This past Sunday i preached the sermon you’ll see in the script below. The conviction for this sermon started about three or four years ago through events in my own life, and as i keep reading books, blogs, etc, and hearing people speak, it is clearly evident that the timing of the message was appropriate. As ever, when the Spirit moves during the delivery of a sermon, it is important to roll with it. Having said that, the audio version of what follows differs from how it is presented here. The wording of a sentence might be delivered differently, or emphasis added in places that even i would not have thought. There were also one or two spots where elaboration was given, and in one instance, at least in this case, a word from 1 Corinthians 10:4-6 was given as well, which you won’t find in the text. I still need to wrestle a bit with that passage, and my write about it soon. Blessings as you read…
What is God Like?
July 15, 2012
The most recent copy of The Voice of the Martyrs magazine has an article titled, Is God dead in North Korea? which reads in part:
“On December 17, 2011, Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s “Dear Leader” and son of self-proclaimed god Kim Il Sung, passed on to eternity.
“North Korea has long been one of the darkest and most isolated nations on the earth, especially for believers. Kim Il Sung became “Great Leader” of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1948, after communists took control in the north. Almost immediately, he closed all churches and set out to eradicate Christianity. An estimated 300,000 Christians disappeared, and about 100,000 more were sent to labor camps. Nearly all pastors and priests were executed, adding to the number of martyrs who cry out to God for judgment, according to Revelation 6:9-10.
“Kim Il Sung established a new guiding philosophy called “juche,” meaning “self-reliance,” that reflected a warped imitation of Christianity. As the son of Christian parents and the grandson of a Christian pastor, he appointed himself Supreme Leader and godhead, with his son, Kim Jong Il, as the son of god. He set himself up as god and put his son in the place of Jesus.
“North Koreans are still required to worship Kim Il Sung with all their heart and might, even after his death, according to article 1, of the party covenant. His son, Kim Jong Il, was bestowed with divine interpretation of the “juche” ideology.
“For more than half a century, North Koreans have been brainwashed to pour all their faith into the words and actions of the two Kims. At the 2011 funeral for Kim Jong Il, mourners could be heard asking, “How could you leave us? What are we supposed to do without you?
“On state T.V., a soldier declared, “The people, the mountains, the streams and the heavens are weeping tears of blood for having to bid the final farewell.”
Kim Il Sung had the fortitude to declare himself as God and yet died. His son died too. And yet because of the upbringing of the North Korean people, somehow they still view the Kim family as God-like.
It’s easy to read a story like this, or hear of other stories like it from other parts of the world and say, “Man, someone needs to get in there and do something about that!” Or even, “Maybe it’s time to go on missions and change the world over there.” You might even be tempted to say something like, “If God gave me a large ministry, I would do what I could to impact those people with the love of God.” But I’m here to ask a question this morning: Is North Korea really any different from North America? Or more succinctly stated: It’s true that North Korea may have communism, and they have cultivated a system of raising their children that teaches that a dead guy is god, but is the idolatry that has been cultivated in North Korea so much different from that of North America?
The question I’m going to ask right up front this morning is related to the title of the sermon this morning: What is God like?
Before we get into that though, let’s bow our heads in prayer and invite God into the conversation this morning. Pray.
If you have your Bibles, turn with me to Isaiah 40, starting at verse twelve. Those of you who know me well know that I generally read out of the NKJV version, but this morning I’ll be reading out of the New Living Translation. Isaiah 40 then, starting at verse twelve:
12 Who else has held the oceans in his hand? Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers? Who else knows the weight of the earth or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale? 13 Who is able to advise the Spirit of the Lord? Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him? 14 Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice? Does he need instruction about what is good? Did someone teach him what is right or show him the path of justice?
15 No, for all the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket. They are nothing more than dust on the scales. He picks up the whole earth as though it were a grain of sand. 16 All the wood in Lebanon’s forests and all Lebanon’s animals would not be enough to make a burnt offering worthy of our God. 17 The nations of the world are worth nothing to him. In his eyes they count for less than nothing – mere emptiness and froth.
