I was pondering "identity" this morning as I was driving back from work. The reason it came to me was because I was listening on my IPOD to Rob Rufus when he spoke at JoshGen church in South Africa last year and he mentioned one of my favourite verses in the Old Testament - Exodus 33:14-18.
"And He said, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest." Then he said to Him, "If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. "For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?" The LORD said to Moses, "I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name." Then Moses said, "I pray You, show me Your glory!"
Rob was talking about it in a very interesting context. He was arguing that the "glory of God" is actually more than His Presence. Because God already promised that His Presence would go with Israel but this wasn't enough for Moses - Moses had to go on and ask for the glory itself. Rob argued that he felt the "glory" is all the concentrated manifest goodness of God into one moment in time and space.
But what grabbed my attention was the underlined section of the passage. "Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?". And I got thinking about the three churches I have been to and I asked myself a very difficult question. Was it the Prescence of God that was that church's identity and the thing that singled them out?
Certainly in my first church - New Covenant Church in Dunstable - that was my inheritance and my recollection as a child. As a child I remember long, long meetings where our parents would stand with their arms raised and tears pouring down their faces singing beautiful songs of worship. I remember hearing singing in the Spirit very often and thinking how beautiful it sounded. I remember the sense of excitement when my pastor would open the time celebrating the Lord's Supper and then simply sit down with the other elders and "wait". What would happen!? Yes the Presence of God certainly was it's identity as I grew up and I am so thankful for that.
God reminded me this morning of my very first vision. It came before I was even baptised in the Holy Spirit, before "I had even heard there was a Holy Spirit" - but it came when I was about 13 and was on a newspaper round. And I saw a vision of revival hitting my home town of Dunstable and something of what that would be like! Thousands joined in the song of the Lamb!
The other two churches - SGM's identity I would have to say was certainly a weekly talking about "the Cross". Male and female gender roles would be another identity marker. C J Mahaney was something else that got mentioned very frequently. The Presence of God? I'm not sure. Scott reminded me that the first care group meeting I took him to was of great impact to him. I was asked (for the first and only time in SGM!) to lead the worship and chose a couple of simple worship songs and it was a thrilling time - God came and rested on the meeting and there were some awesome prophecies and visions and people got touched but then worship times were stopped in care group.
Newfrontiers has always been very close to my heart as everyone will know and they have unique identity markers too. Vision, church planting, spiritual gifts. Certainly the Presence of God is dearly welcomed and loved and longed for at the past Brighton conferences and Stoneleigh. I felt so comfortable and at ease when I first went to Stoneleigh because many of us agreed how it reminded us of New Covenant Church and the balance of Word and Spirit that we remembered with such affection.
So let me ask again - is the PRESENCE OF GOD the distinguishing marker for us as the PEOPLE OF GOD? Because if church meeting after church meeting goes by and we have to think whether God was actually present there in power then surely something is wrong. And let me add a caveat - I KNOW that God is omnipresent so of course in a sense He is present everywhere. But He was present everywhere in Moses time too - yet Moses still asked that "His Presence" would go with them. So clearly Moses was thinking of some special manifestation of that Presence - namely the cloud and the pillar of fire.
Are we walking with the cloud? Or have we allowed it to fall behind us? I was sobered by something else Rob mentioned. He reminded me of Ern Baxter so much in talking about "the Land". Chris Welch and I have been discussing this over on his blog - and we spoke of how a generation died in the wilderness because of unbelief and how we felt that applies to today. Ern Baxter challenged the Dales Bible Week 1976 that they were at the Kadesh Crisis and both Chris and I agreed that we felt the challenge was ignored. But Rob said in his sermon that the generation repented and still tried to go in but God "was not with them" and the enemies defeated them!
May His Presence be our continual identity - so much so that the heathen - the Philistines if you will - know that something is different about us even without us having to hand out tracts!