At Gateway Church in Austin, we started a new series.
Is God really who we think He is? Are our concepts of God accurate? No matter what has shaped our perceptions of God, it is important to understand who He really is. How can we explore the true character of God and remove any old, tainted images of Him from our minds in order to live in relationship with the real God?
The Get a New God series included the following messages:
- God Has A Name
- Compassionate and Gracious
- Slow to Anger, Faithful and Loving
- Forgiving Sin With Justice
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
HERE IS THE VIDEO MESSAGE FROM JOHN BURKE:
HERE ARE NOTES FROM THE MESSAGE:
Who God is, what is God like? What picture do you carry in your mind’s wallet of what God, your Maker, Creator, is like? I’m convinced there’s nothing more important about you than your concept of God. Why would I say that? Because your concept of God shapes who you are and what you do more than anything. And that’s true even if you don’t believe there is a God—that concept shapes you. And if you’re a Christ-follower, just because you believe, doesn’t mean you have an accurate concept of God in your head. All of us, me included, have less than accurate images of God in our heads. We must because God transcends us. And in some cases our view of God may be so off, we really need to start over.
My friend Keith Miller, who has since graduated this Life, told me about being a Christian in a recovery group. Keith had a Master’s Degree in Engineering and Theology, yet he still fell prey to alcoholism and finally hit Rock Bottom and started attending a recovery Group. The first night, he was Listening to a new guy talk to this old timer about taking step 3. Step 3 in recovery is when you decide to turn your entire life and will over to the will of God—it’s the critical step to recovery—to stop playing God and let God be God. The new guy said, “No way I’m turning my life over to God! He’d ruin me—and I’d deserve it!” The old timer listened patiently to the young guy’s description of God, then he said, “You ought to fire that God! You’ve got the wrong God for this program, friend. The God who operates here is loving, forgiving, and gives you all the chances you need to succeed. God is honest (truth-telling) but he will always be there for you. I had a god like yours when I first came here, but I had to fire him and get me a new God.” “What can I do about a God if I fire mine?” The new man asked. The old timer thought for a minute and said, “You can use mine until you get on your feet.” Keith said as he listened to this he thought—“I’m quitting this program, making up gods to fit their needs—you can’t do that! But on his way home, he started thinking about what the old-timer meant. Keith realized over time, though he was a Christian, the god in his head was an absent, demanding, never-quite pleased, tyrant–a lot like his father—which is why He didn’t really want to trust him, just like that new man. And more importantly, Keith’s god was not the God revealed in the Bible he claimed he followed.
See, the truth is, many of us have a very messed up image of God. Most people form their image of God from word on the street, authority figures, past experiences. Not from really studying what God claims to have revealed about his identity and character. Not many Christians know the Bible, not many of my muslim friends have read the Koran or the Bible (which the Koran is based on). Not many of my Buddhist or Hindu friends have read their holy books—yet all of us say “they all say the same thing about God.” I’ve read most of them–they don’t. But something in humanity wants to study and work hard to gain money, power, fame, but put little effort into the question “Who is God?” I’m convinced until we understand who God is really, we’ll never turn our life or will over to experience the love, joy, peace, patience…self-control, God promises will come alive in us if we fully trust God. And you may even have prayed to accept Christ, but that doesn’t automatically mean we have the right view of God. If we don’t seriously ponder what God says about himself, we form an idea of him. But often it’s formed in the image of a parent, or authority figure, a religious teacher, coach or even an abuser.
You hear me say God’s powerful. Your mom was powerful too. No problem believing God’s powerful—you saw power growing up—mom did the power thing. She could leap tall buildings. She could jump from the sinking Titanic to Greenland. Problem is, she never seemed to take you with her. Too busy—too important to care. So you’re not about to give your life over to another powerful, uncaring authority. Friend, you need to fire that god and get a New God—that’s your mom or dad, not who God claims to be.
Maybe some of you have the opposite problem—you picture your emotionally crippled dad, constantly making promises, but powerless to follow through. So you fear trusting God because you picture that emotionally weak authority figure who will promise, promise, but just let you down again. You need to fire that God and get a New God—it’s not who God claims to be.
You may not realize it, but all of us have distorted views of God to some degree. The only question is do we understand the difference between our distorted view of God and Who God claims to be? Nothing’s more important about you than Who You Think God is because nothing shapes how you feel about yourself, what you do, and who you’ll become more. And I’ve seen this in many ways over the years.
So in this new series Get a New God, we’re going to look at who God claims to be and compare that to the God in our heads—and I hope you don’t just test this intellectually, but emotionally. So let’s start with a God Concept Quiz—get your phone or paper write down answers then at the end of this series do it again and compare: God Concept Quiz:
When I think about God I feel___________ . When I have to trust God I feel________. When I think about God I wish he_________. Sometimes I get angry at God when_________. It frustrates me when God______ . The one thing I would change about myself to please God is________. One thing that frightens me about God is___________. The one thing I’m afraid God will do is___________.
See, it doesn’t really matter if you can check the boxes “God is love” if you don’t believe God is crazy in love…with YOU! It doesn’t really matter if you check God is trustworthy, if you’re terrified to trust what He says. From experience I can say, If you don’t fully trust God, then you don’t know God—no one loves you more, knows you better, is more on your side, than the One who Made you for himself. If you’re running from God, or think God wants to ruin your life, you need a New God.
So the Bible, which is not 1 book but 66 books written from about 1500 BC to 100 AD claims God has been revealing to us his character and heart in his name. God claims he wants to be known, loved and trusted, and he’s been revealing himself since recorded history. In 2000 BC God chose Abraham and Sarah to create a new Nation and God said “I will bless you and through you I will bless all the nations on earth.” God’s plan always included all nations. So this nation of Israel grows and ends up being enslaved and oppressed in Egypt 400 years later. In 1500 BC, 1000 years before most World Religions of today were established, God reveals his Name and character to Moses and the Israelites—we’re going to hone in on that today in Exodus 34.
Moses has been a shepherd for 40 years, when one day he notices a brilliant light up on Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai. Curious, he climbs to the top where he sees a bush apparently on fire—but with a light brighter than the sun and not burning up the bush. Moses hears a voice “Take off your shoes, this is holy ground.” Then he said I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. I’ve heard the cries of my people, I’ve seen the oppression, and I’m going to send you to liberate Israel. But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?” God replied to Moses, “I am who i am. Say this to the people of Israel: I am has sent me to you.” Exodus 3:13-14
God describes himself as the I am. I am who I am. The word in Hebrew implies—the self-existent one—the one who always is, was, and will be. When God describes himself, He uses a deep and mysterious statement of His nature. “I am what will be.” My nature, in other words, cannot be declared in words, cannot be conceived by human thought. I exist beyond your limited finite dimensions of time and space. I exist, as nothing else exists—necessarily, eternally, completely independent. If I am to give myself a name expressive of my nature, so far as language can be, let me be called “I AM.” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations. Exodus 3:15 This name, Yahweh is a proper name based on this idea “I am the self-existent one.” Written as four letter YHWH called the tetragrammaton—we don’t know what vowels went with it, so some pronounce it Yahweh, some Yehovah. In Wes Texan, or at the NASCAR track, Jehovah. In our Bible today it’s written, LORD, in all caps usually. But the important thing is God’s name, is a statement of His nature and character. He uses over 300 names describing God in the Bible—really further adjectives or descriptors of this Character—but this one was the umbrella name, most used until Jesus.
I remember when we were naming our kids, we got one of those etymology name books—that tell what their names mean. We had a name picked out for my son Justin—whose name means “Upholder of Justice, the One who does right.” But we had another name before Justin that we liked the sound of until we found out it meant “Smelly Hair” – it was hard enough to get the little tiker to wash his hair as “The One Who Does Right” I can’t imagine how hard it would have been if his name was “Smelly Hair.” Gotta live up to my name, Dad.
