Get A New God :: Compassionate & Gracious

At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series, Get A New God.

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:

NEXT STEPS:

These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.

HERE IS THE AUDIO OF THE MESSAGE I SHARED:

 

HERE ARE NOTES FROM THE MESSAGE BY JOHN BURKE:

Andy Grammar, who sings that song Civil War, is not a Christian artist—but when I heard that song I thought—that’s honest and what most people feel if they’ve ever wanted to be a good person, yet got really honest with themselves about how often we give in to temptation and do what we know is wrong. Ever felt like you were a Civil War? The Apostle Paul did,  I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. Romans 7:15 NLT And the question is—Who is God, and how does God look at our sins and temptations and struggles—does God cause them? Does He sit there with a gavel and a smirk just waiting to condemn us?  

Well, those are the kinds of questions we’re diving into in our Get a New God series today. We’re doing a mental emotional assessment on how we view God—and not just what we say about God, but what do our actions and reactions emotionally reveal about our image of God? We’re looking closely at what God claims he has revealed about his character through His Name—Yahweh, revealed to Moses and the Israelites in 1500 BC in Exodus 34. Last week we saw that God is a covenant keeping God. The Abrahamic Covenant was God’s promise to accept and adopt all who would turn to him in love and faith— as His own children:  Because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous…assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God. Romans 4:22-25 It was an unconditional, everlasting covenant which Jesus made possible for all who turn to God in faith.

In 1500 BC God makes a conditional covenant—He gave the Law, the 10 Commandments and other laws, which defined the out of bounds markers on the ski slopes of life. God’s commands are to protect us or provide something better for us—they’re the moral/ethical/spiritual out of bounds markers. God gives freedom, a lot of room to enjoy skiing through life, and says to Israel “If you obey my commands you will be blessed, but if you don’t obey you will be out of God’s protection and the path you choose has its consequences—just like ignoring Colorado boundary markers is dangerous. Moses comes down off Mt. Sinai, reads all these commands and all the people agree.  Moses goes back up the Mountain, stays 40 days, and as I said last week—all their doubts, fears, false ideas of God quickly tempt them to go back to Egypt and it’s ways. By the way—same thing happens to us. We may come to believe in God, see some powerful clear evidence of God’s goodness or answered prayer, yet 40 days later when crisis hits or we feel out of control—bam—off we go to our favorite idol to make us feel better–drinking, drugging, porn or sex or trying to control people to feel in control.

Moses smashes the tablets and reminds the people that God could and should just wipe them out—justice requires payment, but when Moses goes back up the mountain, God reminds him who God is… Then the Lord told Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones. I will write on them the same words that were on the tablets you smashed…. Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with him; and he called out his own name, Yahweh. 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….” Exodus 34:1-6 NLT

God’s very character is Compassion and Mercy. Is that the God in your head? If not, you need to get a new God because you’re not following the real God who revealed himself through the prophets and ultimately through Jesus. The reason he gives the Israelites forgiveness and a second chance, and a third chance is that He IS Compassion and Mercy.   “Compassionate” is from the Hebrew “raham” (which is the same root as the word for “womb”).  It describes the tender love of a mother for the child who came from her womb. So the Bible says God has that same compassionate, mother-type love for us. “Gracious” “Merciful” comes from the Hebrew word “Chanan” (our names “Hannah”, and “John” “Shawn” come from it!).  The root means “to bend, to be inclined” to help someone.  It’s an action from a superior to an inferior who has no real claim for gracious treatment. And this word “gracious” or “Merciful” is used more of God than of anyone else in the Bible.  God is gracious to us; He is “for us” “inclined” to help us, to be better to us than we deserve.  

That’s what God shows the Israelites after seeing 10 miraculous signs of deliverance, yet they doubt him at the Red sea—after another miraculous deliverance, they grumble and complain in the desert—after getting the 1st commandment – love God, put God first, don’t worship anything in God’s place—within 40 days they’re worshipping a golden calf.  Imagine how rejected you would feel if you were God. Yet God himself tells us what he’s like: Yahweh, the “I am” the “Timeless self-existent one” the Compassionate, the Gracious/merciful God. Is that how you view God? If not, Get a New God because the god in your head and heart is not the God who claims to reveal himself through the prophets and through Jesus.

I remember leading a Lifegroup the first year of Gateway. Chloe was in the group, 12 of us would meet in a home weekly to grow spiritually together we could tell each other anything. It’s where we came up with No Perfect People Allowed—which is our value of being real, being honest, not pretending we’re something we’re not—in a group demonstrating God’s Grace (his compassion, understanding, mercy) that helps us grow. We were reading in Matthew where Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father in Heaven, holy is your name.” Chloe opens up about growing up with an Atheist father who was a professor who started getting her drunk when she was 12, then would sexually molest her. She became an alcoholic and an atheist herself, destroyed her family, got into recovery and experientially discovered a God who was powerful enough to help her overcome addiction, but also compassionate and grace giving.  And I was able to help her see—you experienced Who the God of Jesus claims to be—and he wants to be known and loved and trusted.  She now believed in Jesus, but said, “I can’t associate that word Father with God without getting the willies—that’s your spidey sense telling you to run.” Her father influenced her view of God. But that Life group became like a loving second family to her, and she redefined what a Father was supposed to be with the help of a group of people demonstrating the loving compassion and mercy of God the Father.

