ETHOS:Presence       Exodus 33:7-23

Ethos is the series we’re in.  We started last week, and we’re going to be talking more about who God has created us and shaped us to be uniquely, some of our values, and our mission.  Last week, we said the reason that we’re here, the reason that we gather on a Sunday morning, is to help people live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  We want to help people become apprentices, or learners, or disciples of what it looks like to live more and more in the way of Jesus of Nazareth.

Today we’re moving into our very first value.  I was watching my news feed this week and there was something that kept popping up over and over and over again.  It was the hearing Congress was having with Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook.  Did anybody see the highlights of this?  A few parts of it were a little bit comical.  Congressmen and women asking Mark Zuckerberg, “Let me get this straight.  Facebook is free?”  He’s like, “Yeah, absolutely free.”  “100% free?”   You could almost see them going, “Oh, we’ve got you backed into the corner now, buddy.”  He’s like, “Absolutely free.”  They’re like, “Well, how do you make money?”  {Gotcha!}  He’s like, “Well, Congressmen, we run advertisements.”  Their minds were like BOOM! this is a completely new, revenue-generating model!  Right?  What they really asked Mark Zuckerberg was how much is Facebook following people?  How much do you hear?  Mark, where are you guys?  When people sign up, do you get access to them at that point in time, or are you in more places than just that?

My wife was at the park with some of her friends a few weeks ago.  They got this email from the school district saying, “There has been a lice incident at our elementary school.”  So they started talking about lice for a few minutes at the park.  When she got home and was swiping through her Facebook feed, there was an advertisement for lice shampoo. (whispers) They’re listening!   And that’s what came out in this hearing. . . .they’re listening!  Whether you have Facebook or not.  They are EVERYWHERE!

If God were on trial, would he be listening?  What’s our perspective of this world that we live in?  If God were on trial in your life, would you say, “God, guilty!” you’re listening, you’re present, you’re here all the time?  Do you recognize it?  Do you live in it?  That’s the story that the Scriptures are telling.  If you have your Bible, open to Genesis 1:1-2.  Hopefully, you’ll see that the values that shape us are the story that God has been telling from the very, very beginning.  It says this:  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  This word ‘spirit’ is the Hebrew word ‘ruach.’  It meant spirit.  It meant wind.  To an early Hebrew, it was the life-giving, personal presence of God, that moved the trees, that shaped the world.  That moved the world from chaos to order.  That’s what the ruach, the Spirit of God, did.  If you flip over to (Genesis) chapter 2, verse 7, it says this:  …then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.  We see God’s ruach, his spirit, creating the world, shaping the world, giving life to the world, animating the world, as it were, then we see God breathing life into the lungs of humanity.  This word (breathed) is ‘naphach.’  It’s essentially ruaching or spiriting.  He spirits the people, he gives them life.

In Psalm 139:7-10, the psalmist steps back and goes:  Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  We live in a world Dallas Willard refers to as a ‘God-bathed world.’  The prophet Isaiah says that the glory of God covers the face of the earth. (Isa. 6:3)  There’s not a place you can go on the face of the planet that you can escape the ruachor the presence of God.  And yet, we can go days, weeks, months as followers of Jesus and not recognize his presence with us, can’t we?  Because we live in a world that’s fractured, that’s broken, so this ruach, this Spirit of God, now competes with the noise of the world, and we often don’t discipline our hearts and lives long enough to actually hear his voice.

We live in a busy time and culture, don’t we?  Somebody, a few weeks ago, told a joke.  They said, “Listen, we talk a lot about Jesus’s miracles, but nobody talks about the fact that he was 30 and had twelve good friends.”  That’s miraculous.  In our day and time, that’s a borderline miracle, isn’t it?  Think about this, we live in this time and place where we are almost constantly inundated with some sort of screen, with some sort of noise.  Aren’t we?  It’s almost constant.  We are updating, swiping, and clicking for, they say, five hours every day.  In a recent study they did of young adults, they found they checked their phone over 85 times every single day.  The scary part was when they asked them, “How many times do you think you checked your phone today?” they would say roughly half of the time that they actually did.  We’re unaware of the noise that we are creating.  Forty-six percent of Americans said they could not live without their smartphone—a device that didn’t exist a decade ago.  We now cannot live without it.  We live in a—let’s just admit it—noisy world, don’t we?  A device-saturated, clicking, swiping, constant world.

