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

Everyone Needs to Calm Down (Especially Evangelical Christians)

I can’t remember a time when evangelical Christians were so uptight (many, not all) about the political landscape, unless it was back in the 60’s when they wanted to impeach Earl Warren (yes, I’m old enough to remember it – and they were uptight).

You would think that God had just stepped off of His throne and Hillary was taking over the universe. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God is still in control.

We like to say that He’s in control but the evangelical blogs, the Facebook posts, the Twitter feeds, the emails and the scare tactics seem to indicate otherwise.

The way that many evangelical are acting you would think that if Clinton wins this election, the world as we know it will come to an end. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t but I’m sure of this – God will still be in control on November 9th and every day after that.

I’m not making light of the importance of this election. It may well signal a sea-change in our nation. And, yes I believe evangelical Christians should exercise their freedom to vote for the candidate that they believe can best lead our nation.

But where’s our faith? Is it in the political process? Or in our ability to elect the “right” candidate? Or is it in God, who by the way is still in control.

The writer of Hebrews didn’t tell us to keep our eyes on the Republican Party; or on Donald Trump; or on passing the right laws or policies. He told us to keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). There’s a reason for that. God is still in control.

Hey, we believe that God will bring about His will no matter who’s in the White House. We believe that He will bring about His will no matter who sits on the Supreme Court.

And isn’t that what we ultimately want – God’s will?

I’m not ignoring our responsibility to get involved in the political process. I’m just questioning the panic (even hysteria) that is the result of an unbalanced view of the sovereignty of God. When we say that God is in control we are confessing that He is sovereign over all things, including the election of our president.

So here’s my suggestion: Everyone just needs to calm down. Stop with the scare tactics. Stop telling people who God wants to be president. Stop pontificating on the end of civilization if your candidate isn’t elected.

Go ahead and try to persuade people to vote for your candidate; vote your conscience. But get a grip on reality! God is still in control.

That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:6).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

When God Isn’t There

I recognize that this title states an impossibility – there’s never a time when God isn’t there. He’s always there whether or not we sense His presence. But there are times in life when it seems like God isn’t there. Times when we struggle with a God who is silent. What do we do then? I think there is a clue in Psalm 13. If you haven’t read it in a while, stop now and read it before you read the rest of this blog. It’s short.

Psalm 13 is a lament written by David. And he doesn’t mince any words getting to the core issue: How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever (Vs 1)?

For David it seemed like God wasn’t there or at least that God had forgotten him. Just in case God didn’t get the idea David followed that question up with another: How long will You hide Your face from me (Vs 1)? In that culture when the king hid his face it meant that he withheld his blessing. David was feeling left out by a God who seemed to be absent from the details of his life.

The result of God’s disappearing act (at least that was how David saw it) was that David had a sense of being on his own in life without anyone, especially God, to help him. Ever been there? Ever felt as if God had gone AWOL and you were on your own? That’s where David was. In fact he was so alone that he thought that this might literally be the end (Vs 3).

So what’s the answer? When you feel like God isn’t there for you and you’re on your own – what do you do?

David doesn’t end the Psalm without giving us three simple things that every Christian needs to do when it seems that God isn’t there.

1. Keep Trusting in His Goodness

But I have trusted in Your mercy (Vs 5).

Even though he was going through a spiritual desert, David determined that the one thing that was always true was God’s goodness and he could trust in that.

Trusting in God’s goodness is saying, God I’m going to choose to believe that You are good to me even when I don’t see any evidence of Your goodness. It’s putting Truth before feelings. It’s putting what you know is right before what you feel is wrong.

2. Keep Rejoicing in His Salvation

My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation (Vs 5).

Rejoicing is difficult when you think God is ignoring you. But that’s what David resolved to do.

Rejoicing in His salvation is saying God I’m going to rejoice in what I know is true because if you can save me, you can take care of me. Do you really think that we have a God who has gone to such great lengths to save us only to turn His back on us?

And even if He isn’t doing anything that we can identify right now, isn’t the fact that He saved you enough evidence of His presence?

3. Keep Remembering His Blessings

I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me (Vs 6).

Remembering has great value. It encourages. It gives hope. It stirs our emotions. It reminds us that God IS there and that He CAN help us.

Remembering His blessings is saying God I know that if you blessed me in the past you can and will bless me in the future.

It’s affirming that God is interested in your life and that without Him life would a lot worse than we think it is.

Trusting in God’s goodness, rejoicing in His salvation and remembering His blessings are all acts of Faith. It takes faith to trust God when you can’t sense His presence. It takes faith to rejoice in the fact that God saved you when He doesn’t seem to be around. It takes faith to remember His blessings when it doesn’t seem like He’s blessing you now.

So the next time you think that God isn’t there, follow David’s lead.

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

Does God Ever Get Tired of Us?

I woke up this morning not feeling too well. You know the kind of day – a hard time concentrating, no energy, wish I could go home, can’t wait till it’s over day. It’s not as bad as Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, (some of you won’t connect that) but it isn’t one of my best days either. I’m just feeling tired!

That got me to wondering – does God ever get tired? Not physically tired like us, but does He get tired of:

-our constant complaining
-our weak faith
-our selfish prayers
-our stubborn insistence on doing it our own way
-our whining
-our lackadaisical spiritual lives
-our __________ (fill in the blank)

Does God ever just get tired of us? After all we can be an exasperating lot. Think the Nation of Israel II. If we were a movie we would be Israel the Sequel.

