Who Is God, really?

This morning, I want to share my heart for the people on this earth in our time. as we look at our next belief statement. If there is a God, and we believe that all of history, philosophy, and scientific inquiry necessitates the existence of a God, then what we know about God is the most important thing about us. I want to remind us of the high calling we have as a local church and members of the church that God is building for Himself. On Youtube, you can search for videos of people going into public places and asking the public what they think of God. “Who do you think God is?” or “What do you think God is like?” Most of the time, these questions are answered something like this, in order from most commonly to least:

“An energy, a spirit, something to believe in because everyone has to believe in something.”

“More of a feeling specific to each person.”

“A support and protection; someone who is there to look out for people and help them.”

“A friend who protects us.”

“A neutral, benevolent being who lives in everyone.”

“God is loving and caring.”

“I don’t know.”

“That part of the brain where an epiphany comes from.”

Over the course of the past three weeks, we have been walking through our local church’s belief statement. We have stated our belief that there is only one God who exists in three persons, and we saw how historic religious belief confirmed the Bible’s specific account. We also stated that we believe the Bible to not merely contain the word of God, but to itself be God’s word revealed to people. So, we believe that the Bible is an accurate description of who God is. In accordance with the Bible:

WE BELIEVE in the person of God the Father, an infinite, eternal, personal Spirit, perfect in holiness, wisdom, power and love; that He concerns Himself mercifully in the affairs of men; that He hears and answers prayer; and that He saves from sin and death all those who come to Him through Jesus Christ.  (Deuteronomy 33;27; Psalms 90:2; Psalms 102:27; John 3:16 and 4:24; 1 Timothy 1:17; Titus 1:3)

So, who is God? What sort of lifestyle and ministry does the truth of God’s identity call us to?

Psalm 90

Lord, You have been our refuge

in every generation.

Before the mountains were born,

before You gave birth to the earth and the world,

from eternity to eternity, You are God.

You return mankind to the dust,

saying, “Return, descendants of Adam.”

For in Your sight a thousand years

are like yesterday that passes by,

like a few hours of the night.

You end their lives; they sleep.

They are like grass that grows in the morning —

in the morning it sprouts and grows;

by evening it withers and dries up.

For we are consumed by Your anger;

we are terrified by Your wrath.

You have set our unjust ways before You,

our secret sins in the light of Your presence.

For all our days ebb away under Your wrath;

we end our years like a sigh.

Our lives last seventy years

or, if we are strong, eighty years.

Even the best of them are struggle and sorrow;

indeed, they pass quickly and we fly away.

Who understands the power of Your anger?

Your wrath matches the fear that is due You.

Teach us to number our days carefully

so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.

Lord — how long?

Turn and have compassion on Your servants.

Satisfy us in the morning with Your faithful love

so that we may shout with joy and be glad all our days.

Make us rejoice for as many days as You have humbled us,

for as many years as we have seen adversity.

Let Your work be seen by Your servants,

and Your splendor by their children.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us;

establish for us the work of our hands —

establish the work of our hands!

God is our dwelling place (v. 1)

As we look to the Psalms, we need to know that each one was a song to God. When we look at the Psalms, we catch a glimpse at the sort of lyric God inspires in musical praise. The people of God, knowing something about God, wrote music in response to God’s awe-inspiring nature. God is still awe-inspiring. That is why there is still new music being written to the God of all creation. The Psalms are full of artistic imagery, repetition, and reflective silence. They are melodious, rhythmic, poetic, and themselves awe-inspiring.

Psalm 90 is the earliest Psalm written. It was written by Moses. We are going to observe the first two verses particularly. In response to God’s awesome nature, Moses sang:

“Lord, You have been our refuge in every generation.”

Moses, a Hebrew raised as an Egyptian, has come out of Egypt where the Hebrew people spent generations in slavery. He would spend 40 years in the wilderness before dying, not even being able to enter the land of Canaan (the promised land). Yet, Moses writes this song and, in the opening stanza, sings to God, “You have been our refuge in every generation!”