The God of the Old Testament reveals himself as compassionate—he cares about the people he created in love, for himself.  Do you realize this?  Do you emotionally live like it?  If you did, it would mean 2 things—you wouldn’t want to turn from His will and ways, because you’d realize it’s not in your best interest. And second you’d realize it hurts the One who loves you most. God is a feeling, compassionate Being.

The Old Testament prophets, for 1000s of years, reminded people of God’s Compassion and Mercy.  Isaiah said, “Surely they are my people, children who will be true to me”; and so he became their Savior. In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.10 Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. Isaiah 63:8-10 NIV  Do you see the Triune God here? God is One God, not three Gods. One God, revealed in three persons. A Father/Parent who wants children that will be true to him. A Savior (the Hebrew word “he became their savior” “Yasha” “Jesus” Jesus is our English translation for {Yashua} means Salvation). And the Holy Spirit who feels grief when we rebel against him.  This triune God revealed in the Old Testament prophets and through Jesus feels. In our distress, Yahweh too is distressed. God has compassion because He is the Suffering Servant who understands what we are going through. If you really get who God is and take it into your head and heart, you will never want to turn away—even in sin and temptation, because you’ll know that He understands and wants to help us when we can’t help ourselves.

God says to the prophet Isaiah 700 years before Jesus, that the Arm of God–the Messiah, or Christ will suffer with us and for us. To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?My servant grew up in the Lord’s [Yahweh’s] presence…He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down….All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. Isaiah 53:1-6. This is the God of the Universe—the most Powerful Being, beyond comprehension, who wants to be known and loved—he is compassionate, he feels our pains, our sorrows, and he enmeshed himself with humanity out of love. If that doesn’t blow your mind you’re not fully comprehending who God claims to be.  He doesn’t want you to generically know about him, He wants you to intimately know him and trust him.

Jesus demonstrated this compassion and mercy of God.  Last week I showed you, Jesus identified himself as the “I am” – Yahweh. Jesus made Yahweh’s compassion and mercy visible. Matthew records a time when Jesus looked out over a crowd of people: When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.37 He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. Matthew 9:36-37 Jesus had compassion on each and every person—why?  Because Jesus revealed Yahweh, the Compassionate and Gracious God—who is not bound by time and space, who knows every person intimately, and cares intimately. He wants us to be more like him.

I have traveled through many airports, I’m often overwhelmed by the crowd of humanity. Crowds don’t bring out the best in me, here’s me after a crowded flight through multiple crowded airports. So to help me, I will sometimes imagine what it’s like to be God (don’t worry, I don’t go too far with it), but what would it be like to intimately know everything about every single individual. A Japanese man bumps me as he rushes by—God knows what he is worried or stressed about, knows what he needs, knows his character defects, his gifts and potential, he knows more about that man than that man does, and he’s crazy in love with that one Japanese man like I’m crazy in love with my kids (actually, more so).  That’s who Jesus reveals God to be—God cares. I’ve seen this when I was willing to demonstrate his compassion and care:

I was flying to Los Angeles to speak at an amazing Inner City Ministry. I get on the plane, sit down and greet the woman next to me, find out she’s from Bankok, Thailand visiting her son in Austin. She’s very friendly and talkative—tells me all about her son and how she’s worried about his well-being. I only had that flight to get ready for my talk that night, but I get this quiet nudging that God wants me to demonstrate his compassion—I prayed “Lord, if that’s what you want, make it clear, cause I have to get this talk ready.” So I’m working, and she says, “Is that from the Bible?” So we get in this conversation and she tells me she grew up Buddhist but became a Christ-follower, until she lost her first baby, then she stopped praying to Jesus because she felt hurt, like Jesus didn’t care. And then it hit me. This is kinda bizarre, but the night before as I was going to sleep I had read Isaiah 65, and I underlined this verse that struck me and for some reason, I had put that 365 day bible in my bag. So I told her I read something last night, and underlined something I think was from God for you—I read to her what was underlined: I will rejoice…and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days. Isaiah 65:19-20  I told her, don’t give up on Jesus—he hasn’t given up on you. I think he wants you to know how much he cares for you. She told me how she had been telling her son, “pray to god, any god, some god—maybe god will help you.” She agreed that maybe Jesus wanted her to pray to him again, and the whole flight she kept saying, “This is such a strange coincidence.” No, this is the God of compassion and mercy—who entered our suffering to deliver us through it, and He wants to be known.

Jesus revealed Yahweh who is Compassionate and Merciful. Another time, the religious leaders brought to Jesus a woman they caught in the act of adultery. According to the Law of Moses, she deserved to be stoned to death.  Jesus didn’t deny that that’s what she deserved—and this is important—God’s compassion and mercy does not deny the cost of Justice. They wanted Justice—they wanted her to pay for her sin. That was right, righteous.  Jesus, revealing the God Yahweh, does not deny that.  Instead, he says to these self-righteous Religious Leaders (and remember, he knew their hearts and their sins) “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest…. John 8:7-9 NLT I wonder if he was writing their sins in the dirt? I love that—the first to drop their stones were the oldest. You can play the “I’m a good person, I don’t need God’s mercy, for a while”…but the older you get the harder it is to play that charade. So Jesus doesn’t deny God’s standard—he doesn’t wink at adultery, or lust, or pornography or greed or envy or hate gossip or any of our sins we call “no big deal”—Jesus died to pay for them.  That’s exactly why He looked this guilty-as-sin woman in the eye and asked “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:10-11 NIV

This is the Heart of God.  He doesn’t wink at wrongs—they have negative consequences for us that he wants to help us avoid—but he doesn’t stand ready to condemn. He is ready to show mercy and to forgive. He wants us to be like that toward others too.

God is Mercy—which can help us as we are being tempted, or even as we are failing. God knows we can’t hide anything, so why pretend? We fear condemnation—but Jesus did not come to condemn, but to help us become people who more naturally do the right thing because He’s changing us from the inside out. To get there, we have to stop hiding our sins and struggles from God.  Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16

Is that the God in your heart and head—a God you can turn to right in the midst of temptation or even as you’re falling and failing?  Or do you believe God’s sick of your junk, disgusted with you, and doesn’t want you to come back until you get your act together? If so, Get a New God, that’s not who God revealed himself to be. Back to the Civil War inside of us that Andy Grammar and Paul talked about.

See, the way we overcome temptation and grow spiritually to be able to “leave a life of sin” is to let God help us when we can’t help ourselves.  Here’s what you need to understand when you’re tempted: It’s Not Wrong to be Tempted. [Jesus] has been tempted in every way, just as we are.” Hebrews 4:15 He was tempted with sex, with money, power, fame, alcohol or other escapes. He gets us—been there, done that, yet didn’t sin. The battle starts in your mind–you will never do wrong with your body until you first go there in your mind—the battle of temptation is won or lost in your thoughts. The first thought is free—it’s not sin to be tempted with bad thoughts. However, the second thought will cost you.  In other words, if you realize your thoughts are leading down a bad path, but you hide from God and keep nursing those lustful, or greedy, or escapist, or fearful thoughts—that’s where sin starts. So catch it in your thoughts right away and talk to God about it honestly—he gets it, it doesn’t shock him.

Admit Wrongs Right Away. If you realize you’ve crossed a line, don’t keep hiding and pretending God doesn’t know or it’s justifiable because…blah, blah, blah. That’s playing God, it will only keep you stuck. Remember, Jesus is a Merciful High Priest—another term is Advocate, or Defense Attorney—He died to pay for all our wrongs—He’s now defending us. We don’t have to keep paying and stay separated from God who can Help us grow.  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us…dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. 1 John 1:8-2:1 NLT So every time you realize you lost the Civil War, admit it—then you’re clean to start over. The point isn’t so that you will keep doing it, it’s so you’ll grow spiritually.

This is important to understand: sin separates us from God. If we never accept His forgiveness offered in Christ, we remain relationally separated from the Source of Life and Love. If you turn back in faith saying “I need your forgiveness and leadership Christ paid to offer me”, that restores Relationship–that’s the Abrahamic Covenant—God will never leave you or forsake you as his child.  So sin doesn’t separate you from Relationship with God. But it separates you from his loving guidance. Like when my kids were teens, if they did wrong and got that prideful stubborn thing going—I didn’t disown them or stop loving them—but until they admitted it and turned back, they didn’t get the benefit of our loving guidance. So turn back to God and admit it, and then…

Walk Forward Learning from God. If you’ve confessed, you’re clean—don’t entertain one more shameful, guilty, condemning thought. Instead, ask his Holy Spirit to teach you from it.  Temptation always starts with a lie about God or his ways.  So ask “What’s the lie I believed, and what’s the truth about You or Your ways that I missed?”  And just like a toddler learns to walk when she falls, reaches for Daddy’s hand, gets up and tries again—soon you’ll be walking, then running, eventually teaching others to walk. That’s Yahweh, the Compassionate, merciful God Jesus revealed.  Is that the God in your head and heart?

 

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