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The Character and Nature of God: Who He is and Why it Matters

What you think about God is the single most important thing about you. Moreover, the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God. Is our view of God informed by culture, experience or the Word? Does our theology speak of a God who is both great AND good?

Todd WagnerOct 11, 2009
Psalms 106

Messages In This Series (14)
The Lamb who Came is the Lion who is to Come: The Certainty of Christ's Return and Why it Matters
Todd WagnerDec 13, 2009
Fearfully Made for a Wonderful Purpose: Why You and Your Mission Matter (9 am service)
Nick VujicicDec 6, 2009
Fearfully Made for a Wonderful Purpose: Why You and Your Mission Matter (5:30 pm service)
Nick VujicicDec 6, 2009
Fearfully Made for a Wonderful Purpose: Why You and Your Mission Matter (11 am service)
Nick VujicicDec 6, 2009
Why it Matters that Eternal/Abundant Life Starts Now
Todd WagnerNov 29, 2009
The One Hope for You and for the World: Why it Matters that the Church is Healthy and Defined Correctly
Todd WagnerNov 22, 2009
The Person of the Holy Spirit: Understanding Who He is and Why That Matters
Todd WagnerNov 15, 2009
Salvation: Two Equal and Opposite Errors and Why Getting Them Straight Matters
Todd WagnerNov 8, 2009
Jesus: Who Do You Say He is and Why It Matters
Todd WagnerNov 1, 2009
Understanding Our Total Depravity and Why it Matters
Todd WagnerOct 25, 2009
The Image of God in Man and Why it Matters
Todd WagnerOct 18, 2009
The Character and Nature of God: Who He is and Why it Matters
Todd WagnerOct 11, 2009
Who Is the Trinity, and Why It Matters
Todd WagnerSep 27, 2009
The Truth About Truth: Where to Find it and Why it Matters
Todd WagnerSep 20, 2009

Welcome! As Patrick has already said and as you have already declared to one another and as was just celebrated behind us, we are here to talk about a great God, a God who is so beyond comprehension that we couldn't have invented him if we'd tried, but that's not even the good news. He's a God who is near as well as great, and that's what we're going to talk about today.

If you're here, you're stepping into a little series called The Big XII, and what we're doing is talking about 12 truths that, if you lose touch with any one of these truths, if you compromise on any one of these truths, it's going to cost you more than you could ever imagine, eternally and temporally, forever and today. We're trying to talk about what these truths are, why they matter, and what we're to do if we fully embrace them.

Today, we're talking about God. It's funny. Last night, my little girl just said, "Daddy, what are we talking about at church tomorrow?" and I just said, "God." She goes, "Great! Right. Well, that's good." That's what we're talking about. We are talking about the character and nature of God, the God who is there, the God who is not silent, and the God who is good. Let me pray for us, and then we're going to dive in, okay? We're really glad you're here. What a great Sunday for you to walk in this place and be reminded of truth.

Lord, I thank you just for what we've already sung, what we've observed, what we've already heard, and what we're going to focus on again. I thank you just for the way that, this week, I have been blessed as I've meditated on who you are and how you love me and how you love us and what it is you want us to know about who you are. Help us to hear from you this morning and to not make you a creation of our own imagination but to let you speak for yourself and then to learn to fully respond to it. We thank you, Lord, that you are great and that you are near. Amen.

Well, I want to start with just a collection of sentences and paragraphs from a book by a guy named A.W. Tozer I read a lot because this guy had just a gift with words. He was a teacher, and what he did is he took great truths, and he often synthesized tremendous thought into just simple sentences. He wrote a book called The Knowledge of the Holy, which is not simple. It's one of those books you have to read and reread and go back over, and I do often.

This is one of those books I pull back out every now and then, and I just enjoy and then go back and look at the Scriptures that informed these sentences. He sums up what I really want to say today extremely well in his first six pages of this book, The Knowledge of the Holy, so here comes the executive summary of the first six pages of The Knowledge of the Holy.Check this out first of all.

"What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us." Now a lot of folks just reject that straight out of hand, but I'm going to talk about this morning why we can't do that, and I'm going to tell you that, what we're talking about this morning and the reason it's a big thing, is because what you think about God is the most important thing about you, so Tozer continues.

"The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its…idea of God. […] For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. […] This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God…

Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, 'What comes into your mind when you think about God?' we might predict with certainty the future of that man." Forgive me when you read the word spiritual there because, you know, I just want to tell you, you are not just flesh and blood. You are a spirit, so what you really want to read when you read the word spiritual is the entirety of man, not just the spiritual part of man but the fullness of your life.

