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The Lord is Near!

Philippians 4:1-13

Jim Davis

A newspaper on the East Coast carried a story of a woman who was driving home one evening when she noticed that a huge truck was right behind her. Thinking it was too close, she stepped on the gas. But the truck sped up too. Soon they were racing down the highway. Frightened, she pulled off the freeway, but the truck stayed right behind her. By this time she had panicked, so she drove up to a gas station and leaped out of the car, screaming. The truck driver pulled in right behind her, jumped out of his truck, ran to her car, and opened the back door. There, crouched behind her seat, was a hunted rapist. The truck driver, from his high vantage point, had seen him. He was pursuing the woman, not to harm her, but to keep her from being hurt or killed.

The same is true of God. He sees the dangers we face; and He knows the outcome of a course we have chosen. He tries to warn us, perhaps through conscience, the voice of a friend, circumstances, or a loved one.

The most important concept presented in the book of Philippians is that God is near. This is one thing we must remember in life when all else fails. Troubles do not drive God out of our lives. God is near.

Philippians 4:4-7
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)

Paul reminds them that God is at work in them (1:6). Again, he reminds them that God is at work in them (2:13). Then Paul writes, "I will say it again . . . God is near" (4:6). If we wish to solve our problems, we must believe in the nearness of God. We must make a special effort to believe this when we are having problems. The basis of rejoicing when we have problems is God’s nearness.

People with problems are encouraged to draw nigh to God. The congregation in Philippi had many problems, but Paul wanted them to see God’s presence as a means of overcoming their problems. The scriptures constantly remind us of the importance of drawing near to God in troublesome times.

James 4:4-10
You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

"God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (NIV)

James says that if we draw near to God we will experience his nearness. James knows that we must understand that God’s nearness in troublesome times is absolutely essential. In difficult times we must seek to draw near to God that we might experience his nearness---his willingness to help us solve our problems.

Sin Blinds Us to God’s Presence

Sometimes the best knowledge about how to live our lives is life’s best-kept secret. God didn’t intend that it be a secret. God’s secrets are plainly revealed. The Bible was designed to reveal God’s way for living (Ephesians 3:1-5). Satan has worked hard to make it a secret. He wraps churches up in religious doctrines hard to be understood. He wraps the world in confusing false assumptions to blind you to the truth. It takes more time and energy to unravel the false doctrines and false assumptions than it does to discover the absolute truth for living.

When troubles come Satan seeks to create distance between you and God. Satan seeks to blind the church and the world to the presence of God by blinding us to the truth. One sure way for Satan to create that distance is through blame, shame and guilt.

Ultimately, Satan’s strategy is to divide and conquer. Guilt is healthy when it is used as a moral compass to tell us that we are off course. However, Satan seeks to use our guilt to condemn us. He knows that condemnation brings shame and usually seeks to blame. Shame seeks to blame self, circumstances, people and God. It is not that guilt of sin doesn’t bring shame and blame, but if these feelings are not dealt with properly they become debilitating. They become debilitating because they alienate us from ourselves, others and God. They alienate us from the resources God offers to solve our problems.

We must be careful about our beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. For when we get down on ourselves we get down on our future. We get down on our future because our guilt, shame and blame blind us to God’s presence. Refusing to accept the guilt for our sins will cause us to lead shameful lives of blame.

Sin is at work in our circumstances to convince us that God is not near. When temptation and troubles come, sin uses our guilt to shame and blame in an effort to drive us away from God. When we get down on God and ourselves we get down on our future, and we become powerless over our circumstances.

Our personal beliefs are self-fulfilling prophecies about ourselves. If we are not very careful we will make whatever we believe about ourselves and God come true. If we allow our circumstances to shame us into believing that God is not present, do we not make what we believe come true. We remove God from our circumstances. When we remove God from our circumstances, we try to convince ourselves that if it is to be it is up to me. When we take the responsibility upon ourselves, we remove God from the equation of life. It is not that he has left us or forsaken us. The problem is that his nearness is of little benefit to you. These attitudes result in a vicious endless cycle of guilt, shame and blame, and increasing distance from God.

