The Wonder of God

More and more we live in a laid-back, relaxed society. We’ve lost a lot of the formality of former times. That’s not all bad. It keeps us from being too pretentious. Too full of ourselves.

But, as with everything, there are unintended consequences to our informality. One downside of our penchant for a lack of formality is that this laid-back attitude has infiltrated many churches with the result that even our view of God has suffered.

Being informal at church is not in itself a problem. It can even be a good thing. But there’s a danger that if we are not vigilant we’ll drag God down to our level.

There’s an old song that George Beverly Shea used to sing called The Wonder of It All.

There’s the wonder of sunset at evening,
The wonder as sunrise I see;
But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul,
Is the wonder that God loves me.

O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!
Just to think that God loves me.
O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!
Just to think that God loves me.

The Wonder of God. It’s something that we seem to have lost along the way.

The Bible talks about the wonder of God’s works (Psalm 65:8) and the wonder of His word (Psalm 119:161). And we’re astounded by what He has done and by what He has said.

But what about God Himself? The one who works is greater than his works. The one who speaks is greater than his words. The very thought of God should amaze us even more than what He has done or what He has said.

The Psalmist wrote, Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him (Psalm 33:8).

King David understood that the maker is greater than what He has created. He wrote, O God, You are more awesome than Your holy places (Psalm 68:35).

One of God’s holy places was Solomon’s Temple. A magnificent structure, it undoubtedly caused a sense of awe, especially in those who saw it for the first time.

God was/is greater.

On a recent trip to Italy, my wife and I stood in the middle of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and just took in the magnificence of that structure. The wonder that is St. Peter’s takes your breath away.

But God is more awesome.

I’m not suggesting that we jettison our informality and go back to the days of top hats and stiff collars. I’m just saying that we need to see God for Who He is. Not for who we think He is or who we want Him to be.

And certainly not as we see the rest of life.

We need to take time to be moved by who God is. To marvel at God. To be amazed by Him. To wonder at His greatness and His glory.

We lose when we lose the wonder of God.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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Frustrated With God

Admit it – we get frustrated with God. Every Christian does at some point in his/her spiritual journey. We get frustrated with God when He doesn’t act the way we want Him to act. This is especially true when it comes to prayer.

Yesterday I preached a sermon called It’s Not Easy to Pray. We looked at five of the major oppositions to maintaining a meaningful prayer life.

This morning I read the following article by Chuck Lawless who is the Dean of Doctoral Studies and Vice-President of Spiritual Formation and Ministry Centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.

I thought it was a good follow-up to yesterday’s sermon – and good even if you didn’t hear the sermon. For those of you from SVBC, I thought that #4 was especially pertinent to what we talked about yesterday. See if you don’t agree.

8 Things to Do When God Says, “Wait”
By Chuck Lawless

Many of us are impatient, yet God often tells us to “wait.” The tension that results is sometimes a faith challenge. If God has called you to wait, here are some things you can do in the meantime.

1. Forget about the calendar. We get stressed with God’s timing because we think He operates according to our calendar. That assumption leads to frustration.

2. Embrace the truth that God has a reason. He really does, even if He doesn’t give us the details. That means that whatever He has on the other side of the wait is better than what we might get through our impatience.

3. Remember that God’s not worried. His timing is always, always, always right. He knows that. You know that, too, actually. Trust what you know.

4. Be faithful today. Trusting God for tomorrow means being obedient today. We should not expect God to respond to our prayers about tomorrow if we’re ignoring His leading today. In my opinion, our unfaithfulness today is one of the primary reasons we wrestle with waiting on tomorrow’s stuff.

5. Spend some time studying God’s Word about waiting. Check out, for example, Psalm 40:1, 130:5-6; Isaiah 40:31; Lamentations 3:25; James 5:7-8. Let the Bible give you hope in waiting.

