Many envision God as a distant figure – unapproachable and unknowable. He sets the world in motion but doesn’t interfere. He just stands back and watches what happens in your life. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, The God of the Bible brings you into the world with purpose. He wants you to know him. He surrounds you with the beauty of each new day so you will understand his glory. Impressive landscapes, towering mountains, intricate flowers, powerful thunderstorms, endless galaxies, and tart summer berries all speak of his nature. The psalmist sings, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1 NIV)
God doesn’t stop there. Over the course of 16 centuries, through 40 prophets and apostles, the Holy Spirit of God breathes out words to reveal himself to you. As you read the words of Scripture, his Spirit fills your mind with understanding of who he is and what he’s doing. The psalmist continues his song, “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7 NIV)
God doesn’t stop there, either. To personally reveal himself to the world, he sends his Son, Emmanuel; God with us. Jesus touches lepers, shares meals, tells stories, laughs, cries, and suffers. He is the visual reality of God in human flesh. The writer of Hebrews says, “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3 NIV) To know Jesus is to know God.
God wants you to know him. Through creation, written word and Living Word, he speaks. If you claim you haven’t heard, the Bible says you are without excuse. His presence is all around you. It could be you’re just too busy living the life he gave you to notice.
There is another way God makes himself known – through His people. Those who trust in Jesus become his witnesses. Our lives exhibit the presence of God in us. Changed hearts, loving service, and godly attitudes direct others to find God. Jesus commissioned his followers to continue his work and spread the good news.
If you know God, its probably because you were impressed by his creation and began to seek him. Maybe you saw him in the love of one of his followers and asked about him. Maybe someone was kind and brave enough to tell you about Jesus. Eventually your questions led you to the person of Jesus Christ, and the Bible where his story is told. It all begins with the truth that God is knowable and he wants to be known. You could not know God apart from his desire to be known. J.I. Packer in his classic book, Knowing God, writes, “Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place on their own accord.” Knowing God is an eternal journey worth pursuing and a privilege to embrace daily. He wants to be known, and you need to know him.
A federal judge’s ruling on Saturday temporarily blocked Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order restricting indoor worship at North Carolina churches due to COVID-19 concerns. Churches are now free to return to regular indoor worship services as long as they take proper precautions. So, why isn’t Quaker Gap reopening worship services yet?
Speaking only on behalf of myself, I feel our Deacons have made a good decision in continuing to keep the doors to the sanctuary closed on Sunday mornings for the time being. We encourage adult Sunday School classes and small groups to meet outdoors as soon as they feel comfortable, while remaining socially distanced. Our Picnic Shelter is a good location for such meetings. We will make a decision regarding Sunday worship as we get closer to July, but for now we continue our internet worship, online meetings for children and youth, and take-out meals on Wednesday evenings.
One reason why this is a good decision is because the number of cases is still growing in our area. It took some time for this virus to affect us here in Stokes County, but the numbers are increasing. Now does not seem like the best time to risk exposing our congregation. Church buildings are not like grocery stores, where we go in, grab what we need, and leave. When we worship indoors, we sit in a room together for an hour singing and breathing recirculated air. This is why the risk is greater in church sanctuaries than it is in Wal-Mart. We must keep an eye on the numbers and be vigilant to limit our contact.
Another reason behind this decision is that our congregation has a number of treasured members who are high risk with regard to the outcome of the virus. These members are also conditioned to be in the building any time the door is open. As a spiritual leader, this is something I deeply respect about them. I don’t wish to set up a situation where anyone feels guilted into coming to public worship when they should be staying home. While the number of cases rises in our area, it’s best to stay safe.
I believe in religious freedom. We are blessed to live in a nation where religious freedom is protected, and the recent ruling by the federal judge is no doubt a good thing. With that in mind, however, I also believe that Scripture encourages believers in Jesus to use freedom with caution. Just because we are free to open the doors on Sunday morning doesn’t mean we should. Freedom needs to be exercised within biblical boundaries.
One of those biblical boundaries is LOVE. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’" (Galatians 5:13-14 NIV) One of the questions we need to ask before exercising freedom is, “What is the most loving thing to do?” If my freedom violates the principle of love and humble service, then it’s not worth it. I’m willing to surrender the right to worship inside our sanctuary for a handful of Sundays if it protects the health of our community. That is exercising freedom within the boundary of love. What message does it send to our community if we risk our health and theirs by potentially spreading this virus? It’s more Christ-like to prove we love our community than prove we have the right to meet in our building. We serve a Savior who surrendered His rights and died on a cross to show the world His love and to offer life. It seems right to me that His people might be willing to temporarily surrender rights in order to demonstrate love and life to their communities.
