Think about the farthest you have ever been away from your family and the longest you have been separated from them. This is what we know...the longer you are geographically disconnected the more emotionally distant you become. Military.com tells us: "Families face a number of challenges before, during, and after deployment...As departure grows closer, a period of detachment and withdrawal may occur. This can happen to prepare for the person being physically gone."
I believe that people too often feel emotionally distant from God because they have embraced a false belief that God is far away. But verses like Jeremiah 23:23-24, Acts 17:27, and Psalm 16:8 are powerful verses that remind us of God's abiding presence.
So where doest this belief that God is far away come from? The Bible! Verses like Psalm 11:4, Isaiah 6:1, Revelation 4:1-6, Psalm 103:19 seem to say that God is in Heaven, on His throne, watching everything from afar. John in his vision from Revelation says that John had to "come up here" meaning that John had to leave earth to find God.
But then we find verses like 1 Kings 8:27 and Isaiah 57:15. These verses remind us that God is both near and far because the truth is that God is EVERYWHERE! This is hard for us. We are finite beings that live in a finite world but everything about God is infinite. So how do people begin to believe that God is everywhere?
What I have found is that people will not believe that God is everywhere until they encounter Him somewhere. City Life is a church with many assignments but one of them is most certainly to be a certain place where people can come with faith filled expectation to encounter the presence of a living God! The famous verse that speaks to one of the ways faith grows in our hearts is found in Romans 10:17. Faith comes by hearing God's Word! But if we back it up a little and read Romans 10:13-16 we find that Paul always intended that great verse about faith to be understood as a commission. We as devoted followers of Christ are supposed to be in our world telling other people about our experiences with Christ in a way that begins to inspire faith in their hearts to believe that life with God is for them too! And one of the ways we share our faith is to invite people to places where they too can encounter God's presence!
Have you ever noticed all throughout the Bible God calls people to certain places to encounter His presence? Have you noticed that when God makes Himself known spontaneously to an individual, He manifests Himself without any prior announcement? He just shows up! But when God reveals Himself to a large group of people, He tends to first invite them to a certain place. And only after that group comes to this pre-determined certain place does God reveal Himself. Now there are exceptions to this but those exceptions are infrequent.
And those certain places become sacred places when certain scared practices are experienced there. In Exodus 3:12 we find that God spoke to Moses through a burning bush and instructed him to bring all of the Hebrew people back to this very mountain, Sinai, to worship Him. They were to gather at a certain place. The story picks up in Exodus 19. Moses climbs the mountain three different times receiving various instruction from God for what everyone should do in preparation for God revealing Himself to them. And what do we find...our Pathways! They gathered, which is itself a sacred practice. Ceremonial washing in ancient times was a preparation for worship and prayer. They were asked to serve and help prepare for the promised encounter with God's presence. There was fasting. There was reaching (Moses being told to bring Aaron up on the mountain). There was Scripture. Even though a written Bible did not yet exist...instruction from God had begun! All of these sacred practices made a certain place a sacred place! (If you want to learn more about this story of Moses at Sinai, you can list or watch the message from our Newport News campus.)
Are you going to a certain place every week to encounter God's presence? Are you engaging in sacred practices before and during your time there? Those sacred practices still make certain places sacred places! Sacred practices prepare our hearts to encounter the presence of our living God! You might be thinking that you can encounter God's presence by yourself. That is true. You can. But if you never get a vision for gathering with the people of God every week, you lack a vision to help create a place for other people to encounter God! Remember, people will not believe that God is everywhere until they encounter Him somewhere. If we took a survey of everyone who has regular encounters with God in their personal life, I am convinced we would find that the majority of those people had their first life transforming, faith inspiring encounter with God's presence in a church setting.
2 Corinthians 6:1 compels us not to ignore this great gift of salvation we have received from God through Jesus. What does Paul mean by "ignoring" this gift? He tells us in 2 Corinthians 5...that we have a responsibility to be ambassadors for Christ in our world! Are you helping to make a certain place a sacred place so others can find this marvelous gift of salvation that we all so deeply cherish? If you would describe your commitment to gather weekly with your church family as infrequent, you aren't just neglecting your own spiritual well being. You are neglecting your responsibility of adding to the vibrancy of that gathering through the unique gifts that God has deposited in you (1 Corinthians 12). And let's admit, it's hard to bring people and be an ambassador for Christ when you are absent!
I am believing that 2018 is going to be an incredible year of reaching and gathering for City Life Church! This year we are going to encounter His presence, embrace His family, and engage His mission like never before!