What God Do You Believe In?

Most people believe in God. Most of us would agree that it’s important to believe in God. But just as important as believing in God is the answer to this question, “What God do you believe in?
 
And that’s the question I want to explore with you today, not from a comparative religion perspective, but from a Christian perspective. There are huge differences, of course between the god of Buddhism or Hinduism, for example, and the God of Christianity. But even Christians sometimes hold distorted views of God and that’s what I want to talk with you about today. And the reason this issue is so important is because:
 

Whatever you believe about God determines two things.

What kind of person you will become.

Psalms 115:4-8 ( NIV )

But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men.
They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see;
they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell;
they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them
, and so will all who trust in them.

How accurately you represent Christ to other people.

Now, obviously what we believe about God should not be left up to every person’s private opinion and interpretation. There shouldn’t be widely divergent answers in the church to the question, “What God Do You Believe In?” But what I’m trying to point out today is that if our understanding of the nature of God is distorted – if we’re “off” in what we believe about Him, then our understanding of Jesus and His mission will be distorted too. When we believe things about God that are ultimately not true, not only do these lies negatively affect us and our relationship with Him, they also negatively impact our ability to accurately represent (or re-present) Christ to other people.
 

Thinking Clearly about God

Thinking clearly and rightly about God and His fundamental nature starts with this core belief.
 

God is good.

How many of you learned this meal time prayer? God is great, God is good, and we thank Him for this food. I had an OT professor who once told our class, when you have said that God is great and God is good you have said two of the most profound things about God that can ever be said.
 

Most distorted thinking about God denies the fact that God is consistently good in some way.

Now most Christians would say they agree with this statement that God is good. Deep down many people believe that God is good
most
of the time. If we’re really honest, many of us believe that God also has a really bad temper at times. And there are certain portions of the OT that might lead a person to conclude just that. What do you do with those passages of scripture?
 
Deuteronomy 29:29 says: The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.
 
Let me paraphrase this verse for you. There will always be an element of mystery about God – secret things that we don’t understand. But that’s not the place where you take your stand. You stand on the things that have been revealed. What we believe about God isn’t rooted in the secret things, it’s rooted in what has been revealed. It’s rooted in the self-revelation of God that has come to us through Jesus Christ.
 

Jesus Christ is perfect theology.

Anything you believe about God that you cannot find in Him you have reason to doubt.
 
Jesus says I and the Father are one.
 
If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.
 
Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV) 1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 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.

Notice these contrasts:

In the past . . . in these last days

Through the prophets . . . by His Son

 
What we see in Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.
 
So what do you with those parts of the Old Testament that seem to portray God in a way that doesn’t appear to resemble Jesus? Here’s what I do. I try to understand them to the best of my ability, by understanding the historical context, and that God’s people in the OT were a nation/state as opposed to the body of Christ made up of people who put their faith and trust in Jesus from all nations and ethnicities in the NT, etc. But in the end, I take my stand on Jesus and the revelation of God that I see in Him. I don’t look to OT passages to tell me how to treat my enemies. I look to Jesus.
 
It is unwise to allow an OT revelation of God to “trump” the clear revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Ultimately, I believe there is no contradiction between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New whether or not I am able to fully understand and reconcile some of the OT passages I alluded to earlier with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. But whenever I am in doubt, I take my stand on Jesus.
 
I love this quote from Jerry Cook:
 

God is both like and unlike the best of our earthly fathers. God is both like and unlike our impressions of Him from the Old Testament. But God is altogether like and not at all unlike Jesus Christ. – Jerry Cook

Jesus Christ is perfect theology for you and me. And Jesus’ whole life and ministry demonstrates that God is good. Not just some of the time, but all the time.
 
The way we understand God is how we will portray Him to others. What we believe about Him determines how we minister to people.
 
The reason I’m committed, and our church is committed, to healing ministry is because of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus never imparted sickness to anyone but He did heal all who came to Him for healing. He never treated sickness as a friend. He treated it as an enemy. If you want to know whether or not it is God’s will to heal the sick, all you need to do is look at Jesus.
 

