Last in series: The Book of Exodus
I was recently going through some old emails trying to find something and kinda stumbled into a season of my life I hadn’t thought about in a while. I got to this time period that was right in the middle of the recession, You know like 7-8 years ago, and my email archive seemed to be just a series of job applications and resumes. It was just like depressing gmail page after depressing gmail page of my resumes which had been sent out into the world with no reply.
If you send a resume, and nobody reads it, does it make a sound?
But looking through these emails brought me back to a really challenging season in my life.
I was out of college working a part time job, recently married and for the life of me I could not get a full time Job. A story many people had in those years.
And on top of that I was going through a bit of an existential crisis. I had always been a person of faith, grown up going to church, my parents are pastors.
However, in that season I was having very serious doubts about whether I believed in God, and I had a real bad taste in my mouth when it came to churches.
I essentially was questioning everything I had ever believed or known.
And, in this period of my life there were plenty of people around me that could tell I was having a hard time.
And those people, those friends and family members who were there for me in that time, it made a huge difference.
I can honestly say they helped me get through those years without giving up.
Not sure what would have happened on the job front, but I certainly wouldn’t be standing here today, as pastor of church if it wasn’t for them.
And different people were there for me in a lot of different ways.
I got a lot, and I mean a lot of advice.
Here are some ideas or techniques to help you find a job,
here is a new career path you should consider,
here is some book you should read about your questioning right now.
Here is some way you should think about God.
I will say I was certainly not lacking input from other people.
However, what really made the difference in those years, was not the advice.
even though some was helpful, a lot of it was not.
And i think that’s because advice was not actually what i was most needing
Crises can sometimes make us think advice is what is called for, but in my experience there’s something else deeper going on in crises
what really made the difference for me were the friends and family who were just with me. Those who sat with me as I processed all I was going through, and rather than give me advice, they gave me hug. Told me they loved me
It was those people who were just with me as I questioned everything I had ever know, those people who were just with me as I failed to get yet another job.
That is what was made the difference.
And it made the difference because it made me feel like I mattered, that I was still worthy regardless of my current circumstances.
It was their presence that made each job rejection feel less painful, and it was their presence that allowed me to process and sort through my questioning.
Not ignore it and run away
You see, it was just by being there with me that they helped life feel a little more stable.
They felt like something I could rely on, which made everything else easier, more bearable.
And, you know, I think it is interesting how much much of a difference it can make to have people in your life that truly feels reliable.
Over the last month at BLV we've been investigating the way experiences of reliability (like this experience of mine when i was in crises) connects to how we think about God.
No matter our religion, our beliefs, our theologies, so much of all of our lives will pose to us the question:
Is there really a higher reliability or trustworthiness that I can look to?
Is there really a good God? - not just abstractly, but concretely,
So much of life poses this question because so much of life includes challenging and hard and confusing things.
The sorts of things that feel so arbitrary, so cosmically unfair, maybe "just so damn hard” Like a recession, that we think:
If there is a God at all, that God must be aloof, disinterested, absent, or not powerful enough to do anything about this
If we’re skeptical of faith, maybe it’s this question that keeps us away, or holding faith at arm’s length
Or if we are (or have been) a person of faith, maybe it’s this question that is the most enduring and maddening struggle of our lives… the puzzle piece that just won’t seem to fit!
And with this in mind, over the last 5 weeks we have been walking through the Old Testament book of Exodus. It is a book that in many powerful ways reveals the character of God… reveals it to be a character that is good, trustworthy, Reliable.
Over and over again we find this to be the message of Exodus. That God is reliable. And it makes a huge difference when he actually feels reliable.
We saw God showing himself as reliable by speaking to Moses in the Burning bush
God making it clear that the Hebrews could count on them, that he has heard their prayers, heard their cries.
And he will take it upon himself to show that he is good and trustworthy
And then God shows his reliability by Liberating them from the Egyptians
God showing them that he is bigger and better than any force in this world.
We then see God as reliable by providing for the Hebrews as they wandered in the desert
Literally bringing manna from heaven, food out of nowhere to feed them
Then he showed himself as reliable by giving them the 10 commandments
That he wants them to live lives that are flourishing, and his instruction and guidance are reliable to do so
God’s then draws the contrast between himself and the God’s of egypt by the giving of meticulous instruction on how the Hebrews can relate to him.
The contrast only highlighting even more that God is unique in his reliability.
We find example after example, insight after insight of this being at the heart of God’s character
And I would love to bring us to the ending of exodus. Which I think will help us see, what perhaps is the most profound statement of God’s reliability... His presence
For people who have gone through what the Hebrews have gone through with generational oppression, It would be very easy to feel alone,
As much as the guidance, the instruction, the miraculous intervention of God would have been awesome to the Hebrews.
The most powerful statement, the thing that made the biggest difference in God actually FEELING reliable, was that he is with them, that he is present.
That their lot as a people, now freed from slavery, was not the workings of a distant God, tinkering with a chessboard, and they just happened to end up on the winning side… but that they were freed because this God is engaged, and thoughtful, and cares deeply about them
So, let’s take a look from where we left off last week.
The newly liberated Hebrews are in the desert at the foot of mount Sinai, and they are waiting for Moses to come down from his prolonged time interacting with God, where he received amongst other things, the 10 commandments
And Moses and God are coming to the end of their back and forth...
12 Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.
You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
Moses is aware that once he comes down from the mountain that he going to have to lead the Hebrews somewhere to start over. And moses is like, “you better be sending me some help. I can’t do this alone.”
14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
The power of this statement would be be hard to overstate.