6. Invite somebody else into your wait. Waiting alone only magnifies the loneliness of the wait. Simply knowing that someone’s sharing your burden can be hopeful.

7. Tell somebody your testimony. This one may sound like a strange suggestion, but here’s my point: when you tell your story, you’ll remember that God has always taken care of you in the past. He’s still taking care of you now, even if His timing is different than yours.

8. Keep praying. The waiting time is not the time to stop talking to God about this issue. Keep praying, doing so in faith that God will provide His answer in His timing, in His way, for your good, and for His glory.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

God is Not Who You Think He Is

Dennis Green, the former head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, after a devastating lose (by one point) in 2006 in a game in which his team led 23-3, went ballistic in the post-game press conference, unleashing a profanity-laced tirade in response to a reporter’s question. One of the most famous lines from the press conference, which he repeated several times, his voice getting louder with each repetition was they are what we thought they were! His tirade has gone down in NFL lore as one of the great coaching meltdowns of all time.

They are what we thought they were.

That statement is true in life. People often live up (or down) to what or who we think they are.

The same cannot be said of God.

Paraphrasing Dennis Green, God is not who you think He is.

Too often we picture God as some kind of super human. Like a super hero. Human, just bigger and better than the rest of us.

That’s not who God is.

Although the Bible speaks of God in human terms – His strong right hand, His eyes, His face etc., God is not human. In speaking of God this way, the Bible is using language that we understand. It’s so we can, in some way, know something about a Being who is so unlike us that we would never be able to comprehend Him otherwise.

In every way that you can think of, God is different from us. Theologians use the term wholly other, because that is what/who God is; He is totally different from us.

The only way that we can understand anything about God is through His revelation of Himself in creation (Romans 1:19-20), in His Son (Colossians 1:15), and in the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). Without His revelation of Himself we could not know God.

But getting back to Who God is.

The danger of thinking that God is basically like us is that we don’t take Him seriously.

We think that it’s OK if we tell a little white lie, so it must be OK with God. We think that a little profanity is not too bad so God must think the same thing. We think that it won’t hurt if we neglect reading the Bible, prayer or going to church, so God will understand.

Wrong.

In so many ways, sometimes without even thinking, we reason that if we can bring God down to our level it will make our decisions and our actions OK.

But it won’t.

In Psalm 50, God rebuked Israel for their sin and said: You thought that I was altogether like you (Psalm 50:21). In other words, they thought that if they could rationalize their sin certainly God would understand. We’re the same. He’s just like us. They didn’t understand that God is different, especially when it comes to sin.

Understanding that God is not only different from us, but He is above us, higher than us, more complex than us, will go a long way in helping us take God, and what He says seriously.

We’re not dealing with a super hero here; we’re dealing with G.O.D.

We underestimate Who He is to our own detriment.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Some Thoughts on Prayer

Prayer is one of those mysterious and somewhat confusing aspects of the Christian life. We know that we’re supposed to pray but we often struggle with the Why issue. And when we don’t have a good answer we default to, because we’re told to (Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Sometimes that’s a really good answer.

But we want more. We want answers to questions like, If God is sovereign, why should we pray? Or, If God has planned everything, how much difference can my prayers make?

These are legitimate questions that deserve thoughtful answers. But I want to offer two, perhaps simpler reasons for you to pray.

Prayer is a way of acknowledging who God is.

When you pray about problems you are saying, God I can’t handle this by myself. It’s bigger than me. I need help. I need You.

When you pray in confession you are saying, God I sinned against you. I want our relationship to be right. I don’t want this to come between us. I don’t want to face life with a strained relationship.

When you pray in thanksgiving you are saying, God I recognize that you did this. It wasn’t anything that I did. You did it. I’m grateful.

When you pray in adoration you are saying, God you deserve all of my praise. You alone are worthy.

Prayer is our way of acknowledging that we need God, that we are willing to humble our self before Him, that we’re a thankful people and that He is the object of our love.

Prayer is also an expression of your faith.