We are often alone together, aren’t we?  Think about the last concert you went to.  My wife and I went to a Cirque du Soleil show, in Mexico, and somebody had their iPad there and were filming the show on their iPad.  I’m going, number one, when are you going to watch that?  Number two, the fact that you are filming this means you’re not actually experiencing it and watching it NOW.   The next baseball game you’re at, the next. . . . .people are constantly trying to document so they can go back and relive an experience they never had.  As Neil Postman said, “We are amusing ourselves to death.”  There’s this great article in a New York magazine written by a guy named Andrew Sullivan and here’s what he said.  He had some words for the church as well about this noisy world we live in.   “If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation.  Christian leaders seem to think that they need more distraction to counter the distraction.”

Friends, we live “East of Eden,” as it were, where our world is permeated with presence of God, but his melody is now mixed with the monotonous tone of screens and other things, busyness, and hurry that occupy much of our day.  I think, you can go to church for your entire life and maybe get to the end of it and have an experience that’s not all that dissimilar to that of the patriarch Jacob.  He has this recognition of God, certainly you were in this place and we knew it not. (Gen. 28:16)  We missed it.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a person that misses it.

The central text we’re studying today is Exodus 33:7-11.  Before there were screens, before there was Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, before there were automobiles or travel, before there was electricity to light up your world at night, when the world was a lot quieter, people still had to seek the presence of God.  Think about that.  Before all of our things that noisied up our world, people still had to seek the presence of God.  This is an example of one who’s seeking—-it’s Moses, the great leader of Israel.   Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting.  And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp.  {So the author of Exodus is making a point:  Where is this tent?  Outside the camp.}  Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent.  When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses.  And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door.  Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.  When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistance Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.  This is a whole other message, but I just want you to notice that before Joshua ever says, “There’s giants in the land, but we can take them down,” he’s spending time in that tent.  Maybe that’s the reason he’s one of the only ones that says, oh come on, we can do it. 

What’s Moses’ posture?  He has a unique relationship with God.  Most people who study this passage would say that Moses is this representative of a nation; he gets a unique, special encounter with God because God’s anointing is on him, God’s calling is on him, and they have this unique and special relationship.  Certainly that’s true, but what we see through Moses’ life is encounter with God, even if you’re anointed, even if you’re called, even if this is your thing, happens outside of the camp.  It’s almost as if it takes isolation to bring about encounter.  It’s almost as though he has to get away before he gains an awareness.  We could talk about the reality that we live in a God-bathed world.  That doesn’t mean we always encounter the God who is everywhere.  We can live our lives “certainly God was in this place and we knew it not,” it’s that intentional pursuit of God that allows Moses, and now us, to encounter the presence of God.  {Slide: Intentional pursuit is the pathway to encountering God’s presence.}  Dallas Willard, this great philosopher, used to wake up every morning, and before he did anything else, he would say to himself, “God is here!”  God. Is. Here.  He’s echoing this anthem that followers of Jesus have cried out for years, decades, centuries, that our deepest longing is to encounter his fullest presence.  He’s going, I just want to posture my heart for that, before the day gets going.  He’s living out Jeremiah 29:13 — You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

So, even before the digital revolution, even before electricity, even before widespread travel and the things that make our lives noisy, you do recognize that Jesus, the Son of God, thought it necessary to get away.  He didn’t say, listen, we live in a God-bathed, God permeated world so I’ll just encounter God as my day goes on, which you should do.  But sometimes it takes a unique encounter to lead to a more pervasive encounter.  So what does Jesus do?  Mark 1:35 — And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.  He prayed.  He encountered God.  He abided in the life of his father.  So, in John 15:4, he says to you and to me, make your home in God.  Abide in Him and he’ll make his home in you.  But it doesn’t happen by accident.  {Look up at me for just a moment.}  It’s a choice.  It’s a choice.  Abide with me, he says, and I’ll make my home, I’ll abide in you.  He’s inviting us back to God’s design and our destiny.  Life’s deepest longing—-it’s created, it’s wired deep into us—-is encountering His fullest presence.  It doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by a posture of our hearts and our souls.  I love the way Charles Spurgeon put it: “Faith is the road, but communion with Jesus is the well from which the pilgrim drinks.”  All he’s doing is reframing the psalmist’s exclamation in Psalm 63:1 — O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  God, I want you.  More than anything, I want you.  Is that our posture?  Is that our desire, this God-bathed world?  Are we making this same exclamation that Moses does as he goes outside the camp as he meets with God—it says face to face as one meets with a friend?  That David does as he seeks God in the temple saying that I might gaze upon your face, for a day in your house is better than a thousand days elsewhere.  (Ps. 27:4 & 84:10)

