Setting The Table For A God Visit
Setting The Table For A God Visit
Setting the Table for a God Visit:
How to Get the Most Out of 40 Days of Community
I want you to imagine something this morning. I want you to imagine that the Queen of England is coming to Utah. The queen wants to get a feel for what real American life is like and wants to have dinner with a typical American family. And you get the call. She’s coming to your house to have dinner.
Knowing the Queen of England is coming to your home, do you think you will need to do any preparation for her coming?
You’d probably start with a thorough cleaning of your home, make sure everything is nice and neat and in its place. You’d probably pull out some of your favorite family recipes. You’d probably spend most the day in the kitchen preparing a meal fit for a queen.
And then you’d set the table. You’d bring out the fine china, the best crystal, and you’d gather your family together for this meal. And here you all are – waiting for the guest of honor to appear.
Well, in a way we’ve been preparing over the last several months for a sort of spiritual meal. We’ve been setting the table, so to speak, for a special occasion. Every one of you has been invited to participate in this special occasion called 40 Days of Community. I am sure we are going to enjoy what’s been prepared.
It’s going to be fun doing it together.
But I also want to make sure that we are prepared for the guest of honor. Because even more important than us meeting together and enjoying one another over the next few months I want to make sure that we also have a time that we meet with God.
We have been setting the table for a God visit.
To set the table for a God visit, I want to take us back to a story in the Old Testament that happened exactly 3,450 years ago.
It’s a God-encounter that I find intriguing.
To help us prepare for a God visit, I want us to try to understand what happened in that story.
Please turn to Exodus 19 if you are not there already...
As you know from the book of Exodus, it’s the story of the people of Israel leaving the bondage of Egypt and making their way to the promise land. And through Moses, God delivers the nation of Israel from the Pharaoh. They cross the Red Sea on dusty, dry ground, and they confidently march toward the promise land. They number a little over 2 million people by now and they have been on the road for 60 days.
Exodus 19 opens with these 2 million people standing at the foot of this imposing mountain called Mount Sinai. And the Bible says that Moses climbed the mountain in order to appear before God. This begins one of the most intriguing God encounters found anywhere in the Bible. From this story I want to draw out some principals and applications that you and I can use to think about how we can spiritually get ready for what’s going to happen during 40 Days of Community.
So let’s jump in. Here’s the first thing we must do to get ready:
1. Look back and remember God’s FAITHFULNESS
As we think about where we are headed in the next 40 days I would encourage you to just stop for a moment and remember what God has already done. Look at what the Lord says to Moses in v. 4... “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.”
Isn’t that beautiful?
When a young eagle learns to fly the mother eagle often flies just underneath the baby eagle with her wings spread out to support and catch if needed. What a great picture of God’s faithfulness! Always ready to be there in a time of need to support us when we are in trouble.
When Jeremiah talks about God’s mercy and faithfulness in Lamentations 3 verse 23 he says, “They are new every morning.” and he says, “Great is your faithfulness.”
God is faithful!
He is reliable!
He is trust worthy!
You can depend on Him!
We see God’s faithfulness in the universe.
God’s faithfulness is evident every morning when you wake up and the sun rises in the east and every evening when the sun sets in the west.
Every 24 hours when the earth revolves around its axis and tilts at a 23 degree angle. God creates just the right atmosphere and conditions so you can live on this planet.
It’s an evidence of God’s faithfulness.
God is faithful in keeping the universe running.
Colossians 1:17 says this, “He existed before everything else began and he holds all creation together.”
Jesus is the glue of the universe and were it not for his faithfulness the world in which we live would come unraveled at the seams.
But when I think about God’s faithfulness it becomes really personal for me very quickly. And it is very fresh in my mind right now as I have been reflecting on Dad’s life.
[Personalize, talk about dad and the memorial service]
God is faithful!
I want to ask you to do something right now. Take your outline, and I want you to write in the margin one area where you have seen God be faithful in your life.
Celebrate and remember God’s faithfulness in your own life.
Listen to these words from Deuteronomy 7:9, “So know that the Lord your God the faithful God he will keep his agreement for love for a thousand lifetimes for people who love him and obey his commands.”
I hope when you look back over your life journey that you see God’s faithfulness and that your heart fills with gratitude.
As we think about what God has in store for us in the next 40 days, I want us to remember how faithful he has been in the past and the same God who is faithful in the past will be faithful in the future.
Take some time right now to write down at least one area where you have seen God be faithful in your life.
Here is the second thing I want to encourage you to do:
2. Look ahead and celebrate your FUTURE
Look at what else God says in Exodus 19:5-6 “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is min, you will be for me a kingdom of priest and a holy nation.”
Now remember who God says this to.
This was a vagabond group of nomads.
60 days ago they were slaves.
They were nobodies.