It is our beliefs and attitudes toward God that limit his ability to help us in times of need. God’s nearness leads many to think that his nearness is only for the purpose of scrutinizing everything we do. We sing his all-seeing eye is watching you. I used to think the only reason he was watching was to see what I did wrong. We may think that he is looking over our shoulders to catch every mistake we make. This idea only deepens our sense of guilt, shame and blame. It negatively impacts our potential.

I may convince myself to shame myself for whatever I have done wrong. You may say, "If I wasn’t such an idiot, I wouldn’t be here or this wouldn’t be happening to me." The world seeks to convince us that we are idiots. God simply wants you to see that you messed up because you failed to recognize his presence and accept his direction.

Have you seen these books that say, "An Idiot’s Guide . . ." I have never liked those titles. Do I have to admit that I am and idiot before I can buy one? I have seen people buy "An Idiot’s Guide . . ." to solve whatever problem they have, and then they say, "That book didn’t help be a bit." Does this mean they don’t even qualify to be an idiot? The title suggests that even and idiot could read and understand this book. I have this feeling that I don’t want to buy a book written for idiots. Would it be worth reading? Maybe that is why they aren’t getting anything out of it. That is like saying, "If you weren’t an idiot, you wouldn’t need this book!" When you accept the fact you are an idiot, it may make you an idiot. It is not that you are an idiot, but you might as well be if think you are. It will leave you without the knowledge to accomplish what needs to be done.

Supposing I entitled this sermon, "An Idiot’s Guide to Nearness with God." How would you feel? Why do you let the world convince you that you are on the borderline of being an idiot? Maybe I ought to rename my web site, "Sermons for Idiots."

Overly self-critical people can’t move ahead because of blame, shame and guilt. Our failure may be real, but if it is not dealt with properly failure becomes debilitating. We can’t move ahead because of blame, shame and guilt. Satan convinces you that you are an idiot and don’t have a chance. You may believe in God, but you limit him by considering yourself to be an idiot.

Jesus accepted all the guilt, shame and blame for every failure in our lives. So we can stop condemning ourselves. Sin brings enough shame of its own. Remember God never pronounces us guilty without a plan to redeem us from our sin.

John 3:16-20
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. (NIV)

When we love the darkness of our own thoughts more than the light of God’s absolute truth we become blinded to God’s presence.

God believes in our future, just look at Jesus Christ. God is not vindictive. He isn’t out to spank us when we go wrong. God knows that we are bent and broken. However, his investment in us is greater than all our failures. You cannot mess up more than Jesus Christ can fix.

1 John 4:16-19
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. (NIV)

So don’t be anxious about your problems (Matthew 6:24-33). Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. His love is greater than all of our fears. If you can’t believe this, then you don’t really know God. We can prevent a life of anxiety by realizing that God’s graceful presence covers our sins and gives us strength for the present difficulties.

Often our hearts condemn us, but remember that God is greater than our hearts. He is not here to condemn or spank us. He is present to enable us to live up to his calling.

1 John 3:18-20
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (NIV)

I may convince myself that what is happening to me is somebody else’s fault. So I blame those around me, and God. We say if God is good why is this happening. We say if God were fair this wouldn’t be happening to me. No one ever said that life is fair, but the Christian realizes that God is near. Life may not be fair, but God’s promises are true.

Do you know what is at stake when I play the blame game? RESPONSIBILITY. I fail to take responsibility for my own actions. I may not want to take responsibility for what I have done, because I may think that it makes me look like an idiot. Looking like an idiot and being an idiot is not the same thing.

God gave us a sense of guilt to help us see the error of our way. When our guilt is directed toward blaming others we fail to see the error in our ways. It is an effort to avoid responsibility. Blame should point me to God’s nearness and his willingness to intercede regardless who’s to blame.

Our blame tends to create anxious questioning concerning God’s loving presence. Paul says, "God is near," then he encourages the Philippians to make their requests known to God without anxiety. You have to believe God is near, that is believe that he is near enough to help.