Even when you don’t understand how prayer works – and especially when you don’t understand how it works, to pray says something about your faith.

It says that you believe when you don’t understand.

It says that you trust Him when your way is dark.

It says that you won’t give up when giving up is the logical and easy thing to do.

It says that you value prayer even when you don’t see the value of spending time in prayer.

Prayer is perhaps the greatest expression of faith available to the Christian.

It’s questionable whether or not we’ll ever find completely satisfactory answers to some of the great and difficult questions about prayer. But you don’t need answers to those questions in order to pray.

Pray to acknowledge that God is your God and you need Him. Pray to express your faith in Him.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Christians sometimes act as if they need to protect God.

You see this most often in the religious sounding clichés that are posted on social media sites like Facebook. The trouble with many religious sounding clichés is that they simply don’t ring true. At least not if you are using the Bible as your standard of truth (and we all should be).

We profess to be people of truth but we don’t always express the truth in ways that are clear and helpful.

Here are two of numerous examples of clichés that Christians like to throw around.

God never shuts one door without opening another

There are variations in this, such as God never shuts a door without opening a window.

But where is that in the Bible?

It’s not.

The truth is that sometimes God shuts all the doors and leaves you standing in the hallway because you’re not spiritually ready for the opportunities He has for you.

The truth is that sometimes God shuts all of the doors because He wants you to stay right where you are and not be looking for other opportunities.

There may be more reasons that God does not open a door but you get the point.

There is no Biblical guarantee that when God shuts a door of opportunity, He’ll open another one for you.

Another spiritually twisted clichés is:

God never gives you more than you can handle.

Again, that’s not in the Bible. It’s a nice thought but not a Biblical thought.

But what would people think of God if He overloaded us with burdens? That’s far from loving in our minds.

And what about 1 Corinthians 10:13? Doesn’t it promise that God won’t give you more than you can handle?

Here’s what it says:

No temptation (some would say trial) has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (tried) beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Because that’s in the Bible, it’s true. But is that the same thing as saying God never gives you more than you can handle?

Paul didn’t think so.

In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul said, we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.

Far beyond our ability to endure sure sounds like God gave him more than he could handle.

So how do we reconcile these two passages – both from the pen of the same writer?

The key is what follows in verse 9 where Paul exclaims, Yes! We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God.

God does give us more than we can handle, but not more than He can handle. And He does it for a reason – so that we learn to trust Him in the difficult circumstances of life.

The way of escape from our trials (1 Corinthians 10:13) is to trust.

So why do we throw around these cute sounding but unbiblical religious slogans?

There are several reasons for this anomaly. One is that many Christians are unfamiliar with the Bible and if something sounds religious it must be right. While that may be true of some Christians, I don’t think it’s true of the majority of evangelical Christians (the majority of my audience).

Another reason for our religious clichés is that it makes us feel better about God. Our mental image of God is that of a grandfatherly figure who will always act in kind, loving ways toward His children.

It’s true that God always acts in kind and loving ways toward us, but only when you understand that trials and suffering (and yes, even discipline see Hebrews 12:5-6) are included in His acts of kindness and love.

Giving you more than you can handle is not an unkind act, it’s an act of love.

A third reason that we express our faith in religious sounding clichés that don’t reflect Biblical truth – and I think this is more often the case than we would like to admit – is because we’re trying to protect God. And if anyone demeans Him, we do what we can to protect Him and His reputation.

After all God needs someone to protect His image. Not.

God is more concerned about making you like Jesus than He is about what people think about Him. So He’ll load your plate if He needs to without worrying about His reputation.

Here are my two take-a-ways from all of this.

1. God doesn’t need us to protect Him. Anyone who would blame God for being unfair, unkind or unloving doesn’t know God. And no cute sounding religious saying is going to change their minds.

2. We need to be Biblical in our expressions and beliefs. Just because something sounds like something God would do doesn’t mean that it is.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What is Your Mental Image of God?

