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

Keeping Perspective

It’s important to keep life in perspective. In fact, perspective is everything.

This week my Facebook page is filled with the colors of the French flag as people identify with the French people in their hour of suffering. Blue, white, and red are evident in abundance. And that’s as it should be.

However we cannot allow the evil that resulted in such tragedy to dominate our hearts and minds. It’s too easy to throw up our hands in despair or – on the other side, to let anger and even hatred fill our hearts. It’s a matter of perspective.

What should our perspective be in the face of such evil and suffering? Here are a few things that should dominate our thinking.

>We have a God of grace and mercy

Our focus is not to be on evil but on good, and as Jesus reminded us only God is good (Matthew 19:17). That means that He is to be our focus. He is to be the One who dominates our hearts and minds. In a time of suffering, confusion and turmoil we are to see His Grace and His Mercy. He is the One who puts it all into perspective.

>Light dispels darkness

It’s a universal truth. Light will always dispel the darkness. Darkness cannot overcome light – light always overcomes darkness. That’s true in the physical realm and it’s even truer in the spiritual. Whenever a great tragedy happens it seems like we are being engulfed by the darkness. But as long as we carry the light (Matthew 5:14-16) there is hope for those in darkness. Light puts the darkness into perspective.

>Love conquers hate

Someone posted on Facebook this quote by Martin Luther King, Jr: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. As counterintuitive as it seems we are called to love the hater who took so many innocent lives because only love can drive out hatred. We’re not only commanded to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:39) we’re commanded to love those who bomb us and take the lives of our sons and daughters (Matthew 5:43-48). As hard as that is – it’s how Jesus loved us (Romans 5:8). Love puts hatred into perspective.

>Jesus is the answer

It’s tempting to think that bombs and killing are the answer. But they’re not. Humanity has been bombing evil (often a matter of perspective) since anyone can remember. And it’s still here. It just changes form – and names. I’m not suggesting that we should ignore the evil or concede defeat. I’m just saying that force is not the ultimate answer to evil. It will always come back. The ultimate answer is Jesus Christ and that’s where Christians need to focus their time, energy, and resources. Jesus puts the entire world into perspective.

Empathize with the French people. Pray for them. Show your support for them. Mourn those who were lost. But keep it all in perspective.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Don’t Expect God to Make Everything Right

Linda Randall popularized the song God on the Mountain. If you’ve never heard her beautiful voice you can listen to her sing it here. I’ve mentioned this song in some of my previous posts – it’s got a great message of encouragement.

My wife was part of a duet that sang it at our church this past Sunday. The chorus of the song says:

For the God on the mountain, is the God in the valley.
When things go wrong, He’ll make them right.
And the God of the good times
is still God in the bad times.
The God of the day is still God in the night.

There’s always been one phrase of the song that bothered both me and my wife. It’s the phrase when things go wrong, He’ll make them right. I know that ultimately God will make everything right. But I don’t think when most people hear the song they’re thinking long-range. They want God to make it right and to do it now. And if that is how people understand this song aren’t we offering them a false message and a false hope?

The reality is that God doesn’t always make things right in the short-term. In fact He may not make them right in our lifetime. He didn’t make everything right for the unnamed heroes in Hebrews chapter 11. He didn’t make everything right for countless missionaries through the centuries who have been martyred for their faith. When we expect God to make everything in life right we’re missing the point of our faith

So with apologies to the author (Tracy Dartt) and to Linda Randall who made it so popular, our duet made a slight change in the wording of the song. Instead of singing when things go wrong, He’ll make them right, they sang when things go wrong live by faith not by sight.

After all that is the defining mark of a Christian – living by faith. Paul tells us in the book of Romans that the just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17). And he says explicitly in 2 Corinthians for we walk (live) by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). That’s who Christians are; it’s what they do.

The Christian life is not waiting for God to make right the wrongs of our lives. It’s not even wanting God to do make them right. That’s living by sight; by what we can see. We’re to live by faith; by what we can’t see but know to be true. So when life goes wrong we show our faith, not by asking God to make everything right but by trusting God even when we can’t see and we don’t understand. That’s faith (Hebrews 12:1).

Don’t expect God to make everything right. If He does it’s called grace and you can be thankful. But if He doesn’t we still need to live by faith.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Importance of Symbols

I don’t know when people figured out that symbols were useful, but I suspect it was early on. Some of the earliest written forms were pictorial in nature. Before alphabets were designed people drew symbols. Fast forward several thousand years and Madison Avenue figured out that they could describe a company or product in a hundred words or they could simply show you a picture. So along came the Golden Arches, the Swoosh and the Apple.

The importance of symbols has been reignited in our collect conscience by the recent tragedy in South Carolina and the ensuing debate over one of the most notorious symbols in American history, the Confederate flag. To the proponents of the flag it is a symbol of their proud history and freedom from federal domination. To others it is a symbol of slavery, racism, and hatred.

What is sometimes forgotten in the heat of debate is that symbols are more than pictures – they are powerful images that invoke thoughts and actions in us. By design they are made to produce a response.

The other thing that is sometimes overlooked is that the same symbol can mean different things to different people – people see them in different ways. The Golden Arches can symbolize either cheap, tasty food or obesity; the Swoosh either great shoes or run-away capitalism; the Apple either advanced technology or time-wasting machines. It all depends on how you look at things.

Christianity has used symbols with varying success since the first century. Some groups have used them more extensively and effectively than others. The Eastern Orthodox Church has used symbols in their religious ceremonies for centuries and still does today. Other groups use few symbols.

Without question the greatest Christian symbol is the cross. And it, like most symbols, is viewed differently by different people. To the Romans the cross represented an instrument of death. To the Jews it was a symbol of shame. To the Greeks it was a symbol of foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). But to the Christian the cross has always been a symbol of the most powerful love ever expressed to man. It is central to our theology and our lives. Without the cross there is no forgiveness, no hope and no future. This one symbol represents everything about our faith.

And in a manner of speaking it represents everything about God. Thousands of books have been written attempting to explain God to us but we still see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12). We’re still left with unanswered questions. But there is a way to know God (I’m not neglecting the Bible here). Without being too simplistic, if you want to understand God just look at the symbol – it will tell you what you need to know.

It is the Cross that teaches us about God’s love, His wisdom, His forgiveness, His nature, His eternal plan, His sacrifice, His kingdom, His mercy, His compassion, His justice, His grace, His humility and so much more.

And it is the Cross that calls people to a response of faith.

God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

One Title – Two Messages

Occasionally someone in our church will recommend a song for us to sing – something they heard at another church or on the radio. We welcome suggestions at our church and look into requests to see if the song has potential for us to use in our worship.

This past Sunday one of our worship team members suggested a song called Bow the Knee. When I began to search for the song on the internet I quickly discovered that there are two songs by this name (sometimes you’ll find four or more songs with the same name!). The song that had been suggested is this one – and it’s a good song. You can actually watch the writer of the song (Ron Hamilton) sing it here. Its message is along the lines of recognizing who God is and bowing before Him. Similar to the Apostle Paul’s statement (Philippians 2:9-11):

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The other song by the same title has a different message. Written by Chris Machen and Mike Harland it takes the idea of bowing before God in the direction of accepting the work that God is doing in our lives, even when we don’t understand it.

There are moments on our journey following the Lord
Where God illumines ev’ry step we take.

There are times when circumstances make perfect sense to us,
As we try to understand each move He makes.

When the path grows dim and our questions have no answers, turn to Him.

Bow the knee;
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.

Bow the knee;
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.

And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King, bow the knee.

There are days when clouds surround us, and the rain begins to fall,
The cold and lonely winds won’t cease to blow.

And there seems to be no reason for the suffering we feel;
We are tempted to believe God does not know.

When the storms arise, don’t forget we live by faith and not by sight.

Bow the knee;
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.

Bow the knee;
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.

And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King, bow the knee.

You can listen to this version here.

Two songs. Both songs with a good biblical message. Both true.

As Christ followers we need to recognize who God is. He IS King of all the ages and He alone deserves our worship.

It is also true that this God who is high and lifted up is one that we can trust on our journey through life even when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan. The writer reminds us of a truth that we need to hang onto; don’t forget we live by faith and not by sight – see 2 Corinthians 5:7.

Wherever you are today – rejoicing in the goodness and greatness of God or struggling to understand the heart of the Father – stop long enough on your spiritual journey to bow your knee.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Grace Factor

Sometimes we have those favorite passages from the Bible that we like to quote. We often do it for encouragement or to explain something we don’t understand. One passage that people use like this is from the book of Isaiah: For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Our normal thought process runs something like this: we can’t explain what God is doing in our lives so our fallback position is that God’s mind just works differently than our minds, so God must have some purpose or reason for – not answering my prayer; for allowing me to suffer; for not blessing me etc.

While all of that may be true on some level, the passage in Isaiah has a very specific context and that context is all about God’s grace.

The two verses just before this set the context. Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7).

It is in the context of God’s mercy and forgiveness that we learn that God’s mind works differently than our minds. God is willing to forgive the wicked who seek Him, call on Him and forsake their sin.

What God knows is that we struggle in this area. When someone has hurt us, wounded us, sinned against us, we struggle to forgiven them even if they seek our forgiveness. We just want to get even. To let them feel our hurt. They deserve at least a little pain. But not so with God. Whenever someone who has hurt the holiness of God by their sin comes seeking Him, He’s there. When they call, He’s listening. When they repent, He’s willing to forgive.

Why? Because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. His ways and thoughts are higher, much higher than ours.

There are two things that we can take away from this passage. One, and this is the primary teaching of the passage, is that God’s grace is not something that He jealously guards but something that He willingly and enthusiastically gives away to those who need it. That’s how His ways and thoughts are higher than ours.

The second takeaway is that this is exactly how we are to live. We are to be grace-givers on a magnitude that we have never before imagined. Grace is not something you keep, it is something you dispense, something you give away freely and without reservation. Unless you give it, grace is not grace. It only becomes grace through the unselfish act of giving. God is not only showing us the magnitude of His grace in this passage – He is challenging us to live the life of grace.

The apostle John touched on this same issue when he wrote: And of His fullness we have all received, and grace piled on top of grace (my translation of John 1:16). Since we have received grace in a magnitude that we cannot begin to understand, we need to give grace in a magnitude that others do not expect. That’s the Grace Factor.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

When Grace Came

Christmas is such a special time of the year. Whether or not we know the exact year of Christ’s birth (we don’t) or celebrate it on the right date (we don’t) really doesn’t matter. We’re not celebrating a date we’re celebrating an event – the birth of Christ. Without question it is the greatest event to occur in human history. That’s worth celebrating.

The birth of Christ is an event that is drenched in grace. Can you imagine the magnitude of what happened in Bethlehem that night? The infinite, eternal One came to be with us. Immanuel. God, the one without sin, came to live with sinners. That’s grace.

Amazingly He didn’t ask us to clean up our act before He came – He just came. He didn’t expect us to change our lives so He could come – He just came. He came to a world that wasn’t looking for Him (with some minor exceptions), to a world that didn’t want Him, to a world that really wasn’t craving what He had to offer. And knowing all of that He came. That’s grace.

The birth of Christ in Bethlehem that we celebrate at this time of the year was Grace with a capital G. As much as I love our carols and the scenes of peace and tranquility that they project, they miss this one thing – if the birth of Christ in the manger was anything it was the one of the loudest expressions of God’s grace that has ever come into our world and into our lives. It might have been Silent Night to some but it wasn’t to God. And it shouldn’t be to us.

That night was God literally screaming grace at us. It was God shouting Here I am! I’ve come to be with you! I WANT to be with you! I want to be with YOU! Even in the quietness of Bethlehem He could not have said it any louder.

Grace seldom comes quietly into our lives. How can it? It’s the Eternal One invading our time, our space, our lives. It’s not meant to be quiet it’s meant to be loud and noisy. It’s meant to get our attention; to shake us up; to change our lives.

That’s what happened in Bethlehem. That night in a village that was insignificant to most of the world, God’s grace came. It came in the form of a baby. It came in the form of God (Philippians 2:6). And it came with an explosion that rocked the world.

That’s what Christmas is. That’s what Grace is.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve