One of the things we have come to realize around here is – Our perception of God greatly affects our pursuit of Him. For instance, if I think God is mean and grumpy and condemning and always in a bad mood, then I will not very likely want to know and fellowship with Him, and spend my discretionary time with Him.
Well not only does our perception or knowledge of God affect our pursuit of Him, it also affects our modeling after Him or our becoming like Him. It affects the way I embrace and live out my life in Him. You see He created each of us in His image, expecting that we would increasingly become like Him as we walked with Him. The apostle Paul explained it like this, “ But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” II Corinthians 3:18
But if our perception of His image, (of who He is and what He is like) is skewed, then there is little chance we will become like Him. For instance if I deep down believe God is not fair, and that He is partial to some, then it is very unlikely that I will grow up to be an impartial person, because my ability to become like God (who is impartial) can only come out of a relationship with God where I see Him as He truly is, and He begins to rub off on me, and impart His impartiality to me.
I have known theologically since I was 20 years old that God delights in our knowing Him deeply and intimately. But not until the last few years have I come to know Him in the way I’m going to try to describe to you this morning. And while the transformation in my life has been substantial as a result of seeing this, sadly not seeing it for so many years kept me (along with other sins) from being the husband, father and leader God called me to be.
I submit to you that one of the primary reasons for the general depression and gloom that many on planet earth experience in life is because of the effect being around grumpy, scornful, uptight, rigid, snarky, critical, negative people has on all of us. And if we have become one of those kind of people, all the more reason why our glass is mostly half empty, and the joy of the Lord continues to be illusive to us.
The great majority of older men that I grew up around, whether they were men who lived in our neighborhood, or men in our church, or men who taught and coached in the schools I attended, were grumpy, scornful, uptight, snarky, critical men – especially when under stress or when under pressure.
Now the problem I am trying to describe is not just relegated to men. I could say the same thing about many of the older women I grew up around. But because on the most part men lead churches and schools and governments and businesses, and thus their demeanor and character have great influence on the general psyche of those under their influence – I’m focusing my analysis on the male gender this morning.
You see, somewhere along the line, the men I grew up around had learned that their job in life (when not busy performing their real job) was to analyze and criticize pretty much everything their lives touched, all the while ignoring the gaping holes in their own lives. So that whether it was in the foyer of the church before or after church, or the men’s restroom, or in a break room at work, or in the T.V. room where all the men in our clan gathered while the women cooked the big Holiday meals (and then cleaned up afterwards) – – the said men gave themselves to analyzing and criticizing our government leaders, our church leaders, our coaches and athletes, our bosses, etc., etc. The fact that these conversations were laced with pride and arrogance and scorn and a significant lack of the knowledge of God was not at all on their radar. This was just what men did, and I suppose it made them feel more “manful or manly” as they did it.
So whereas God always intended from the foundations of the earth that men would walk with Him and know Him and thus become like Him, and thus their attitudes and conversations would emit His fragrance and His peace, His calm and gentleness, and His righteousness and His mercy, etc., and thus the wives and the children of such men would always know that all is well, and God must be good, because of the way their husbands and fathers and uncles and grandfathers handled life and treated them,….because these men did not walk with God and pursue an intimate knowledge of Him and His attributes and His ways – – they never learned the value of biblical, God like traits like: gentleness, kindness, patience, forbearance, graciousness, honoring instead of objectifying or scorning women, etc.,.. and thus their wives and children and grandchildren reaped the pain of a life without a knowledge of God among those who were supposed to love and lead and cherish and protect them.
So that brings me back to June 5th2017. This beloved congregation recognized that their pastor of 21 and a half years at that point was spent, and running on empty due to a variety of factors – some out of his control; some of his own making; they also recognized God had raised up my son for such a time as this; and they by faith appointed Joshua as our new lead pastor; and then sent Anne and I on a three month Sabbatical. So on June 5thAnne and I headed out on a five and a half week road trip, wherein we first made a beeline for Bethel church in Redding, CA. We stayed in a hotel nearby and availed ourselves of their Friday night service, their Saturday morning healing rooms, their 24/7 prayer chapel at several different times during the weekend, and finally their Sunday morning service. Throughout that weekend at Bethel, which was mostly renewing and refreshing, I heard repeatedly this curious phrase spoken by various people in leadership, “God is in a good mood.”
The more I heard it, the more I squirmed; as passages that I had memorized or at least was very familiar with begged to differ, such as: Psalm 7:11, “God is a righteous judge; and a God who has indignation every day.” Or Hebrews 10:26,27, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.” Followed later by vs. 31, which says, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Well God let me squirm with this phrase “God is in a good mood”, and while I didn’t totally throw it out, I did not warmly embrace it.
Fast forward to January 2016. For the first time in my 22 years of ministry at that point here at The Well, I started teaching the World Changers class of elementary children once a month, and my new boss was Alisa Sharp, whom God raised up for a time to lead our children’s ministry.
My precious wife had wonderfully led our children’s ministry up to the time of our Sabbatical. But it was time for new wine and new wineskins, and Alisa was clearly the woman for the job.
So around May of that year, Anne and I had our monthly meeting with Alisa; and she handed me a curriculum from Bethel church in Redding for the month of June that had this main idea: The most important thing we need to know about God is that “He is in a good mood.”
While I didn’t outwardly react, my insides were not in a good mood for a variety of reasons. First of all, I am not one to follow someone else’s notes. In my 21 plus years of preaching sermons, I rarely ever preached someone else’s material. And second as I read over this curriculum it had all kinds of activities and creative things to do with the kids around this idea, but minimal Biblical material to support this interesting contention that the most important thing anyone can know about God is that He is in a good mood.