He goes on to, "Were we able to know exactly what our most influential religious leaders think of God today, we might be able with some precision to foretell where the Church will stand tomorrow. Without doubt, the mightiest thought the mind can entertain is the thought of God… That our idea of God correspond as nearly as possible to the true being of God is of immense importance to us. Compared with our actual thoughts about Him, our creedal statements are of little consequence."

In other words, it doesn't matter what you say doctrinally. What matters is what you really believe. It doesn't matter what creed we have. It doesn't matter what songs we sing. It doesn't matter even what we meditate on. It's what we really believe about God that matters. "The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is—in itself a monstrous sin—and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness. Always this God will conform to the image of the one who created it…

A god begotten in the shadows of a fallen heart will quite naturally be no true likeness of the true God. […] Before the Christian Church goes into eclipse…" In other words, before something shadows the truth of who God is. "…anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, 'What is God like?' and goes on from there."

What's God like? I mean, who is he? When we start to think about God, all of us default to different things. I mean, there's just the classic idea of God. There is God the cop up there, kind of twirling his little stick and getting ready to clock you upside the head, blow his whistle, write you a ticket, and warn you. That's a rather famous view of God.

The other famous view of God is just that grandpa. "Come on, get up here, boy. I know Mom says you can't do this, but come to Grandpa. Sit in my lap. Let me just love you. Let me just hold you." Man, I love that view of God. That's the good God, the nice God, the gentle God, but you know, Grandpa can't always whup the bad guy. That God leaves me a little wanting.

Probably for me, rather than keep going on with just my imagination, I'll tell you the one I go back to. I go back to a Zeus-like God. The Greeks were trying to figure this world out, so because they did not have the Word of God, because God had not revealed himself in special and specific revelation to them, the Greeks and the Romans and others invented what they thought God was like.

Tozer just did a great job of reminding us what most of us do is we begin then to make God out of our own imagination, and what we typically do is we make him like us. The most powerful of all the gods of these gods that warred with one another was this Zeus, so my God, left to me, is a lot like Zeus.

He's a little bit kinder and not quite as perverted, but I understand why, if you're God, and you want to just go down there and go, "You know, I'm done making my way through all the gods up here in terms of physical relationships. I might every now and then dip down and have some interaction with humans, but I'm basically over the gods. Even now and then, though, I get a little angry, just fire a few lightning bolts just to remind everybody I'm Zeus and keep them in order."

I don't have a very good God. I certainly don't have a God… I mean, Zeus, if you look at him, even if he's a little better, even if he's much improved, he's not somebody you really love. He's moody. He's unpredictable. He is corruptible, and he just changes, so you hope you're on his good side. You hope he's watching over you, but by and large, man, you have to know where the rocks are, so you can duck and hide and make sure you appease him a little bit.

I don't know what your view of God is, but I know what I want your view of God to be. I want you to know God for how he's revealed himself. What I want to tell you is that God is there. He is not silent, and he is good. By the fact that he is there, what I mean is there is a God, and this God idea which exists in every culture everywhere… You're not deluded if you believe in him, and he is great. He's spoken, and he wants you to know him.

Listen to this. This little verse in Romans, chapter 1, summarizes what happens if we lose sight of this. I'll just start. In Romans 1:20, he just says this. This is general revelation. This is just in what we can see. "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse."

We spent some time last week (it's just a little interruption) about all the arguments for existence of God, and they are numerous, and they are overwhelming. You see God's divine nature. You see his eternal power to hold things together. You see his invisible attributes. He's a God of order and a God of grace. In verse 21, what happens is this.

"For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures."

In other words, two things happen. We make God like us. One man said a long time ago, "In the beginning God made man in his image, and we have forever returned the favor." We keep making God in our image, or we make him in the image of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. He's a god who can be tamed. He's a god who can be controlled. He's a god who needs to be fed so he doesn't devour you, but he's not God.

Now here's what I want you guys to realize. When we don't take God for who he is and when we create him in our image, he's always something less than who he was, and we distort and twist the truth. Whenever you move away from light and life and truth and goodness… Do you remember the words of Jesus?

Somebody came to him and said, "Look, I'm not experiencing life to its fullest, and I want to experience life to its fullest." He goes, "Good Teacher…" There are two words in Greek for good. One is intrinsic goodness, completely good, wholly good. The other one is good in part, good in this aspect but not intrinsically good.