Every song has context and every song means something significant as we sing to our Lord. A song is not merely a collection of words placed with music. A song in response to the glory of God means something as we sing. As Moses sang about God being a refuge, he was singing about something specific. To get at what Moses meant, we might read verses 3-12 again. Imagine this this being sung:

You return mankind to the dust,

saying, “Return, descendants of Adam.”

For in Your sight a thousand years

are like yesterday that passes by,

like a few hours of the night.

You end their lives; they sleep.

They are like grass that grows in the morning —

in the morning it sprouts and grows;

by evening it withers and dries up.

For we are consumed by Your anger;

we are terrified by Your wrath.

You have set our unjust ways before You,

our secret sins in the light of Your presence.

For all our days ebb away under Your wrath;

we end our years like a sigh.

Our lives last seventy years

or, if we are strong, eighty years.

Even the best of them are struggle and sorrow;

indeed, they pass quickly and we fly away.

Who understands the power of Your anger?

Your wrath matches the fear that is due You.

Teach us to number our days carefully

so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.

God has placed our iniquities before Him and turns man back to dust. God’s divine wrath being poured out causes our days to end and our lives pass like a sigh. In light of His majesty, our lives are meaningless unless He gives them meaning. The wrath of God matches the fear that is due Him.

Notice this truth about God, a truth that drives and inspires genuine and sincere worship through music. God being our refuge means that we are not our own refuge. We are certainly not His refuge. It means, literally, that we are only sustained because God chooses to sustain us. It means that God does not exist to support us or to be on our team. God’s wrath brings us to the point of death. Our lives pass like sighs. Every day is a gift from God by His grace. We exist, living the lives that we do, according to His good pleasure and not our own. This is who God is.

I wonder if we have recognized this awesome God, or if, like popular religion, we have assumed that God somehow exists for our sake. This has huge implications for the way that we live and do ministry and even participate with God’s church.

Anytime I complain about anything, I am forgetting that God does not exist for the glory of people. We exist for the glory of God. God works all things together, not us. Anytime I find myself trying to advance my own preferences or agenda, I am forgetting that God does not exist for the glory of people. We exist for the glory of God. God works all things together, not us.

When we do ministry, we ask whether our focus is inward or outward. An inward focus in ministry makes us busy, but the people outside the walls of our church buildings are virtually ignored. Are we in this for God’s glory or ours? Ministry in response to the glory of God is always outwardly focussed because we are not here to serve ourselves. Kati’s dad would say that “the community is not here for the church; the church is here for the community.” That is the proper response as we put our attention on God and His work for His eternal glory.

God is the I Am (v. 2)

God is our refuge. He is also the source, sustainer, and satisfier of all creation. All things depend on Him and He establishes His own creation, His own work.

“Before the mountains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, You are God.”

Referring specifically to God’s work of election, the Apostle Paul wrote,

“Oh, the depth of the riches

both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!

How unsearchable His judgments

and untraceable His ways!

For who has known the mind of the Lord?

Or who has been His counselor?

Or who has ever first given to Him,

and has to be repaid?

For from Him and through Him

and to Him are all things.

To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).

Even regarding salvation, the Scriptures are clear that we cannot achieve the things of God and that God’s objective is not to simply ‘save’ as many people as possible and be done. God is working all things together (Rom. 8:23) and no one can be His counselor. All things, including salvation in particular, are explicitly from Him, through Him, and to Him.
Look again at the final measures of this song in verses 13-17, written by Moses:

Lord — how long?

Turn and have compassion on Your servants.

Satisfy us in the morning with Your faithful love

so that we may shout with joy and be glad all our days.

Make us rejoice for as many days as You have humbled us,

for as many years as we have seen adversity.

Let Your work be seen by Your servants,

and Your splendor by their children.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us;

establish for us the work of our hands —

establish the work of our hands!

It is God who satisfies His servants because of His own compassion. He causes His people to rejoice in their humility and in their adversity. It is the Lord who reveals His work to His servants and His favor as He confirms their work.

