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It was the first question God ever asked a human being. The two people who heard it fall from His lips didn't want to answer. They preferred hiding in the dirt under a bush. Both felt ashamed, but until God showed up and started asking questions, they didn't realize it. They were too busy admiring their keen fashion sense and their hot new clothes made of fig leaves. Then God's voice began echoing through the trees, and they dove for cover. I wonder, did the fig leaves hold up? Somehow I doubt it.
The next scene in the story would be funny if it weren't so tragic. Imagine it with me if you will. Adam and Eve crouch under a bush, hiding from God because they don't want Him to see them. If you listen closely you can hear them whispering, "Shhh, keep still. Maybe He won't look this way." Then Eve shifts her weight, snapping a twig under her right foot, and Adam shoots her a look. Or Adam coughs and Eve sends an elbow into his ribs, which makes him let out a muffled "Ow!" As God passes by on one side, they duckwalk around to the other, all the while hoping to escape notice.
Their situation should have struck them as odd. Hunkered down behind the bush, they should have looked at one another and asked, "Why are we hiding?" They'd never hidden before. Before this day, the sound of God moving in the garden had never struck them with fear. Now fear came instinctively. The moment they heard God, they ducked for cover; hiding from Him had become a reflex. The two had their first taste of fallen human nature.
Then God spoke. "Where are you?" He asked, but not because He didn't know the answer. The Lord of the universe, the Creator of heaven and earth, knew Adam and Eve were on the other side of the shrubbery. He didn't ask the question for His benefit but for theirs. "Where are you?" Buried beneath His words is another question: "Why aren't you here wit Me?"
As we dive into this forty-day devotional, I want you to stop and listen closely. If you do, I think you will hear God asking you the same question: "Where are you? Where are you in your relationship with Me?"
You know the question is important; at least it is when you sit down with a Bible and do the whole God thing. "Yeah, I know," you tell the book in front of you, "I need to be closer to God. Just give me a Bible verse to read, an outline for a prayer to pray, and let me get on with my day. I know the routine. I've done this before."
That's always the answer to this question, isn't it? Have you ever heard someone stand up and say, "I'm as close to God as I need to be"? Neither have I. Making such a claim is like saying that you pray enough or that you tell your mother you love her enough or that you eat enough vegetables. We all have room for improvement.
Before you get one foot out the door, I want you to back up and reconsider this question. God doesn't ask how close to Him you feel today. Could He ask a more irrelevant question? How close to God do you feel? Our feelings have no bearing on our proximity to the One who loved us enough to give His Son for us. I had a bad headache and an allergy attack two days ago. How close do you think I felt to God while some invisible man stood on my shoulders and whacked me in the head with a hammer? Then yesterday my headache disappeared and I went to church and the band sounded great and the songs were wonderful and all the people around me lost themselves in worship. We all felt really, really close to God. But was either experience an accurate gauge of where I am in my day-to-day relationship with God? Not really.
God doesn't want to know how close you feel to Him. Instead, He asks, "Where are you?" Of course, He already knows the answer. Do you? Where are you? Don't hide behind a wall of clichés or try to shoot the question down with a barrage of excuses. That's what Adam and Eve did when they were finally found out. They pointed fingers at each other and at the snake slithering through the dust. Both made excuses and did everything they could to keep from admitting the truth they could not hide. Adam and Eve never got honest with God or with themselves. Don't copy their mistake.
Where are you?
Over the next forty days we'll be talking about some things that will help you find the answer. The place we will begin may surprise you. We're going to start with God, not you. Why? Because your life is not about you. It is about the God who made you, the God who loves you, the God who calls you to lose yourself in Him. If that is true-and it is-our search must begin with God. So over the next couple of weeks we're going to look deep into the eyes of God to see who He is and what He is like. Only then can you discover where you truly are in your relationship with Him.
Read the third chapter of Genesis. Think about God's question to Adam and Eve. Why did He ask it? Why didn't He just lift up the bush and expose them? Why did God ask them all of the questions He asked? If He related with them like that, how do you think He relates with you?
One other note: As you walk through these forty days, keep your Bible handy. You'll need it in order to read some of the Bible passages we'll be discussing. You'll need to look them up yourself. It's a good habit to get into. You'll also need a pad of paper and a pen. Each day has questions for you to wrestle with and thoughts to reflect upon. Think about the day's reading and form your own conclusions about the concepts and questions presented. Don't just take my word for it. I also recommend that you record what God says. How much or how little you write is totally up to you. This is your time to spend with God.
Where are you?
Where do you want to be?
Where does God want you to be?
You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created everything, and it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created. -Revelation 4:11
God made us to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him. Shouldn't we then find out who He is? We all have ideas rattling around in our heads. The word God flies across the room and an image jumps into our heads. But are our ideas accurate about who God is and what He does? Do they line up with what God says about Himself? Don't you think it's time we find out? We might be surprised at what we discover.
I've never seen God. I've never heard His voice whispering in my ears. I've never felt the grasp of His hand around mine. He's what you might call invisible in the physical realm. At least He is to me.
I once heard about a guy who said he saw God. Or at least he saw Jesus. It happened in the bathroom while he was shaving. Jesus just showed up in the mirror and said something like, "Good morning, Mr. Dowd. How are you today?" The guy smiled and said hello to the risen Lord of the universe and kept right on shaving.
Call me a skeptic, but no one in the Bible ever stayed so calm when God appeared to him. The sight of Him scared the life out of people. There's a story in the book of Exodus in which God appeared to the entire nation of Israel at once. They didn't actually see Him, but they heard Him. God's voice boomed out like thunder as He told them,
"I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in Egypt.
"Do not worship any other gods besides me.
"Do not make idols of any kind, whether in the shape of birds or animals or fish. You must never worship or bow down to them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not share your affection with any other god!" (Exodus 20:2-5)
God didn't stop talking until He gave them all ten of the commandments.
How did the Israelites respond to this encounter with God? Were they as calm as the guy shaving in his bathroom? No way. In fact, the story goes on to say,
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.
And they said to Moses, "You tell us what God says, and we will listen. But don't let God speak directly to us. If he does, we will die!" (verses 18-19)
Everyone in the Bible who came close to God responded like this. The experience left them thinking they would die at any moment. Why? Rather than come face-to-face with God, most of us prefer to keep our distance from Him. We like Him being invisible, and that's usually how He stays. We can't see Him with our eyes or hear Him with our ears or experience Him physically in any way.
Because God cannot be experienced through any of the five senses, we think we can make Him into whatever we want Him to be. We think we can make Him loving or stern or forgiving or vengeful, unlimited in His power or confined to a narrow realm we call religion, or whatever else we want Him to be at any given moment. If we say that He doesn't care whether we spend all our time lying on the beach in the warm sunshine or doing whatever makes us happy, who can argue with us? If someone tries to disagree, we pout and spout off about some kind of an experience we had with the Divine, and that ends the discussion. After all, belief in God is a very personal thing. We get to tailor a personal God to fit our own image of who and what He's supposed to be.
But what if we're wrong?
Just because thunder doesn't roar and lightning doesn't flash around us whenever we call God the Old Man Upstairs, it doesn't mean that He approves of what we are saying. Heaven's silence does not imply consent every time we drag God's name through the muck or hate someone because of the color of his skin or any of our other favorite vices. We may say God doesn't care if we spend every Sunday catching up on our sleep or sitting in our dad's boat since "I can worship God in a boat as well as I can in a church," but that doesn't mean we're right. We're not God. We don't make the rules. We don't have the final say about who He is. Only God does; at least He does if He is truly God.
That's the heart of the problem. Most of us don't want a god who is God. We don't want to encounter the majestic Creator of the universe, the One who exists independently of all that is. If we came face-to-face with this God, He might stick His nose in our business and tell us how we ought to live. We prefer telling Him how He ought to bless our lives. The god we want makes us feel good about ourselves and helps us through life's little difficulties without demanding too much in return. When this life is over, he will whisk us away to heaven where our every desire will be fulfilled.
Deep down, many of us want a god who is much less than God. There's only one problem. That kind of god is no God at all.
Don't Just Take My Word for It
Read Exodus 20. You'll find the Ten Commandments there. Usually all we hear about them is a list of stuff we are supposed to do or avoid doing. But I'd like you to go deeper. Look at the entire chapter. What does God say about who He is? Why is this such a big deal? I'll give you a hint. The people of the ancient Near East worshipped all kinds of gods, some made out of wood or stone or gold. They prayed to rivers and trees and cows. (Holy cow! Why would anyone do that?) What was God trying to get through their thick skulls? Maybe it has something to do with showing them the truth so they could know Him personally instead of wasting their time on gods who weren't divine.
When the people caught a glimpse of who God really is, it scared them. Why? Has God ever scared you?
Bottom line question: Who gets to define God? How do you think you would respond if you came face-to-face with who God really is?
Excerpted from GREATER THAN by Mark A. Tabb Copyright © 2005 by Mark A. Tabb. Excerpted by permission.
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