All of us are good in part. All of us do good things, even atheists and vile men, even Al-Qaeda. There are things they do at moments in their lives, where we're like, "Now that was good," but they're not intrinsically good. I am not intrinsically good. When we move away from the beauty of who God is…

"And Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call Me good?'""Why do you use the word for intrinsic goodness of me?" Jesus wasn't denying he was intrinsically good. He was just saying, "The reason you're not experiencing life is because you have not recognized that life can be found in me. You have redefined where to find life through rules and religion and order and personal effort, and you lack relationship with me."

He showed him that he loved something more than God, more than him, by telling him, "Why don't you get rid of that which gives you ultimate peace and security? Go sell everything and follow me, and then you'll find that life you're looking for." The guy was grieved because he said, "You're asking me to give up my god, and I don't want to do that." Jesus says, "Okay, then keep being satisfied with a lack of life because you have made God to be something less than he is."

Whenever you move away from God, whenever you make him something else, God doesn't get angry and judge you because you make something else god. The judgment is that you have made something else god. Let me say that again. I said this a year ago when I was doing this little series on worldview. False worldviews, false ideas of truth, false fundamental understandings are not what bring about God's judgment. They are God's judgment.

I'll explain this to you, and I'll show it to you specifically. God revealed himself to man. He was there. He was not silent. He had revealed himself in creation to Adam and Eve. He revealed himself in person. They enjoyed him. They walked with him. God also allowed an Enemy to be present who said, "Don't believe that he is good." From the very beginning, God was a God who wanted a love relationship with us. He revealed his glory in the world he made and in the relationship he had with us and the provision he gave for us.

He said, "I'm going to let you choose to not follow me. I want you to love me, so I'm not going to make you love me. I'm going to give you the choice to not love me if you don't want to. There is an Enemy who doesn't think I am God or doesn't think I am good, and he's going to tell you to follow him, but don't. Trust me. Everything you need is here. I am good. That's the only thing you need to know. You don't need to know all other kinds of good and evil. You need to know me. I am good. If you know me, you know everything you need to know. You don't want to mess with evil."

We bought the lie that God was not good, that his word was not trustworthy, and redefining God and finding life somewhere else was not going to really cost us that much, and off we went. Look where Romans goes next. It says, "Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them."

One of the very first places we run when we leave God and we go to find goodness in our own ways is we think what we love, what we want must be where life is, so the first place we go is in our perversions. We follow our appetites in every which way. That's what happens here. It just says:

"For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator [God] …" Saying, "I'll do what I think is good." "…who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions…" It's the first place we go. It says,

"…for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind…"

The second place we go, other than chasing our just crazy passions, is we start to trust our crazy minds. Let me remind you what Tozer said. He just says that, when man sets out to make God in his own image from his fallen, shadow heart, quite naturally comes no true likeness of God at all, so we start to imagine that God is something else, and we come up with this pantheon of gods.

Watch what it says. "…God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips…" That's the way to get ahead: talk poorly about others so people love you more than they love them.

"…slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil…" This sounds like my resume. "…disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them."

That is where we are. That is basically what happens in a world that moves away from God. Now, these things may not come up in full force and be fully present all the time, but it's where we move, and it's where our society has been moving, not just for the last couple of decades but for thousands of years, all the way from Eden, except for those whom God has called back.

In his goodness, he pursues and reveals himself to them, and there's a remnant that realizes the futility of their way and has repented, has accepted God's provision, and has let God once again speak into their lives and does not follow their depraved minds but lets the mind of God revealed by the Spirit of God who knows the very heart of God, tell them who he is. Who is this God, and why does it matter? This is our God. I just sat down, and I hate that I even tried, but I just took ones that I could trace directly back to Scripture.

Here's what I would tell you. God is light. God is love. God is invisible. God is unsearchable. God is incorruptibly eternal, immortal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, immutable, wise, glorious, kind, faithful, just, impartial, upright, righteous, good, great, merciful, longsuffering, compassionate, capable, Creator, sovereign, Preserver, Provider, Defender, everlasting, patient, incomparable, inscrutable, unchangeable, infinite, unequaled, forgiving, gracious. He's PERFECT. He's TRUE. There is no defect in him, and he is HOLY.

Really, those last three, I put in all caps because all they do is define everything about who God is. The Bible says God is love, but don't confuse this. Love is not God. God is so much more than love, but if you want to know what love is in its fullest expression, if you want to know what holy and perfect and true and uncompromising, relenting love is, it's God. The word holy is a word that defines and describes an attribute. Therefore, when you say God is holy, he is all that is completely and fully and perfect and good, and there is no defect in him.

When you forget God and redefine him, it opens up every bit of trouble in your life. Psalm 106, if you've been working through the journey with us, is a little psalm that talks about this, and it just says really what Romans 1 says. All Paul did in Romans 1 is just extrapolate into his world Psalm 106. Psalm 106, verses 1-2, says this. "Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting."

Then it goes on, and then in verse 6, it says, "We have sinned like our fathers…" In verse 7, it tells you how our fathers sinned. "…they did not remember Your abundant kindnesses…" Verses 8 through 12 talk about all that God did despite what men did in forgetting him, but in verse 13, it says, "They quickly forgot…." In verse 21, it says, "They forgot God their Savior…" Verse 24 says, "…they did not believe in His word…" Verse 25 says, "…they did not listen to the voice of the Lord." Verse 15 says, "So He gave them their request…"

What'd they want? They wanted to follow their depraved passions. They wanted to follow their depraved minds. That's Psalm 106. It says God gave them that, but what God does in his love is, as it says in this great verse I quote to myself all the time, verse 15 in Psalm 106… "So He gave them their request, but sent a wasting disease among them."

Hey, if you're here this morning and you want to know why you're not experiencing life to its fullest, I'm here to tell you why. There's a wasting disease among you. I like what some other translations have said. A literal translation of a wasting disease among them is that he "…sent leanness into their soul."

If you want to understand this fully, you have to understand what evil is. Now, we think of two different things when we think of evil. What we really think of and what we're focused on is a secondary cause of evil, but it's the same word. The word in Hebrew is translated two ways. It's translated as evil, and it's translated as disaster, suffering.

What you and I really hate is not primary evil, which is moral evil, which is to say, "God is not good. Something else is good." What you and I hate is secondary evil. I hate the consequence of that choice. I hate suffering. I hate death. I hate loneliness. I hate betrayal. I hate gossip. I hate slander. I hate heterosexual perversion. I hate homosexual perversion.

I was talking to a buddy this week whose neighbor was just in the middle of some real, real suffering, and his family was falling apart. His kids were suffering. He was suffering. His wife was suffering because of choices that were going on, and we just walked through this together. At one point, he said, "I just wanted to go over there. I just wanted to kick that door down. I wanted to grab him. I wanted to pull him out. He is sitting there in isolation, in loneliness, in darkness and death, and I wanted him out," and he didn't. He couldn't.

A little bit later, that guy came out in handcuffs, kids devastated, wife scarred, and he continued to live in a way that seemed right to him. In the end, it cost him more than we can imagine. I talked to my buddy, and I just said, "Look, your wanting to enter into that darkness and your hating…" He just said to me, "I hate sin. I hate it, and I tried to tell my neighbor, 'That was me two years ago. I was in isolation. I was in darkness. I was in despair. I was locked up, and the grace of God came in, and he did kick through my hard heart and pulled me out.'"

Now part of what's going on in this neighbor's heart, we hope, and maybe what's going on in the leanness of your soul and by the grace of God is you've not been led out of your darkness in handcuffs yet, but it's coming… "A man who hardens his neck after much reproof Will suddenly be broken beyond remedy." It's coming, and if you try and find goodness apart from God, you're going to find yourself suffering, and you're going to hate suffering, and you're going to shake your fist at God.

This is what the Scripture says in Proverbs 19, verse 2, it says, "Also it is not good for a person to be without knowledge, and he who hurries his footsteps errs." Meaning, if you try to decide what is good quickly without really listening and humbling yourself, you have trouble. In verse 3, it goes on in Proverbs 19 to say this. "The foolishness of man ruins his way, and his heart rages against the Lord."

Do you know what this is saying? What this is saying is that, when you try and find good apart from God, when you live without knowledge and the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord and the beginning of knowledge is understanding, when you say, "I reject God for who he is. I'll make him in my own imagine," then you have a bill to pay.

Jeremiah talks about this in verse 17 of chapter 11. It says, " [God] …has pronounced evil against you because of the evil of the house of Israel…" The reason I share with you Jeremiah 11:17 is because it uses the word there twice. It's the exact same word, the beginning and the secondary one, and what it says is that God has pronounced evil.

In other words, the consequence of moving away from him is that you will get what you get when you move away from him. God cannot offer you life apart from who he is or in something else because life does not exist apart from God or in something else, so he says he has pronounced evil on you because you have chosen evil, which is to say you've missed who God is, so you seek something else, and you make something else your god.

