What are you like, God? By Jeff Strite…

What are you like, God?

By Jeff Strite

Isaiah 6:1-7

The question we’re dealing with this morning is: God, what are you like?

A couple of years back, an advertising firm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida launched a billboard campaign, sponsored by an anonymous client. The campaign depicted several different “messages from God” and all were signed “God.”
1. Let’s Meet at My House Sunday Before the Game.
2. C’mon Over and Bring the Kids
3. Need a Marriage Counselor? I’m Available.
4. We Need To Talk
5. Loved the Wedding, Invite Me to the Marriage
6. That “Love Thy Neighbor Thing.” I Meant It
7. I Love You… I Love You… I Love You.
8. Will The Road You’re On Get You To My Place
9. Follow Me
10. Tell The Kids I Love Them
11. Need Directions?
12. Big Bang Theory? You’ve Got To Be Kidding!

I personally thought these were pretty clever. But sometime after these billboards had made national news, I found myself listening to a radio preacher out of Indianapolis who had problems with these billboards – particularly the ones that sounded ominous and judgmental like the following:
13. My Way Is The Highway
14. Some Things Are Written In Stone
15. You Think It’s Hot Here?
16. Keep Using My Name In Vain and I’ll Make Rush Hour Longer
17. What Part of “Thou Shalt Not…” Didn’t You Understand?
18. Have You Read My #1 Best Seller? There Will Be a Test

What troubled this “preacher” was that these particular billboards spoke of a God who stood in judgment. He much preferred a God who was always loving and tender… in fact, he seemed to be offended by the notion that God would judge anyone.

This wasn’t the first time I’d encountered this attitude. Years ago (when I’d just graduated from Bible college) I began a Bible study in my home. Several men attended, included a man from another church in town – one that was known for its liberal teachings.
We were studying the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who lied about a contribution to church, and immediately upon lying… they died. Although the text didn’t explicitly state that God killed them – that was obviously the implication.
Well, that really offended this man from this other church. He became agitated and tried to prove God hadn’t done anything to cause their deaths.
As we were discussing this, he shared what he truly believed about God – or at least what he had been taught:
1. He said there were 2 Gods in the Bible – the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New – and that they were as different from one another as night is from day.
a. He believed that the God of Old Testament was a God of judgment and anger
b. BUT the God of the NT was a God of compassion and love…
2. And he indicated he could never love or honor a God like the one in the Old Testament

Of course… that’s all pure heresy.
The Bible is fairly clear on the fact that God of the Old Testament IS the God of the New Testament. The only thing that really changed was the relationship that same God had with His people. Under the Old Testament, God’s relationship was centered on the Law of Moses. In the New, it was centered on the Grace of Christ.

But I understand why this would trouble both him and that preacher on the radio. There’s something about the God of Scripture that can be fairly… intimidating.

Exodus, for example, tells of the time when God gave His 10 commandments to His people.
Before Moses went up to receive the tablets, God thundered down the 10 commandments from mountain. And “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.'” (Exodus 20:18-19)

Later in Israel’s history, the prophet Elijah met God on that same mountain:
“The LORD said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake came a fire but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”1 Kings 19:11-13

And now, here in Isaiah, we find that this great prophet just SEES God and he trembles with fear:
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” Isaiah 6:5

So, when I considered the question for this Sunday – What is God like? – these were the images that came into my mind.

Now, these images have never really bothered me. I literally grew up in the church and have been constantly exposed to these stories… so for me they are fairly clear cut and expected. But there are people who are troubled by that kind of a God. Why?

Well, the idea of being in the presence of such a fearsome God is frightening to some because they know that God is holy and they are not.

That’s what Isaiah reflected in his comment “…I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…”

Isaiah found himself in presence of a Holy and righteous God and was forced to acknowledge his own uncleanness. When he experienced God’s presence, he humbled himself and acknowledged God’s rights and authority in his life.

But there are who come face to face with God’s Righteousness and Holiness… and they reject it. They are offended by being faced with a God who is bigger than they are.
Why?
Because they want to be the ones in charge of their lives. But if God is bigger and more powerful than they are, He (not they) has the authority to set the rules.

Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner did a comedy skit years ago called ” The 2013 Year Old Man”. In the skit, Reiner interviewed Brooks, who was the old man in the skit.
At one point, Reiner asked the old man, “Did you always believe in the Lord?”
Brooks replied: “No. We had a guy in our village named Phil and for a time we worshiped him.”
Reiner: “You worshiped a guy named Phil? Why?”
Brooks: “Because he was big, and mean, and he could break you in two with his bare hands!”
Reiner: “Did you have prayers?”
Brooks: “Yes, would you like to hear one? O Phil, please don’t be mean, and hurt us, or break us in two with your bare hands.”
Reiner: “So when did you start worshiping the Lord?”
Brooks: “Well, one day a big thunderstorm came up, and a lightning bolt hit Phil. We gathered around and saw that he was dead. Then we said to one another, ‘There’s somthin’ bigger than
Phil!'”