If my life comes and goes like a sigh, then I don’t really have time to get caught up in meaningless pursuits, busy work, or my own trivial complaints. If our work is established by the Lord, I waste time doing anything other than abiding in His glory and majesty. Sometimes our good intentions result in our being concerned with something much lesser than God’s eternal work. This is why Moses, in this song, asks God to teach us to number our days carefully (v. 12) and establish the work of our hands (v. 17). To participate with God particularly in our time is to practice evangelism. Evangelism begins, for us, with a compassionate heart. Practicing evangelism requires that we not get caught up in the affairs of the world, our own affairs, or distracting ourselves with doing things that don’t really matter that much. Here, I want to use my own life as an example. Kati and I intentionally choose to live simple lives, not being busy like the rest of the world, because we want to be able to do those things that are meaningful well. I work very hard and organize my time so that I’m not spending my whole week playing catch-up and so that I can be proactive in doing and planning for things that truly matter in light of God’s eternal mission. We keep a strict household budget so that we don’t need much and aren’t distracted because we are trying desperately to get what we need. Believe it or not, there have been many people who have been upset with us because we don’t try to be everything that every person needs.

Corbet and Fikkert said it well in their book on helping the impoverished and being wary of the social justice movement, and the Biblical principle applies to more than only helping those in poverty:

…one of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich— their god-complexes— and the poverty of being of the economically poor— their feelings of inferiority and shame. The way that we act toward the economically poor often communicates— albeit unintentionally— that we are superior and they are inferior. In the process we hurt the poor and ourselves” (When Helping Hurts, 62).

If a pastor or ministry leader is trying to be everything to everyone, in this sense, or trying to do all the work of ministry, though that person’s intention is to help, they are likely doing more harm than good to both themselves and others. This applies in our personal lives as well. In life and ministry, we too often make the mistake of encouraging our own god-complexes even though our intentions are good. God is purposeful about humbling church and ministry leaders, causing them to decrease as He increases. We can’t use Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:22 as an excuse. When Paul referred to being all things to all people, he was referring specifically to the contextualization of the Gospel- not to creating some sort of dependence on himself.

In the church, there is not the pastor and the pee-ons or the chaplain and his clients. There is the singular body of Christ. The work of ministry belongs to the people and the elders are there to equip the people for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Scripture is explicit on that point. We exist according to God’s own pleasure for His glory alone. There is need for us, in realizing God’s glory and majesty, to number our days carefully and to participate with God in His work.

Thom Rainer writes,

“There is an epidemic of fast-food spirituality among believers today. We like big spiritual menus with lots of options. And we want those options served to us fast.

Many churches have become like fast-food establishments. A new idea emerges, and the menu is expanded. Someone wants a special event served a particular way, and the menu is expanded. People assume the more that can be squeezed into the menu, the better. So the brochure, the week, the calendar, the schedule, and the process get expanded. Cluttered.

And we keep getting more and more unhealthy.

One would think that the more programs and the more special events that are offered, the greater the impact. Our research has confirmed that the opposite is true. Unfortunately, the big and expanding menus are not producing vibrant churches.

The conclusion: fast-food spirituality is not healthy. In fact, the large and fast menu approach to ministry is killing our churches” (Simple Church, 199-200).

Our staying faithful to our simple purpose (as a local church and as individuals) matters. It is all from, through, and to God. He is the only one who can be everything that people need.

WE BELIEVE in the person of God the Father, an infinite, eternal, personal Spirit, perfect in holiness, wisdom, power and love; that He concerns Himself mercifully in the affairs of men; that He hears and answers prayer; and that He saves from sin and death all those who come to Him through Jesus Christ.  (Deuteronomy 33;27; Psalms 90:2; Psalms 102:27; John 3:16 and 4:24; 1 Timothy 1:17; Titus 1:3)

This year, in response to the glory and majesty of our Lord, let’s get back to our roots. Let’s eliminate the clutter and busyness. Let’s further the Gospel in our communities as we participate with God in His eternal work.

 

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One thought on “Who Is God, really?

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  1. This is without a doubt one of the finest sermons to which I have been a witness. I shall copy this to paper so that I might study it at leisure. Thank you, pastor Andrew.

    Liked by 1 person

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