God is good. If there are two verses I go to again and again that I've memorized and meditate on that define who God is, they're Psalm 16, verse 11, and Psalm 84, verse 11. I am constantly reminding myself of these verses. Psalm 16, verse 11 says, "You will make known to me the path of life…" In other words, "This is where I'm going to find life." "…in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever."

Now look, even in my depraved mind, that's what I want. I want pleasures forever. I want fullness of joy, and God's saying, "Guess what? That's okay. What's not okay is where you will go to get it." He is there. He is not silent, and he is good. He wants you to experience fullness of joy, but God cannot give you joy where joy cannot be found.

I've read this to you recently. I'll give it to you again. Psalm 84, verse 11: "For the Lord God is a sun and shield…" Another way to say it is, "He is a provider and protector." I love that. "The Lord gives grace and glory…" Then it goes on to say. "…no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly." Which is to say, those who understand God for who he is and enjoy him. People who understand this are people who can even embrace secondary evil, which is to say, "The consequences of choosing apart from God are suffering."

Howard Hendricks, who some of you guys might know… He's been a mentor to many, many Christian leaders around the world. Howard was in India at one point, and he went to a leper colony. He walked into this leper colony, and they were beginning a worship service. I wrote down these words because it struck him.

This woman stood up there with a disfigured face and her hands that were, you know, missing digits, and she raised her hands, and she says, "I want to praise God that I am a leper because it was through my leprosy that I came to know Jesus Christ as my Savior. And I would rather be a leper who knows Christ than be completely whole and a stranger to His grace."

Do you know why God allows this world to experience the consequence of rejecting who he is? He wants you to hate sin, and God is indiscriminate in his hatred of sin. If you have been driving west on I-30 lately, you know you've seen the little billboard, and the billboard says, "Would Jesus Discriminate?" You can go to the website, and you can find out that it's folks who are just trying to say, "Hey, Jesus doesn't discriminate against any individual. Why would we?"

It really is a whole website that's filled with propaganda and stuff that talks about how we ought to love like Jesus loved and, therefore, accept folks who make certain choices with lifestyles. I want to tell you something. I agree with the sign. Jesus does not discriminate. He hates anything that hurts us. He hates my heterosexual perversion. He hates homosexual perversion. He hates perversion. Do you know why?

It's for the same reason my buddy said this week, "I wanted to go over there and get him out of that darkness, that isolation. I wanted to get him out of that prison of self-will because it's hurting him and it's causing him to be handcuffed in a way that, as a father who loves him would, I don't want him to be." God hates slander. God hates gossip. God hates pride. God hates a lack of kindness. God hates anything that isn't consistent with his character and nature, and he is indiscriminate in his hatred of it. This is who he is. He is good, and he is great, and he is sovereign.

Now let me just tell you why this is a big deal. Man, there are so many places I could go with this, but what I want to really do today is just take a moment and just talk to you about what's going to happen if you compromise on any of these truths about who God is. If you don't acknowledge God's perfection, then what's going to happen is you're going to try and appease him, satisfy him like you do a mere mortal or an enemy.

In other words, if you don't understand how holy and infinite God is, one of the problems will be is you'll think you can earn his affection, love, and approval through your best effort, so you'll invent a religion that will have you do certain things and avoid certain other things over a period of time, where certain behaviors will outweigh other behaviors. You're going to show up before God with a resume, and it's going to cost you forever because you redefined God and you made him satisfied with less than what satisfies God.

You'll find yourself guilty before a perfect and holy God, unable to save yourself. What's at stake in compromising the character and nature of God is not just the fact that we would live in this life now with less than the fullness that he wants us to live with, but it will cost us separation with him forever because this entire life is a life where God is letting us experience the secondary cause of evil, which is suffering and disaster and loss so we would long for what is whole and perfect and true.

If you reject it and you continue to suppress the truth of who God is, there's going to be a day where God will forever give you the ability to have what you think is right, which is your own best effort and the fruits and consequences of it. If you want nothing to do with the God who is, then he will put you in a place and allow you to live forever in a place without any evidence there is a God, and that's what he says is coming.

Why does it matter that you define God as holy and fully and truly as he has revealed himself? It's because your eternity is at stake. I think about different faith systems, and I just compared how we view God, how the Bible reveals God, and how even like Islam views God, and you're going to see it changes the course about everything.

I already talked about the very nature and character of God and that love and community and submission and care are eternally a part of who he is in our monotheistic understanding of who God is in his Trinitarian revelation of himself, but the Muslim god doesn't have that. He is singular; therefore, love is not something that is core to his very essence.

In the Islamic god, he desires affliction for those who have sinned, and he's a god of wrath and judgment. He's also not somebody who is consistent because he's not going to necessarily be somebody whom you can know how he's going to act. It's a little bit like Zeus. What do you do? Their whole worldview is based upon their good deeds outweighing their bad deeds.

What God says is, "You have to understand this. Once you are not perfect, you have forever separated yourself from me, so I don't want your deeds. Your best deeds are as filthy rags. I want your acknowledging that you have left me, and I want you to accept my provision for your imperfection because I'm an eternal God, so there needs to be an eternal sacrifice that completely satisfies me." It costs us everything.

I like the comment that, if you don't acknowledge God's perfection, then what's going to happen… So many of us do this. We're not Muslims, but what we are is we view God like an insurance policy. We pay our premiums, and we believe it's going to protect us from harm. We go to church. We do good things. We stay married. We avoid the bad things. We give, and we think somehow it's going to protect us in this life.

God says, "No. In this life, I might even let you experience suffering so others can see that what you love is not the blessing of this life but what you love is me." If you have a view of God that, if you serve him, you're going to be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous; if you make God out to be somebody you pay your policy premium to so he doesn't blow up your bakery like Al Capone, then you have defined God wrongly, and when trouble comes, you're not going to be prepared for it.

I love this little section here by a guy named James Montgomery Boice who was a good Presbyterian pastor in Philadelphia for many years. In May of 2000, he explained to his body that he had been diagnosed with liver cancer, and this is what he said. He said, "Should you pray for a miracle? Well you are free to do that, of course." This is his talking to his body.

"My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles—and he certainly can—is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. So although miracles do happen, they're rare by definition. A miracle has to be an unusual thing. […] Above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn't by delivering Jesus from the cross, though he could have."

Boice said, "God is in charge. When things like this come into our lives, they are not accidental. It's not as if God somehow forgot what was going on, and something bad slipped by. […] God is not only the one who is in charge; God is also good. Everything he does is good. […] If God does something in your life, would you change it? If you'd change it, you'd make it worse. It wouldn't be as good."

If you've been around the problem of evil for long, you've heard of a gal named Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni was a beautiful young girl connected with a little high school youth group in ministry who, living on the East Coast, dove into the surf, hit her head in a perfect way that cracked her little spine, and she became a quadriplegic for life. Joni Eareckson Tada said this. "God may not initiate all our troubles, but by the time they reach us, they are his will for us."

What she says is, "I don't want to be a quadriplegic, but I want to live underneath the knowledge of a great and good God, a sovereign, good God." That's Boice. By the way, eight weeks after Boice read that to his congregation, he was dead…eight weeks. Joni Eareckson Tada is still in a wheelchair today, but her life is marked by joy and peace that those of us who have immense health and immense wealth and prosperity, most of us, do not know. Why? We don't know God like Joni.

If you are here this morning in your Mercedes and not in your wheelchair, if you're here this morning in your health and not in your sickness, if you are here in your marriage and not in your divorce but you don't know God, you don't know joy. If you don't know the sovereignty of God, you don't know peace. You know, I mentioned a few weeks ago that my son, who was the picture of health, woke up, and his whole left side was weak, and he couldn't run anymore. He just kind of dragged along.

I had not read this thing by Boice yet, but in my e-mails, I just said, "Look, you know, certainly in my limited understanding, I don't want my son to continue to move more and more toward what to me looks like unhealth, but what I really want is for you to pray we would be faithful in whatever God gives and he would give my young son the heart to be able to accept the lot in life which a good God has let come upon him this day."

Now, for whatever reason, it didn't last long with him, and his body recovered. After all the MRIs and all the echocardiograms and all this, we can't figure it out. All we know is, for five days, he was like a man with a stroke. I wanted to let you know I rejoice, not because Cade can run again. I rejoice because I lived in peace during that time, knowing that God was good, just like Boice, just like Joni. God only trusted me with five days, and I marvel at those who he trusts with a lifetime.

I marvel at Angela Andrews, the way she deals with blindness and the loss of a kidney and all that's befallen her, and she says, "God is good. I learned from the leper, and the world needs to learn from us." If you don't get your arms around who God is, not only will you try and appease him in a way he can't be appeased, but you will live in fear. You have no other option but to be a control freak because you have to protect yourself from horrors that could come.

You'll live with anxiety. You'll live with fear. You'll live with depression. You'll live with worry. All of those are elements in our lives when we don't get the God question right. That really bothers people when they hear that. It offends people and discourages them. Can I say that it doesn't discourage you to hear that as much as it discourages God that you are locked up in your despair?

He wants to call you out, and he wants to give you freedom. He wants to give you peace. He wants to heal the brokenhearted. He wants to give you rest. He wants to give you life, but you have to accept him for who he is and not what you make him out to be. He is a sovereign, great, and near and present good God, and he loves you.

We're going to stand, and we're going to sing a song. We're going to do it differently than we have, and the song talks about how, when you understand God for who he is, then you can always bless his name, and you can celebrate him for who he is. I was talking to one of the friends who was here this morning who is going to do this with us because, in the midst of the song, we're going to just back off from singing, and I'm going to let members of our body just look you in the eye and talk to you.

I just said to her, "Hey, thank you so much for coming and just reminding us how good God is," and she said, "How could I not?" I said, "Well, my prayer is that, because you will this morning, many of us will more fully throughout this week." Here's how I want to start this song. I want to ask you to stand, and we're going to read maybe the first few verses of Psalm 103 together. Then we're going to live this song out with one another. Psalm 103, verses 1 through 8, let me read it to you:

"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; who pardons all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle. The Lord performs righteous deeds and judgments for all who are oppressed. He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel. The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness."

When you say, "Bless the Lord," what you're saying is, "Let me ascribe to him what is due his name. He is great, and he is good, and he is worthy to be praised." Let's sing and learn and remind ourselves together that great truth now. Here we go.

[Song]

Blessed Be Your Name

In the land that is plentiful

Where Your streams of abundance flow

Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name

When I'm found in the desert place

Though I walk through the wilderness

Blessed Be Your name

[Song pauses]

Leslie: Hi! My name is Leslie, and I'm just a girl who's madly and passionately in love with an awesome God. He pursued me like a king pursues a princess. He forgave me of my sins, and he washed me clean, and I know he loves me. I lived a life full of darkness. Growing up, I put my significance in what men thought of me and found my identity in them, and that led me to a promiscuous lifestyle.

That promiscuous lifestyle led to pregnancies, and those pregnancies led to abortions. I know now that God was with me the whole time, and he forgives me, and he's given me a purity that I didn't know I could have, and I know that he has those children with him in heaven because he loves them too. God is good.

Adam: My name is Adam. I grew up in a Christian home. I grew up going to church and a local parachurch, a Christian camp in the summer…was very blessed at a young age to be surrounded by a number of godly men that invested in my life and the lives of my friends. At age 13, I put my trust in Christ. That was 16 years ago.

For 16 years, he has been incredibly faithful to me. As I have had circumstantial difficulties and as my flesh continues to war within me, he's sustained me for 16 years, and what's crazy to me is that I know the depravity of my heart, and I know what my flesh longs to do, but by his grace and by his mercy he's allowed me to be a part of what he's doing in this world in the lives of people, so I just want to say today that Christ has changed my life, and I love him.

[Song continues]

Every blessing You pour out

I'll turn back to praise

When the darkness closes in, Lord

Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord

Blessed be Your name

Blessed be the name of the Lord

Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name

When the sun's shining down on me

When the world's 'all as it should be'

Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name

On the road marked with suffering

Though there's pain in the offering

Blessed be Your name

[Song pauses]

Chris: Hi! We're the Uptons. Our lives started out, and we were really far from God. I mean, all through our youth, it was basically characterized by darkness. If you name it, it's been in our lives as far as addiction to drugs, sexual proclivities, promiscuity, infidelity in our marriage…just as far away from God as you could possibly be, and that separateness just drove us into despair, depression, anxiety, and just lots of fear. It's just a life culminating in fear.

You know, we went through separation, multiple separations. I ended up here in Dallas, and after about two years of separation, I got involved here at Watermark with a strong conviction to get a divorce, and the only reason we hadn't gotten a divorce is because we couldn't afford it, and through a Community Group and their love and encouragement and pushing me into God's Word, I began to stand on that line of reconciliation, and I began to believe in God's Word where he says he hates divorce.

Chris' wife: Even from hundreds of miles away, the transformation in this man's life was undeniable, and I couldn't deny it, so I began to pray on what God's will was, not my own will, and that was really hard to really put everything aside from the past and say, "God, what do you want?" and, through that obedience, I made the decision to come here. Chris and I laugh about it because we really didn't like each other, but we loved God, and we knew that he had a bigger plan for our lives.

When I got here, just the community of God's people that have touched our lives and loved on us, through the work through re|engage… You know it's not a perfect picture. We're about six months into it, and we fight and bicker all the time, but we're getting stronger through God and his greatness, and we know that it's a blessing just to be under the same roof, and we're just grateful, and we're here to say that God is good to bring our family back together.

[Song continues]

Every blessing You pour out, I'll

Turn back to praise

When the darkness closes in, Lord

Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord

Blessed be Your name

Blessed be the name of the Lord

Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be the name of the Lord

Blessed be Your name

Blessed be the name of the Lord

Blessed be Your glorious name

[Song pauses]

Karen: Hi! My name is Karen, and this is my husband, Jay. On March tenth, I was 28 weeks pregnant with our second son, J.P. That morning, I was in a major car wreck and went to the hospital, and everything was supposed to be okay. At 2:00 a.m., March eleventh, everything was no longer okay, and as the doctors and nurses rushed me to the operating room, I broke down, and I cried, and I prayed that God's will be done, and I prayed that he'd give me a happy, healthy baby boy but that his will be done, and no matter the outcome, I asked for peace.

When I woke up, I looked at Jay, and I knew what he was going to say before he spoke. I knew our little J.P. had not survived, and I prayed again, "God, give me peace," and God answered both of my prayers. He couldn't give me a happy, healthy baby boy, so he took him to a place where, for all eternity, he would be happy and healthy.

Miraculously, he gave me a peace, so I could continue on, and then he gave me something even greater. He gave me his body of believers who came around me and my family during that time, who prayed with us, who loved us and walked with us through the hardest trial of our lives, and through that, I can stand here today and say, "Blessed be the name of the Lord" because I know that my God is good. I know that he has a perfect plan for my life, and I know I'll stand with my son one day in heaven and praise his name.

Jay: My name is Jay. I grew up unchurched, an atheist. I hadn't been in church four times by the time I graduated college. I was the kind of guy who, in a bar in college, would find the Christian kid, and I'd have a lot more facts than he did. I'd tell him why he was wrong and he didn't know as much as me about the things we were talking about.

Through Karen and through, eventually, Watermark, five years ago I came to an intellectual relationship with Christ through Explorer Groups, through reading, just through opening my heart finally and meditating on the truth, and on March tenth, that changed. It was no longer in my head. It was no longer an intellectual relationship. It was in my heart.

God came down in the worst moment of my life, and through friends, through community, through what seemed coincidental at the time but a study of Job in men's Bible study, through everything, God appeared in front of me, and I personally met God, and he was in my life right in front of me through everyone, and I'm just here to tell you that God is good, and he's there to hold you, and he's there to do those things for you, and he's there to be your friend just as he was there for me, even though I railed against him my entire life.

[Song continues]

You give and take away

You give and take away

My heart will choose to say

Lord, blessed be Your name

You give and take away

You give and take away

My heart will choose to say

Lord, blessed be Your name

Blessed be the name of the Lord

Blessed be Your name

Blessed be the name of the Lord

Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be the name of the Lord

Blessed be Your name

Blessed be the name of the Lord

Blessed be Your glorious name

[End of song]

Todd Wagner: Here's the deal. It's that the world was not here this morning, but that God has called you to go out in the world, you who understand this big truth that God is good and that you don't have to appease him through works, you don't have to stay up all night and control your lives, you don't have to protect yourselves from harm. You can't, but you can seek him.

You can celebrate him, and you can serve him, and you can enjoy him forever. There's the application. If you're here this morning and you don't know God, your first application is, "Come to him. Get to know this God who I've spoken of this morning, who gives peace that passes understanding, who redeems your life from the pit."

If you know him, if you have sought him in brokenness, then you go tell. You celebrate him. You enjoy him. You be like Adam from 13 to 29 and say, "He has walked with me, and it is good. Let me tell you of my God. He is great and worthy to be praised!" That is your job, church.

If you have this big truth fully in your heart, then you must go, and you must sing because there is a world that was not here this morning that needs to hear your story of hope in the midst of hopelessness. If you don't know God, you have no hope, but if you do, may your tongue speak of his excellencies and greatness forever. Worship him and have a great week doing it. We'll see you.


About 'The Big XII'

"This series will cover twelve truths that if you don?t get exactly right, the ramifications and the impact on your life will be enormous. They matter today and eternally. If you want to call yourself an orthodox follower of Christ, these are truths that you cannot miss. These are twelve central, non-negotiable principles of theology and we will discuss what it means to embrace them, the alternatives to them, as well as the application of them. In other words, what it should look like when devoted, orthodox followers of Christ live them out." Todd Wagner