing but to end my days in these troubles, which did not at all diminish the trust I had in God and which served only to increase my faith, I found myself changed all at once, and my soul, which till that time was in trouble, felt a profound inward peace, as if she were in her center and place of rest.

Brothers and sisters, if we want to know the presence of God, we look to the church and we see in her and in her offer of the gospel of Jesus Christ by faith, we see the power of God. We see in ourselves as we look inwardly the sin, the wickedness. We don’t see something that’s ready and meet for the Christ to enter in. We see an abode that’s dangerous even for us, repugnant to Christ, but we look and we hear from the church the gospel, and from the baptism of the church that there is a washing. We come to trust Him.

Misconception #3: Jesus is with us to our comfort because we will fear the world

There is a third misunderstanding which is that the world is big and bad and that we are going to fear the world doing the work of the Great Commission and therefore that’s why Jesus is with us to our comfort. And I say to you, No way! No way! Jesus is far more fearful to the world even than He is to us. You understand? Jesus is with us not so that we’ll take comfort in the midst of fear but so that we will have power and cause fear! That we will go out and bring fear, the fear of the Lord, to the world. Not so that we will escape the fear of the world; so that we will be agents of a divine fear as we go out into the world, because Jesus is with us!

Many years ago I was in a Lutheran school in St. Charles, Illinois, and it was a brand new school in an old monastery or nunnery and it didn’t have its disciplines down, and they allowed the caretaker of the school to offer a weekend camp-out for all the students on the grounds of the school with no one there but the caretaker. And it was a recipe for disaster, especially because in that first year the school was filled with people who had been kicked out of the public school.

And so we show up at this camp-out and here are 30-40 young guys and girls, sophomores and freshman (that’s all the school had), and the most delinquent of the lot said they’ve told their friend, and their friend has just gotten out of St. Charles Boys’ Home—if you’ve grown up around Chicago you’ve heard of St. Charles Boys’ Home, you know it’s not a pleasant place, it’s where they go if they’re so bad that they’re put away throughout their juvenile years. They’re in there for rape and murder, and this guy was a gang banger who had been put into St. Charles and it was a friend of the guy who was in our school, he’s just gotten out the day before and he was part of a gang, and this stupid guy had told his gang banger friend who was in for assault that there were going to be a whole bunch of young women and guys without much adult supervision on the campus of this high school. And we learned that this guy and three or four others from his gang were going to show up. They were going to come and they were going to—and everyone there, all 40 of us, were quivering with fear. We were frightened. We were so scared, guys who thought themselves cool and strong before that were actually shaking.

Well we were waiting for this car to arrive with these guys—we were told they were going to come at some point in the afternoon—and a car pulls up, and a guy gets out of the car.

Now. Can I get you to show picture #1. Alright? I don’t want to lose you with an illustration, but I want to illustrate this. Now this is our family at about that age. There’s Dad; there’s Mud, most of you’ve met Mud; Nathan our brother died 10 years ago; Tim, the tall one back there; and me. Alright? And that’s the church directory from probably ’73, ’74. I looked a lot like that at the time I was at that Valley Lutheran High School camp-out. Tim, however—this picture was taken a few years before that camp-out, and so Tim had changed by the time of that camp-out. And so the guy who pulls out of the car and makes every guy who’s on the camping trip disappear is the guy who’s in this next picture. Can you show #2? You see that guy? How many of you know who that is? That is Tim. If you look, that’s the grandfather clock that’s in their living room right now. That’s the guy who got out of the car and made every other guy on that high school grounds disappear.

But immediately after Tim pulls in, this old Chevy pulls up with four guys who’re obviously gang bangers, four guys, pulls in and pulls up and there’s my brother. And Tim at the time smoked, and I’m just telling this story about how we’re frightened of these guys, and they pull in. So Tim’s standing there in the majesty that you saw in that picture, and other guys who are on the camp-out have said to me, “Is that your brother? Who’s that guy?” I said, “It’s my brother!” They’re starting to creep out and then this other car comes and they disappear again. And I’m left there with Tim, and I’m going, “Whoooooooh!” ya know? I’m a nice little boy and this is not my speed.

What does Tim do? Well, he walks up to the car, he takes a puff of the cigarette—the guy in the driver’s seat is not the bad guy, the bad guy’s in the back seat—he leans in, the guy in the front seat says, “Is there a party here?” And Tim says, “Yeah there is, but it’s not for you.” And then the guy in the back seat, the bad guy, says Blankety-blank! So Tim takes a puff on the cigarette, he leans on the window, and blows it, “Ffffffffff!” like this, in the face of the guy in the front seat, and says “What’d you say?” (I don’t know if Tim even remembers this, but I remember it real well.) And the guy swears again. Tim says, “You want to say that to me?” And the guy goes Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah! and never gets out of the car! And eventually that car drives off.

This is what it’s like to walk through life in a world that hates us because of Jesus Christ, with Jesus beside us. This is the promise: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” You may feel frightened, but let me tell you: the power’s on your side. You may be frightened and you may be thinking that it’s over, and it’s not.

Misconception #4: The cause of the church is one of elegant defeat

The final point is this: the cause of the church is not one of elegant defeat; but as Stephen preached this morning, the cause of the church is triumph. Jesus doesn’t say, “I’m with you now, I’m going to go away, and when things get really bad and you been blown out of the water by your enemies then I’m going to come back and I’m going to make all the bad things good and I’m going to turn all that was terrible into niceness.” What Jesus says is “I’m going to be with you to the consummation.” To the very end. He will be walking by our side in the church to the very end, as we triumph, every step we take. He will be with us, and we have nothing to fear.

I’m ashamed at the evangelical world’s response to Harold Camping—you know, the man who taught that the world was going to end—because Harold Camping only actually practiced what all the rest of the people believe. He actually put his money on the line.

He said that it was more important to have a personal relationship to Jesus than to live in the church, and he preached it. But it’s the mantra, it’s the belief of the whole evangelical world. Camping actually said don’t go to church. He was willing to say it.

Camping actually sold some of his stations to buy billboards warning that the end was coming, a terrible end. Camping was betting on a bad end. He was betting that things were going to go south in a big way. He actually believed and put his money where his mouth was.

Brothers and sisters, you say that you believe in a victorious end, that you believe Jesus is returning in victory, that you believe Jesus is going to bring the church triumph? Where is your money? How are you spending your life? Where are the risks you’re taking, knowing that Jesus is at your side? What are you doing that shows you have the courage because at your side is the Savior?

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we ask that You will bless the remainder of this weekend, that You will give us the Spirit in great measure, that You will bless the men who are to be ordained tomorrow evening with the Holy Spirit, that the laying on of hands will be the impartation of the Holy Spirit. May we walk with You, knowing that You are with Your bride and that to be with Your bride, to be within her, is to have all the blessings of heaven. Give us this assurance, we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

This entry was posted in ClearNote Fellowship, evangelism, fear of God, Great Commission, transcripts. Bookmark the permalink.

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