The question of who is in charge in our lives sometimes comes down to who we recognize as being bigger.

When the Israelites gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments, God deliberately and decisively established made it clear that He was in charge. He drove home – in no uncertain terms – that He was bigger than they were.

1st we’re told that “…the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.'”
(Exodus 19:10-12)

That alone would have intimidated me.

Then we’re told – “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.” (Exodus 19:16-19)

Now, God didn’t speak this way when He was addressing Moses… or any of a number of other great Old Testament men or women. But on this occasion, God deliberately orchestrated a sound and light display to establish that He was in charge.
He was declaring that He had the right to declare what the rules were to be because He was bigger than they were.
He had the authority to say what was right and what was wrong.

In that mountaintop Experience at Sinai: God was basically saying: “I am God… and you aren’t”

But there are people who don’t WANT God to be in charge. As I was working on this sermon, I began to reflect on that man in Bible study years ago. Remember, this was an involved and extended discussion, but at one point in that conversation, he made a comment that came from way out in left field. At the time, it was so unusual a comment that it threw me off my guard because I couldn’t understand what it had to do with our discussion. But now that I’ve had time to think about it… it suddenly makes sense.

Speaking to me, this man said “I saw you last week driving over the speed limit”

OK… I had no doubt that he may actually have seen me doing just that. And there was no excuse for my going over the speed limit. But I couldn’t figure out what that had to do with our discussion.

Now, however, I realize what was going on.
This man felt threatened God’s sovereignty – of God’s right to be in judgment over us.
He felt the need to establish his own righteousness.
The only way to do that was to challenge God’s authority, and that didn’t seem quite right. So he settled for the next best thing: find some fault in me.

Now frankly, finding faults in my life (and in yours) is not that hard to do.
If someone were to look hard enough into your life or mine they would find all kinds of shortcoming and weaknesses… because we all fail somewhere along the line.
None of us deserve to stand in God’s presence.
If we had been with Isaiah when He saw the Lord high and lifted up in the Temple we would literally fall on our knees and cover our heads and pray that God didn’t destroy us.

Compared to God, we have no righteousness or holiness to be proud of.
Because I know that is true, one of my favorite passages of Scripture is Psalm 103:8-18. Turn there with me now:
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children-
18 with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

He remembers that we but dust.
He knows that we’re frail and we’re weak.

One of the stories that impresses me in the Old Testament is in I Kings. In that book, we’re told about one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament: Elijah. Elijah was such a great prophet that to this day, Jewish people divide the Scriptures into the Law – represented by Moses – and the Prophets – represented by Elijah.
Part of the reason Elijah is so highly regarded is because he courageously confronted one of the most wicked kings and queens in the history of Israel: King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.
He stood on Mount Carmel and challenged the false prophets of the wicked Jezebel to a contest and he whips ’em good.

But as soon as Jezebel hears about Elijah’s victory, she threatens his life…and Elijah literally falls apart. He becomes overcome with fear and he runs away.
Finally (in exhaustion) stopping under a broom tree humiliated by his fear and overcome with self-loathing and grief Elijah asks God to let him die.

In that fateful moment, Elijah comes to grips with his own humanity, frailty, weakness, and he can’t handle it.

So what does God do to help him?
God sends him to Mt. Sinai where the Israelites had seen that terrifying light show years before. And God does just about the same thing with Elijah He had done with those Israelites… but with a twist:

“The LORD said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake came a fire but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”1 Kings 19:11-13

Did you catch that…
God treats Elijah to a gale-force wind – but God’s isn’t in the wind
Then God shakes the ground with a terrifying earthquake – but God isn’t in the earthquake.
Then God sends a devastating fire – but God isn’t in the fire.

Last of all, Elijah hears a “gentle whisper”

Do know what God was telling Elijah?
· I have the power to destroy anything on the face of this earth
· And there is nothing that can stand against me
· I am mighty and holy and righteous
That’s what the wind/ earthquake/ & fire were all about.

But in that gentle whisper, God was telling Elijah was this:
o I am very powerful… but
o I care for you.
o I know you’re frail
o I know you’re weak
But I love you, and I care for you.
And I am big enough and powerful enough to protect you and care for you in your weakness.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:13-14

A little girl listened attentively as her father read the family devotions. She seemed awed by her parents’ talk of God’s limitless power and mercy. “Daddy,” she asked, placing her little hands on his knees, “how big is God.” Her father thought for a moment and answered, “Honey, He is always just a little bigger than you need.”

My point is this: God IS bigger than we are. He is big enough to stand in judgment of us… but He is also big enough to protect us and care for us in our frailty and humanity. He is big enough to love us even when we are not everything we should or want to be.