This devotion I meditated on today strikes a pose that sometimes we don't see represented in a lot of our churches. A balance between Intimacy or Personal comfort in God's presence, and the acknowledgement of Holiness and Respect for who God is in our daily lives.
I pray as you consider reading this devotion you will be challenged in your life to be thankful for the familiar and intimate presence of God. Yet, stand back and recognize the awesomeness of God, His Grace and His Holiness. Recognizing how important it is to strike that balanced relationship in our walk with God.
Dr. Patrick Vossen
Founding Pastor of CGMF
God, Near and Fade
Reflections on Ezekiel
Today we often take our church buildings for granted; but in Ezekiel’s day, the temple was a big deal. The temple served as God’s earthly dwelling place, representing his presence among his people. Because of the people’s disobedience and idolatry, however, God removes his glory from the temple (Ezek 10:1–22). Yet in Ezekiel 40–48, the prophet sees a vision of God’s glory returning to the temple, signifiying God’s enduring presence with his people and a promise of spiritual renewal—a time when God will no longer be far, but close and personal.
I have always attended churches where worship means unrehearsed prayer and contemporary music. These come-as-you-are services take place in coffee shops, recreation centers or simple church buildings. The relaxed atmosphere and casual dress symbolically declare how we see our relationship with God: He loves us, he wants a personal relationship with us and he accepts us as we are.
When I attended a formal service at my grandmother’s church, I was shocked at the contrast. The stained-glass windows and ornate architecture of the cathedral drew our eyes toward the cross at the front. People wore their Sunday best and were hushed as they entered, suddenly reverent. Church leaders wore distinctive garments and read prayers written centuries ago. The worshipers had clearly memorized these prayers. The service emphasized God’s holiness and greatness, and praised his mercy for sinners.
Feeling completely out of place, I repeated clichés in my mind about Christianity being a relationship, not a ritualistic religion. I was convinced that worship focusing on God’s nearness was right and worship focusing on his transcendence was wrong.
The book of Joshua challenged my polarized view. The narrative recounts God’s nearness during Israel’s conquest of the promised land. It opens with a personal conversation in which God commands Joshua to “be strong and courageous” because he would be with him (Josh 1:5–9). Indeed, the Lord’s presence among his people was so apparent that the nations inhabiting the land were terrified (Josh 2:9; 5:1; 9:24). We see evidence of God’s longsuffering care for Joshua and Israel throughout the book as he fights for them and even answers Joshua’s call for the sun to stand still while the Israelites battle for victory (Josh 10:14). God faithfully keeps all of his promises to Israel (Josh 21:45; 23:14), and his presence with them resounds throughout the book: “The Lord your God is with you” (Josh 1:9).
But in the narrative of Joshua, we also see a tension between God’s nearness and his transcendence. The God who is near is also the God who is wholly other. His holiness requires distance from his people—both as a sign of reverence and for the protection of those who are not holy. God commands Israel to keep 3,000 feet between themselves and the ark of the covenant, the symbol of his presence (Josh 3:4–6). Before entering God’s presence, the people must sanctify themselves through rituals (Josh 7:13). This holy God, a God of righteousness and justice, slaughters the idolatrous nations inhabiting the promised land, leaving modern readers astounded and perhaps offended. God demands and deserves undivided worship, and he vows destruction and exile if Israel turns to the gods of the pagan nations surrounding them (Josh 24:19–20). This is not a God to be casually approached.
This tension between God’s goodness and greatness is resolved in Jesus, “Immanuel.” As John says:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1–3, 14).
In Jesus, we find both God’s nearness and his transcendence. He eats with sinners and raises the dead; He teaches as a rabbi and calms raging seas. The Church worships God in ways that testify that he is both present with us and far above us.
Originally published in Bible Study Magazine July–Aug ‘14
Biblical references from NIV
Reverend Patrick Vossen,