In ancient times, names always conveyed identity. All Hebrew Names connected the person to their lineage, and meant something. For instance, the angel told Mary to name her son “Jesus” which means “God’s Salvation.” We’ll see how that connects. But 1500 years before Jesus, God says my name is Yahweh. What that means is God is an existence different from all other existence. all the world from east to west will know there is no other God. I am the Lord, and there is no other.” Isaiah 45:6 ; So when your kids ask “Who created you…my mom and dad…who created them…their parents…who created them (kids can play this game all night trying to not go to sleep) and you finally get to God. “Who created God?” No one—God has always existed is the right answer. Atheists will say that makes no sense, but it only makes no sense if we are Gods and there’s no existence greater than what our little finite minds can conceive—but that’s a big assumption. And it leaves you with an endless regression of dependent creatures back to the Big Bang, still left with the question who created the Big Bang? But if God has revealed, what this means emotionally is you can’t compare God to a changing, fickle, human. There’s none like God.
Yahweh, the I am, also implies God exists outside of time. Interestingly, of all the creation accounts of the World’s Religions, only one places God creating from outside of time—creating time itself. Genesis 1 says God created before the first “day” or marking of time. A Psalm Moses wrote says: For you [God], a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours. Psalm 90:4 In the New Testament, Peter, one of Jesus band of 12 says A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.” 2 Peter 3:8 God created time, so God’s not bound by time. Emotionally, we worry that he’s too busy, doesn’t have time for us, can’t possibly hear or care for all the people and all the prayers and all the concerns—well you’re God is too small. Your God is time-bound, that’s NOT the real God. Get a New God.
Interestingly, when I studied 1000 people who clinically died and were resuscitated, one of the most common experiences of the Life to come is an experience of time in multiple dimensions. They commonly said things like, I don’t know if the experience lasted a second or forever, things like that didn’t matter. They also commonly said, the life to come is More Real than this life—like going from a watching a 2D video of Hawaii to being in Hawaii is way more real.
Yahweh implies “I am all that exists” an existence that is Ultimate Reality, all other existences are shadowy in comparison. In fact, God tells Moses on Mt. Sinai to construct a Tabernacle—a meeting place—and God gives him a blueprint based on something more real in Heaven. In the New Testament is says, [Earthly priests] serve in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven. For when Moses was getting ready to build the Tabernacle, God gave him this warning: “Be sure that you make everything according to the pattern I have shown you here on the mountain.” Hebrews 8:5
Here’s what this means about God. Everything beautiful, good, pleasurable, exciting, is merely a shadow of a more Real, beautiful, pleasing existence we were created for. That’s why as wonderful as everything is on earth—it’s all like a finger pointing to God’s glory—it never fully satisfies because it’s pointing us to the God who Created us first for himself. That’s really important. Are there things you love, enjoy, find beauty or pleasure in that you somehow disconnect from God—as if anything good exists apart from God? IF so, your God is too small—and not the Real God. Ultimately one day you will realize—God IS the most beautiful, inspiring, powerful, loving, kind, energetic, humorous, adventuresome, artistic, scientific, full-of-life Being there is—God is what I’ve been searching for my whole life. The sooner you realize that, the more Free and Full of God’s life you can become. Yahweh is an independent and unconditioned existence, from which all other is derived, and on which it is dependent.
And God is a Person who wants to be known—that’s what the Bible claims He’s been doing since recorded human history—revealing his heart and character so we would love and follow Him. I remember an older Catholic woman whose daughter was attending, started coming more and more, and then one Sunday she came up to me and said, “You know, you’ve almost convinced me that God really loves me.” I said, “He does—more than you can imagine.” Mean nuns had given her a different idea of God—but what was cool is I was there by her side the week before she died, and she told me she’s not afraid because she knows now how much God loves her now.
God conveys this to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Moses is a reluctant deliverer—he has a speech impediment, he’s not confident, he makes every excuse in the book—God says “Moses, I am with you.” He’s the God who is with us to empower us to accomplish what He created us to accomplish—but He’s also the God of Freedom—of Free will, as we will discover. He rarely works against our will. He wants to work with willing, loving people because that’s what he created us for—loving relationship. On Mt. Sinai, God gives them the 10 Commandments. The first of which is to Love God first, above all rivals, and make no idols or “little g” gods in my place. Why? Because there are no gods other than Yahweh, but there are many false ideas about gods that promise what only God can give.