They were poor, they had no influence and no political clout. And now, 2 million strong, God looks at them and says,
“You are my special treasure.”
Here’s a truth I want you to learn about them and about us:
• You will be a cherished possession.
The truth about that is that some of us really just have a hard time believing that God thinks about us in that way.
You might look around and say about some people, “I can understand why God would feel that way about them. I mean, they are gifted, they are talented, they are put together. They even look like a special treasure! But there’s no way that God could feel that way about me! Look at what’s in my past! Look at what’s in my world and a part of my life. There’s no way he could feel that way about me!”
The truth is: He does!
You are valuable to Him! You matter to Him!
And God is just as crazy about you as He is about anyone else here this just as anybody else in the room and he’s just as crazy about you as he is about anybody else.
This makes me think about a story I heard about a women in
San Diego a few years ago who suddenly noticed that she wasn’t wearing her diamond wedding ring...
She thought she probably left if in the bathroom in the morning when she was getting dressed she would often take off her ring when she was putting on her makeup getting ready for the day. She went to the bathroom, but no wedding ring. She mentally began to retrace her steps and remembered the night before while she was doing work in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner that she had taken her ring off and set it up on the counter. She walked into the kitchen, but no ring. She began to try to figure out what could have possibly happened. The only thing she could come up with is that when cleaning up the kitchen somehow she had wiped the ring off of the counter into the garbage can, which was laying at the edge of the counter. She went to the garbage can there was absolutely nothing in the pail. She called her husband and said did you take out the trash today? Yes this is the day the trash men come. I already pushed the bin out to the sidewalk you might see if they are still there. She walks out to the sidewalk the bins are completely empty. She gets on the phone with the waste management people and says can you tell me the number of the truck that picks up in my neighborhood and where it might be at this time of day? So the person makes their best guess gives them the number of the truck she gets in her car begins to drive through the neighborhoods around the block until finally she spots the truck. She signals this guy he pulls over she gets out she explains the situation and he says, lady I am really sorry but I pick up your trash first thing in the morning and I have already dumped that load at the city dump. She said, can you tell me where you left the load? So he tries to describe where at the city dump he left all the trash, and so she drives out there in her car, she gets out and she begins to walk through all of this garbage looking for the trash bags that are similar to the ones they used. She finally found them she goes through one bag at a time one piece of trash at a time until finally in a can of refried beans is her wedding ring.
Here’s the point: In the very same way that that women pursued a cherished possession in her life God has pursued us.
Even though our lives might be surrounded by garbage and trash, when God looks at you, you are a cherished possession. Because God thinks so highly of you, over the next 40 days He wants to do something wonderful in your life. He wants to continue to work in your life to make you like Jesus. You are a cherished possession! But God doesn’t stop there. Look what else He says in v. 6...
He says in verse 6 of Exodus 19, “You will be for me a kingdom of priests.”
What is God saying here? He’s saying that you are not only a cherished possession, but that...
• You will be chosen priests
And this is not just for pastors. Notice God says this to the entire nation. I know that some of you might be thinking right now, “Okay, I’ve been hanging with you so far, but now you’ve crossed the line. There’s no way I am a priest! The priesthood is reserved for those who are a lot more holy than me!”
Well, just look with me at the words from 1 Peter 2:9. These words are written to Christians just like you and me. Look at what it says: “But you are a chosen people a [what?] royal priesthood.” Circle those words. “A royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful life.”
Now, you have been called by God to be a priest.
Three things priests do:
1) Priests have direct access to God.
It’s what we call the doctrine of the priesthood of the believers.
What’s that? What that means is that you don’t have to go through any one else in order to get to God. You have a direct connection. And in just a little bit later in the service we are going to take time to actually pray. Here’s the good news. You can go directly to God and your Heavenly Father is waiting and welcoming you to come to him.
Would you read with me out loud the words from Ephesians 3:12? Let’s read them together, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come fearlessly into God’s presence, assured of his glad welcome.” You have direct access to God.
2) Priests represent God to people.
A priest speaks on behalf of God. He represents God.
They don’t just live to do what they want!
They don’t live on their own agenda!
They have an assignment from God!
They have a sacred responsibility.
Do you realize this morning if you are a Christ follower you carry the reputation of God around with you? And what some people think about God is directly shaped by how you live as someone who represents Him. So if you are angry and mean spirited, harsh and legalistic, then some people are going to conclude well that must be what God is like. But if you are kind, compassionate and patient and forgiving and loving, then people are going to know that that’s what God.
You see in 40 Days of Community it’s not going to be just about us getting together as a church family. It’s also going to be about us serving in our local community. And you and I have the wonderful privilege and responsibility out there to represent God to our neighbors, co-workers, family and others! Amazing!
So, as a priest, you have direct access to God.
As a priest, you represent God,
but thirdly as a priest you have also dedicated yourself to a life of serving God.