We’ve set up a false dichotomy between Jesus and the Father.

Insurance companies use language in their policies describing storms and other calamities as “acts of God.” Where did they get that language? From us.
 
Yet we don’t find Jesus ever blessing a storm. You’ll never find Him redirecting one. What you will find is Him rebuking them and bringing an end to them. What does that tell you? It tells me we’re not in the storm blessing business, we’re in the storm rebuking business.
 
Jesus revealed that God is good all the time. The apostle Paul understood this too. In Romans 8:28 he writes this:
 

Romans 8:28 (NIV)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Paul doesn’t say all things are good.

Nor does he say that God works all things.

 
The idea that everything that happens in our world and in our lives is an expression of God’s will including things like sickness, tragedy, suffering, and pain is distorted thinking about the nature of God. The notion that somehow these things are really “good” if we could only see them from God’s perspective is simply false. If Jesus Christ is perfect theology, and He is, then how did Jesus deal with such things? He never blessed them. He never prayed “more Lord” for people in pain.
 

What Paul does say here is this:

God works for the good of those who love Him . . .

God always works for our good because He is good. He never works for anything else. And the good God is working for in you and me is described in the very next verse.

 

Romans 8:29 (NIV)
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

 
The good God is working for in all things is to make you like Jesus. It is true that God often does a deep work in our lives in times of suffering but that does not imply that He is the author of suffering, sickness, and pain.
 
Joseph in the Old Testament was sold by his brothers into slavery and later cast into prison. But through a series of miraculous events he rose to the position of being second in power only to Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt.
 
There was a great famine in the land and Joseph’s brothers had to come to him to get food and they ended up living with Joseph in Egypt. After Jacob their father died, Joseph’s brothers were concerned that Joseph might take this opportunity to exact vengeance on them for what they had done to him. But Joseph reassured them with these words:
 

Genesis 50:20 (NIV)
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Do you hear what this text is saying? Joseph doesn’t sugarcoat it. He tells his brothers you intended to hurt me. You intended to harm me. But God had another intention. He had another plan. So, he took the evil thing you did and used it to accomplish His good purpose. Joseph’s life demonstrates that God is able to take whatever cards you’re dealt and turn them it into a winning hand.

Jesus Christ is perfect theology. The full and complete revelation of who God is. He demonstrates that God is good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



What Are You Waiting For?

Isaiah 40:28–31 (NRSV)
28) Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29) He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30) Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31) but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

 

Do you ever feel weary?
 
Do you feel exhausted?
 
Are you facing a situation over which you feel powerless?
 
If so, I have one more question. How do you feel about waiting? Is there anybody in this room who likes to wait? I’m not one of those people. I don’t like to wait in rush hour. I don’t like to wait in line. I don’t like waiting. It’s a waste of time, and a waste of life. I read a statistic this week that says that the average person will have spent three years of their life waiting by the time they’re 70 years old. That’s 4% of your life spent waiting in traffic, at a red light, in a store, at a restaurant, or at a doctor’s office. That’s a lot of waiting.
 
Waiting is probably the thing I least like to do. I think it is because you’re not really doing anything. Waiting is the absence of doing. It is the antithesis of action. It is the enemy of efficiency. It contradicts everything I have been taught since birth and I simply hate to do it.
 
I realize that we have to wait at times but this doesn’t mean that I’ll do it quietly. If I’m in a traffic jam, I’ll turn up my music and praise the Lord. If I’m on hold, I’ll put the telephone on speaker and stay busy until the person I’m waiting for returns. If I’m waiting in line, I’ll ponder some deep philosophical question until I reach the front. I’ll do anything I can possibly think of to avoid waiting quietly and helplessly while some circumstance steals my time.
 
I understand that waiting is a fact of life, it’s something we have to learn to endure, to put up with, but I must confess that I don’t typically find waiting to be a life-giving experience. I actually find that it saps me of energy and sucks life out of me.
 
A few years ago our family was scheduled to fly from Phoenix to Portland for a family vacation. Brenda and I were at the airport with three small children. We were supposed to fly out about 9:00 am in the morning, but the flight was delayed. First they told us there was something wrong with the plane, so they got a new aircraft, then they discovered there was something wrong with the second plane so around noon they made the announcement that they were cancelling the flight altogether and that they had no more flights to Portland that day, so all of us would need to fly the following day.
 
My mother-in-law, was joining us on this trip, but she was flying another airline. She’d already landed in Portland by the time we were informed our flight had been cancelled. I explained this to the ticket agent and they arranged for us to fly to Orange County on a competing airline that evening and catch a connecting flight to Portland. By the time we arrived that night, got the rental car and made the two and half hour drive to the Oregon coast, we checked into the place we were staying at about 1:30 a.m. the next morning.
 
We spent the better part of that entire day waiting. This did not renew my strength. By the end of the day the strength we had, the strength we started out with, had been flushed down the toilet. Far from having my strength renewed, I felt my strength had been depleted.
There is nothing intrinsically valuable about waiting in and of itself.
 
Everything depends on what you’re waiting for.
 
There are some wonderful promises in Is. 40:31. There is the promise of:
 
• Renewed strength
• Soaring like eagles.
• The ability to run and not be weary.
• To walk and not faint.
 
But where does this power come from and how do we receive it? And the answer is: God renews our strength as we learn to wait on Him.
Our strength is renewed through waiting – but it’s not just any kind of waiting – it’s a particular kind of waiting.
We receive strength and power for life and ministry as we consciously choose to wait on the Lord.
There is a difference between passive and active waiting.
 

Passive waiting has no focus to it.

We’re just waiting for the line to move. We’re waiting for something to happen, so we can stop waiting and get on with the rest of our lives.
Active waiting is what is being talked about in Is. 40:31.
 

Active waiting focuses on the Lord.

It involves choosing to wait on Him.

Depending on what translation you consult you will find this phrase rendered in one of two ways – “those who wait for the Lord,” or “those who wait on the Lord.” Either translation is permissible from the original Hebrew language. In addition, many of the newer translations substitute the word “hope” or “trust” for the word “wait,” because they think that this is the aspect of “waiting” that is foremost in Isaiah’s thinking in this passage.
While I agree that “hoping” in the Lord and “trusting in the Lord” are part of what it means to “wait” upon Him, I prefer the translation that says, “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.”
 
Waiting on the Lord involves two kinds of waiting.
 

Waiting for God to act.

This is the active waiting of eager anticipation. This is the waiting that involves meditating on God’s word, God’s character and on His promises. This is the waiting that trusts in the goodness of God and the faithfulness of God. This is the waiting that hopes for the things we haven’t seen or experienced yet, but which God has promised us.

This is an important aspect of what it means to wait on the Lord. But the second way we wait on the Lord has to do with simply:
 

Waiting on Him.

Not waiting for something, but waiting for Someone – waiting on Him. In other words, we’re waiting on the Lord the way a waiter waits on a table with our full attention focused on Him.
 
I’m talking about waiting on the Lord without an agenda. Coming into His presence without a list of what we want Him to do for us. I’m talking about a waiting that seeks Him, that seeks His presence – where we find ourselves waiting in the presence of the Lord for no other reason than to be with Him.
 
• Listening, instead of speaking.
• Being instead of doing.
• Receiving instead of giving.
• Resting instead of striving.
 
This kind of waiting will change your life. This kind of waiting will renew your strength. It will cause you to mount up with wings like eagles, to run and not be weary, and to walk and not faint. Because this kind of waiting is focused on the Lord and being in His presence.
 
It’s His presence that strengthens us. It’s His presence that empowers us. And it’s His presence that refreshes and renews us.
 
The cure for mental and spiritual exhaustion is found in waiting on the Lord. In His presence the weary find rest and the weak find strength.
His presence transforms us and His presence fills us.
 
