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

God Cares – But Sometimes It’s Hard to See

I’ve been talking a lot lately to groups in our church about caring. We want to be known as a church that cares for each other (we do a good job here) and for our communities (we need to do better here).

The question that arises is Why? Why should we care, especially for people outside of the walls of our church?

There are several answers to that question. One is that we are taught to care in passages like Galatians 6:10, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men. That’s clear. Not just to other Christians – the passage goes on to talk about that – but to all men. Everyone.

Even if they’re not part of our “group” (IE church). Even if they don’t believe like us. Even if they don’t look like us. Even if they don’t like us! All. Men.

But the primary reasons that we are to care is because God cares.

Passages that actually talk about God caring are limited to just a few.

Psalm 27:10
When my father and my mother forsake me, Then the Lord will take care of me.

1 Peter 5:7
Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

You get a more complete picture of God’s care when you look into the areas of His love and His faithfulness.

Most Christians understand God’s care from an intellectual perspective, but sometimes struggle with it from an experiential perspective.

It’s hard to really believe that God cares when you can’t see His care or feel His care. When His care isn’t evident in ways that you expect you begin to wonder if He really does care about your problems.

When we care for people we show our care in tangible ways; ways that they can relate to. We are conditioned to equate care with verbal and physical gestures. We tell people how much we care for them. We give them hugs. We try to take away the hurt and “fix” whatever is wrong. That’s how we care.

But God’s not always like that. Sometimes He is – but not always. May not even normally.

The statement quoted above (1 Peter 5:7) was said to people who were suffering persecution. God didn’t eliminate their persecution – which is what I would have done so that they knew I cared. In fact they were suffering because it was God’s will for them to suffer (1 Peter 4:19).

The truth that we fail to grasp is that God’s will for them to suffer did not negate God’s care for them.

It is possible for a human parent to inflict or allow suffering in the lives of their children and yet still care for them profoundly.

How much more is it possible for God to bring (allow if you like) suffering into our lives for any number of reasons and yet care for us with a love that comes from the deepest recesses of His heart.

His care is not dependent on our seeing it nor on our feeling it. It is not even dependent on our understanding it.

It is enough that we know His care in the person of Jesus and that we have His impeccable word on the matter.

Never doubt His care, whatever comes into your life.

Your suffering may have a greater purpose than you will ever know.

His Care will never fail you.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Life is Hard

Sometimes when I look out over my congregation of really great people I can’t help but wonder how they’re making it. In fact I marvel that they’re making it.

One of the privileges, and at the same time burdens, of being a pastor is that you know things about people. They tell you things. You know their hardships. You know who’s crying on the inside.

That one is unemployed. Another one over there is too. Over there is a wife that just left her husband of 50 years in the Alzheimer Unit. There and there and there are people dealing with life-changing health issues. People struggling with their marriages – and divorce. Families are crying out to God for their prodigals. On that side a mother who just buried her son. Behind her a husband sitting alone because his dear wife is struggling with depression. Every month the family in the back drives two hours to visit a son in the state prison – they’ll do it for at least 10 years. Several more struggling with various kinds of cancer. Old age is slowly, and sometimes not so slowly, creeping up on our seniors. Broken relationships. Too many bills and not enough money. Sick children.

I’m not making this stuff up.

There’s more. A lot more.

I marvel at these people.

But life is Hard. It is for everyone. Not to the same extent. Not in the same way. But Hard.

The trap that we have to avoid is thinking that we have it hard while other people have it easy. That leads to questioning and even doubting God. Why should I suffer while other people enjoy the good life?

The reality isn’t that some people have an easy life and others have a hard life. The reality is that some people have learned how to handle the hard life without letting it destroy them while others are still searching.

If you’re still trying to figure it out here are 3 things to remember.

Even when life is hard, God still loves you. Don’t gauge His love by the relative ease of your life. He loves you just as much in the Hard Times. Maybe more (if that’s even possible).

Someone else is suffering more than you. I know that sounds like a lousy reason to look up, but it’s still true. The writer of Hebrews used this argument in Hebrews 12 when he said that we need to keep our eyes on Jesus who suffered death. Not keeping your eyes on Jesus leads to discouragement. Then he blasts us with this: You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin (vs 4). His point: Jesus suffered more than you so don’t give up yet.

You might have it bad but there are plenty of people in the world who are hungrier, who are hurting more, who have been beaten and raped and tortured. Keep it all in perspective. Don’t lose heart. It’s just a light affliction.

Not my words. Paul’s (you need to read this. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Don’t you hate it when he’s right!

You’ll make it. We’ll all make it. You might arrive bruised and bleeding, but you’ll make it. God will see to that.

It might not be clear to you now but He’s got your life under control and He’s leading you even in the darkness. Sometimes on the mountain. Sometimes through the valley. But He knows the way and You’ll. Make. It.

He’s never lost anyone yet.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

God is Here

I can’t remember the last time, if ever, that I’ve seen so much fear in the lives of so many people. This election has brought out the worst in us in so many ways.

So today, the day before the most historic election in recent memory, I want to share some good news with you directly from God for you to meditate on before you go to the polls.

Remember that the same God who fed the multitudes; who calmed the storm; who gave sight to the blind; and who raised the dead is the same God who will take care of you and our country after November 8.

