With Thanksgiving behind us, we now enter into the Christmas season. We rush about planning our get-togethers and shopping for just the right gift for everyone on our list as the days fly by. In the midst of this busy time of the year, however, we don’t want to miss out on the precious time that we have together and the memories that we share.

This morning, we’re starting a new message series about such memories. As we look forward to what this Christmas season holds, we also look ahead to what God has planned for us in the midst of it. We’re going to learn about God encounters as we work toward the ultimate God-encounter ever experienced; the pregnancy and birth of Jesus! Immanuel, literally God with us!

In Psalm 139, David shares his revelation that no matter where we go, there the Presence of God is. He was left in awe of the thought of an inescapable God who loves us with an unstoppable love. David shared how God knows everything little thing about us, even our very thoughts. God, knowing all about us, and yet still choosing to love us.

In reality, this Psalm is a detailed revelation of God’s promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us. We have this assurance that we’re never truly alone and that God is always just a prayer away. However, we are also aware of another truth.

There are several times that we learn of in the scriptures that show us unique encounters that people had with God. Sure, God is always present, but there are unique encounters that we can have with God that make such a tremendous impact on us that we never forget them. In the Old Testament, people would actually construct altars and setup memorials after encounters with God like this so that they would never be forgotten and shared with all who visited those places.

All of us have places like this in our lives. We all have places that take us back to experiences and encounters that we had long ago, but feel like they just happened moments ago when we are there.

Perhaps it’s a table in that restaurant where you went on your first date with your spouse or a remote place out by that lake where you first clearly heard the voice of God and felt His Presence in an undeniable way. Perhaps it is walking through the halls of your old high school where many so many of your life experiences come freshly rushing back. Maybe it’s that field or court where you made that impossible play to win the game.

These places do far more than just bring back memories of those experiences. You also feel the feelings that you had, recall the sounds and scents surrounding you; every detail comes back as if though you were there again. You are completely taken right back in that moment where you experienced that encounter.

If these experiences leave such a strong impression on us, then how much more impactful and life-changing should our encounters with God’s Presence be?

I firmly believe that God still wants to meet with us in these ways and bring us into those encounters with Him that leave an everlasting impression on us. He desires to spend time with us and bring us into experiences that change and transform us at our core. It’s more than just His general presence around us, but an intimate and personal revelation of who He is.

We turn this morning to such an encounter.

Jacob had just met with his father who was going to pass away at any moment. He not only bought his brother’s birthright for a bowl of soup previously, but had also just now stolen his older brother’s blessing by deceiving his father and selfishly taking advantage of his failing health. His brother had planned to murder him as soon as his father passed away. His mother refused to allow him to marry any of the foreign women that they were living with and wanted him to marry from her own people far away.

We can only begin to imagine the incredible pressure that Jacob had to be feeling in these moments. Just take a moment to think about where he was at in life then and there. His family was disappointed in him, even wanting to kill him, and was very deeply hurt and disappointed by him. The girls that he had grown so fond of were not considered to be good enough for him. He had to feel so alone, guilty, and fearful.

Isaac sent him off from his home in Beersheba off to Paddan Aram to find a wife who he would build a community with. He carried the stolen burden of Isaac’s blessing to become a great people and to take the land of Beersheba as his own. He had the pressure of selecting a wife from a people who were essentially strangers to him. He had to watch his back as his brother watched for the opportunity to end his life. What choice did he have, but to go.

Genesis 28:10-22
10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.

20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” I often wonder how often in the midst of life’s troubles and pressures that God is waiting to bring us into an incredible encounter with Him to bless us and reassure us, but we miss it. Had Jacob not been so worn down and out of daylight that he fell asleep on a rock, he would have likely walked right past God and missed this experience.

How often is God waiting for us and we miss him? How often are we so overwhelmed with life’s pressures that we fail to seek after God to see what He is trying to show us in the midst of them? That single encounter with God gave Jacob the peace and assurance that he needed for the rest of his life. In our desperation, where else should we turn to, but to God in desperation for such an encounter with Him?