3) Priests have dedicated themselves to a life of serving God.
The priesthood is not just a vocational choice! It’s a calling!
Your strongest devotion in life is not to be to your career but rather to your calling. Your highest calling in life is not to your profession, it’s to your priesthood. And your job is to stay faithful and serve God as a priest all the days of your life. And sometimes it will be the most rewarding and fulfilling thing you will ever do and sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it’s lonely and sometimes you are misunderstood. And there’s no retirement. You’ve been called to a lifetime of serving God as one who represents Him!
Look at Ephesians 4:1...
“I urge you then – I who am a prisoner because I serve the Lord: live a life that measures up to the standard God set when he called you.”
So we LOOK BACK. Let’s remember God’s faithfulness.
Let’s remember all that He’s done in the past.
And we also LOOK AHEAD. We look ahead and realize we are His cherished possession and that we are chosen priests.
But there’s a 3rd encouragement I want to give you and that is to:
3. LOOK AROUND -- Commit with the COMMUNITY.
Let me explain what I mean by that. After God challenges the nation to obey him completely and follow him wholeheartedly the people respond back to God.
Their words are recorded in Exodus 19:8. Look at them either in your Bible or in your notes: “Then all the people answered together, ‘We will do everything that the Lord has said,’ and Moses reported this to the Lord.”
The word I want you to zero in on the word I want you to circle is the word “together.”
As a community of God followers they unanimously responded to God and said, “We will obey, we will follow.”
I want you to understand something this morning.
We are more than just a collection of individual Christians who happen together for worship at the same time on the same day.
We are a community.
We are a family.
We are a church.
We are the body of Christ.
And Paul says in Romans 12 that each part belongs to the other. You and I are connected.
And during these 40 Days of Community we are asking for the same kind of corporate commitment. We’re going to all be studying the same thing together. All of us! Our children, our youth, the adults – all of us will be studying and talking about the same thing.
We are all going to be in this together. That’s why it is not an exaggeration to say we are hoping that every person who considers this church their church family to say, “I am in.”
And I hope that there’s something inside of you that when you hear this you say, “Hey, this is what we are doing as a church family. And I will do my part. Because I’m part of a community here. It’s not just about me and my things. I’m part of a family here. And if the family is doing it, then I want to be a part of it, because I belong here.”
So, let me encourage you: Commit with the community.
Now let me give you a 4th encouragement:
4. LOOK IN – Prepare Yourself SPIRITUALLY.
What does it look like to get ready spiritually?
Look at Exodus 19:10-11, “And the LORD said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.”
Tucked in these verses are 3 very practical steps you and I can take to get ready spiritually for what God wants to do in these next few weeks.
Here’s number one:
1) Set aside time.
God says, “Over the next 3 days, I want you to get ready to meet with Me.” Remember, these people are just like us.
They have jobs to do. They have responsibilities.
They have families to take care of.
They have their own “To Do” lists.
And yet God says, “This is important enough. I want you to carve out time to be involved with meeting Me.”
So, to be very up front with you, if you are going to get the most out of 40 Days of Community it’s going to happen partly because you set aside time.
What is it we are asking you to commit to?
What are we asking you to set aside time for?
1. We are asking you to get in a small group. Try it for 6 weeks.
2. We’re asking you to try as best you can to be here for worship the next 7 weekends. I know our lives are busy. I know we have a lot of things calling for our attention. But each weekend will build on the last. I am asking that you commit to being here for 7 consecutive weekends in a row. Not in a legalistic kind of way, but in a way that will help you and will help encourage the family and community you belong to.
3. We’re asking you to commit to reading a daily devotion each day for 40 days. Each daily devotion is going to be about 3-4 pages long. You can read it in about 7 or 8 minutes. What a great way for you to start off your day in God’s Word and also understanding what his plan is for what it means for you to live in relationship of other people.
4. And then memorize a verse each week. You are going to get a set of memory verse tags that you can put on your key chain and on the back of each tag is a different verse. We are going to ask you to memorize a verse a week because we know the power of putting God’s Word in your life.
5. Finally we are asking you with your small group to participate in a service project. This will be something you come up with on your own in your own small group. We will give you ideas for service projects if you can’t come up with one.
The 2nd thing you can do to spiritually prepare is to...
2) Take inventory.
When a business does an inventory in a way it’s a reality check.
It’s saying, “Here’s what we have & here’s what we don’t have.” I want to ask you to do the same thing spiritually.
I want you to take a spiritual inventory. What’s that?
It’s an honest assessment of where you are spiritually.
It’s asking and answering the hard question:
“Where am I with the Lord right now in my own relationship with Him?”
Take some time to do that right now. To help you, ask yourself:
Is there anything blocking my relationship with God?
Is there some sin I have been clinging to?
Have I drifted?
I hope your heart’s cry is the cry of David in Psalm 51 when he says “Create in me a pure heart, God, and make my spirit right again.”
We prepare ourselves spiritually by setting aside time.
We prepare ourselves spiritually by taking inventory.
And then number 3, and maybe this is the most important one, is to
3) Pray diligently.
Nothing will draw our heart to God’s heart like prayer.
Nothing will remove the spiritual obstacles and roadblocks like prayer.
Nothing will reignite our love relationship with God like time alone just talking with Him.
Nothing will invite the presence of God into 40 Days of Community like a congregation who is committed to praying.
And nothing will set the table for a God visit like prayer.
Have you heard of a prayer mountain?
There’s a church in South Korea that bought a mountain and calls it a prayer mountain. It’s the largest church in the world.
24 hours a day, 365 days a year, approximately 3,000 people are always praying on this prayer mountain! People crying out to God, praying for their needs, for the needs of their church and the needs of their city.
Is it any wonder that this church has grown to 700,000 people in one church?
Nothing invites the presence of God into what a church is doing like a group of people who are willing to pray.
So we want to ask you to do that.
Would you look with me at this verse in Deuteronomy 4:7?
Follow along with me as I read it...
Would you take out of your program also this morning this 7-day prayer guide? I hope you will use this prayer guide as a guide in your praying this next week. There are some specific prayer requests listed for each day this coming week.
We are also asking you to set aside one day this week for prayer and fasting. “Oh, no! I can’t do that? That’s weird!”
Before you totally dismiss this idea, I’ve given you a handout, also in your bulletin to give some thoughts and guidelines on prayer and fasting. This is something you do voluntarily.
Maybe you can’t spend the whole day in prayer and fasting.
That’s ok. Can you fast something other than food?
Can you give up a night of TV? And instead, spend that time praying and reading the Bible?
Can you give up some time on your computer this week?
And instead, spend that time in prayer and Bible reading?
This is strictly between you and the Lord.
Don’t do in flauntingly. Christ specifically condemns that.
But consider it. What better way to prepare ourselves for what the Lord has for us than to spend time in prayer and fasting?
I love the way God says in Exodus 19:10,
“I want you to get ready, because I am coming down.”
I think that our prayers today and over the next few days as they go up it sort of just paves the way for God to come down to meet with us.
Which leads us to a final encouragement I have for you:
5. LOOK UP – Get Ready for a God Encounter.
Look at Exodus 19:17 “That Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.”
Get ready for a God encounter because quite often, the most life altering encounters with God require us to leave the routine, the comfortable and the familiar.
Imagine the scene standing in front of Mount Sinai!
2 million people men and women, children alike and the Bible says that God came down! Here’s how Exodus 20:18 describes it:
“When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the horn, and when they saw the lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear.”
When God comes down it seems like the only real appropriate response is humble reverence because in those moments we are reminded of how small we are and how big and powerful and glorious He is.
I just wonder that day when 2 million people left Mount Sinai after hearing the thunder and the mountains shaking and the fire and the smoke if that day when they went home if they didn’t go home with the smell of smoke on them, the smell of God on them. Because the presence of God had marked them.
And I got to thinking wouldn’t it be great if during 40 Days of Community that people would say about us when they watch us, they smelled God on us?
Maybe they don’t own a Bible...
maybe they don’t go to church...
maybe they don’t claim the name of Christ...
but when they look at what we do
and how we live
and what we are like,
wouldn’t it be great if they saw something of what God is like?
As I close, I want to fast forward you to a day 40 years later when Moses is challenging the people as they are about to enter the promise land. Finally they are here!
But Moses isn’t going to lead them into the promise land.
So he begins to warn them.
He tells the people, “When you cross the Jordan and get to the other side, and life gets good and easy and comfortable...
don’t forget God! Don’t forget everything he has done for you!
And be sure and pass on to your kids and your grandkids all that God has done. Pass on the stories of faith.”
And guess what the very first example that Moses uses?
He points back to what happened right here in Exodus 19!
Deuteronomy 4:10 it says this, “As Moses says tell them,” speaking of kids and grandkids, “tell them especially about the day when you stood before the Lord your God at Mount Sinai.”
40 years later Moses points back to Exodus 19 as the defining moment in the history of the nation of Israel!
40 years later he points back and he says, “Don’t forget to tell your kids and your grandkids about the day when God came down!”
May these next 40 days be that kind of defining moment for us!
Wouldn’t it be great to point back to this time in our lives where God did some things that only God could take credit for?
Wouldn’t it be great if we were part of a wonderful ride in this journey with God where He showed up and people’s lives got changed and we had an impact on our community and we were forever different because of these next 40 days?
I hope that you will be praying with me that there will be that kind of God visit with us as we begin these 40 Days of Community.
Let’s pray together.