The final instructions Jesus gave His disciples include a command to wait.
 

Acts 1:4 (NIV)

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.
 
Why wait? Why didn’t Jesus just lay His hands on the disciples and impart the power of the Spirit to them right then and there? No one can say for certain, but I wonder if Jesus didn’t want the disciples to learn how to wait and to learn the importance of waiting on the Lord.
 

Acts 1:14 (NIV)

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
 
Notice how they waited. They weren’t idle. They didn’t just hang around waiting for something to happen. They waited with a purpose. They waited together and they waited in prayer. They made a conscious effort to be together and to come into the presence of the Lord together.
 
One of the things I believe we have lost in much of the church today is the art of waiting on the Lord, both corporately and individually. We get nervous when everything gets quiet. We’re so accustomed to activity and background noise in our daily lives, that being still for many of us feels awkward and uncomfortable at least initially.
 
But God does some of His best work in us when we get quiet. Because when we quiet our minds and hearts before Him, we can actually begin to hear what He wants to say to us and receive what He wants to give to us.
 
They waited together. They waited in prayer.
 
And then in Acts 2:4 we read:
 

Acts 2:4 (NIV)

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
 
They were filled with the Spirit as they waited on the Lord in obedience to the command of Jesus. And I believe the same is true for us. As we wait on the Lord as we choose to be in His presence, as we seek His face, He meets us in that place and He fills us with His Spirit.
I want to challenge you to incorporate into your life times of waiting on the Lord. That you set aside some time to contemplate His goodness and His faithfulness, and that you come before Him, to be in His presence, without an agenda, and without a list, just to be with Him.
 

Isaiah 40:31 (NRSV)
. . . but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.


N.T. Wright on the Resurrection

?In his book, Surprised by Hope, New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright responds to seven alternative explanations that are commonly advanced to explain the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning.
 
  • Jesus didn’t really die; someone gave him a drug that made him look like dead, and he revived in the tomb. Answer: Roman soldiers knew how to kill people, and no disciple would have been fooled by a half-drugged, beat-up Jesus into thinking he’d defeated death and inaugurated the kingdom.
  • When the women went to the tomb they met someone else (perhaps James, Jesus’s brother, who looked like him), and in the half light they thought it was Jesus himself. Answer: they would have noticed soon enough.
  • Jesus only appeared to people who believed in him. Answer: the accounts make it clear that Thomas and Paul do not belong to this category; and actually none of Jesus’s followers believed, after his death, that he really was the Messiah, let alone that he was in any sense divine.
  • The accounts we have are biased. Answer: so is all history, all journalism. Every photo is taken by somebody from some angle.
  • They began by saying, “He will be raised,” as people had done of the martyrs, and this quickly passed into saying, “He has been raised,” which was functionally equivalent. Answer: no, it wasn’t.
  • Lots of people have visions of someone they love who has just died; this was what happened to the disciples. Answer: they knew perfectly well about things like that, and they had language for it; they would say, “It’s his angel” or “It’s his spirit” or “his ghost.” They wouldn’t say, “He’s been raised from the dead.”
  • Perhaps the most popular: what actually happened was that they had some kind of rich “spiritual” experience, which they interpreted through Jewish categories. Jesus after all really was alive, spiritually, and they were still in touch with him. Answer: that is simply a description of a noble death followed by a Platonic immortality. Resurrection was and is the defeat of death, not simply a nicer description of it; and it’s something that happens some while after the moment of death, not immediately.
 
Three Additional Observations that support the belief that Jesus did rise from the dead.
  • Jewish tombs, especially those of martyrs, were venerated and often became shrines. There is no sign whatever of that having happened with Jesus’s grave.
  • The early church’s emphasis on the first day of the week as their special day is very hard to explain unless something striking really did happen then. A gradual or even sudden dawning of faith is hardly sufficient to explain it.
  • The disciples were hardly likely to go out and suffer and die for a belief that wasn’t firmly anchored in fact.
(Excerpted from, Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright, HarperOne Publishing, 2008).