18 To whom can you compare God? What image can you find to resemble him? 19 Can he be compared to an idol formed in a mold, overlaid with gold, and decorated with silver chains? 20 Or if people are too poor for that, they might at least choose wood that won’t decay and a skilled craftsman to carve an image that won’t fall down!
21 Haven’t you heard? Don’t you understand? Are you deaf to the words of God – the words he gave before the world began? Are you so ignorant? 22 God sits above the circle of the earth. The people below seem like grasshoppers to him! He spreads out the heavens like a curtain and makes his tent from them. 23 He judges the great people of the world and brings them all to nothing. 24 They hardly get started, barely taking root, when he blows on them and they wither. The wind carries them off like chaff.
So far the reading of God’s word!
A. W. Tozer, in The Knowledge of the Holy, writes, “All of the problems of heaven and earth, if they were to confront us all at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as mortal beings must do about Him.” And in the next paragraph Tozer adds, “The person who comes to a right belief about God is relieved of ten thousand temporal problems.”
It is no secret that the Church in North America has a problem. God is awakening pastors, teachers, prophets, and evangelists to this reality. While we like to sit comfortably in our homes and look at the issues going on in the rest of the world, things are deteriorating before our very eyes.
I heard a message recently by Mike Bickle, one of my favorite pastors that I listen to. It was a message I had heard a few times and was listening to it again and heard something I hadn’t picked up on before. He said, “The one thing that people in the pulpit do not talk about is God. It is the topic that is most ignored in the pulpit.”
Preacher and teacher Corey Russell says, “Our greatest problem is that we do not know who God is! We do not know the God that we talk about, the God that we sing about, the God that we do our evangelistic outreaches in the name of, the God that we spend our whole lives, with Him all around us, the very one that we proclaim, there is little, very small, living reality, living revelation of who He is on the inside of us.”
That is the reality of what we as a Church are facing today. We truly do not know who God is. For most North American Christians we’re just happy enough to say, “Yeah, I know God,” and then go on living compromised lives. If you were at the fair service this year you heard Brian Sumner talk about this. He told of how people in the offices of the companies he had endorsements with encouraged him to divorce his wife and live a party life. Then when he became a Christian, they turned around and told him that they were too. He shared how shocked he was to find that the very people encouraging him to live a party lifestyle and divorce his wife were the same ones that later said they were Christians.
But bless His holy name, God is moving and working in the hearts of leaders. God is awakening in pastors, teachers, prophets, and evangelists a desire that there needs to be more. God is awakening a Joel 2 Spirit among His people. God is setting up watchmen and women on the walls. He is calling the leaders to blow the trumpet; to sound an alarm, and wake people up to what is coming around the corner.
In prayer meetings, in talks with people all over, and in books and articles, I keep hearing the same thing. People are saying that they believe we are in the end-times. From all over people are saying that they can feel a shift, and that we are nearing the end of the age. But then these same people don’t do anything different with their lives. They continue to go on living their same old lives, and they don’t even try to gain an understanding of the God that they serve. In their lives they know that they have the fire insurance they need so that they won’t go to hell when Jesus returns, but they don’t even bother with anyone else.
The thing that gets me excited though is that God is raising up pastors and teachers who aren’t afraid to share a tough word from God. They are not ashamed to be the one blowing the trumpets, and waking the people of God up from the slumber that Satan has gotten them entrenched in. Paul warns Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, he writes, “A time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.” These leaders that God is raising in this hour are being filled with the boldness of God to preach against what those itching ears want to hear. These leaders are being filled with boldness to declare what Paul calls sound and wholesome teaching.
We truly do not know who God is!
John G. Lake, the famous preacher, in writing about the state of Christianity during his life wrote, “My Lord is not dead! But I’ll tell you, dear hearts – we have been satisfied to live in Christ in our babyhood, to perpetuate our babyhood, and to go on shouting like a lot of babies, instead of entering into the secrets of the heart of Jesus Christ by the grace of God and claiming from Heaven the divine flames of God upon our souls.”
One almost gets the sense that this is what Isaiah is trying to say in the passage this morning. It’s as though he has been challenged time and time again regarding the greatness of God that he responds in a challenge to the people. It’s as though he’s asking the people, “Which of the gods that you worship can hold the oceans, or measure the heavens? Which one of them knows the weight of the world or the mountains and hills? Can you or any of your gods teach the living God? Or give Him advice?”
