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:
- 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 AUDIO OF THE MESSAGE I SHARED:
HERE ARE NOTES FROM THE MESSAGE BY TED BEASLEY:
Our current series is based on the misconceptions we have about God and how important it is that we not create our own version of God but that we align our understanding of God with who He has revealed Himself to be.
This past week, America’s pastor died. Billy Graham made a tremendous impact in our world telling others about Jesus. On the issue of understanding who God really is, Billy Graham once said:
“You will never understand who you are until you understand who God is.”
To help us do that we’re leaning into some names or descriptors that God gives for himself in Exodus 34:6 – The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. This verse is repeated throughout Scripture.
One of my favorite places is in Jonah 4. God wants Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and preach about repentance. Jonah doesn’t want to go, because A, he hates the Ninevites and would prefer that God would just incinerate them all; and B, he knows that when he goes and speaks this fire and brimstone message, they’ll probably try to kill him.
So God gets Jonah’s attention with the whole great fish thing, and convinces the prophet he’s going to Nineveh. Very reluctantly, Jonah heads to Nineveh, walks into the center of the city and gathers a crowd around him and starts preaching – not very enthusiastically. He’s says: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
Well the weirdest thing happens. Ninevites start dropping to the ground, crying out to God for mercy. “Please forgive us Lord. Please spare us from doom.”
Well, Jonah’s eyes bug out and his jaw hits the ground. It’s the worst sermon in history, and 120,000 people are coming forward for the altar call! And the funny thing is, Jonah gets mad. He’s mad that it’s that easy for these Ninevites to just ask for forgiveness and receive God’s grace.
He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:2-3
Waaaaaa! Jonah’s actually quoting Exodus 34, “I know you’re slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, and I hate that about you!”
Jonah is ticked that God hasn’t fit into his little definition of what is fair.
- Ninevites should go be punished.
- Self-respecting prophets shouldn’t have to board ships, get puked out by sea creatures and preach to people they hate.
“I’m so mad I want to die! It’s not fair!”
Any of you have small children who are fond of pointing out that it’s not fair?
- Johnny got to be on the playscape ten minutes longer.
- Sally’s half of the cookie is bigger.
Isn’t it annoying? And moms and dads, what do you usually say when little precious screams that something’s not fair? “Life’s not fair.” Has that response ever helped anything? Does your four-year-old respond, “Mother, I see the wisdom of your discerning ways. In order to survive in this world and be psychologically healthy, I must embrace that life is nasty, brutish and short. Thank you, mommy.”
Instead of telling our kids that life’s not fair, Steph and Ted Beasley taught their kids a little song from the time they were in the crib. No it wasn’t “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” It was “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones.
It’s easy to believe that those Exodus 34 names for God are true when life seems fair. But when people hurt us or our dreams are shattered or the excrement hits the ventilation apparatus, we, like Jonah, scoff at slow to anger, faithful and abounding in love.
Psychologist have a name for this. It’s called, “projection”. What happens when you carry around a lot of pain for the ways people have harmed or abused or disappointed you in the past? According to Sigmund Freud these emotions are projected on to other people, so that other people become carriers of our own perceived flaws or the flaws of people from our past.
For many of us in this room, life has been unfair. Other human beings who we trusted, who said they loved us, who were supposed to be there for us – they trashed our hearts in unfathomable ways, or they treated us like we were invisible. And we carry the scars of that into the way we view God. We project onto Him the misdeeds of other people. “Lord, how can I trust? Won’t you just let me down like others have?”
And here’s the Father’s response to you.
Numbers 23:19 — God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?
Get a new God! God says to you today, I’m not like the others. It’s not fair to project what they did onto me. Can’t you see that I love you? Can’t you see I would never hurt you? But God knows you need more than words, so today, he wants to show you that he is slow to anger, faithful and abounding in love. Today we’re going to hear from three people who were hurt by others, and after each vignette, I’m going to talk to you about the demonstrated attributes of God.
First, some of us here wonder if God is angry.
(Video 1)#1 God Is Slow to Anger.
That prayer of that child anguishes my heart. “God, are you angry like my dad?”
- A father’s disappointment submerges her every time she isn’t perfect.
- A mother’s anger overwhelms a boy when he messed up.
- A disapproving glare.
- A dismissive turn of the back.
- Withdrawn approval.
- Absent affection.
- A drunken tirade.
- A shouted expletive-laden: “You worthless piece of garbage!”
- An oversized fist to an undersized jaw.
- Ten swings of the belt, when a gentle rebuke would do.
Some of us in this room have been victims of a parent-figure’s anger.
- 43% of children were subjected to emotional abuse as kids.
- One in 14 kids are physically abused by a parent.
- A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds.
- More than five children die every day as a result of child abuse.
Maybe our parents weren’t physical, but many of us grew up in a toxic environment. And to think that hasn’t affected us as adults is simply a fantasy.
- That anger of others turned some of us into perfectionists, and we’re never really happy with our performance.
- For others of us, the anger we learned in our upbringing bleeds out into our own friendships and family, and we find that we have a hair-trigger response sometimes to the people we love.
- And, finally, anger is one of the primary emotions we project onto God. He’s angry and vengeful, and so I don’t really want to know him, or, like the kid in that prayer, we wonder if he’s angry at us for our many sins and shortcomings. Just in the quiet of this moment, any of you want to admit in your heart that the anger of other people has twisted how you see God?
Exodus 34:6 says to his people and to you and me, “One thing you gotta know, I’m slow to anger.”
Think about what happened in Exodus 32, the story of the Golden Calf.
God leads the Israelites out of brutal slavery in Egypt. He brings 10 horrific plagues on the Egyptians and parts the Red Sea. And if that weren’t enough, a couple days later, Moses heads up on the mountaintop to get the Word of God, the 10 Commandments.
And you can read in chapter 32-33 how Moses gets mad. In fact, he gets so ticked, he slams the tablets down on the ground and breaks them, then melts the golden calf down, and grounds the leftovers into powder, and forces the Israelites to drink it. Wow, take it easy, Moses!
In his anger, God could have destroyed the back-sliding Israelites, but he is slow to anger. Exodus 34, he gives Moses some new tablets and says, “Let’s start over.”
God is slow to anger. He forgives the Ninevites. Jonah is angry with God for being slow to anger with the Ninevites forgetting how often Jonah and his people have received that kind of kindness.
Human nature means we get mad when God’s love extends beyond us – especially to others with whom we disagree, differ, or despise.
Yes, God gets angry about sin. But his anger doesn’t change his posture towards you.
2 Corinthians 5:16 says, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Through the work of Jesus, God doesn’t hold your sin against you. That verse is saying that God puts Jesus’ righteousness on you. When you fall short, he doesn’t erupt in anger. Instead, he sees the righteousness of God, and says to you, “I’m not angry. Let’s start again.” No matter what happened in your childhood, God is not like that.
Right now God is not angry at you.
Listen to his words to hurting people in Zephaniah 3 –
The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah:15-17)
You may not sense it now, but God cares so passionately about you that he sings over you. Zephaniah says it’s a healing song, one that restores the injuries of the past. It’s a protective song, one that shields from fear. It’s a song of salvation. Now let’s listen in to someone else’s prayer, this time about unfaithfulness.
(Video 2)#2 God Is Faithful.
You can hear the betrayal in that man’s prayer. And there’s a bit of an accusation there . . . God are you going to be faithful to me? When I am most vulnerable, are you going to leave me twisting in the wind?
The writer of Proverbs has similar sentiments:
Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find? (Proverbs. 20:6)
Are you here carrying a wound from another person’s broken promises and infidelity?
Is it fair to project that onto God?
Think about a time when someone broke your heart.
- They built you up with promises and dreams, but then walked out or didn’t follow through or demonstrated that they didn’t love you as much as you loved them.
- Go back in time for a moment, and just relive that. See the picture of yourself at the bottom.
- Watch yourself sobbing or clinching your fists or curling into a ball.
- Just enter into the moment for a second.
Now pause the scene.
Jesus was actually there with you when that happened, even if you couldn’t feel him or didn’t believe. And if he was standing over in the corner at the moment in which you were most devastated, what do you think he thought about you? What was he feeling?
We get a clue about God’s emotions towards our pain in what is easily the shortest verse in the entire Bible. It is found in John 11:35: Jesus wept.
If you ever wonder how God feels about your pain, remember that verse. It’s in a story about a lady named Mary who is heartbroken over the death of her brother, Lazarus. She’s just undone with grief and hopelessness.
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. John 11:33-35
These are two of the most important words ever written.
- Jesus wept.
- He comes apart.
- He sobs big, hot, wet tears.
And maybe you’ve never seen God from this perspective, but look at him here. See why he weeps. It’s not because a brother is dead.
- He sees Mary and others carrying this burden.
These people don’t know that the solution is standing ten feet away from them.
John says Jesus is deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
- “It’s not fair,” Jesus groans under his breath.
- It’s not fair that suffering has this kind of power.
- It’s not fair that people are cut off from hope and blinded by despair.
- It’s not fair that a wounded heart would convince people that there is something in this universe that has the power to separate us from the love of God.
Jesus weeps because we weep. He grieves when we grieve. Not because someone we loved would be unfaithful to us, but because we lack hope. We don’t turn to him.
Jesus carried a cross so that you don’t have to carry a wounded heart.
He is faithful, the Greek word throughout Scripture, pistis. It denotes fidelity or dependability. God is faithful because of the promises he keeps. Read Isaiah 46.
God himself testifies this about his nature. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do. Isaiah 46:9-11.
It is a part of God’s very personality to make and keep promises. Why is that? Wouldn’t God have a lot easier time of it if he didn’t promise. Then we wouldn’t have so many expectations of him. God is a relational God. And the foundation of any relationship is trust – making and keeping promises. The reason why God puts so many promises out there in the Bible is so that we would test him and see if he’s for real.
The basic definition of faith is stepping out and believing that God is going to make good. That is the only way to know an invisible God. You’re not going to prove his existence by using the ontological argument. You’re probably not going to talk him into giving you a sign. Yes, Jesus weeps when someone is unfaithful to you or hurts, but he says, “I’m not like that. Test me. Just see. Have some faith in some of my promises.”
This week, if you want to grow in your trust of Him, do a test. Just google “Promises of God” in the Bible. There will be lists. Find a list, and in that list, find three promises that speak to you and your situation right now, and just put those before him. “God, I want to believe you are faithful. I’m claiming that these promises are true. I will live like they are true.” And then sit back and watch his faithfulness in your life. Ok, we need to see one last prayer of a hurting person. This one is about unbalanced love.
(Video 3)#3 God Is Abounding in Love.
As we hear echoed in that prayer, the truth is that love is a risk. We offer it to someone, and they can turn it down. We love more deeply or sacrificially than the other person. And it’s not fair when we don’t receive that back. It cuts the heart. And leaves us wondering, is it even worth it to love?
C.S. Lewis writes this, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one . . . Avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell.”
Because you’ve been hurt by someone you loved, do you really want to stop loving?
God chooses this word “abounding” to describe his love. What a cool word! No one can stop it his love.
As John Piper says, the heart of God is like a volcano that burns so hot with love that it blasts the top off the mountain and flows year after year with the lava of love and faithfulness.
When God uses the word “abounding,” he wants us to understand that the resources of his love are not limited.
Friends, God’s love for you is abounding. It’s like when you are in love and you say to a boyfriend or if you are a parent and you play this game.
- “I love you.”
- “I love you more.”
- “No, I love you more.”
- “Au contraire mon frère.”
- You will lose this game with God.
His love for you never runs out. No matter how far you wander from him, no matter how bad you screw up, or how much you read your Bible or tithe your dollars, no matter how angry or unfaithful you are – his love is not dependent on what you do. It’s a free gift, and it is abounding. For you!
God says to you today, “It’s not fair that you project the unfaithfulness of other people onto me and hold me at arm’s length because of your pain. Let me in, and you’ll experience love of another kind.”
We’ve seen from Scripture that not only does God hurt along with us because of what happened, he also promises to treat us remarkably differently.
God does not need you to be fair to him. If you’re skittish towards him, he gets it. If you need to take it slow, he understands. Even if you reject him for a while, he will not write you off. As it turns out, he has very big shoulders to carry anything you want to throw at him. Cling to this verse from 2 Timothy
If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.- 2 Timothy 2:13
You’re his own. He’d never walk out on you. Even when you don’t have faith in him, he has faith in you.
I know that as a pastor, I’m supposed to have this model faith that leaps tall buildings with a single bound, but you might as well know that much to my shame, I waver. One day God’s presence is so real to me that I’m ready to move mountains. The next day the mountains are so real that God can’t move me. When God doesn’t perform the way I imagined, I get so mad at him that he’s not being fair. I wonder if he really cares.
A hurting friend who turned on me. Frustrated at the situation but yelling at me.
1 Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me…
2 Take up shield and armor;
arise and come to my aid….
Say to me,
“I am your salvation.” Psalm 35:1-3
I am your Yashua. I am your Jesus…
Because, no matter who we are or what we do, you and I have a Lord who is slow to anger, faithful and abounding in love.
I want to pray for any of you who are hurting and wondering why God is letting this happen to you, for any of you who, because of the past are just struggling now to feel God’s love. These aren’t my words, they are the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3.
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:14-21