Psalm 27:1
The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 34:4
I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 56:3-4
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

Psalm 118:6
The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

Matthew 6:25-34
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Romans 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Philippians 4:6-7
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 1:7
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

1 Peter 5:7
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

You don’t need to live in fear. God is here.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

God Will Give You More Than You Can Handle

One of the more difficult assignments that we have as Christians is to offer comfort to people who are going through deep trials. Comfort that is both Biblical and helpful. It’s easy to offer a quick cliché but it’s hard to give genuine comfort that ministers to a hurting soul.

One cliché that we’re all guilty of – even pastors, is to tell someone going through deep trials that God will never give you more than you can handle. That statement has bothered me for a long time. Somehow it never rang true.

Think for a minute – what do we mean by that? Don’t we mean that the person will be healed and not die? Don’t we mean that it will all work out for their good in the end when sometimes it doesn’t?

If that’s NOT what we mean than why don’t we say, God will never give you more than you can handle but you might suffer for the next ten years and then die an agonizing death? Because that’s what happens to some people. Where was God and what happened to His promise?

Too many people go through too deep waters and don’t get through (in a very human sense).

I’m sure that we mean well when we say it. And I’m sure that we believe it to be true. After all Paul says that no temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13). That seems to make the case.

But does it?

Pastor Mitch Chase of Kosmosdale Baptist Church has written a great article with the title God Will Give You More Than You Can Handle (I stole my title from him – I just couldn’t think of anything more original!) in which he points out the problem with our common understanding of this verse.

You can find his article here. I’m not going to rehash everything he said because he said it so much better than I could. I would encourage you to read it.

There’s one line in his article, however, that I love: God will give us more than we can handle – but not more than he can.

That’s the truth that we need to share with people who are hurting. GOD CAN HANDLE THIS!

You might not be able to handle it, but HE can. So we turn to Him in faith in our times of deepest need and trust Him to bring us through the dark times.

We trust Him to do what is right in our lives. To do what we need Him to do to make us more like Christ. To change us by our suffering.

We trust Him not to be capricious but to have a purpose for our suffering. To have a reason for our pain.

The next time you have an opportunity to offer words of comfort to a hurting soul point them to Jesus. Tell them that He knows. That He understands. That He can be their rock. That when they’re weak, He’s strong. That when they can’t take it anymore, He’ll be there for them (working through you and His Word).

Put their focus on Jesus.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What if You Don’t Get Through This?

In our Adult Bible Fellowship classes at our church we’re going through Max Lucado’s DVD series You’ll Get Through This. Using Joseph as his model, Lucado emphasizes that when a Christian goes through hard times You fear you won’t make it through. We all do. We fear that the depression will never lift, the yelling will never stop, the pain will never leave. In the pits, surrounded by steep walls and aching reminders, we wonder: Will this gray sky ever brighten? This load ever lighten?

Lucado’s answer is:

You’ll get through this.
It won’t be painless.
It won’t be quick.
But God will use this mess for good.
Don’t be foolish or naïve.
But don’t despair either.
With God’s help, you’ll get through this.

This is not a new idea. The old hymn most of us sang as children (depending on how old you are!) said:

Be not dismayed what-e’er betide; God will take care of you.
Beneath His wings of love abide; God will take care of you.

God will take care of you, thro’ every day, o’er all the way.
He will take care of you; God will take care of you.

In other words, You’ll get through this.

As much as this appeals to me, I wonder about the person whose depression never does lift. About the family where the yelling never does stop. About the wife whose pain never leaves her.

What happens when the gray sky is never bright again or the load is never lightened?

It happens.

So what do we say? Have we been sold a lie? Is God not who we think He is? Has He failed us in some way?

I think there’s more to this than simply saying You’ll get through this. While I agree with a lot that Max Lucado says – trials won’t be painless, they won’t always be quick; God will use this mess for good, because that’s what God does; you don’t need to despair because you can get through it with God’s help; there’s more that needs to be said.

Here are a few thoughts.

1) It’s possible that Lucado means different things by the words he uses than I understand. When he says You’ll get through this he may include eternity in his statement (although his statement doesn’t make sense in eternity). If he’s including, not just this life but eternity then it’s true You’ll get through this.

2) It may be that we have the wrong idea of what it means to get through this. Did the people mentioned in Hebrew 11 get through this or did God fail them (Hebrews 11:32-38)? Getting through might look more like pain and suffering than healing and resolution.

3) It may not be God’s will/plan to remove all of your pain and suffering. Many Christians (Hebrews 11 again) throughout history have suffered and died without healing, without seeing a resolution, without knowing why God didn’t change things. Certainly we would not want to claim that God’s plan never includes unresolved suffering.

4) What we need to teach people is that the issue is not getting through our problems but how we deal with our problems.

The average person deals with his/her problems on their own, in their own strength, by getting even, by masking their pain, by venting their anger, by throwing their hands up in despair.

The Christian, on the other hand, should deal with their problems with God’s help, in His strength, by forgiving, by having a Biblical perspective on suffering and dealing with their pain accordingly (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Hebrews 12:1-11) , by rejecting anger, by trusting God. And most of all by accepting whatever comes into their life as coming from the hand of a loving God who knows what is best for them – even when none of it makes sense.

So even if you don’t get through this in this life, trust that God has something for you in the pain and the sufferings of life.

Without being presumptuous, I’d like to suggest another perspective for those facing pain and suffering – or as Lucado says, for those down in Egypt (Joseph).

This has a purpose.
It won’t be painless.
It won’t be quick.
But God will use this mess for good.
Don’t be foolish or naïve.
But don’t despair either.
With God’s help, you’ll be better for it.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve