A New Start: A Place Where I Experience God’s Presence
“So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” 1 Cor. 14:25
Lots of Competition
Competition in the market place is fierce! So many offerings… so many opportunities…so many things to do and places to go on a Sunday.
You are presented with many opportunities and ways that you can spend your Sunday. You could go fishing, golfing, family events, sports events and a myriad of other leisure activities including just lounging around.
Competition for your time, energy and resources is fierce. You could go to many places, be at various events, and find a million ways to spend your Sunday.
In the midst of this are congregations like ours doing their best to draw as many people as possible into their fellowship, sensing that same competition, and often times seeing the result of competing interests in attendance and consumption rates.
There is a sense that we are competing against many other offerings and opportunities.
There is a sense that peoples’ attention is being drawn into many different directions and that in many quarters church is becoming more and more optional.
The Church’s Unique Offering
All of this begs the question of what does the church have to offer that no one else offers? What does the church give that no one can?
Is there something unique about the church that cannot be had anywhere else in this world?
And is that something so essential, so ‘must have’ that I simply can not live without it?
That’s the question this morning! You find the answer to that and you will find the unique purpose of the church.
The Three Legged Table
Last week we talked about the three-legged table (where Laurence literally brought a coffee table to the platform with one of its legs missing and the moment he placed a book on it the whole thing tipped over).
The point of that was not the danger of wobbly furniture but that a church without fellowship, without being a place where everybody knows your name, is like a three-legged table: It can stand but it’s awfully wobbly and you can’t put any weight on it.
One thing the church offers is fellowship…community… a place to belong…a spiritual home…a family of God. In other words, a place called home where everybody knows your name.
The inspiration of that comes from the first century church where a place of belonging seemed absolutely essential in their minds.
This is why it says in Acts 2 things such as:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.
46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
So does offering fellowship give us the competitive advantage?
I’m not so sure. Other groups are also offering a sense of community as well. If you think that the church is the only group that offers a sense of belonging then you need to think again.
Behind where we live is a large family home where it looks as though the kids have moved out but the parents are still there.
Without fail most Sunday mornings the family comes together for an outdoor brunch that can last all day and by the sounds of it attracts upward of 25 people with kids.
They don’t need the church for fellowship. They get that in their family.
Around the corner from where we live is the local Lions Club with lots of opportunities to get involved in good causes and where everybody knows your name.
Down the road on Vine St. are soccer fields where kids not only play but soccer moms and dads hang out together.
Around the corner from the church is a bar where most evenings you will see a bunch of cars parked outside and people hanging together.
My point is that fellowship can be experienced at many different places.
“Yeah, but it’s spiritual fellowship we offer and it’s spiritual friendships that we’re talking about.”
Yes, that’s true. Like Jonathan and David, we are a band of brothers and sisters that walk in each other’s shoes and provide encouragement in the spiritual journey and thus offer spiritual fellowship.
Our Fellowship Is Spiritual
With that we are actually coming closer to the uniqueness of the church and to that which cannot be had anywhere else.
We offer a spiritual fellowship that not only is uniquely designed to help us in our spiritual walk but that also draws in the presence of God in a way not experienced anywhere else.
Do you realize that our fellowship is spiritual? It is based on our common interest and connection with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who indwells us by His Spirit.
Our fellowship is spiritual. You are alive in Christ and I am alive in Christ and together we nurture and stoke the spiritual flame so that it remains strong and does not go out.
Spiritual friendships… where we are a band of brothers and sisters coming together in a spiritual fellowship; where we pray for each other, encourage and love each other, and inspire each other even as iron sharpens iron.
Spiritual fellowship, that’s what I am talking about!
Not social only, not cause-based only, and certainly not only cultural or historical.
Where but here do you get spiritual fellowship? You do not get spiritual fellowship down at the Legion Hall, the local watering hole in the local arena or gym.
You do not get spiritual fellowship by participating in a great cause or with a network event somewhere out in the marketplace.
Only in the church will you have the opportunity for spiritual fellowship.
The Reality of the Presence of God
As important as that is, it goes a step further because spiritual fellowship attracts the presence of God in a way not seen elsewhere.
I find it amazing how when the church first started there were all kinds of references to the presence of God among them. It seemed like every time they had fellowship God was present.