So I am back in a significant inner wrestling match with the Holy Spirit re: this idea, and somehow during that next week He led me to I Timothy. Now I am no stranger to this book. It is the first of three pastoral epistles in the New Testament that I have leaned on heavily over my 35 years or so in ministry – trying to make sure I was about the things God was about. Or that I led His church in the way He wanted it to be led.
Some scholars refer to I Timothy as the “handbook of church management”. It is a crucial book for church leaders to grapple with as it helps us understand the gospel message, the purpose of the law of God, how to handle those who come against this message and the law that supports it, the biblical roles of men and women in the church, the role of prayer in the church, qualifications for and the ministry of elders in the church, the personal life of the minister, etc., etc.
But in all my years of studying this book I had never once noticed or given attention to how the Holy Spirit led the apostle Paul to bookend this book with an attribute of God that only this book reveals. Look with me at I Timothy 1:11, “according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.” Now listen to ch. 6:15, “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Bear with me as I talk about this word that only appears in the New Testament these two times when referring to God. It is translated “blessed” from the greek word, “Makarios”, which is the same greek word that is translated “blessed” in the sermon on the mount – when speaking of the life of the kingdom that Jesus was introducing His disciples to: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”etc.
Now if you have studied the sermon on the mount, especially these beginning Beattitudes as they are often referred to, you probably know that scholars and commentators generally agree that the idea behind this word “blessed” is “happy”. Not giddy or silly happy. But happy as in “it is well with my soul and life is full and God is good” kind of happy.
Well when I discovered back in May of 2016 that the Holy Spirit wanted we church leaders to know – that as we studied and analyzed and dissected this “Handbook on Church Management” – that the Head of this church was a Happy God, and that we dare not try to shepherd His sheep and teach His truth without knowing and embracing Him as the Happy God that He is, ….well I was absolutely dumbfounded! How could I have missed this over all these years?!
You see if we leaders of the church only know our Triune God and the Head of the Church as the One who flooded the whole earth because of the rampant wickedness of mankind early on as described in Genesis; and who destroyed two whole cities after that because of the rampant wickedness that had already morally destroyed those two cities from within; and if we only know Him as the One who will some day judge the living and the dead; if we only know Him as Holy, but do not know Him as Happy, we cannot and will not lead His church in a way that is pleasing to Him.
But if we are convinced that our God – the living God – the God of the Bible is intrinsically happy. If we are convinced that nothing can get under His skin. If we are convinced that He thoroughly enjoys life. And that as I told the children on that Sunday in June – – “while we may sometimes be sad because we said something we shouldn’t have said, or didn’t do something we should have done; or while we may be offended or discouraged because someone mistreated us or spoke ill of us – – God never says something He shouldn’t; He always does what He ought and should do. He never has a lapse in judgment. He has no regrets whatsoever. He doesn’t even have senior moments!!
He laughs when the nations and leaders of nations devise wicked plans against Him and His kingdom rule and reign according to Psalm 2. His emotions are not dimmed in the least when wicked men and women say wicked things about Him.
He delights in His creation; and He delighted in the creating of His creation. He delights in exercising lovingkindness, justice and righteousness throughout the earth. He delights in answering the prayers of His sons and daughters. And when He starts something, He finishes it and finishes it well.
We all live in some level of confliction because even when we are on top of our game, we fall short, we are easily distracted, and while we can experience the blessing and happiness of God when we walk in poverty of spirit and when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, none of us consistently walks in these things. We tend to ebb and flow don’t we?
God never experiences this kind of confliction or inconsistency or flakiness.
Back when I believed it was part of my calling to daily stay on top of current events and social issues and politics, and try to help you have a Biblical worldview concerning these things, the things that I knew were displeasing to God and ultimately harmful to society ate my lunch. Nothing ever eats God’s lunch.
I used to go to bed every night feeling like no matter how hard I worked and prayed and studied, I had merely spit in the wind at what needed to be done and at what I was called to do.
I used to leave pastors meetings and elder meetings mostly focused on the ground we hadn’t covered and the progress we hadn’t made. When I prayed for our town, I focused mostly on all the people we hadn’t reached, instead of the people we had touched and influenced for the kingdom.
So you might be able to imagine what living with me was like, and especially as I became more aware of more needs over the years, and got involved in more ministries, and embraced more responsibilities – all the while knowing God only as a Holy God, not a Happy God.
Now I’m certain there are people in the body of Christ that know God as a Happy God, but don’t really know Him as a Holy God. We can talk about that another day.
But this morning I believe God wants to reveal Himself to those of us who have struggled to know Him as a Happy God, because while He is certainly Holy, He is also equally Happy. And it very well may be that one of the reasons some of us are not walking consistently in the joy of the Lord is because our perception of God is skewed in this regard.
Listen folks, the Jesus who cleansed the temple with significant anger and passion because of its religious corruption on two different occasions , is the same Jesus that turned a whole lot of water into a whole lot of excellent wine, knowing that many of the attendants at this wedding would probably drink to excess – – and this is the first miracle the Holy Spirit led John the apostle to record in his gospel. I’m just saying…..
“according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.”
God never meant to entrust His glorious gospel to men and women who did not know Him as the blessed or happy God that He is!
((By the way if you are here this morning and you are not absolutely sure that you are a child of God; that He has adopted you into His family and saved you from your sins; and justified and covered you by His blood – – – Jesus Christ – the Son of God died so that you could know that beyond a shadow of a doubt. He died as an acceptable sacrifice to God the Father, so that your sinful slate could be wiped clean. ))
“He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Time of prayer and ministry