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

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

How Great is God?

That might sound like a ridiculous question but for many people, including many Christians, it’s exactly the right question. Christians, especially in America where we have it so good, have lost sight of the greatness of God. We don’t think that He can solve our problems. We don’t believe that He can still part the Red Sea – at least not our Red Sea. We don’t trust Him to protect us, provide for us or help us through our problems.

We say we do – but we don’t. We still rely on our own wits, money, connections, physical strength, etc. etc. We have lost sight of the Greatness of God. Our God is a god made in our own image.

There are many passages that talk about the greatness of God but Psalm 113 paints an interesting picture. Verses 4-6 says

The Lord is high above all nations,
His glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
Who dwells on high,
Who humbles Himself to behold
The things that are in the heavens and in the earth?

The Psalmist begins by stating the greatness of God. He is high above all nations. His glory is even above the glory of the heavens (have you looked at any of the pictures being sent back by the Hubble telescope? Check out www.hubble.org/gallery/. Then he asks an interesting question. It’s a rhetorical question. It doesn’t expect an answer because the answer is so obvious. No one is like our God! No one or thing is as high, as glorious, or as great as God.

What I find interesting is the phrase he uses to show us just how great God is. He says God humbles Himself to behold the things that are in the heavens and in the earth. The key word here is the word humbles. Some translations give the idea that God stoops down to see what’s going on, on the earth. The NIV renders it who stoops down to look. Others simply give the idea that God looks down. The NASB says he looks down to see.

But there is another way to understand this phrase. The Hebrew word literally means to be or become low, to be cast down from a high rank, to make low, IE to be humbled (Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon). That’s the primary meaning of the word. When viewed this way it has the idea that for God to even look at the earth He has to come down from His great glory; He has to humble Himself – just to look at us! And not just us – heaven as well! He’s not stooping. He’s not simply looking down at us. He is degrading Himself. He is humiliating Himself. He is debasing Himself – just to look at us. That’s how great He is.

I don’t think that I’m pushing the issue to far here. The problem is that we don’t understand the exalted position of God. We don’t comprehend just how great He is. He isn’t just the Queen of England great. He isn’t just Beethoven great or Leonardo Da Vinci great, or Michelangelo, or Picasso or anyone else great. In fact you can take all of that greatness and put it together and it won’t come close to the greatness of God.

The contemporary songwriter, Chris Tomlin, like so many before him (Stuart Hine, How Great Thou Art) has tried to capture the idea of the greatness of God in his song How Great is Our God.

The splendor of a king
Clothed in majesty
Let all the earth rejoice
All the earth rejoice

He wraps Himself in light,
And darkness tries to hide
And trembles at His voice
Trembles at His voice

How great is our God – sing with me
How great is our God – and all will see
How great, how great is our God

I like the song – but it only scratches the surface of the Greatness of God. His greatness cannot be measured, it cannot be contained, it cannot be explained, it cannot be comprehended. It can only be accepted.

That’s important. It’s important because it will change the way we worship. It’s important because it will change the way we pray. It’s important because it will change the way we relate to our God.

It would help all of us if we could just get a new perspective on God’s Greatness.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve