This last week was filled with awe and wonder of a mighty God. You might think that means everything was great, but I can tell you my emotional pendulum swung about as far in both directions as it could get. I experienced extreme highs and extreme lows in the span of 24 hours, along with pretty much everything in between. There was one constant however, and that was God’s hand in it all! At one point, as I was reflecting on all that was going on, I heard God say to me very clearly, “People need to hear about me.” I knew immediately that He longed for us to understand the truth of His character amidst the sea of false impressions in the world around us. At perhaps one of the lowest points in his life, King David proclaimed, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” in order to make sure the true character of God wasn’t lost in the middle of his dire circumstance (Psalm 34:8). My prayer is that you come to understand that truth today as well.
I’d like to share what sparked this line of thinking in the first place. I’m not a comic fan, but I happened to read a review on “Deadpool,” the newest movie in Marvel’s long line of cinematic remakes. Not knowing much about the main character, I quickly picked up on the fact that his demeanor is a bit more “off color” and crass than your typical superhero. This translated into a movie with graphic violence, strong sexual content and crude language earning it an “R” rating. It was absolutely not recommended for children, and the reviewer even commented that much of it may not even be recommended for adults! Shortly after reading the review, I saw some people commenting on social media about how incredible the movie was, and they couldn’t wait to go see it again. My heart sank. I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad who has seen the movie or even enjoyed it; that’s really not my business. What made my heart sink was that to these people, two hours of “entertainment” with explicit content was the noteworthy news, and they felt compelled to share it with the world. I don’t blame them however, nor am I offended, but instead, I blame the one that has propagated a false portrayal of who God is from the beginning of time: Satan. I for one think it is high time we begin to paint the real picture of God to those around us!
I want you to stop for a moment and think about what comes to mind when you hear the phrase “the things of God.” Is it activities like reading the Bible, following rules, kneeling to pray, or going to church? Or is it characteristics of a loving Father with stories of miracles? The former list of things can be a pathway to helping you establish a relationship with God, but there needs to be a deeper understanding in order to find the person of God that David insisted was so good. As I illustrated in my message Circles a couple weeks ago, we have to go beyond our first impressions and the things we’ve been told to really get to know someone, and this is just as true with the Lord.
I want to unpack my week for you, but first I have to share the brief back-story of a miracle that took place in our personal finances last year. God provided a way for my wife and me to eliminate twenty percent of our mortgage balance in literally, the blink of an eye. We had been in prayer for how to pay down this debt, and God showed up big time! The only drawback presented to us at the time was the possibility of us owing a decent chunk of change to the friendly IRS come tax time. Now, fast-forward to this week:
I had just read the review on the movie “Deadpool,” and my heart was heavy from all the comments that were singing its praises. Things were about to get far worse however, as I sat in my accountant’s office. The news I feared was a possibility became a reality: Uncle Sam wanted his money and several thousand at that! The problem was, we didn’t have that money to give because being in the throes of starting a new church had left things a bit tight. Needless to say, the rest of the day was overshadowed by a pretty heavy cloud of negative emotions as I grappled with what to do next. I didn’t understand how the miracle from last year could have a not-so-happy ending. “Ok God, where are you?”
I received a message from a dear friend that her father’s battle with cancer was coming to an end, and she asked if I could visit him. This man was also a friend of mine for many years, and I had been visiting the last several months to help him prepare for this moment. “Ok God, this would be a great time for you to show up and do something big.”
I got to spend about an hour with my friend praying over him and asking the Lord to bless him and receive him. Although he couldn’t speak, it was apparent he knew I was there, and he was ready to go home. Perhaps the most amazing part was the conversation I was able to have with his wife shortly afterwards, where she shared how much love they had been surrounded by and that there was absolutely no anger, regret, or blame to speak of. I’ll never forget that in the midst of such a painful time, she couldn’t say enough of how blessed their life had been. Even in his struggling body, I found out that my friend had the strength to take his family by the hand and pray God’s protection over them. “Ok God, I’m beginning to see who You truly are. You aren’t rules and regulations, but a Father to lean on.”
King David understood the power of leaning into God when he wrote “Taste and see that the Lord is good” because in the second half of Psalm 34:8 he writes, “blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”
The phone call came later that evening. Surrounded by his family, my friend had gone home to be with the Lord. “Ok God. Thank you that there is no more suffering and his refuge was in You.”
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7
The apostle Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, wrote these words intentionally knowing that you cannot substitute any earthly thing for the Lord in this passage. Bible reading, praying, rules, even church cannot take the place of the person God. If we are to truly understand “the things of God” we cannot insert anything in His place. We have to allow Him to work in the tough times and resist blaming Him for the hurt, so the fullness of who He is comes to light. An example of this could not have come sooner.
The accountant calls me in the morning and says, “Joe! Are you sitting down?” I replied with a nervous yes. He proceeds to tell me that his assistant found a clause in the tax law that applies directly to our circumstance. Not only do we no longer owe the IRS thousands, we are actually going to get a return this year! After I picked my jaw up off the floor and thanked my accountant over and over, I reflected on how quickly I had dismissed all the work God had done the previous year simply because my circumstances appeared to have changed. “Ok God. I’m sorry I jumped the gun and doubted You.”
He just wasn’t done with the miracle that was started last year, and He wanted to point out that time is only an issue for me, not Him. His work spans days, weeks, months, years, and even generations. From financial miracles to preparing the heart of one of his children to come home, God never ceases to be good no matter how long it takes for us to recognize it.
As I spent a few hours with my friends who had just lost their beloved husband, father, and friend, I couldn’t help but smile at the wonderful person of God. He’s not an ideology made up from our own experiences and personal preferences, or a mythical figure from a distant time. He’s not a building or a list of ten commandments. He’s a person, three actually- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I don’t pretend to know how, but I do feel confident as to why – so we can truly know Him. “Ok God. Thank you.”
Why start with the story of a crude comic book movie? Because the pendulum has swung away from talking about “the things of God” in our lives, and I wanted to point out just how far. I’m not saying movies are bad, and I’m a firm believer that God provides many forms of entertainment simply for our pleasure! However, we can’t embrace the things that bring absolutely no honor to God. When placed against the backdrop of our lives, such things are irrelevant and do nothing to turn our attention to Him. When the end comes, I guarantee the things we put above God will not be there for us; yet we continue to praise them. I can’t wait for the day when we no longer desire the counterfeit over the real, or the entertainment of one hour over the One and Only.
The disciple John testified that if all the things Jesus had done were written down, the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written (John 21:25). That is the same truth when it comes to the work of God in our individual lives, should we allow that story to be told! The challenge is in the fact that it’s only a story that can be heard if we choose to tell it. Although my week traversed a crazy ridge of emotions from Monday to Friday, I pray that by sharing with you, the truth of who God is was heard loud and clear.
As Paul finishes his encouragement to the church in Philippi, he gives them a key that I’ll leave with you to make sure “the things of God” shine in your life and become a beacon of hope to those around you.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9