Like money is a gift from God, but materialism is an idol in America—it promises love, joy, freedom, happiness if you put it first—yet make it first, and you’ll never be content—you’ll never be free of greed or envy. People destroy relationships to gain more money yet lose the love and peace it promised. Sex if God’s gift, but it can become an idol—it promises to give you security, worth, feel wanted, valuable—but it leaves you with a shrinking soul, wounded, protective, never secure or consumed by insatiable lust. People can become idols—boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, children—Gifts from God, but put them first, and you’ll actually destroy them trying to get them to be God, give you all the love and security you need—it doesn’t work. When God is first, He can lead us to right order our relationships to all these gifts so that they satisfy us, and we are free to use them in loving, non-controlling ways. That’s why God’s first commandment—to love God above all others. God is a Covenant Making God—Marriage is our version of a free-will covenant—God revealed first to Abraham he is a God who adopts all humans into his loving family, who turn back to him seeking forgiveness and guidance (through Abraham God foreshadowed the sacrifice of God’s son to pay the cosmic price of justice). The Abrahamic Coveant was eternal, unconditional, I’ll never leave you or forsake you covenant paid for with Jesus own blood. Cause we all have a debt for turning from God’s ways.
Moses stays too long up on the mountain—40 days—and the people get anxious and feel out of control—even though God just set them free of slavery (they still have a false view of God)—if we don’t melt gold and make a god like in Egypt to protect us, we will die. The false ideas of God they grew up with rule their emotions and decisions.
When God doesn’t do as you expect, how quickly to do you turn from God and his ways, to things you grew up thinking would get you what you want—money, power, sex, family idols, shopping, video games, drugs? God says to Moses—go see how quickly they’ve turned from me. Moses comes down and in anger shatters the tablets with the 10 commandments. Goes back up on the Mountain—and this is what’s amazing about God. He could just wipe them out and start over. He could make them pay. Yet again he declares His name—this time with more descriptive explanation of Who God is. And this description we’re going to unpack over the next few weeks—looking also at how Jesus revealed more of what Moses declared about God in a relatable form.
Then the Lord … called out his own name, Yahweh. 6 The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.7 I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. Exodus 34:5-7 NLT
Here’s what’s amazing—from 1500 years before Jesus—God declares His Name and Character—he’s the God who has always existed. Numerous prophets after Moses foretold a time when the Arm of God would reach into Humanity to save (by paying for all our wrongs). In John 8, Jesus has a confrontation with the Religious Leaders of his day, who claimed they followed the God of Abraham and Moses, but the god in their heads was not the God of Moses in reality. 40 [Jesus replied,] “You are trying to kill me because I told you the truth, which I heard from God. Abraham never did such a thing. 41 No, you are imitating your real father.” They replied, “We aren’t illegitimate children! God himself is our true Father.” 42 Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God.… 51 I tell you the truth, anyone who obeys my teaching will never die!” 52 The people said, “Now we know you are possessed by a demon. Even Abraham and the prophets died, but you say, ‘Anyone who obeys my teaching will never die!’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”… 58 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am!”59 At that point they picked up stones to throw at him. But Jesus was hidden from them and left the Temple. John 8:40-60
Jesus uses the exact words God spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai. In Greek, before Abraham was born, Ego Eime, I Am that I am. They understood exactly what He was claiming, but the false ideas of God rejected the real God and they tried to kill him, but it wasn’t his time and Jesus escaped. And the risen Jesus appeared to John in the book of Revelation: And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance.17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last.” Revelation 1:16-17 NLT Just like what Moses saw on the Mountain—a Light brighter than the sun, that made Moses’ face glow—Jesus is the one who created time. God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. 2 And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe [lit. “ages”–time]. 3 The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. Hebrews 1:1-3 NLT
Jesus said I am the Light of the World and God is Love. And 1 Cor 13 God gives a definition of Love, which is a definition of God. 1st Corinthians 13:4 (the nature of God) God is patient, God is kind. He does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud, He is not rude, He is not self-seeking. He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres. God never fails. Is this the God in your head? This is the God of Abraham and Moses, and the God Jesus Revealed—the God who can give you Life. So if it isn’t the God in your head, it may be time to get a new God.