One commentator in The Pulpit Commentary puts it this way, “The holy indignation of the prophet is aroused as he sees the Godhead so pitifully presented to the mind, so shamefully represented in the eyes of people.” And if I can quote one of my mentors from a conversation I had this week, he said, “Isaiah’s holy indignation should be our holy discontent.” We should not be ready to live contented lifestyles when it comes to our knowledge of God.
It is that holy indignation that causes Isaiah to ask the question in verse eighteen, “To whom can you compare God? What image can you find to resemble Him?” And then he almost seems to mock those who would try to depict God as something lower than He is, “Can He be compared to an idol formed in a mold, overlaid with gold, and decorated with silver chains? Or if people are too poor for that, they might at least choose wood that won’t decay and a skilled craftsman to carve an image that won’t fall down.”
Isaiah’s challenge here is similar to the challenge that Elijah laid down in 1 Kings 18:20-40, the story we know so well. Elijah challenges the people to call to their gods to burn up the offering they had made on the altar. He mocks them and tells them to yell louder because maybe their gods are busy or sleeping and need to be brought to attention. Then he soaks his offering with water and calls on the living God, and it says that, immediately the fire of God comes and consumes all of the offerings.
Let me ask you the same question Isaiah asked the people: To whom will you compare God? What image can you find to resemble Him?
Can He be compared to the oversized house or the expensive cars? Or if people are too poor for that, at least they might get a big, high-definition flat-screen T.V. with a cable package, or a golf membership. The idol prevalent in the Western Church may not be Kim Il Sung, but it’s no less damaging to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.
It is amazing to read and to hear pastors talk about how dull the Holy Spirit is in the Church in North America. Our senses have been dulled by television and video games, by movies and our need for instant fulfillment. I shudder to think about how much time Christians in North America will spend this month attending the movies Spider-Man and Batman alone. Unfortunately many of those same Christians won’t spend a quarter of the time reading the Bible as they would going to see those movies. Don’t get me wrong, these different forms of entertainment are okay, but when we’re so busy spending time at the movies or watching T.V. that we don’t get into the word of God we have a problem.
And who wants to watch half of the garbage on T.V. these days anyway. I remember years ago I watched the show 2 ½ Men all the time. One day the Spirit gripped me and said, “Jason, look at the filth of this show. You have to stop watching it. It dulls your senses.” So I stopped watching it, but just at that time The Big Bang Theory was starting up. I had started watching it but got the same impression from the Spirit, “Jason, this show is filthy. It demeans women, and with all of the sexual innuendo, my voice is being dulled in you.” What the Holy Spirit calls holy and righteous is being trampled on. What the Holy Spirit calls sin is being championed as something good.
One commentator translates Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2 this way, “Do not let the world put you into its mold.” Friends, that is what the entertainment of our day is seeking to do. It is an attempt to mold us into what the world thinks and feels. Instead of standing against the rampant sins of the world, our spirits are so dull that we do not see the wool being pulled over our eyes.
We have lost the fear of the Lord that the great prophets and apostles throughout the ages had before the Living God. I’m not talking about being afraid of God, although maybe we need a little of that too. No, I’m talking about regaining the reverence and awe of God that caused Moses to remove his sandals at the burning bush. The reverence of God that caused him to write in Exodus 15:11, “Who is like you among the gods, O Lord – glorious in holiness, awesome in splendor, performing great wonders?”
I’m talking about an awe of God that causes Psalm 19 to take place, “The heavens declare the glory of God… day after day they speak; night after night they make Him known.” I’m talking about gaining such a majestic view of the Eternal God that it causes you to fall on your face, laying prostrate before God until He sees fit to give you the strength to move. I’m talking about the awe of God that, when you read a verse in scripture, you become undone for days. It takes all your effort to think of something else because of the wisdom that God pours forth in you while meditating on that one solitary verse. That’s what I’m talking about.
In closing I want to share a story and a couple of illustrations to wrap up.