Moses was unique.  He was one of the only people of his nation that got to encounter God face to face like that.  What happened was you had this tent of meeting that eventually was developed into a tabernacle, where the people would come and you had the Holy of Holies of God and it was this sorta portable bigger tent that they used to move around with them as they traveled around the desert.  Eventually that tabernacle was turned into a temple.  It was a physical space.  What these three places had in common was that they were places that people met with God personally.  They were places in this God-bathed, God saturated, where can I go from your presence type of world, God met with people uniquely.  His presence dwelt.

We have this turn in the New Testament, as new covenant believers, we’ve been given this gift.  I’m not sure we’ve stewarded it as well as we could have.  Because what started in a tent, and turned into a tabernacle, eventually was rolled into a temple, and then, in the Scriptures they say this Spirit of God, this ruach, or pneuma, in the New Testament, of God now dwells in you.  Sure, He’s everywhere, but he’s uniquely, personally, life-creating force (energy) in you.  Personal presence of God in you.  Look at the way Paul writes this to the church at Corinth:  Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:16)

Let’s just pause for a moment.  The Spirit hovers over the deep and creates life.  The Spirit is breathed into nostrils and human beings become this divine concoction of grace and dirt.  And that Spirit lives in you.  What was unique to Moses is now available to all.  The question is:  Is God in this place and we’re missing him?  Are our lives so noisy and so busy and so cluttered that, unlike Moses who goes outside of the camp, unlike David who says I’ve got to get to your temple, and unlike Jesus who says I’m getting away early to hear his voice, have we’ve just been absorbed into the onslaught of noise in such a way that we can no longer hear his voice?  Because it can happen.

So what happened in the Old Testament in a place, in a tent, in a tabernacle, and in a temple, NOW happens in believers through a posture.  It started in a place and now it happens in a posture.  It’s a posture of awareness, of attentiveness, of saying God, I know that you’re here and, like looking for Waldo, God, I’m going to find you.  What I want to do in the next ten minutes is unpack what Moses does when he encounters the presence of God.  What does he see?  Because God has not changed.  The way that we interact with God has changed, and by God’s Spirit in us it’s different, praise the Lord, but what we encounter when we encounter God is the same.  Let’s unpack what happens when Moses gets into the presence of God.

Exodus 33:11 — Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.  Moses comes out of these interactions with God with his face glowing, with God’s glory sort of having rubbed off on him a little bit, and what is told as he gets out of there is oh man, I’m meeting with Yahweh like He’s our friend.  So God not only loves us because he HAS to, but he LIKES us.

How do you interact with a friend?  You probably go out to lunch with them.  You grab coffee together.  You go do things together.  Think of it, if you had a friend and you’re like, hey, listen, I really want to be friends.  You’re the most important person in my life.  Your relationship is the most important thing.  I’ve got ten minutes before breakfast that we get to spend together every single day, and I just want to read about you.  Then it’s like. . . .on with our day.  How’s that going to work out?  My guess is not that well.  That’s not the picture of what happens when Moses encounters the presence of God.  When he encounters the presence of God, he gets this awareness of God’s affection, as one who meets with a friend.  As one who’s honest.  If you read through this encounter in Exodus 33, Moses is brutally honest with God.  You almost read it and go, oh, don’t say that!  Oh, come on!  Like, God, you said you were going to do this, and you say we’re your people, and what are other nations going to say about you if you let us die out here.  STEP UP!  Right?  And you’re like, oh no, don’t.  Step back, Moses.  He’s just honest, because he’s interacting with God like God’s his friend.  He’s not playing games, he’s not hiding.

If you’re struggling with lust, did you know you can tell Him?  If you’re struggling with anger, you know you can tell Him.  If you’re struggling with doubt, you know you can tell Him.  Here’s the thing, you can tell Him because He already knows.  It’s not a secret.  Some of your friends you can tell things to and they’re like, wow, I didn’t see that coming.  Not God!  He never says, “I didn’t see that coming.”  He says, I know, I know, and I love you.

There’s two things that happen when you and I step into the presence of God, viewing God as friend.  One, our pride dies.  You can’t get into the presence of God and come out beating your own chest.  Doesn’t happen.  Here’s the other thing that happens and the gospel’s unique in this.  The gospel is the only thing that can do this, because the gospel kills our pride AND our insecurity.  We recognize that we’re loved.  There’s other things that can kill your pride and leave you feeling like absolute garbage.  There’s other things that can kill your insecurity and make you think you’re awesome, but it’s only the gospel that can both lower you and raise you in one instance.  We start to hear that voice of love.  We start to hear that voice of ‘I’m for you.’  I think Henri Nouwen puts it really well when he says this:  “The challenge is to let go of fear and claim the deeper truth of who I am.  When you forget your true identity as a beloved child of God, you lose your way in life.  You become scared and start doing things not freely, but because of fear.  But when you make space for God in your life and begin to listen to God’s loving voice, you suddenly start to realize perfect love.”

Did you know that Jesus calls you friend?  He calls you friend.  You can hear me tell you He calls you that. . . .oh man, but when you hear Him call you that. . . .it’s a game changer!  So this longing that we have for God’s presence is often a longing, first, to hear, “God, I just need to know, not even that you love me because you have to, but I just want to know that you like me.”  Moses heard it.  Guys, he calls us friend.

Here’s the next thing that happens.  Exodus 33:12-14 — Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.  Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’  Now therefore, If I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight.  Consider too that this nation is your people.”  And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  So Moses is going, hey Lord, we’re not going without you.  God’s saying okay, I’m going to go with you. I’m not just going to be with you, arm around your shoulder, I’m going to be with you advocating for you.  When we’re in the presence of God, here’s what we recognize:  That he wants to give us rest.  Like a shalom. . . .soul shalom.  That’s his desire.  It was the picture of walking into a battle, and God was out in front and that they would be victorious.  All throughout the book of Joshua, they have this refrain about God giving his people rest.  It’s when they walk into the land and God delivers on his promise.

It’s this picture that when we encounter the presence of God, we acquire this confidence in God’s authority.  We get to sort of step back from our life, and our worries, and our control, and we get to recognize that there is One who sits above it all. . . .and it is not you!  You show me somebody who’s confident in God’s power and I will show you somebody who’s been in God’s presence.  When we step into his presence, two things die:  our need to control AND fear that often grips our soul.  So the psalmist will write in Psalm 46:10-11 — Be still  {Like, unplug.  Maybe if you’d write it in modern-day — Stop swiping!  Stop updating!  LOOK. UP.   Gives your thumbs a rest.}  …and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!  The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  As I was preparing this week, I got the sense that this was a word for some of us, of God just saying, listen, I know there’s a lot going on in your world.  I know there’s a lot of fears.  I know there’s a lot of question marks.  I know there’s a lot of disappointment and a lot of pain.  But part of the enemy’s ploy, in your life and mine, is that when things feel out of control we need to work harder, we need to do more, we need to take those reins, we need to beat our chests a little bit and step our game up a little bit, and the counterintuitive invitation from the gospel is when life feels out of control, you need to recognize who’s in control.  Life is often out of control.  {News flash!}  But there’s someone who never feels hurried, never feels rushed, never says ‘I wish I could, but I can’t,’ and you will only encounter that when you are still.

Here’s how this section ends.  (Exodus 33:15-17)  God says, “My presence will go with you,” and Moses says back to Him — And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.  For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people?  Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”  And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”   Okay, Moses, like I said before, I AM going with you.  But don’t you just love Moses’ posture?  It’s one of hey God, we’d rather wander around in the wilderness WITH you than enter into the Promised Land without you.  God, if we’re going to be successful as your people, and God, if I’m going to be successful as a leader (Moses says), you’ve got to go with us.  We’d rather follow a person than a path.  That’s what Moses is saying.  He’s saying, God, just don’t chart out the course for us, go with us.  Then he says why he wants God to go with them — So that they would be distinct, so that they would be unique, so that they would be the people of God.  See, the truth of the matter is, friends, we only become the people of God when we spend time in the presence of God.  And I don’t mean spending time just learning information.  Information is great.  It’s wonderful.  But I think we probably, as a church community in the states, in general, we probably could do with less information.  We need more transformation.  Transformation only happens when we encounter the personal presence of God. {Slide:  In God’s presence we are transformed into God’s people.}   Praise God that He dwells within us, but we often crowd Him out because our lives are so noisy.

