We just had a great vacation. After a few days spent getting work done at my mom’s house, Sue and I spent a week at one of our favorite places: Ocean Isle Beach—with our children and grand-children. As you can see in this picture, we had an INCREDIBLE time.
Our daily schedule was pretty much the same. We’d go to the beach in the morning when the temp was low and the tide was out—then we’d come inside about lunch time when it got hot. After lunch Nathan would nap—and while he did we’d do “indoor things” like play games or read or watch movies—which was Lydia and Joel’s favorite indoor activity.
One of the movies Daniel let the kids watch was Home Alone. Do you remember that oldie but goldie where a little boy named Kevin McCallister is accidentally left home alone in Chicago while his entire family flew to Paris for Christmas? Well, Lydia and Joel really enjoyed it—they laughed and laughed—and I enjoyed seeing them happy—I’m just hoping they don’t get any ideas and start setting traps for each other!
One part of the movie that stood out to me was something that happened the day before poor little Kevin McCalister was left home alone. His big bully of a brother, Buzz, pointed out the window to the old man who lived next door. Old Man Marley—remember him? Buzz and Kevin were watching their neighbor shoveling the side walk and then treating it with salt that he had in a trash can. Buzz told his little brother that this old man was actually “the South Bend Shovel Slayer” and that he murdered his family and half the people on the block with a snow shovel in 1958. Buzz said the old man kept his victims in garbage cans full of salt.
Poor gullible little Kevin believed his brother’s cruel lie and was understandably terrified. In the first day he was home alone, he bumped into Old Man Marley and fled in terror. But his perspective on Mr. Marley changed that Christmas Eve afternoon when Kevin happened bump into Marley again—this time at church. They talked and Kevin realized the rumors were false—that in fact Mr. Marley was a nice guy—and that the mean look on his face was actually a look of pain that came from his broken relationship with his son—one that kept him from his granddaughter. In fact, the reason Marley was at the church that day was to watch his granddaughter practice for the Christmas Eve Service. Because of his fractured relationship with his son, it was the only way he could see her.
Then later in the movie Marley proved he was indeed a “good guy” when he came to Kevin’s rescue and saved him from the clutches of the two guys who broke into his home. Remember?
I share this to illustrate the fact that perception can be a very powerful thing. The false rumors that Buzz told his brother gave Kevin a false perception of Marley. It made him see Marley for something he wasn’t. Well, the same thing happens to many people—when it comes to their perception of God. For various reasons they have a flawed understanding of our Heavenly Father and this has serious implications—in fact, what we think about our Heavenly Father AFFECTS ALL OF LIFE! I know I’ve shared this quote dozens of times over the years but Tozer is right when he says, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
Let’s review why this is true.
First, our perception of God affects our relationship with Him.
- I mean, if we think of God as a fanatical POLICEMAN always looking for an opportunity to “ticket” us for our sins, we’ll spend our lives avoiding Him—like we avoid speed traps.
- If we think of Him as an angry JUDGE, we’ll always feel guilty for our shortcomings. We’ll never experience His forgiveness because we’ll be afraid to ask for it.
- If, like many, we put GOD IN A BOX—limiting His power and wisdom—well, we won’t go to Him for help in the crises of life. We’ll live our lives in fear of the seemingly unlimited trials and tribulations that come with life in this fallen world.
- If we think of God as a Being Who is focused on running the universe, we’ll conclude that He is too busy to care about our problems—much less talk to us when we yearn for His companionship.
So, you see, misconceptions about God—wrong thoughts about Him—can create a barrier—between us and our Loving Creator. A flawed perception of God can keep us from the friendship and love we were designed to share with Him.
Here’s another implication. Our knowledge of God affects our worship—the way we practice our faith.
Tozer writes, “Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. The history of mankind will show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate—that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.”
Have you ever watched the nightly news reports and wondered why Muslim terrorists drive trucks into crowds of pedestrians—or why they strap bombs around their bodies, walk into a crowded market, and push the button? They do this because in their minds, God is a being who demands that kind of action—they believe He hates “infidels” like you and me—and promises eternal paradise to those who give their lives murdering others in this brutal way.