How often throughout the course of our mundane routines could we be left in awe of God uttering, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”? How often do we miss it?

Jacob now knew that God’s blessing was with him even though he had completely blew it, sinned, and stolen it through deceit. In fact, this blessing was now expanded and God said that all people on the earth would be blessed through him. He now knew that his life would not end shortly at the hand of his brother. He now knew that his journey was not in vain and that he would safely make it back home.

Sometimes all that we need to release the pressures of life is to know that we are completely forgiven and that God’s promises still stand true for us. It is to know that what we are suffering through is becoming a part of God’s plan. All we need for peace is to know that we can trust His process and look forward in hope to something good through our pain. It is to know that God is working all things together for good.

I’m here to share with you the good news this morning that if you turn to Jesus, He will forgive all of your sin and purify you from all unrighteousness. He will give you a hope and a future. He will free you from the weight of your burdens. He will be with you and for you. He will walk with you from where you are, no matter how far away from God’s path you might be for your life, straight into the fulfillment of every single one of His promises.

Now I can’t promise you that the road will be easy. I can’t promise you that it won’t be without opposition and heartache. However, your road will be travelled with the Healer as your Helper, with the all-knowing Spirit as your guide and with the all-powerful Father as your strength. I can promise that in your battles:

Zephaniah 3:17
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
(repeat)

What an awesome thought that God delights in us! Remember, this scripture was written to Israel while they were running far from God in rebellion and refusing to repent, too! God knew that this wasn’t the end of their story. God may bring discipline and rebuke for a season, but it ends in His rejoicing over us with singing. We can put a song of rejoicing on the lips of the God of all creation! Our lives cause Him to rejoice! It is His great delight to be the Mighty Warrior who saves us. It is His joy to live life together with us.

Even in our shame, God is not ashamed of us. Even when we feel like running and hiding, God is not embarrassed by us. God is simply waiting on us to turn to Him so that He can turn our painful journey into a meeting place with Him. He wants to transform our hard-headedness and hard-heartedness into a Bethel encounter with Him.

For Jacob, it took him falling asleep and being completely unconscious before he had that encounter with God. For Saul, it took getting knocked to the ground and blinded. For Moses, it took being surrounded by a mountain, a sea, and an army with hundreds of thousands of voices crying out in fear. For the priests carrying the ark, it required a literal step of faith into the flooded Jordan river. For Samuel, it simply took some training to recognize God’s voice. Throughout this series, we’ll look at some of these encounters in detail.

God is inviting each one of us individually into new encounters with Him. Sometimes all that it takes to experience this encounter with God is simply being aware of it. “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”

Consider this example. The king of Aram is irate because every attack that he attempts on the nation of Israel are thwarted. Israel remains always one step ahead of them prepared for every attack. The king was convinced of a spy among his own team. However, one of his officers informs him that it is Elisha and the prophets with him that enable Israel to be aware of their plans. They made a plan to capture Elisha.

2 Kings 6:14-17
14 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city. 15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.

16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

How many times do we feel the weight of troubles and pressures in life believing that we are completely overwhelmed and surrounded and ready to give up? All that we often need to do in those times is to simply get a glimpse into the heavenly realms and to realize that the Lord is with us; the Mighty Warrior who saves!

Those who are with you are more than those against you. You are incredibly loved and you are never alone! You will overcome this! You will reign victorious! You only need to turn your eyes not on your troubles, but on God who is waiting to bring you into an encounter with Him that will change everything.

The Bible is full of these unique God encounters. They happened in different places in different ways to different people at different times. We don’t need to wait for tragedy or challenging times to experience them.

God wants to have a personal encounter with you. God wants to give you peace. God wants to teach you and grow you and prepare you for great things.

What is the purpose of these God encounters? Well, throughout this series, we’ll learn how these unique God encounters can serve to:

– Guide Us
– Correct & Teach Us
– Encourage Us
– Save Us
and how they always serve to:
– Change Us