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Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” Genesis 28:10-16 NKJV
Jacob journeyed from home toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down and slept. Then he dreamed, and saw a ladder (staircase) set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood above it and spoke to Jacob rehearing the same promises of blessing that He had given some 150 years earlier to his grandfather, Abraham. When Jacob awoke from sleep, he said, “surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”
Although I grew up in the church and eventually got saved and filled with the Spirit, I knew that God lived in my heart; yet, there were times that He still seemed far away. But God was always there. Jacob’s story reminds us that we’re always in the presence of the Lord. And, it is not God who changes, it’s us.
Jacob had to leave home. It was the only thing he could do after the way things went down (see Genesis 27). He conspired with his mother to deceive his father, and to steal, his brother, Esau’s birthright and blessing. The family was in crisis and in dysfunction. Instead of acknowledging God, Jacob ran. Often in the midst of pain and struggle, it seems hard to find God, but He is always there to save, heal, deliver, and restore.
Often, when we find ourselves in a crisis, it is so easy to complain about the trouble and not be aware of God’s presence. So we complain instead. Complaining is the realization of “I knew it not.” What we need is a realization of the presence of God (Ps. 16:11). Nothing could help Jacob except realizing the presence of God (Ps. 16:11). There are three reasons why one knows not the presence of God: (1) preoccupations; (2) distractions; and, (3) ignorance of God’s Word (Hos. 4:6). Jacob undoubtedly was preoccupied with regrets for the past; loneliness and fear in the present; and uncertainty of the future (Pr. 23:7). Anyone under the pressure of an emotional crisis can easily be distracted by money or the lack thereof, materialistic things; fear; the voice of the world; the voice of the flesh; and, the voice of the devil (Matt. 6:24).
It’s time to awake from “sleep” and realize that the presence of God is here whether we know it or not—whether we want Him or not. The problem is that we don not practice the presence of God. So, don’t be like Jacob who looked back after a dream or a life-experience and say, “surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it!”
So they brought the ark of God, and set it in the midst of the tabernacle that David had erected for it. Then they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God . . . 7 On that day David first delivered this psalm into the hand of Asaph and his brethren, to thank the Lord: 8 Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! 9 Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; Talk of all His wondrous works! 10 Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord! 11 Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face evermore! 1 Chronicles 16:1, 7-11 NKJV
The Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of the God, and in the Old Testament, the word for the presence (panim) of God is also translated as the face of God (2 Chron. 7:14; 2 Sam. 21:1). Thus, for three months the household of Obed-edom lived in the face of God, and God blessed them and everything that belonged to them (2 Sam. 6:11-12). The path of life for blessing and abundance is living consciously in the presence of God (John 10:10). Again, to live in the presence is to live in the face of God.
According to Psalm 16:11, in the face of God, there is fullness of joy, not partial joy, or joy intermingled with pain and suffering (John 16:24; 15:11). Further, the believer stands at God’s right hand—the hand of honor and strength, favor, and power (Eph. 1:20; 2:6). Moreover, believers are promised pleasures forevermore—not necessarily endless happiness, but that God would abundantly satisfy with fullness (Ps. 36:8). Every answered prayer, every Word of the Lord spoken to your heart, and every manifestation of God is fullness of joy and pleasures for evermore.
What does it mean to live in the face of God? It is to live life with a consciousness of God’s ubiquitous presence; not living one way when you’re conscious of His presence and in an unholy fallen way during a mental lapse of consciousness of God. For example, in your human nature, you’re often on your best behavior in the face of one you respect, but you may be disrespectful of that same person when their back is turned. God never turns His back!
Jesus taught His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount that “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt. 5:8). In the pureness of your heart and being conscious of living in the face of God, shouldn’t you feel fear and reverence? (Prov. 1:7; 9:10; Ps. 111:9). Wouldn’t you pray and worship Him? Wouldn’t your words and behavior show honor and respect? Would you still be a people-pleaser? (Mat t. 5:37; Rom. 8:8). To live in the face of God is to live with an uninterrupted consciousness of His presence; it is to set your affection (mind, mental disposition, consciousness) on things above. Not on the things on the earth (Col. 3:2).
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. 11 You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:10-11 NKJV
In the Old Testament the word “presence” (panim) is also translated “face” which means to seek the presence of the Lord (2 Chron. 7:14). God is always present. Some seek Him or respond in other ways. For example, like Adam & Eve, God’s presence may cause some people to feel fear (Gen. 3:10); like Joshua, it can bring comfort in a time of anxiety and trouble (Jos. 1:5); like David, it brings strength and encouragement when you’re feeling downcast (Ps.42:5); like Jonah, some have tried in vain to escape God’s presence (Jon. 1:3); and, for the spiritually enlightened, God’s presence causes you to have fullness of joy.
In the text above, this Messianic/resurrection psalm, God gives David assurance of eternal life, which foreshadows his greater Son’s (Jesus Christ) victory over death and the grave. God gives us the same assurance. By grace through faith, there is a path for us from death to life, and we too have been quicken, raised and made to sit in heavenly with Christ (Eph. 2:5-6). This path is one of love, mercy and grace, forgiveness and reconciliation to God. Because of this legal position in Christ, we are already potentially in heaven and experientially in His presence here on earth (Ps. 140:13), where there is fullness of joy.
We now live in the presence of God who is omnipresent (everywhere at the same time). Where we are, God is there (Prov. 15:3; Ps. 139:7-8). Since God is omnipresent, our inheritance in God is also omnipresence (Col 1:12). God is light; thus, omnipresence is Jesus the light of the world (John 8:12). So, everywhere God is, heaven is also there in our heart. By faith, heaven is here and now. If heaven is here and now, the only thing we should be feeling now is fullness of joy (John 16:24). God is able to make us stand in the presence of His glory with exceeding joy (Jude 1:24).
It is error to think and say: One day I’m going to stand in the presence of His glory. We are there now! (See Number 14:21; John 11:40). This should fill our hearts with joy (John 15:11). In His presence there is fullness of joy—that which is pleasant, delightful, and sweet. Every answered prayer and every manifestation of God’s glory affords us fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:55-58 NKJV
As we say goodbye to the year 2020, just know that God is still speaking and working in the lives of His people. This has been a year of fighting many battles, and some are probably weary, worn, and tired fighting the good fight of faith—sometimes fighting the same battles over and over—whether it was marriage and family; or some other relationship; work and business; church and ministry; finances and health; and, of course, covid-19 which has caused so much fatigue with exponential infections, hospitalizations and deaths, This year brought many overwhelming and difficult circumstances. So, what is God saying in the face of these challenges: “don’t give up, continue the fight. Your work of faith and labor is not in vain.”
Through the power of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3), this year hasn’t been in vain because God has given us the victory. In the face of difficult situations, you may not feel successful, but you do have the victory. It is easy to feel that this year has been in vain if you confuse success with victory. Success is achieving a favorable outcome or desire; but on the other hand, victory is the overcoming of an enemy. Through Christ, we have overcome the sting of death and any other enemy (Text). We have the victory—period!
There is victory in Jesus; thus, Apostle Paul admonishes us to “be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (Text). So what does all of this mean? To be steadfast is to continue to be seated and settled in “heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6); to be unmovable is to be unalarmed and undeterred regardless of the circumstance—to be planted like a tree by the rivers of water (Psalm 1:3; Acts 20:22-24), and always abounding in the work is to be engaged in doing the will of God, giving Him glory, and advancing his kingdom (Col. 2:7). Our living, giving, praying, and other commitments and disciplines in the Lord are never in vain!
Never cease “your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father” (1 Thess. 1:3). Because of the resurrection, we have the victory; therefore, nothing we do is in vain. So, don’t stop doing good because you don’t see immediate results; don’t get discouraged (Gal. 6:9); just keep on keeping on, being steadfast, unmovable; always abounding in the work of the Lord!
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. Isaiah 9:2 KJV
The prophet Isaiah prophesied that a great light would come into the world to bring illumination to those who walked in darkness. This great light is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. His first coming fulfilled this prophecy (Matt. 4:1-16; John 1:9). Jesus was born to save mankind from their sins: “to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). Jesus is the reason for the holiday season!
During the holiday season, the inside of homes and their front yards are aglow with displays of Christmas lights during celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Why? It’s all because of Jesus! John the Baptist said of Jesus that, “[h]e (John) was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world (John 1:8,-9). Furthermore, Jesus also said that, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness (John 12:46).
Whenever Christ comes, the light comes, for He is light. Every string of Christmas lights should remind us that Jesus left heaven for earth to save us from our sins saying, “I come to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:9). Christmas lights are emblematical of God’s great purpose for man as “manifested by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). Moreover, Jesus said, ““I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Christmas lights are about the Light. Let Christmas lights shine bright because Jesus is the light of the world. Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, happy Kwanzaa and happy holy days!
Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21 And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.” 22 So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. 25 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” Mark 11:20-26 NKJV
The miracle of the barren fig tree is the only miracle that Jesus performed with a curse rather than a blessing. He spoke death rather than life. Why? Jesus used His faith to curse the tree to show His disciples that God is able to accomplish difficult and impossible things with ease. He was also showing them that faith is the means to deal with and remove difficulties in life, only if a certain condition is met. That condition is forgiveness!
Jesus told His disciples to have faith in God, not to get faith. God has already given every believer the necessary faith (Rom. 12:3) to deal with difficulties and problems in life. To “say to this mountain be removed” is a picture that Jesus used to teach that God can do anything. You have the power of faith and prayer, but the Lord did not give you that authority to pray for the miraculous for your convenience, fame or acclaim. Every act of faith must rest on the promises of God. If you know it is God’s will to remove a certain difficulty, then you can pray with confidence (1 John 5:14-15). Therefore, “whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24).
But there is a caveat—forgiveness is the indispensable condition. Beyond just saying it, not doubting it, believing and receiving it, forgiveness in your heart is absolutely essential, it is imperative, and necessary (Mark 11:25). This is the irrefutable relationship between faith and prayer. In prayer you can ask, refuse to doubt, believe and hope to receive; but if you are harboring unforgiveness against anyone, your prayer and faith are in vain. So, first, forgive everyone; then speak to “the mountain.” Pray with a pure heart and unselfish motives in order to advance God’s kingdom, giving Him all the glory!
Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. 13 And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again” . . . 20 Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21 And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.” 22 So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Mark 11:12-14, 20-23 NKJV
Like the barren fig tree, some people make a show of things that they really don’t have. They will flaunt expensive jewelry, cars, and clothing and may not have a place to lay their heads, or a “pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of.” Some pretend to have certain callings from God or spiritual gifts; but they have neither. They have form but no substance—“clouds and wind without rain” (Prov. 25:14).
The barren fig tree was adorned with leaves. It promised fruit and then deceived those who came to it for fruit. But why did Jesus curse the fig tree? The barren tree represented a form of wickedness (Prov. 3:33), and it was counter to God’s design and purpose that fig trees provide fruitful food (Gen. 1:28, 29). Jesus was bodily hungry. The tree showed a promise of fruit but had none (John 15:5). It represented a form of hypocrisy and a boastful falsehood. Also, did Jesus curse the barren tree to show His anger at religious form without substance? (See 2 Tim. 3:5). Form without substance will never satisfy hunger (Matt. 5:6).
Here in the scripture text above, Jesus was teaching His disciples that even in the face of natural barrenness or emptiness, faith in God is the substance—the confirmation and title deed—and never settle for just the form (Heb. 11:1). Faith in God is the substance when you direct your belief in God and not the object of your desire (Rom. 12:3). Have faith in God!
So, what did the fig tree have to do with faith? By faith, God is able to accomplish things with ease that are most difficult (Mark 11:22). Faith is the means to deal with and remove difficulties in life (Mark 11:23). And, faith is the substance of things yet to be manifested.
A letter to White Evangelicals from Pastor John Pavlovitz . . . From Christian pastor ￼John Pavlovitz:
“Dear White Evangelicals,
I need to tell you something: People have had it with you. They’re done. They want nothing to do with you any longer, and here’s why: They see your hypocrisy, your inconsistency, your incredibly selective mercy, and your thinly veiled supremacy.
For eight years they watched you relentlessly demonize a black President; a man faithfully married for 26 years; a doting father and husband without a hint of moral scandal or the slightest whiff of infidelity. They watched you deny his personal faith convictions, argue his birthplace, and assail his character—all without cause or evidence.
They saw you brandish Scriptures to malign him and use the laziest of racial stereotypes in criticizing him. And through it all, White Evangelicals—you never once suggested that God placed him where he was, you never publicly offered prayers for him and his family, you never welcomed him to your Christian Universities, you never gave him the benefit of the doubt in any instance, you never spoke of offering him forgiveness or mercy, your evangelists never publicly thanked God for his leadership, your pastors never took to the pulpit to offer solidarity with him, you never made any effort to affirm his humanity or show the love of Jesus to him in any quantifiable measure. You violently opposed him at every single turn—without offering a single ounce of the grace you claim as the heart of your faith tradition.
You jettisoned Jesus as you dispensed damnation on him. And yet you give carte blanche to a white Republican man so riddled with depravity, so littered with extramarital affairs, so unapologetically vile, with such a vast resume of moral filth—that the mind boggles. And the change in you is unmistakable. It has been an astonishing conversion to behold: a being born again. With him, you suddenly find religion. With him, you’re now willing to offer full absolution. With him, all is forgiven without repentance or admission. With him you’re suddenly able to see some invisible, deeply buried heart. With him, sin has become unimportant, compassion no longer a requirement. With him, you see only Providence. And White Evangelicals, all those people who have had it with you—they see it all clearly.
They recognize the toxic source of your inconsistency. They see that pigmentation and party are your sole deities. They see that you aren’t interested in perpetuating the love of God or emulating the heart of Jesus. They see that you aren’t burdened to love the least, or to be agents of compassion, or to care for your Muslim, gay, African, female, or poor neighbors as yourself. They see that all you’re really interested in doing, is making a God in your own ivory image and demanding that the world bow down to it. They recognize this all about white, Republican Jesus—not dark-skinned Jesus of Nazareth.
And I know you don’t realize it, but you’re digging your own grave in these days; the grave of your very faith tradition.
Your willingness to align yourself with cruelty is a costly marriage. Yes, you’ve gained a Supreme Court seat, a few months with the Presidency as a mouthpiece, and the cheap high of temporary power—but you’ve lost a whole lot more. You’ve lost an audience with millions of wise, decent, good-hearted, faithful people with eyes to see this ugliness. You’ve lost any moral high ground or spiritual authority with a generation.
You’ve lost any semblance of Christlikeness. You’ve lost the plot. And most of all you’ve lost your soul. I know it’s likely you’ll dismiss these words. The fact that you’ve even made your bed with such malevolence, shows how far gone you are and how insulated you are from the reality in front of you. But I had to at least try to reach you. It’s what Jesus would do.”
So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Mark 11:22-23 NJKV
The God kind of faith is strong belief to be able to accomplish things that appear most difficult by speaking words of faith. Jesus referred to those most difficult things as “this mountain.” This mountain literally was the Mount of Olives (Mark 11:1), but for those who believe, figuratively, this mountain could be any challenge, a masive problem, or some difficulty that appears impossible.
So, how does the “God kind of faith” work? Jesus was clear in with what explained to His disciples. He told them, “If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him” (Mark 11:23 NIV). Say it; don’t doubt it; believe and receive it. Faith is always expressed in words, and faith must be released by the words in your mouth.
Both Moses and the Apostle Paul taught that when you are faced with “this mountain”, the answer would always be within your reach through the words that you speak. The answer would not be up in heaven or beyond the sea, but “the word of faith is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart” (Deut. 30:14; Rom. 10:8-10). For example, with words of faith you confess salvation, healing and deliverance, etc. And, when you confess any aspect of salvation, you are confirming a heart-felt conviction of truth. Thus, the same is true when speaking to “this mountain.”
You must understand the power of words—words have immeasurable power! There are at least three things that words do to you and for you (Prov. 6:2)—(1) Words locate you; (2) Words fix the landmarks of your life; and, (3) Words affect your spirit (negatively or positively). So make a decision to speak to “this mountain” and “hold fast to your confession” (Heb. 4:14). Say to “this mountain” the same thing that God has said and promised in His Word (Heb. 3:1). Speak and don’t be moved by time. Just fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12).
Speak to “this mountain.” Say it; don’t doubt it; believe and receive it. You will never realize beyond that which you say, and you will never have beyond your words.
So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Mark 11:22-23 NKJV
“Have faith in God”—literally means, have the faith of God; have the faith that God gives. The God kind of faith is: to say it, don’t doubt it, believe and receive it. What’s important here is to have faith in God—not in the devil. Some people have more faith in the devil than they do in God. Your faith is evidenced by what you say, because that’s what you believe in your heart (Matt. 12:34). If you speak the truth of God, you will experience the goodness of God; if you speak the lies of the devil, you will also, but disappointedly, have what you say. So, don’t open the door!
How do you open the door to the devil? The devil is your arch enemy and chief adversary. You open the door to him by the words that come out of your mouth (Prov. 21:23). For example, giving credit to the devil for every ill and problem that occurs in your life—saying things like “the devil this and the devil did that.” You must stop bragging on, and giving glory to the devil. Don’t give him a foothold and an opportunity to devour you (Eph. 4:27; 1 Peter 5:8).
Jesus taught that the devil is a murderer and a liar (John 8:44), and that he is defeated (Rev. 12:10; Col. 2:15). So, don’t open the door to lies and destruction. Be careful. You’ll have whatever you say. Furthermore, you are commanded to submit your life unto God and resist the devil and he will flee from you (Jas. 4:7). If God be for you, who can be against you? (Rom. 8:31).
You are of God and from God, and through faith, have overcome the principalities and powers of the devil; “because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Let the words of your mouth confess that you have overcome the devil. Don’t open the door by believing and saying the lies of the devil. Shut the door because you’ll have what you say!