My point is—our perception of God is indeed a powerful thing—for good—or for bad and I hope this helps you see that what we KNOW about God is very important. As Richard Foster puts it, “To think rightly about God is in an important sense to have everything right. To think wrongly about God is to have everything wrong. Nothing twists and deforms the soul more than a low or unworthy conception of God.” J. I. Packer writes, “We are cruel to ourselves when we try to live in this world, without knowing about the God Whose world it is and Who runs it.” Without a proper knowledge of God, “…we sentence ourselves to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds us.”
Well, let me ask, how is your relationship with God? He created us for closeness and friendship—we were designed to walk through life with Him—in the same way that Adam and Eve walked with Him every day through the Garden of Eden. Well, are you experiencing something like that? Are you experiencing intimacy with God? Or—do you feel like you never measure up—like God is always down on you eagerly waiting for you to mess up so He can discipline you? Do you find it hard to pray—like your petitions get no further than the ceiling? Do you struggle with obeying God because you think you might miss out on some fun if you follow His will completely?
Your answer to these questions reveals a lot about your perception of God—and if you’re NOT experiencing intimacy with our Heavenly Father—if you DO find it hard to pray—if you STRUGGLE with obeying His commands, then please don’t miss a single service for the next eight weeks—because your problem probably stems from a warped understanding of God—a flawed perspective of His character—and in this 8-week series that we’re calling, “Connecting With the Real God,” we hope to help correct that.
As you may or may not know—this is a church-wide study based on a book by Chip Ingram entitled, The REAL God—How He longs for You to See Him. Many of our Sunday School Classes doing a deeper study of this book each week. But for my sermons, I’m also drawing from other books on this important subject—namely:
- Mark Buchanan’s The Holy Wild
- Bill Hybels’ The God You’re Looking For
- J.I. Packer’s, Knowing God, and
- W. Tozer’s, The Knowledge of the Holy.
Our goal for this study is to connect with—to deepen our understanding of—the REAL God—the God of the Bible—the one TRUE God. And, as I have inferred, this is an important understanding to gain because many of us look at God the WRONG way. I like how Ingram puts it in his book—he says that for many of us our perceptual problems stem from the fact that we look at God through flawed “lenses.” Now, like all of you who wear glasses, once a year I go to my optometrist to get my eyes checked in order to see if I need a new prescription. In fact, I just got new glasses a couple weeks ago.
You know how it works. The technician uses machines—and many times they show that my eyesight has gotten worse. He’ll have me look through one lens—one that is identical to the lenses in my old glasses and say, “How’s that look?” And I’ll say, “Looks good!” Then, he’ll flip a switch and have me look through a stronger lens and say, “How’s that look?” And I’ll say, “Wow! That looks much better! I didn’t even see that last line of letters before!” Then he’ll try to talk me into buying new lenses and frames from him instead of Costco or Sam’s—where they are MUCH cheaper.
Well, as we begin this sermon series I’d like us to follow Chip Ingram’s lead and use three “Scriptural lenses” to help correct our flawed spiritual vision—in order that, as he puts it, “we can see God as He longs for us to see Him.”
Corrective Lense #1: We must “see” that God is not LIKE US.
Tozer plainly says, “God is not exactly LIKE anything or anybody.” Now, you may be thinking, “But, Mark, the Bible tells us we are made in His image!” And you’re right, it does—way back in Genesis 1:27, but it also repeatedly says that God is not like us. This is not a contradiction. No—what the Bible teaches is that at our absolute best we only represent an image—a hint of Who God is. He is not like us. I mean, He’s not some huge old man with hair and a beard so white it seems holy.
I remember going with the seniors to the Sight and Sound Christmas Pageant in Lancaster a couple decades ago and I loved every part of it—except the way they pictured God. He was displayed as a giant old man with a long pure-white beard wearing kind of a male version of the I Dream of Genie outfit—and I felt it was just plain irreverent because God is not some male genie. And He’s not an old man like I’m becoming. God is not LIKE us. He is more UNLIKE us than LIKE us!
Let me put it this way. We are made in HIS image—not the other way around. And the fact is we don’t SEE God clearly—we don’t KNOW God accurately if we picture Him as a bigger or better version of humanity.
Let’s review some texts that help us to “see” this principle more clearly.
