Well, this little clip is probably one of the most famous sesame street scenes in all of sesame Street History. Even this week, I saw a advertisement for a Grover shirt that had a big picture of Grover on the front and it said “This is Near” – then on the back there was a little picture of grover and it said “This is far” – I was kinda tempted to get one….
But what does Grover explaining near and far have to do with our message this morning? Well, I’ll get there in a minute, but first, I need to remind you of what we’ve been talking about in the previous weeks.
About a month ago, we started looking Psalm 34:8 which says:
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Psalm 34:8
And basically, for the past few weeks, we’ve been tasting and seeing that God is indeed good. For example, we looked at how the very character of God is joy. He is the source of all happiness, pleasure, enjoyment, and fun. He invented all that. And we experience hints of God’s joy every day – in beauty of a sunset or in the taste of a juicy, ripe peach or in the laughter of a little child. God has filled our world with joy – because He Himself is Joy. And what’s super cool, is that even when everything in our world is falling apart, we can still find true joy in Jesus Christ because He has beaten death and has promised us abundant, eternal life with Him.
We also looked at how God is generous. He’s not stingy as some would think – reluctant to answer our prayers and provide good things us, but He loves to give – that’s actually part of who he is – He loves to be generous. And since Creation, God has been giving and giving and giving to us. Not only does He bless us with friends, family, material stuff – but He gives us grace, forgiveness, second chances, hope, and eternal life! Of course, that’s all made possible because He gave his one and only Son, Jesus – who then gave his life for us. If that’s not a generous, giving God, then I don’t know what is.
When we first started this series, we watched a news piece about how Americans view God. You might remember that there were these professors who did some research and came to discover that American’s who believe in God typically have one of four views of God. (And while the statistics are American – I’m sure Canada isn’t too far off.)
- 28% of those American’s believe in an authoritative God – Kind of the angry, judgemental God You’d better walk carefully or God’s gonna get ya!
- 22% of American’s believe in a benevolent God – the always kind and loving and gracious God – almost the opposite of the judgemental God
Now both of these two groups see God as being very involved in the world. In one view, God’s busy bring down judgment or punishment on people or in the other view, he’s busy showering us with blessings and just loving folks. Either way, God is very involved in this world. But on the other side…. There are two more groups…
- 21% of American’s believe in a critical God – this is a God who doesn’t concern Himself with our day-by-day lives, but He will judge us when we die. God’s not going to interfere with what’s going on here on earth – but in the end, we still have to answer to Him for how we’ve lived our lives.
- 24% of American’s believe in a distant God. This God set the world in motion, but after that has left us to ourselves. We’re not really His concern at all. We can do what we like. Some people even see this God more as a force than a person.
So these last two groups don’t see God involved in this world at all today. And from this information, it seems that about half of the people who believe in God do not believe that God is involved in their day-to-day lives. They believe that God is far – and not near.
But that’s sure not the picture of God that we get in the Bible. The God in the Bible is very near – He is very involved in every detail of our lives.
And so today, I want us to taste and see – and be reminded all over again, that God is near. And not only is He near – but He is intimately involved in every area of our lives.
Now there are a lot of stories in the Bible that illustrate this. The story of Joseph is a great example. I found a devotional this week that listed all the different ways that God had providentially involved Himself in the life of Joseph and it listed 45 different ways that if God had done or caused or allowed any one of these 45 certain things to happen differently, basically, the entire Bible after Genesis, would have turned out differently. God was very involved in the life of Joseph in order to bring about the history of the world as He intended.
But perhaps its more relatable for us to look at someone who wasn’t so pivotal in the God’s plans. Certainly God is involved in the lives of those key people – but what about the other folks – regular folks like you and I? Do we see evidence of God being involved in their lives too?
I think we do. One of the stories that I thought of was the story of Hagar. Now Hagar is not one of the key players in the timeline of the Bible. She wasn’t an ancestor of King David or anything like that. In fact, we only hear about her, because she was Abraham & Sarah’s big mistake. How’s that for a claim to fame? Abraham’s big mistake! Because if Abraham and Sarah had trusted God as they should have, we never would have heard about Hagar.
Now the story of Hagar isn’t all that well known, so just in case I’ve lost you already, let me just give you some of the background here. As most of you probably know, God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son – even though they were both very old by this time. God first made this promise when when Abraham was 75 years old and by ten years later, when Abraham was 85 – still they had no son. So Abraham and Sarah (Or Abram and Sarai – since this was before God changed their names) decided to take matters into their own hands. Let’s read the story in Genesis 16.
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to bear children for him. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar. 2 So Sarai said to Abram, “The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” And Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal.
Now this was not that uncommon in that time & culture. In fact, we see Jacob (Abraham’s grandson) doing this same thing with his two wives Rachel & Leah and their servants – Bilhah and Zilpah. It was through these four different ladies that Jacob had his 12 sons, the twelve tribes of Isreal. Certainly not to say that it was right – but it was a common practice back then. So this is what Abram and Sarai decided to do. verse 3
So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram had settled in the land of Canaan.)
4 So Abram had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant. But when Hagar knew she was pregnant, she began to treat her mistress, Sarai, with contempt. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant she treats me with contempt. The Lord will show who’s wrong—you or me!”
6 Abram replied, “Look, she is your servant, so deal with her as you see fit.” Then Sarai treated Hagar so harshly that she finally ran away.
Now the story could have ended right here without making a big impact on the overall story of the Bible. In fact, God could have completely omitted Hagar and this whole part of Abraham’s story without issue. But He didn’t. I won’t presume to know exactly why God had this part included, but these next few verses do give us some great insight into God’s nearness and involvement in our lives. verse 7
7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. 8 The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she replied.
9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.” 10 Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count.”
11 And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress. 12 This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.”
And now this is the cool part….
13 Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” 14 So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi [beer-la-high-roy] (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered.
I love Hagar’s name for God. The God who sees me.
There are a lot of different names for God in the Bible. There is God the Almighty. God the Creator. God the Shepherd. The God who provides. The God who heals. The Everlasting God. Lots of different names for God.
But I love this – the God who sees me.
It’s like we talked about in the kids feature – we’re not just person # 3 billion, 78 million, 2 thousand and 23. God sees us personally. Individually. Intimately. He knows everything about us.
He knows our fears. He knows our desires. He knows our hurts. He knows our dreams. He knows everything about us. He is not the God who is far away – He is the God who sees us right up close.
Jesus talks about how God knows each one of us so intimately that every hair on our head is numbered. He says in Luke 12:6…
6 “What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. 7 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. Luke 12:6-7
And the point Jesus is making here is, if God’s got the hairs on your head numbered, do you not think that God also pays close attention to everything else that’s going on in your life? If He notices when hair #723 falls out, I’m pretty sure He notices the more significant things too.
He notices when people treat us harshly – like how Sarai treated Hagar.
He notices when we feel abandoned and lonely.
He notices when we cry or when we get angry.
He notices when we struggle with things that no one else knows about.
He knows. And what’s even better, is that He cares. If God doesn’t forget about a single sparrow – how much more will God care for us?
To follow up with our story of Hagar, Hagar does go back to Abram and Sarai and has her baby, Ishmael. And true to God’s promise, Sarah also has a baby named Isaac. But as you might guess, the conflict between Sarah and Hagar continues.
We read in Genesis 21:8…
8 When Isaac grew up and was about to be weaned, Abraham prepared a huge feast to celebrate the occasion. 9 But Sarah saw Ishmael—the son of Abraham and her Egyptian servant Hagar—making fun of her son, Isaac. 10 So she turned to Abraham and demanded, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!”
11 This upset Abraham very much because Ishmael was his son. 12 But God told Abraham, “Do not be upset over the boy and your servant. Do whatever Sarah tells you, for Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted. 13 But I will also make a nation of the descendants of Hagar’s son because he is your son, too.”
14 So Abraham got up early the next morning, prepared food and a container of water, and strapped them on Hagar’s shoulders. Then he sent her away with their son, and she wandered aimlessly in the wilderness of Beersheba.