When you think about God, what do you see in your mind’s eye? How do you imagine God?

Maybe it’s Michelangelo’s image of God in his Sistine Chapel fresco The Creation of Adam. Perhaps it’s Raphael’s depiction of God in his famous painting Ezekiel’s Vision.

Jesus said that God is spirit, that is, He is not material (John 4:24). However, there are a number of times that the Bible records visual depictions of God (2 Chronicles 18:18, Isaiah 6:1, Ezekiel 1:26, 10:1, Daniel 7:13 and Revelation 4:2). They were given to us so that we could in some way understand who He is.

Unfortunately our view of God is sometimes limited by visual images and that’s as far as we get in our knowledge and understanding of God. That’s not just a limited view of God, it can lead to a false view.

There’s so much more to God that we can know from a visual image.

Another way that people imagine God is based on their life experiences. Often their view of God as Father is colored by their own experience with their earthly father. If their biological father was kind and loving, then they see God as a kind and loving Father. If their earthly father was judgmental and harsh, that’s how they think of God.

Both extremes are unfortunate. If your father was kind and good, God is a thousand times kinder and better. To equate Him with the kindness and love of your earthly father is to sell God short.

If your earthly father was a tyrant, well that’s not God at all.

We have to divorce our image of God from artistic depictions or even from our earthly experiences. God is far different from either. And when we limit our image of God, the God that we see in our minds, to images and experiences we miss the best of God.

Your mental image of God is important because how you think about God will determine how you respond to God, how you pray, how you trust. It will determine your entire relationship.

Our God is the most loving, the most gracious, the most merciful, the most caring, the most concerned of anyone you will ever encounter. He is the most of anything and everything that is good and right and righteous and just.

He loves you more than anyone will ever love you. He loves you more than you deserve to be loved. He loves you more than you will ever understand.

The same can be said for His grace to you, His mercy towards you, His care for you, and His concern for you.

It’s important to have a mental image of God that is reflective of who He is in all of His Goodness.

It will make all of the difference in your relationship. It will make all of the difference in how you respond.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Trust His Heart

I read a statement recently that intrigued me. It said, When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.

There will be times in life when you don’t see the hand of God, either because you’re not looking in the right place or because God has hidden His hand from you (that’s another blog!). And because you can’t see His hand you don’t understand His plan.

What do you do then?

If you are like many Christians your reaction can range from panic to doubt to complaining. Because you haven’t yet learned to trust. Trusting God when you can’t see what’s going on is not easy.

We want answers. We want full disclosure.

What we really want is to control our lives – to call the shots.

The reality is that we simply don’t trust God to do what’s best for our life. That’s a natural human reaction.

But it’s not the right reaction.

Have you ever had a friend that you were so close to that you trusted them explicitly? It didn’t matter what they did or even what they said about you, you knew that they had your best interest at heart?

They might even publicly disagree with you, perhaps causing you some degree of embarrassment but you knew that they loved you. So you gave them the benefit of the doubt. You accepted their criticism.

You trusted their heart.

That’s all God wants. He wants you to trust His heart even when you don’t understand His plan for your life.

I think that’s the essence of Proverbs 3:5, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t trust in your own understanding, perspective, wisdom (my translation/ commentary).

Trust HIS heart, not your heart. Trust HIS wisdom, not your wisdom. Trust HIS way not your way.

As Christians we are to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith refers to the things that we can’t see. You can’t walk by faith if everything in life is clear and plain.

Walking by faith demands hiddenness.

Walking by faith demands trust.

Trust in the Heart of God.

Trust that His heart is Good. That His heart is Pure. That His heart is Loving. That His heart will never take you where His Grace cannot take care of you.

So when you can’t see the Hand of God – you can’t tell what God is doing in your life, Trust His Heart.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

P.S. You might enjoy the song Trust His Heart. You can listen to it here.