In 2nd Samuel 7:22 King David—a man after God’s own heart, said, “How great are You, O Sovereign Lord! There is no one like You and there is no God but You!”
In Isaiah 40:25-28 God says, “To whom will you compare Me? Or who is My equal? Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He Who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.”
Speaking of “understanding,” Isaiah 55:8-9 God reminds us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways, My ways! As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
In Romans 11:33-34 Paul writes, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and His paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay Him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. AMEN.”
The answer to Paul’s rhetorical questions here is obvious—no one. As Ingram puts it, “No one has known God’s mind; no one has been His counselor; and God owes no one.”
And please take note of those last few phrases in Romans 11.
- First, “from Him” — which reminds us that God is the Source of everything.
- “Through Him” — which reminds us that He is the instrumental cause of all that exists.
- And finally, “to Him” — which tells us that all for His glory goes to Him!
Now, when the Biblical writers described their visions of God in anthropomorphic terms—when they said He was LIKE us—well, they were attempting to describe something unlike anything they had never seen before. They had no suitable words to convey their experience to their readers so they used words they understood in an attempt to communicate with people like you and me.
Here’s an example of this principle: When Ezekiel saw Heaven opened and saw the beings around what looked like God’s throne he said, “As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was LIKE burning coals of fire.” Now, these heavenly beings he saw were not huge charcoals hovering around God—but that’s the closest term ole Zeke could find to describe what he saw. They were kind of LIKE coals but they weren’t actual coals!
It would be like someone from the 2nd century trying to describe a 747 airliner. He might say, “It was LIKE a huge bird with shining skin and stiff wings and several eyes on each side.” Now, a 747 is actually more UNLIKE a bird than LIKE it—so to think of a plane as a bird is to miss the true nature of the plane. Well, we make a similar mistake when we think of God as a “big” human—because He is not that. He is not like us. Here’s a few reasons I say this.
- People get tired and weary—but not God—never! As David puts it in Psalm 121, “God will not let your foot slip—He Who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He Who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
- There are things we humans don’t understand—but God has never been perplexed by anything and never will be. He has absolutely complete knowledge. He literally knows EVERYTHING.
- In spite of our sinful thoughts and actions, people may do a good deed here or there but God is perfectly Holy—and because He is, He is always good.
- We can only be in one place at a time, but God is omnipresent—He’s everywhere at the same time.
- And speaking of time, unlike us He is not limited to one part of the 4th dimension. God is above time. So, to have an accurate knowledge of God, we must look through this “corrective lens” and “see” that He is not like us or any other created being.
Corrective Lense #2: We need to see that left to ourselves, we tend to reduce God to MANAGEABLE terms.
I mean, the concept of our all-knowing, all-powerful God is so overwhelming that we often respond by “shrinking” Him. Tozer puts it this way, “We want to get God to where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control.” And Tozer is right. Instead of falling down as servants before this awesome God, many times we try to get Him to be our servant so we can use Him for our purposes.
This is the kind of thinking Paul described in Romans 1:21-23: “For although they KNEW God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”
We see a literal example of this back in the book of Exodus. Remember? While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments—Aaron yielded to pagan peer pressure and REDUCED the God Who had brought them out of bondage—the God Who had sent the plagues and parted the Red Sea—the God Who had destroyed the pursuing Egyptian army—Aaron REDUCED our Almighty God to a calf made out of recycled jewelry.
Now—You may be thinking, “Well that IS stupid—but I’m not guilty of that! I don’t shrink God. I don’t make idols.” But before you make that claim consider this. Have you ever treated of God as your own personal genie—Someone you only go to when you need something in life? Have you ever treated the Creator of the universe as your own, “God on Demand” — someone Who’s there when you need Him and stays out of the way the rest of the time? Have you ever made God accountable to you when it should be the other way around? I think it would be fair to say that all of us from time to time have treated God like this.
This week I read about something very interesting that happened a few months ago in professional hockey. In their game against the Winnipeg Jets, the fate of the Chicago Blackhawks was decided by a fan who was called into emergency goalie service. Scott Foster, a 36-year-old accountant, hadn’t played a hockey game against serious competition in over a decade—but because of his background as a goalie for Western Michigan University, he’d been designated as an “emergency goalie,” an honor that usually just results in free food in the press box. Well, when rookie goalie Collin Delia—himself substituting for regular injured goalie Anton Forsburg—was injured in the 3rd period, Foster was called into service. He literally walked down from the stands, put on a uniform, and took to the ice. Foster said, “The initial shock happened when I had to dress and then I think you just kind of black out after that. I don’t think I heard anything other than ‘Put your helmet on.’” Whatever mental zone Foster entered as he took the ice, it was effective. He stopped all seven shots attempted, earned the team belt (an honor reserved for the game’s best player)—and set social media ablaze with tweets and posts from fans and analysts who could not believe he had never played professionally before. Foster said, “This is something that no one can ever take away from me. It’s something that I can go home and tell my kids.”
Cool story—but have you ever done something like that to God? I mean, you leave Him in the “stands of life” watching—until you need Him? You reduce God to an “emergency goalie” of sorts? We all do—and, when we do—when, instead of daily kneeling at His feet offering Him our lives—we spend our days ignoring Him until we face a crisis or until we need Him to get us something we want.
When we do this we are in essence we are committing the same sin as Aaron and the Israelites—the same sin as the people Paul described in Romans 1—because we are reducing God—we are making Him our own personal MANAGEABLE servant.
Another thing: when we treat God like this, we are in essence worshiping ourselves. We are making ourselves God’s superior. We are making ourselves “god.” This reminds me of something Dr. Laura Schlessinger once said. She warned, “One could read the 2nd Commandment as follows: ‘Do not make yourSELF an idol.”
Corrective Lense #3: We need to “see” that God can only be known as He REVEALS Himself to us.
In other words, since God is so UNLIKE us—since He is so above us—if we are to KNOW Him, He has to take the initiative. In 175 A.D. Irenaeus put it this way, “Without God, God cannot be known.” And old Irenaeus was right. I mean, we don’t make friends with God—He makes friends with us.
It would be like my hearing about Senator John McCain as he faced his last days and thinking, “You know, I’d like to ask him a few questions about the Vietnam War. I think I’ll pay him a visit.” I couldn’t just fly to Sedona and drive out to his home and walk into his house. No—I’d be arrested before I got to the driveway. If I were to get to know John McCain, he would have had to contact me. He’d have to take the initiative.
Well, in an infinitely greater way, God has done this. He’s taken the initiative and revealed Himself to us in three ways.
a. First, through NATURE.
As Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen—being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God. The skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech. Night after night they display knowledge. There’s no speech or language where their voice is not heard.”
These texts and others tell us that from the dawn of time, night after night, day after day, God has revealed Himself to us in His creation. As Warren Weirsbe puts it, “Nature preaches a thousand sermons a day to the human heart.”
Everyone on earth who has watched a sunrise or a sunset has seen the character of God. The mind-staggering beauty of creation is why a hush falls on a group of people who step out under the stars in a night sky, when the moon is riding high and the stars glow with glory. We all feel the mystery of the Infinite reaching, calling out to our spirits and a silence descends upon us. In times like this we know in the depths of our being that there is a Creator—and that He is a Being of limitless power—One with Who defines beauty and grandeur.
A few weeks ago Sue and I came out of Chic-fil-A and there before us was this HUGE rainbow. This picture doesn’t do it justice. I mean, whenever I see one I feel a sense of AWE. I know I am in the presence of God. I feel His holiness and power and I am more aware of my sin and weakness. I always feel that way when I see the miracles of creation.
This week at Ocean Isle, one day I took Lydia and Joel on a mile-long hike to and from the end of the island. We went during low tide because there are always tide pools and they are filled with little fish. I had bought them each nets to catch the fish and we were excited about taking a shot at that. But—even though there were hundreds of these fish—we couldn’t catch a single one. Their Creator enabled them to make turns at incredible speed so that they always avoided out nets. Plus, they have this sort of “stealth mode” where they can come to a halt—and seem to disappear. This “chameleon power” not only protects them from grandkids with nets—but from predators like sea gulls and sand pipers. Only GOD could make a fish like that.
But observing nature will only give you a partial picture of Who God is. To gain a deeper knowledge we must look at a second way He has revealed Himself—
b. Through His WORD.
I mean, as wonderful a revelation of God as nature is—it is still limited. It tells us that God exists and that He is powerful but it doesn’t tell us how to know Him. The heavens declare God’s power and glory but they don’t declare His will or His plan or His promise of salvation. And this is why God has also revealed Himself to us in the Bible. As Proverbs 2:1-2, 5 says, “My son, if you accept My words and store up My commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding—then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. To know God, we must read His Word. We must study it—memorize it—meditate on it.
One of the movies we watched with Lydia and Joel on vacation was an episode of the new Superbook series. This one was about Noah and the Ark—and it was very cool—a great teaching tool. But—a better tool—is just READING the story of Noah in the Bible. I know this is hard for our “visual generation” to grasp—but reading is always better than watching.
The New York Times recently ran an article entitled, “Turn the Page—Spur the Brian.” In it the writer shared the results of scientific studies that show that reading to children, even infants was crucial for brain development. They also found that exposing children to a video or a picture short-circuited the child’s imagination. One expert said that when they WATCH a story: “They’re not having to imagine the story [for themselves]; it’s just being fed to them.” Another researcher pointed out that children who were exposed to reading “showed significantly more activity in the areas of the brain that process visual association—even though the child was listening to a story and could not see any pictures.” In short, verbal communication makes your mind and heart do the work of grasping and imagining the story for yourself. But images just feed you what some other person’s imagination has created.
Now—I’m not putting down videos—they are a good teaching tool—but the fact is God’s Word is powerful. It doesn’t NEED a TV to speak. This is GOD’S Word! He has revealed Himself on these pages—He joins us as we study His Word. But the best—the most complete revelation of God is of course:
c. Through His Son.
Hebrews 1:1-3a reminds us that, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways—but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, Whom He appointed Heir of all things, and through Whom He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful Word.”
1st John 5:20 says, “The Son of God has come and has given us understanding—so that we may know Him Who is true—even in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”
In John 14:9 Jesus Himself said, “Anyone who has seen Me, has seen the Father.”
As Philip Yancey puts it in The Jesus I Never Knew, “In Jesus, God lay down on the dissection table, as it were, stretched out in cruciform posture for the scrutiny of all.” In Jesus, God made Himself visible—knowable. As Paul puts it in Colossians 1:15, Jesus is, “the IMAGE of the INVISIBLE God.”
I like how Sally Lloyd-Jones puts it. She writes: “There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves His children and comes to rescue them. It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers His name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly, you can see a beautiful picture.”
In closing let me just point out that God has taken the initiative and revealed Himself to us in these ways—through creation, through His Word—through Jesus—because He wants us to know Him. He wants us move from knowing Him dimly to knowing Him vividly. He wants our incorrect perceptions to be corrected. God yearns for us to not just know ABOUT Him—but to KNOW Him. He’s wants to be in an intimate relationship with each of us.
Remember—His Word teaches that He is the God Who leaves the 99 in search of the 1 lost “lamb.” The REAL God literally came seeking His lost creation. As someone once put it, “He’s the God Who has orchestrated every event of your life to give you the best chance to get to know Him—so that you can experience the full measure of His love.”
How does that make you feel? I mean, think about this amazing fact for a moment. God—Who is not like us and is in fact infinitely above us—God, the Creator of all that is—this, the one REAL—TRUE—God, actually wants to be in relationship with you! He wants this so much that He was willing to pay the highest price imaginable—the death of His only Son.
And this is the ONLY way to know God—by accepting what Jesus did for you on the cross. If you’re here and you’ve never accepted God’s invitation into relationship, then I invite you to do so this morning. Ask God to forgive you of Your sin. Tell Him you believe Jesus is His Son—and that He died on the cross for you. Ask Him to come into your life as Lord.
And if you are already a Christian then I would ask—are you seeking to know God? Are you praying, “God I want to know you more? I want our relationship to deepen. I want to follow You more closely. I want Your will to be done in my life.” Then why not commit to seek God—make it your goal to deepen you relationship with Him. Claim His promise in Jeremiah 29:13 where He says, “You will seek Me and find Me [and be able to SEE Me] when you seek Me with all your heart.”