I hope this explains why I believe our decision is right for Quaker Gap at this time. I don’t judge other church leaders for the choices they feel led to make. Each congregation needs to seek the Lord’s wisdom and use good discernment. I look forward to bringing the flock together under one roof again. But until that day we will continue to be unified in worship, spirit and love, if not in proximity.
On Sunday we talked about the benefits of laughter. In lieu of a blog article this week, I'm posting a YouTube video of comedian Jeff Allen. He mentions C.S. Lewis, so you know he must be a Christian. Be sure to remove your facemask before you watch. I hear that laughing into a facemask can fog up your eyeglasses. Here you go, enjoy...
Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the LORD;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things will never be shaken.
(Psalm 15:1-5 NIV)
Have you ever felt completely out of your league? I remember the first time I auditioned for Regional Band as a High School trumpet player. It was my freshman year. I walked through the doors of an enormous school, completely foreign to me. I checked in, took my number, and wandered to the warm-up room. It’s not like I wasn’t prepared. I knew all my scales. I could play the audition piece by heart. Sight reading was scary, but my instructor gave me some pointers. As I removed my horn from its case, I heard other players warming up their instruments. They ran through scales with precision. They performed the same piece of music I had memorized, but it sounded crisp and confident. One player showed off his range, his notes climbing above the staff and off the page. It wouldn’t have surprised me to have looked up and seen Doc Severinsen standing in the corner. I didn’t look up. I wanted to act as if I were unphased by what seemed like virtuosos all over the room. It was too late. Before I could get one breath into my instrument, I was already defeated.
In Psalm 15, David asks, “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?” His answer puts me right back in the warm-up room. “The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart…” By the time he comes to the end of the list, nobody is left. The psalm could be much shorter. “Who belongs in God’s presence? Nobody!”
If Psalm 15 is the checklist by which we enter God’s presence, we are all doomed. Are you blameless? Are you righteous? Are you truthful? Do you always respect others, especially the godly? Do you always keep promises? Do you sacrifice to help the needy? If you can honestly answer yes to all of these questions, you are unshakable. You are impeccable. You belong in God’s presence! Either that or you are lying. Let’s face it. We don’t belong in God’s presence. He’s way out of our league. If He’s in the majors, we’re still in tee-ball.
But this is just Old Testament stuff, right? God doesn’t expect perfection anymore. Otherwise, how can anyone anticipate heaven? I hate to burst your bubble, but the New Testament writers must have studied David’s hymns. They agree. Paul writes, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23 NIV). Jesus Himself says, “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21 NIV) Truthfully, none of us belong in God’s presence. Our sin disqualifies us. No amount of practice will ever make us good enough to blow our horn in the same room.
This is where Jesus steps in. Born of a virgin, sin is not organic to Him. He checks all of the boxes of Psalm 15. He passes the test of temptation. He lives and breathes blamelessness, righteousness, truthfulness and sacrifice. Though walking here in this world, He never fully leaves the presence of God. Jesus dwells in God’s sacred tent. He strides into the audition room with quiet confidence, knowing He belongs. He plays a song of sacrifice, pleasing to the Father. There is no other in His league. His performance is spotless.
What good does Jesus’ righteousness do for you, though? This is where the good news gets personal. Even though you don’t have what it takes to pass the Psalm 15 test, there is still a way to enter God’s presence. Jesus is the way. He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 NIV) What if it were possible to come into God’s presence not in our own righteousness, but in the righteousness of Jesus? Well, that is actually the only way any sinner will ever enter God’s tent. Paul describes his salvation by saying, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-- the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Philippians 3:9 NIV) Rather than fall in our unrighteousness, by faith in Jesus we can stand in his righteousness. When Jesus stands in for us, we pass the Psalm 15 test. We are unshakable. We are impeccable. We rest in the assurance that, in Christ, God’s presence is our home. In retrospect, the psalm might be expanded to say, ““Who belongs in God’s presence? Jesus does, with all who believe in Him.”
Do you belong in God’s presence? Can you boldly enter the warm-up room, knowing you cannot fail? The good news is that anyone who turns away from their sin and trusts in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ is welcome in God’s presence as His child. You can read Psalm 15 with appreciation for what Christ has done for you rather than fear of what you can never achieve. Trust in Jesus and rest in God’s presence.
For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence. (Hebrews 9:24 NIV)