Lord is Near!
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.
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.
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
"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
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
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.
"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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
We can begin to have a purer thought life
We will discover contentment in every situation