Who is going to go with moses and Hebrews to help them. God will, HE will be with them
15 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
17 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked,because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
This is one of my favorite lines in the whole Bible. Moses is like, yeah commandments are great, these instructions awesome, but none of that is enough if you are not with us. And you can just see so much intimacy and connection is here. God says “I know you by name”
In the end, what is going to make our life different from anyone else's? It’s your company, you being with us
This is then followed up by several chapters of God describing how he will go with them. That he will be with the Hebrews in where they go from here, that they will not be left to manage on their own,
Then the book finishes with meticulous instruction on how to build a Tabernacle.
Which essentially will work as a physical dwelling place for God’s presence.
A way for these ancient peoples to know that he will not just be with them in heart, or in memory, but his presence will literally dwell with them.
And so, let's read the very last passage of Exodus describing this.
40:34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
36 In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; 37 but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. 38 So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.
God is with the Hebrews, day and night, from place to place. His presence in sight of all the Israelites in all of their travels
How is God reliable?
He is always there
This is super radical for that time.
In conceptions of religion before this, Gods were stationary.
They dwell on one mountain
They show themselves at this time of day, or in this specific situation
They require you to come to them
BUT NOT THIS GOD
THIS GOD GOES TO PEOPLE, he goes with the Hebrews
The constant reassurance that no matter what happens around you
No matter the circumstance, I am here
Be at peace, be at rest, for your good and trustworthy God is always here.
what God does here with the Hebrews, a specific people group, navigating a specific geographic space, God being ever-present to them.
I think in Jesus we see this embodied and expanded… Jesus’ earliest followers believed that one of the most incredible things he did was: open up the door for all people in all places from all backgrounds to experience the presence of God, experience the reliable with-ness of God.
When Jesus died on the cross, after he let out his last breath. The curtain of the temple, tabernacle tears in half.
As if part of the human condition in us all is to believe in some way (or maybe many ways) that we have to be separated from God - by a curtain of sorts - that we’re not worthy to be with him
But God’s response to that, in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, is to suggest just the opposite:
God’s desire is to tear down curtains… to have closeness, connection with us
I think back to my opening story, and it makes me wonder: maybe that most key feature of Jesus’ story, dying on the cross, was meant to help me (or anyone) experience -- on the most ultimate level -- the same sort of consolation that I found with the people who were just “with me” in crises
Maybe What I or any of us need most existentially is not advice or answers to all our questions or changes in our circumstances…
Maybe what we need is just to feel like we’re not in this alone.
That someone understands and cares.
That we are loved and worthy. PERIOD
In the downs of life, when I am struggling with loss, disappointment, unfulfillment,
It makes all the difference to feel that God is with you in that. That he understands and cares, and reaffirms who you are.
That you are more valuable than a job, your income, you ability to be right all the time
In the joys of life, when things are going well,
It makes all the difference to feel him right next to you celebrating.
That he is close to you.
That when I first met my son, that he was just as overjoyed and happy and in love with him as I was.
It makes a difference if I feel like God is with me when I go to work each day
It makes a difference if I feel like God is with me when I come home
It makes a difference if I feel like God is with me when I go to bar
Trying to relax on a day off
Visiting my family
Stuck in traffic
It makes a difference when I feel regret over my choices
Feel lost about my future
IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE TO FEEL LIKE GOD IS ACTUALLY WITH YOU
But, that’s the thing. How does one actually feel the presence of God?
Well, the best way I have learned to actually sense God’s presence, is logging experience of feeling him be present.
And the good news is that God considers the heavy lifting on this his responsibility... he loves when we put ourselves in position to receive him and say: I'm giving this a shot, so God show up (in fact, that's exactly the shape of Moses' prayer in today's scripture.. "I will go, but you have to send your presence")
Essentially, inviting him to be close, and paying attention to what it feels like.
Not to say that we feel something every time we invite God to be close.
But, personally, I do have a long log of experiences where I did feel something.
Maybe I felt a calm or peace that was hard to explain
Maybe I felt overwhelmed with emotion
Maybe I felt a strange tingling in my body.
Or Just felt loved, I felt something inside myself well up with feeling of care and worth.
Now, how do I know those experiences are me feeling the presence of God?
But, I can tell you that I have a fairly long log of experiences that it actually feels harder to explain away all of them
And, maybe more importantly.
My life feels a lot fuller and deeper, chalking up all of those experiences as the God of the universe actually interacting with me.
So, my takeaways for today
This week, find 5, 10, 15 min each day and pray. Invite God’s presence. That you would actually feel him to be close.
Here is how I encourage you to do this.
Find a quiet, peaceful place.
And pray something like
God Invite your presence right now, I ask that I could feel you here with me right now.
Then just be quiet and pay attention to anything that may feel notable.
Some people can find it helpful to get our bodies into a posture of receiving
Like holding our hands open like we are about to actually receive something.
As I mentioned we may notice
A hard to explain peace or sense of calm.
A rising of emotions
A tingling sensation
Maybe a strange heat
And just for the sake of experimentation
For this week, chalk that up to God
And at the end of the week, see how you feel
Well, in moment I will pray, and we will enter into a time of singing and prayer. Something that spiritual communities have done for centuries. And I invite you to engage in that time in whatever way feels best to you. Maybe it is singing along and dancing. Maybe it is just sitting back and letting the music hit you. And, as we are doing that we will have a team of people in the back who would love to pray with you, It can be a really meaningful thing to have somebody else pray along with you. And I have found that God tends to show up in surprising and powerful ways when I have asked someone else to pray for me. It’s a safe and good group of people, no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice.
So if you will stand with me