This sense of God’s presence stems from a promise Jesus made; actually, from a couple of promises:
Not only did Jesus promise that “where two or three come together in my name there I am in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20), but he also promised that this would be replicated a million times over simultaneously without ever exhausting the presence of God!
He would do that by pouring out the Holy Spirit among the believers, and this would not be seen anywhere else in this world.
Listen to what Jesus said about this:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” John 14:16-20
He is in us, we are in Him, and where two or three come together in his name and for that purpose, His presence would be in their midst unlike anywhere else.
The world will not see him the way he is seen among us!
Let me be clear and tell you that God’s presence is everywhere and there are many moments in life where you experience the presence of God without anybody else there.
You will find Him in nature. You will find him in your prayer closet. You will find him in the circumstance. You will find him in another person.
But nowhere near as you would as when two or three are gathered in His name! There is a release of the presence of God that is unique to that gathering.
That divine presence in our midst gives us benefits that you will not find elsewhere.
The Benefits of the Presence of God
Let me give you a couple of examples of this.
a) In Acts 2 it’s all about God’s presence resulting in effectiveness
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Acts 2:1-4
Obviously, there was a lot happening there at once and some of it no doubt unique to the fact it was the first time that God showed up in a brand new church. We don’t have the time to unwrap that.
Notice the correlation between them being together in one place praying, the uniqueness of the presence of God in that place and the subsequent ability to engage a skeptical secular audience with the claims of Jesus.
That effectiveness in witnessing would never have happened. They were a bunch of ‘scaredy’ cats hidden away in an upper room until they had such a God-encounter that they become incredibly effective witnesses.
The presence of God makes us effective.
b) In Acts 4 it’s all about God’s presence and us becoming fearless
“Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” Acts 4:23-24, 31
Notice the correlation between gathering and praying in the name of the Lord, a strong sense of God’s presence and how they were fearless and bold.
God’s presence not only makes you effective but also makes you fearless!
c) In 1 Cor. 5 it’s all about God’s presence and personal life change
Without getting into the sordid and sensational details of the particulars, notice the correlation between them assembling in the name of the Lord and God’s presence being there: “When you are assembled… the power of our Lord Jesus is present.” 1 Cor. 5:4
That in turn brings about conviction over personal failure leading to eventual life change!
In 1 Cor. 5 it was all about the presence of God allowing eyes to open so as to eventually be restored and rejuvenated.
d) Lastly, in 1 Cor. 14, it’s all about the presence of God causing unbelievers to come to faith in Jesus.
This is something we would call power evangelism where the presence of God leads to conversion without a whole lot having been forced or said.
“So if the whole church comes together and…. an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” I Cor. 14:23-25
Again, there is a ton of stuff that I would need to unwrap to do justice to this passage, which is not really the intent of this morning.
What I want to point out is how the presence of God among us will cause even nonbelievers to “fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
No arm-wrestling someone into the kingdom, nor having the best argument, but allowing for the presence of God to be in our midst so that searchers and skeptics alike will so sense God’s presence that they will say, “God really is among you.”
This is What We Offer!
That will never happen in any other social gathering. It won’t happen in the legion hall, at the local watering hole, on the golf course or soccer field.
That only happens in the church! As we are competing with so many other things in our days, the only thing we have to offer that makes us unique from anyone is the presence of God.
We come to our gatherings in the name of the Lord expecting God’s presence to be in our midst.
In that atmosphere we sing our songs of worship with passion expecting God to open the windows of heaven.
We pray our prayers with earnestness expecting God to answer from above. We pray for our sick expecting God to heal them. We pray for strength expecting to be made fearless.
We speak our prophetic words expecting secrets to be laid bare and sinners to come to repentance.
In fact, we go about the business of gathering in the name of the Lord expecting saint and sinner alike to say: “God is really among you”.
That is what we offer the world: God is really among us. So we are not a social club nor a historical society, a fraternity nor are we about a meaningful cause.
What we offer – and what you cannot get anywhere else but in places like ours - is the fact that God really is among us.
Taste and See That the Lord is Good!
If you are looking for God’s presence, then you have come to the right place. This morning we invite you to taste and see that the Lord is good!
There is a wonderful little chorus this morning that captures in song what I want to convey to us today:
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart,
I want to see You, I want to see You.
To see You high and lifted up, shining in the light of Your glory,
Pour out Your power and love, as we sing holy, holy, holy!
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.