Biblical Foundations 16: God’s Character 4: Wearing God’s Character

People are bundled up as they walk in cold weather, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in the Queens borough of New York. Bitter temperatures and biting winds had much of the northeastern United States bundling up this weekend. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) ORG XMIT: NYML104

We continue to look to the Bible to discover the foundation—the cornerstones—of this local church. What is Jesus building us on? Why does He have us attending HERE? What is the Holy Spirit doing in & through us? What is the Biblical purpose of Church?

The last two Sundays we have been looking at the character of God—Who is He, what is He like? Since so many of us spend so little time in the Bible, so little time in quiet reflection with the LORD, and so much time immersed in the culture of t.v., music, movies, internet, books, magazines, newspapers, etc., if we are honest there are many ways that we are following the cultural jesus and not the Biblical Christ; if we are honest we don’t really know God, we don’t wrestle with His holiness, we don’t have reverence for His power. Many of us acknowledge rather than follow a safe and tame jesus who acts and believes like us, who doesn’t humble us, who doesn’t convict us, who doesn’t lead us into suffering, who doesn’t bring us low; we only want Him to make us feel good all the time.

But God is patient with us, even when we turn Him, the One True Living God, into an idol made in the image of humans. So we have been looking at Lamentations 3 and Isaiah 51 the last two weeks to know God as He describes Himself in the Bible. We’ve been learning about the need to shift our minds from constantly thinking about—literally DWELLING ON/LIVING IN!—the circumstances of our grief & instead focusing on the character of God—Jeremiah did this and received hope in his horrific suffering:

Lamentations 3: Yet this I call to mind

    and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

    for his compassions never fail.

23 They are new every morning;

    great is your faithfulness.

24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;

    therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,

    to the one who seeks him;

In Isaiah 51 we learned that worrying/fearing situations is literally forgetting God:

I, even I, am he who comforts you.

    Who are you that you fear mere mortals,

    human beings who are but grass,

13 that you forget the Lord your Maker…

Now you might say, “But I’ve tried, man! I try reading the Bible and I don’t feel comforted, I don’t feel closer to God, I don’t see God’s character in this pages. I’ve tried and it didn’t work.”

Oh loved ones, I know of people who have tried a Bible study at one point in their lives and felt as if nothing came from it; I know of people who have read the Bible for a few minutes a day for a week or two and didn’t see any results. But I don’t know anyone who has cried out to God to help them know Him, who has cried out to God to reveal Himself to them through His Word, who has read the Bible with the simple faith of a little child, who has applied the same dedication to reading the Word of God that they apply to winning their fantasy football league or getting that promotion to earn more money; I don’t know anyone who has read God’s Word humbly and expectantly and consistently for 20 years who can say that nothing has come of it, who can then say that they don’t really know God.

See the difference? The first “attempt” at knowing God is the fast food, drive-thru, microwave attempt…You nibble but you don’t eat; you gargle but you don’t swallow; you chew but you aren’t nourished.

But the second attempt isn’t an attempt at all, it isn’t “trying God out” like a piece of exercise equipment you can return, it isn’t giving God a trial run, a money back guarantee where we “return God” if He doesn’t prove to be the genie in a bottle that we are wanting. The second attempt is more of a decision, a submission to God, a choice to trust His Word like a child NO MATTER what the results are, no matter how we FEEL, it is a choice to know the LORD His way on His timing simply because He tells us to. That is not an attempt, my friends…that is FAITH, and that is why God blesses such people with knowing Him deeply. They have faith in Him, even faith as small as a mustard seed…

Please let me give you a personal example of what this looks like, of using the Bible to know the character of God and to draw close to Him by simple & weak faith:

Just this past Friday morning I woke up and immediately I was confronted with about 50 things to worry about, 50 situations/scenarios trying to stress me, 50 schoolyard bullies looking for a fight—my thoughts looked like the cockpit of an airplane—TOO MANY BUTTONS!!!! It was like opening up your email box and seeing hundreds of angry spam emails! “Don’t forget to do this, better respond to that, what if this happens, how are you going to handle if THAT happens, you’re late on this, better get out in front of THAT…AAARRRGHHH!!!” Often times I would then start tackling the bullies one at a time, start reading through each of these spam emails (worries!) one at a time, start by addressing each fear and trying to fix it on my own—BUT NO! NOT YET! FIRST THINGS FIRST!

As I began to freak out and think about these worries and combine them with all the regular responsibilities and chores and duties and things I needed to get done, I felt like I was in a blizzard in the January cold with only a t-shirt, shorts & flip-flops! But deep inside me was this thought: “Don’t start shoveling YET—GET YOUR COAT ON FIRST, son!”

This thought welled up in me: “Don’t do ANYTHING DIRECTLY about those fears yet, don’t start swinging at the bullies, don’t just push through and get busy with your day—you’ll trample people in the process in your stress (oh how I have learned this the hard way)—don’t crawl back under the covers, and don’t just run away and turn on the t.v./internet to take your mind off it. Go be with the LORD in quiet, in silence—focus on His character through the Bible! Just as you have been teaching others at elevate!!!”

But I’m too busy to be with the LORD in silence now–LOOK AT ALL THESE BULLIES!

You’re too busy NOT to be with the LORD in silence now…

In the silence, Joshua chapter 1 came to my mind, a chapter that the LORD has used powerfully in my life in the past, a chapter that helps us see the character of God. God brought this chapter to my mind because He has helped me read it many times in the past, often in other freak out moments!—like a bank account, God helped me to make a withdrawal last Friday—with interest!—because God helped me to make deposits of Bible reading in the past. That is why reading the Bible today and everyday is so important; you never know when you will need those verses TOMORROW:

  • Joshua 1As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. “Be strong and very courageous…Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

As I read those verses over and over again, I thought about the fact that as I was kneeling on that bathroom floor GOD HIMSELF was with me, that just as the LORD was with Moses and Joshua He is with me, that just as God commanded Joshua to do things that were impossible for Joshua to do alone, so Jesus commands me to do things in my family, in this local church, in this world that are impossible for me to do without the LORD! Through Joshua 1 I asked God to help me put on His character as gloves & hat & down coat to warm me in the bitter cold…

Did that make all my responsibilities/tasks/duties go away? NO! Did it make all my worries & fears magically disappear? Not exactly, BUT God met with me through His Word and helped me to focus on Him & His presence with me. And doing this did help some of the fears—which haven’t even happened yet and may NEVER happen—go away! God’s character melted some of the snow of my worries so I had less to shovel throughout the day, God’s character through His Word thawed some of the ice of fear that I began slipping on the moment I got up!!!

  • Oh how foolish to worry about something that hasn’t happened! Why give ourselves spiritual & emotional whiplash by worrying about a car accident that hasn’t occurred!?
  • Now for some this is easy—they simply don’t focus on their problems. They think happy thoughts, they think positively, they pretend the real problems they face aren’t really there. This helps for a while, but it is not exactly what God is teaching us in His Word. God doesn’t teach us to only not focus on our problems, He teaches us to focus on HIM! The Bible has many commands of what NOT to do, but that’s not ALL it has. It also has many commands of what TO do. Both are important.
  • A person who is good at simply overlooking their problems will make it fine until they have a big enough situation that they simply can walk around. When they are faced with a mountain that is plopped in front of them–and behind them!–that they can’t step around, they will be in HUGE TROUBLE because they haven’t learned over the years to focus on the character of God. They are like smart students who never really had to study hard in junior high & high school who when faced with a rigorous college curriculum almost flunk out because they have lived off natural intelligence and haven’t developed healthy study habits. We MUST learn to focus on the character of God in the Bible today so we can follow Him around, over or through the mountains of tomorrow…this is so foundational to this local church…
  • But some of what we worry about we are to treat like spam email: do not look at the subject, do not open to read, do not respond, do not subscribe, do not download, do not subscribe for future emails—just delete!

BUT HOW TO DELETE THE SPAM OF FEAR & WORRY? Some pop up messages stay on the computer screen only as long as you have your cursor on them; if you take your cursor off they go away after a while. YES! Same with some–not all, but some–of our worries; as we take the cursor of our attention off them and put our cursor on the character of God through the Bible, some of those worries will go away and fade to the background, some of that ice will begin to melt. This isn’t living in fantasy land–it’s focusing on the realest reality of all–the LORD of the universe…

And so God helped me Friday, like a little child, to grasp His hand throughout the day of responsibilities and work and duties and pressure, to grasp His hand by remembering over and over again His great promises in Joshua 1, His great character to literally be present with me in everything, to fight the bullies for me as I went out to meet them in His strength & stopped hiding in fear!!! His character helped me to stand up from the bathroom floor and meet the day with His presence…oh forgive us Lord for wanting Your presents and not Your presence…forgive us, Lord…

Look at how God encouraged His people with His presence in the Bible:

  1. God’s response to Jeremiah when J was overwhelmed w/God’s mission for him:“Dont be afraid of them—I am with you & will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:8)
  1. Gideon gave many excuses to God regarding why he couldn’t do what God asked. God’s response? “I will be with you” (Judges 6:16).
  1. Moses gave many excuses to God regarding why he couldn’t do what God asked. God’s response? “I will help you & teach you” (Exodus 4:12).
  1. Jesus told a few dozen overwhelmed disciples to share Him with the entire world, to proclaim to the world the same Truth that got Jesus crucified! Talk about overwhelming!!! Jesus’ encouragement and promise? “I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20).
  1. In Psalm 23, why would David not fear even though he was being attacked by death on all sides? “For You are with me…” (Psalm 23:4). David goes from talking ABOUT God in verses 1-3 to talking TO God in verse 4 because of David’s intense suffering. God went from abstract to personal in David’s life because of the trials that David faced. Same with us.
  1. What was the angel’s encouragement to the teenage/unmarried girl Mary right before he told her of the great mission/honor/responsibility that God was giving her, the mission that would cause her much suffering, the mission that would pierce her heart like a sword? “The LORD is with you!” (Luke 1:28).

Time & time again in the Bible God encourages His people with the promise of His constant presence, with His trustworthiness & faithfulness & power to Personally be with them always. Don’t just briefly acknowledge that God is with you—are you GRIPPED by that Truth? Are you GRIPPING THAT TRUTH? Like a sunset, pull up a chair and STARE at that Truth, think about it, delight in it! Get dressed in it—IT’S COLD OUT!!!! 🙂

As we open up the windows to allow the fresh spring breeze to sweep away the stale and germy air of winter, when is the last time the sin and discouragement and fear and bitterness and weariness of your soul has been swept clean by the refreshing Truth of God’s presence with you? Open your mind & soul to God’s Word, loved ones! Spring is HERE! There is no need to shrink back from our mission or be discouraged in our short time on earth—no matter what happens, the LORD Himself is with us!

And that is the danger—by not WEARING the Truth of God’s presence with us, by only knowing it intellectually, the moment we leave this building and are faced with a situation where we need to rely on and wear the presence of God, we don’t, we shrink back in fear, bitterness, laziness or selfishness:

  • we get to the house and God gives us ways to sacrificially serve a family member in a way they don’t deserve and we get angry, we get bitter, we say what have they done for me lately, and we don’t love them…we forget God is with us.
  • we get an opportunity to share the Gospel—share Jesus!—with someone with our words and we get scared, discouraged, and we don’t share…we forget God is with us.
  • we get opportunities to rearrange our schedules to put God & prayer & Bible reading at the center and we get lazy, selfish, and we don’t…we forget God is with us.
  • we get tempted to sin and we give in…we get weak, we get overwhelmed, we get fooled…and we drag Jesus through that sin—He lives IN US, so even your sinful thoughts are buckets of waste splashed over His head—we forget that He is with us.

Let’s cry out to God in repentance for forgetting His great promise to be with us, for doubting His great character to follow through on His promises—GRIP the presence of God like a child gripping—and being gripped—by the strong hand of Papa…& follow Him wherever He leads.

Though God is everywhere and thus in that way He is with everyone, there is a special way that God is with those who are His children, those who have cried out to Jesus for salvation and forgiveness and new life.

Have you done this?

This is critical, my friends: In all of the above examples in the Bible, God’s promise to be with His people were given to those who were HIS PEOPLE! Those promises of special and powerful intimacy and closeness with God were not given to the world in general but to His people in particular.

In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32)—PLEASE read this today if you have never read it or haven’t read it in a while; oh goodness it is one of the most powerful passages about the character of God—please notice that the father, who represents God the Father, has servants and children. That the father is kind to his servants is clear—his youngest son realizes that being just a servant of his father would be better than his current situation in the pig-pen where is “free” to live his life however he wants to (what a fallacy and fantasy it is to be “in charge” of our lives!). The son remembers how well his father treats his servants…and yet the servants are not the father’s children—there is a subtle but present distinction between the two that is made in the parable! When the younger son returns in repentance to his father, when the younger son admits his terrible sin and is grieved over it and sorry for it, his father RUNS to him, throws a ring on his finger, sandals on his feet, and a robe to cover his dirtiness and rags (just like the robes of righteousness that God offers sinful humans to cover our guilt & shame!)—all of these actions of the father signified SONSHIP, revealed that this was one of the father’s children; as kind as the father was to his servants, he didn’t give them sandals, a ring, or a robe; he didn’t kill the fattened calf and throw a party for them! The father cared for the servants generously, but he reserved a special love and intimacy for his children.

Friends, the same is true with God the Father. He cares for and loves ALL humans, but there is a special closeness and intimacy only with those who by faith have cried out to Jesus for salvation, forgiveness, new life, who have surrendered to Jesus as Savior and King. Have you done this? Has God knocked you off your high-horse, as He did to Paul, and revealed to you the terribleness of your sin and blinded you with His terrific grace to cleanse you of that sin? Have you received His grace and death on the cross as the payment for your sin? Do not delay, do not stay in that pig-pen one second more—cry out to Jesus and receive His Father’s ring, sandals, robe, and celebration…call Him Daddy, not just Boss…& be w/Him as never before.

Closing Challenge

Psalm 121:1-2: I lift up my eyes to the mountains—

    where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

    the Maker of heaven and earth.

Beautiful verses…what is the key here? Just what we’ve been learning in Lamentations 3 & Isaiah 51!

God’s part: The LORD and His unchanging/trustworthy character—YES!

Our part: LOOKING UP to God and His character! Lifting our eyes off the distractions of this culture and fixing our eyes onto the deity of Christ! LOOK UP Gods character in the Bible! LOOK UP in His Book to see Him and know Him and have your fears decrease as your faith in Him increases! YOU GOTTA LOOK UP! He won’t upload His character into you as you blitz through the drive-thrus of life! He invites you to put yourself in park and come in and sit down to taste and see that the LORD IS GOOD, to wait for the LORD as He prepares the meal that your soul has hungered for since you were conceived—Jesus Christ as the Bread of Life, the Holy Spirit as your Living Waters—a meal made not by itch but from scratch…Jesus said humans live not by physical bread alone but on EVERY WORD that comes from the mouth of God. FEAST ON THE CHARACTER OF GOD through the Bible!