Paul writes to his church in Corinth:  And we all, {ALL!  What was unique to Moses is available to all!} with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.    Being in the presence of God is like being in a furnace.  It can hurt sometimes.  He’s not the friend who just pats you on the back when you’re going to destroy your life, you know that, right?  He’s a friend and he’s for you and he will tell you what’s true about you.  He’ll confront sin in your life.  He’ll confront guilt and shame in your life.  He’ll convict.  He will heal.  He’ll restore.  He’ll say to you, hey, Paulson, is that really who you want to become?  Do you really feel like you need to carry that burden?  Can you release that anger?  Will you give it to me?  Ryan, I love you exactly the way that you are, you’ve got nothing to prove.  I am for you, through and through.  This is the transforming work of God, friends.  It’s the soul work that we often long for but resist.  Because a furnace not only refines, but it also takes some things away.

So this is the transformation we long for.  What might it look like this week, if you were to live in this presence? Let me give you a few things, because I want to answer ‘what do you do with this?’  My friend Steve, this week, told me about the Each Hour Challenge.  You just sort of set an alarm on your phone.  It buzzes you, and you take time and just review that hour and ask the question: God, where did I see you at work?  So I did this on Friday, and do you know what happened?  I saw God at work!  In ways I wouldn’t have seen.  (Here’s one example.)  I was sort of busy working away and I had this thing planned out as my alarm goes off.  When my alarm went off, I actually noticed that my youngest son was staring at me working, and I just went, oh man, God, I’m teaching on presence and I can’t even be present with him!  That was a conviction piece.  Then we were off and running for the day and it changed my day!  It wasn’t perfect, but He was present in it.  He would have been whether I recognized it or not.

Maybe you memorize Psalm 23 and remember throughout the day God, you’re my shepherd, and God, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, YOU are WITH me.  God, you’re here.  How can I see you?  Maybe you pray the Lord’s Prayer a few times a day and you start to recognize yeah, God, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Maybe you spend the day fasting.  You do know that throughout the ages of the church fasting has been one of the most prominent disciplines to jar our hearts and minds to recognize that God’s with us.  So we empty a little bit of us, in order to be filled with more of Him.  You probably aren’t going to die if you do that!  You’re going to feel like you might, because we often don’t (fast), but I think you’ll be okay.

Maybe you come on Sundays anticipating ‘God, you’re here.’  Not because the space is unique, but because a bunch of people who have You living in them are gathering in the same spot to declare Your praise and Your glory.  God, you say you inhabit the praises of your people, so we come expecting, and we come passionate, and we come to pour our hearts out to You, because you are here, and you care, and you love us, and you’re for us, and we just want to tell You how awesome we think you are.  That might change your week.  Maybe you take your hands out of your pockets a little bit.  You can go ‘tyrannosaurus rex’ praise hands, if you want to, or you can just throw them up in the air like you just don’t care.  Sometimes the posture of our body allows us to recognize the presence of God.  So maybe it’s on our knees, maybe it’s with our hands in the air, maybe it’s with our hands open saying, God, we just want to meet with you.

As Aaron comes out for one last song, I want to give you a moment as we land the plane here.  What do you want to do this week?  How might you practice the presence of a God who’s here but that we often miss?  Here’s the truth, friends, at South Fellowship we want to be a people that encounter and carry God’s presence.  We believe that the world needs more people aware of his affection, confident in his authority, and being transformed into his people.  It’s one of the distinctives that we hope shapes our community and our lives, and through us God’s world.

Lord, we want you to tune our hearts to see your grace.  We believe that you are in this place, and, Lord, we want our eyes to see, our ears to hear, our hearts to encounter.  God, we want to be changed because of the fact that we walk with you.  Not just knowing things about you but knowing you like a friend.  God, would you move, would you change us, would you work in us, we pray?  For our joy and for the glory of your name.  Amen.