God’s Nearness Is Real

God really is near. Some think that Jesus has been a long time in coming. They think that he removed himself from this planet almost 2,000 years ago. They have given up on his coming. John writes, "Come, Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22:20 NIV) John wasn’t speaking about the final judgment in this passage. He was speaking of Jesus coming in judgment upon the church’s enemies at the close of the first century.

When first century Christians spoke of Christ’s coming in the final day, it reminded them that the Lord was near then. It was a reminder that Christ was in charge of their destinies.

Philippians 3:17-21
Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (NIV)

We need to remember that we are citizens of heaven. It is the laws of heaven that direct and empower our lives. They were eagerly waiting for Christ return; it gave them great moral power. When we see the evil in our world we may become pessimists about the present. However, the evil in our world has no power over those who understand that they are citizens of heaven and that God is near.

Think of how many times God has come through for humanity. He has done it again and again, and he will continue to do it. He will take human deeds meant for evil and turn them into blessings. Since God controls the by-products of man’s sinful actions, since he always has the last word, we can be optimists about the future.

There are numerous scriptures that teach us that God is in charge. Here are three verses.

Revelation 1:18
I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (NIV)

Christ holds the key to whatever circumstances threaten to bring death through the evil or this world. He breathes life into our circumstances. Sin reigns to bring death, but Christ reigns to bring life.

Ephesians 1:18-23
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (NIV)

1 John 4:4-5
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (NIV)

Knowing that God is in charge allows us to think praiseworthy thoughts. This provides us a reason to think positive.

Philippians 4:8-9
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (NIV)

Positive thinking is based upon God’s nearness. Seeing God in your daily life allows you to see whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. Experiencing God’s nearness allows you to see the availability of God’s goodness in every circumstance. Often we take these verses and say you must think positive, but you can’t think very positive if God is not involved in your life. Positive thinking without God’s presence has no saving power.

Satan only wants you to see the unfairness, the twisted, the bad, the ugly and the evil in every situation. He wants to convince you that God is powerless in the circumstances you face. So Paul reminds us that God is near.

Thinking God thoughts allows your potential to be measured by the promises of God and not your circumstances. Too many Christians believe in God but depend upon themselves. We believe that our circumstances limit our abilities and opportunities. The world has convinced us that we are limited because of race, sex, environment, personal background and our personal failures. It is our beliefs, attitudes and behaviors toward our circumstances that limit our abilities.

God’s Nearness Empowers Lives

We find the secret to life in every situation simply revealed in the following verses. It isn’t meant to be a secret, but it becomes a secret when Satan blinds us to the absolute truth of God’s word through a warped sense of guilt, shame and blame.

Philippians 4:10-13
I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (NIV)

Paul learned the secret to life in whatever circumstances he faced. "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Can’t you see God’s presence in that statement? You can see God’s presence whatever the circumstances. Believing this simple truth would give each of us unrestricted ability to accomplish God’s purpose in every situation. When you learn the secret to being content you will have discovered the secret to living.

No matter what happens, we must learn to be thankful if we wish to see God’s presence in every circumstance. “Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) Knowing that God is present is something to be thankful for.

Conclusion:

It is living life without God that makes your world unfair. Great things happen because God is good. It is his goodness that makes life fair. This is the basis for thinking pure thoughts.

You thwart God’s plan when you refuse to recognize that God is at hand regardless of your failures. You do this when you fail to realize that God is greater than your condemning heart. Your heart isn’t always big enough to forgive, but God is greater than your heart. This is why you must place him upon the throne of your heart. Allow God to overrule the condemnation of your own heart.

What would you do if you knew you couldn't fall? What would you do if nothing held you back? Remember that God will not allow anything to interfere with his plans for your life. You are the only person who can thwart God’s plan for your life. You do that by distancing yourself from God.

Paul pointed the Philippians to God’s nearness in their troubled congregation as the reason to rejoice in difficult times. His nearness is a sign that he wants to help.

Benefits of realizing God’s nearness:

Means of rejoicing in every circumstance 4:4
A life free of anxiety 4:5
Results in a life of thanksgiving 4:6
Hearts will be guarded by the peace of God 4:7
We can begin to have a purer thought life 4:8
We will discover contentment in every situation 4:11

 

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