I was at a conference a few years ago where the speaker was a lady by the name of Phyllis Tickle. The conference was in part a discussion about a few ideas she had written about in her book The Great Emergence. At the conference, Tickle argued that the authority of Scripture was dying. She stated, “Once the issue of when life begins,” she was speaking about the abortion issue, “Once the issue of when life begins and the homosexual issue are ratified, sola scriptura is dead.” In other words, once laws are passed with finality that abortion is completely legal, and once homosexual marriages are made legal, the authority of scripture is dead.
The difficulty with Tickle’s comments is this: She being a Christian talking to Christians, didn’t defend the Scriptures. She made no attempt at suggesting that Christians should dig in their heels and get ready to defend the authority of the Bible. Instead, she began suggesting new ideas about how we can move forward without the authority of the Bible.
That is the type of world we are living in.
As the Russell quote from earlier suggests, we don’t know who God is.
Story one: I heard a story recently about a board member of a Christian charity who had been seen to be a pillar of faith in their community. People admired this board member and looked up to them because they really wore their faith out in public. And then a small storm came into this board member’s life, and almost in a moment, their entire view of Christianity was dismantled. They began questioning everything in their faith. This person had a certain idea of who God is without establishing any deep understanding, and as soon as the shaking came, everything they built their faith on collapsed, because their view of God was incomplete.
Story two: The President of the United States is said to be the most powerful man on the planet. For so many people around the world, what the President says holds all the swaying power. And so it was in August of 2008 while speaking with Pastor Rick Warren, President Obama said, “”I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix. I am not somebody who promotes same-sex marriage, but I do believe in civil unions.”
That all changed on May 9, 2012, when in a national broadcast Obama stated, “Well, you know, I have to tell you, as I’ve said, I’ve been going through an evolution on this issue. But I have to tell you that over the course of several years, as I talk to friends and family and neighbors… At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
Now I’m not here to discuss the gay marriage thing. I know people will try and rake me over the coals for my stance on the issue and that’s okay. But if you go back and view the transcripts of the most recent interview, God isn’t mentioned. In the first interview it seems quite certain that God is the one that President Obama turns to. But in the second interview, it is the counsel of friends, family, and neighbors that influences his decision making. Where is the God of the Scriptures that is so prominent in the first interview? He’s rarely mentioned. And when President Obama mentions the Scriptures, he refers to, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” Yet in the same interview, President Obama says, “I have a lot of friends on the other side of the issue…,” meaning that they do not support gay marriage, and that, “Their impulse is the right one. They want to preserve and strengthen families.” This type of compromise is just wrong, and it shows the unbelieving world just how shallow our view of God really is.
Contrast those stories with story three: Russ Toews. For those of you who don’t know who Russ Toews is, Russ is the regional director of the C2C initiative which is part of the MB Conference. A few years ago, Russ’s son committed suicide while studying at Providence College.
I remember some time after that, we had Russ in here one Sunday morning to preach. During his sermon he told the story of being outside shoveling snow. While he was shoveling the snow and praying, he heard the still, small voice of God say to him, “Russ, you have to accept this. You have to be okay with this.” As hard as it was for him, Russ confessed to God that he would be okay with his son’s death. Instead of dwelling on all the stuff that a parent has a right to dwell on in the midst of tragedy, Russ decided to trust the God that he serves and move forward in his walk with the Lord. It doesn’t make the pain hurt any less. But his understanding of who God is was so far beyond just the temporal and into eternal living, that he was able to continue moving forward in life.
What is God like?
The answer to that question is that God is unlike anything. We have made a god in our image who we think is like us. We have fashioned a god that fits our description of who God should be. When he doesn’t match up, we dismiss Him or compromise our faith and the Word so we can feel better about ourselves and our faith. We must get back to worshipping the God who made us in His image. We must gain a sense of awe and reverence for the God who is altogether unlike anything created. He is awesome. He is Holy. And He should be worshipped as such.
Steven Lear, “Is God dead in North Korea?,” VOM (July 2012): 3.
Tozer, A. W. The Knowledge of the Holy. New York, NY., HarperOne: 2001, 2.
Lake, John Graham. Adventures in God. Tulsa, OK., Harrison House: 1991, 57.