15 When the water was gone, she put the boy in the shade of a bush. 16 Then she went and sat down by herself about a hundred yards away. “I don’t want to watch the boy die,” she said, as she burst into tears. Genesis 21:8-16
I can’t even imagine how Hagar must have felt sitting there all alone in the middle of the wilderness with her son thirsty and dying a 100 yards away.
I’m sure she must have felt completely helpless. Totally abandoned. I’m sure there was fear, anger, and probably a 1000 other emotions. Do you think God noticed that? Do you think that the God who saw her all those years ago could still see her now? And do you think He cared? Absolutely!
17 But God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, “Hagar, what’s wrong? Do not be afraid! God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Go to him and comfort him, for I will make a great nation from his descendants.”
19 Then God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well full of water. She quickly filled her water container and gave the boy a drink. Genesis 21:17-19
God didn’t just see Hagar. He cared about her and her son. Not only did God provide comfort and encouragement for her in the midst of likely her biggest crisis of her life, but he also provided for her everything she needed to make it through.
And God does that for us too.
When we feel abandoned and lonely, when people are cruel and harsh with us, when we struggle with those things that no one else knows about, when we go through the biggest crisis of our lives – God sees. And He cares. And He will give us everything we need to make it through.
Whether it’s literally water in the wilderness, or encouragement through a friend – whether its life-changing Word of God or simply the presence of God in the midst of our crisis, our God is right here for us. He is not far! He is very near!
Probably one of the most famous passages in the Bible that talks about God’s involvement in our lives is Psalm 139. If you ever feel like God is far away – read this Psalm. It’ll set you right pretty quick. It’s almost a summary of everything that we’ve talked about this morning. Let me read some of this for you…
1 O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
2 You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
3 You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
4 You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
5 You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!
7 I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
8 If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
9 If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12 but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.
13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!
That’s some awesome stuff, isn’t it? You sure don’t come away from that thinking that God is distant, do you?
He knows you intimately. He watched as you were being formed in your mother’s womb – in fact, it was Him who knit you together. He thinks about you constantly. He has more thoughts about you than there are grains of sand! That’s a lot of thoughts!
The God who sees us – the God who thinks about us constantly – is nearer than we usually realize.
I know there are times when God does feel distant. Sometimes God seems silent. Sometimes perhaps we imagine that God has forgotten about us – but I assure you, based on all that we’ve looked at this morning, and so much more in the Bible, that is certainly not the case. God is not far – He is very near.
So there are two ways that I would suggest that you could apply this to you life this week.
First, of all, just be encouraged that God is near. Take comfort in the fact that God sees you. He notices all that’s going on in your life right now and he is right there beside through it all. If He cares enough to keep a tally of the hairs on your head – I’m pretty sure He cares about the bigger issues in your life too.
And I know all of us have some of those bigger issues. Maybe we’re not literally sent off to wander alone in the wilderness like Hagar – but it sure feels that way sometimes. Maybe you struggle with depression or addiction. Maybe you’ve got family issues. Relationship issues. Work issues. Health issues. We’ve all got those issues that weigh heavily on our minds and hearts. But God is near. He knows all about your situation – in fact, he knows more about it than you do – and he’s promised to walk you through it. He will be right beside you every step of the way. So be encouraged that God is near.
Secondly, as I look at this through the lens of helping others “Taste & See that God is good” – perhaps we can take a hint from God. Maybe we need to work at being a little more ‘near’ in the lives of the people around us. Now maybe our neighbours don’t want us over there counting the hairs on their head – but we could sure start by just getting to know them a little bit. Start taking an interest in their lives. Start concerning ourselves with the things that concern them.
If we are going to be imitators of Christ – who has taken such interest in us – I think it becomes our responsibility too to take an interest in others. To care about them and about what’s going on in their life.
Of course we’re not God, so we won’t immediately have imitate knowledge of every detail of their lives, (and that’s probably a good thing) but I think as we genuinely care about people, getting to know them over weeks, months, and years – over time as our friendships grow, they’ll be able to know that we’ll be there for them in their hard times, just like how God is there for us. And I think that’s a great way for them to taste and see that God is near.