So does God get tired of us (if we can even speak of the eternal God in this way)? I’m sure that there is a better way to express what happens in the heart and mind of God then the word tired, but humor me for a moment. In one sense I think that God does grow tired of our spiritual childishness. Exodus 32 and Numbers 16 certainly indicate that God grew tired of Israel’s unfaithfulness and would have destroyed them had not Moses interceded. Stand back Moses, I’m going to burn these hard-headed rebels to a crisp (Exodus 32:9, my paraphrase). Call it whatever you want – growing tired, anger, disapproval, dismay, our lack of godliness provokes a response in the heart of God.

In another sense, because He is GOD, He is infinitely patient with us. Several New Testament passages talk about the longsuffering of God (Luke 18:7, 2 Peter 3:9).

In one of my favorite passages from the Old Testament (Psalm 103) we’re told,

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in mercy.
He will not always strive with us,
nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
nor punished us according to our iniquities.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
As a father pities his children,
so the Lord pities those who fear Him.
For He knows our frame;
He remember that we are dust.

I find great comfort in the knowledge that if God does get tired of my spiritual immaturity, He also remembers that I am dust – spiritually weak and prone to wander (another oblique reference). And that His anger is tempered by His mercy. And that He hasn’t dealt with me in the way I deserve. And that He takes pity on me. Not that any of that justifies my ungodliness but it does give me hope.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

God in the Big Things

Recently I shared a posting on Facebook – it was a sermon by Alistair Begg titled God of the Ordinary (you can listen to it here). Too often we miss what God is doing because we overlook the ordinary events of life – which is where He normally appears. Don’t miss God in the ordinary.

But God also works in the dramatic, the extraordinary. Let me share a story with you from a young lady who was raised in our church and is now serving as a missionary in Haiti. Her name is Krischelle and she works in a very poor and difficult area of Haiti, even by Haitian standards.

A large truck and trailer filled with supplies was donated to Lemuel Ministries (see their blog here), the ministry Krischelle works with in Haiti. Getting supplies to Haiti is difficult at best – getting them through customs is even harder. Two of their staff members traveled to Port au Prince and each day checked with customs praying and hoping that their things would be released. One of the customs agents was even a former Lemuel staff member who did all he could to expedite their case. The two men who were there to pick up the truck and drive it back parked in the same place at the dock every day and waited – for a week and a half. Then on Thursday of the second week there was a large chemical explosion at the docks. Buildings, trucks, cars, and supplies were damaged and destroyed.

The customs inspector who was helping Lemuel had walked out of the area thirty minutes before the explosion.

The two Lemuel staff members decided that day to return home. The location where they had parked for the better part of two weeks suffered extensive damage – all the cars parked in that area burned.

There was a group of ten new four-wheelers waiting to clear customs. The security personnel only had time to save one of them – it was Lemuel’s.

Other large trucks waiting to clear customs were destroyed – Lemuel’s truck was unscathed.

You can choose to look at this as a series of fortuitous circumstances. Or you can choose to see the hand of God providing for His people. It takes as much faith to believe one as the other.

Yes, God appears in the ordinary events of life and that is where He normally works. But at times He shows up in the big events – at just the right place, at just the right time. And for that we praise Him!

Romans 8:28 is still true. We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

When God Doesn’t Make Sense

There are times in life when God just doesn’t make sense. In fact, if we are honest, God often seems not to make sense to us. We just can’t figure Him out. What do we do then? What do we do when God is a total mystery to us? When we try to do what He wants us to do, but it just doesn’t add up? The following true story illustrates what I’m taking about.

In 1921, Swedish missionaries David and Svea Flood went to the Belgian Congo. They and another young couple, the Ericksons, felt led by God to take the gospel to a remote area called N’dolera. Because the chief would not let them enter the village, their only contact was the young boy who sold them food. Eventually Svea led the boy to Christ.

Malaria struck and the Ericksons returned to the central mission station. The Floods remained near N’dolera alone. Svea died within days of giving birth to a little girl. David dug a crude grave, buried his young wife, gave baby Aina to the Ericksons and returned to Sweden, saying God ruined his life. He turned to alcohol and became bitter against God, not allowing anyone to speak the name of God in his presence.

Within eight months, both the Ericksons died. American missionaries adjusted “Aina” to “Aggie” and brought her to the United States. Years passed. One day a Swedish religious magazine appeared in Aggie’s mailbox, unexpected. A photo inside shocked her­—a grave with a white cross marked “SVEA FLOOD.”

A college faculty member translated the article for Aggie: Missionaries came to N’dolera long ago…a white baby was born… the young mother died… one little African boy was led to Christ…and the boy grew up and built a school in the village. Gradually he won his students to Christ…the children led their parents to Christ…even the chief became a Christian.

Aggie decided to locate her father and eventually visited him in Sweden. Even though she was warned not to speak of God, she told him about the article, telling him “Today there are six hundred African people in that village serving the Lord because you were faithful to the call of God in your life…”  David’s heart softened, and he returned to God. Weeks later, he met Him in eternity.

Aggie eventually met that African boy. He was superintendent of the national church in Zaire (former Belgian Congo), representing 110,000 baptized believers. All because of the sacrifice of David and Svea Flood. A sacrifice that at the time appeared to have been cruel and pointless. (From www.epm.org).

You can read a longer version of Aggie’s remarkable story here.

So what do we do when we don’t understand God? The answer is we walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). The writer of Hebrews reminds us that faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). Walking by faith means trusting God even when He doesn’t make sense. It means following Him even when we don’t understand. It means never going back.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve