I didn’t much care for Sunday school when I was a young child as the 1960s came to a close. I’d rather been outside playing ball in the central Florida sunshine. Back in those days they didn’t have VeggieTales, high-tech kids services or lifelike puppets teaching principles of biblical applications. We didn’t have kids Bibles like those produced today-my childhood Bible had micro-thin pages filled with King James English, type the size of credit card fine print, and a handful of pastel pictures commemorating key events such as Noah filling the ark, Samson pushing apart the temple columns, Moses parting the sea and David carrying a lamb. There were drawings of a wispy Jesus sermonizing on the mount, and grandfatherly interpretations of God looking as Methuselah might, surrounded by baby angels strumming harps and floating in clouds. But by God’s grace I did learn a few things and emerged with a child’s somewhat innocent, if not naïve, view of God, His people and His Word.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” 1 Corinthians 13:11
As I grew into adulthood, the cartoonish and childish imagery I associated with Bible characters faded as I began to see them as regular failed human beings used mightily by God. I no longer viewed Noah as a glorified zookeeper, but as a man God used in bigger, complex ways. I learned Samson’s life story was really rated NC-17, that Moses was a severely insecure man who lacked self-confidence, and that David was not only a man after God’s own heart, but a man who failed morally in more ways than one until repenting in anguish before God.
But what of my childlike views of God and Jesus? How had those views matured? Well…not much, really. I still pretty much viewed Jesus as a mystical, ghostly person who I could not in a million years picture as a contemporary in the 20th century, and God as a cosmic Santa Claus who rewarded me when I was good, punished me when I was bad, and wanted me to be little more than a good little boy.
Sadly, many people filling our churches today have misguided, immature views of God-views that if carried into adulthood will eventually lead to frustration, disappointment, and deep disillusionment about the Christian life.
I know what it is to view God as a perfectionistic task master, and to live as a Pharisaical legalist, the prodigal’s elder brother, expecting God to reward me with a specific list of earthly rewards involving success, health, prosperity, and suffering-free comfort if only I would avoid a specific list of God-mandated and/or man-mandated activities and follow the (fill-in-the-blank) denominational speed limits, rules and regulations. And I know what it is to come to the end of this long road after many years and crash into a stone wall built with a lifetime supply of bricks made of self-righteousness, disappointment and anger.
I also know what it is to view God as a casual, grandfatherly friend who isn’t terribly concerned about sin since He’s already forgiven me. I know the seductiveness of living life ignoring God’s stopsigns, living for success, sensuality, and self preservation, following the Bible when it suited me, and my own desires and timetables when it didn’t. And I also know what it is like to come to the end of this road and crash yet again, this time into a web of entanglement, shame and guilt.
It is a difficult and painful thing to come to the realization that God is not like you thought He was, that His purposes are not what you always thought they were, that God is not who you always thought Him to be. And, more pointedly, that God is not as you think He should be. Thankfully, many years ago God broke me and began to mature my understanding of who He truly is.
I’d like to challenge you to take your Bible and study God’s characteristics. “Ascribe to the LORD, O clans of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! 29 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; 30 tremble before him, all the earth; yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. 31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!’” -1 Chronicles 16:28-31
Yes, you’ll find that he is perfectionistic–so much so that even one sin will keep you out of heaven. But he is also loving, so much so that he sent Jesus to suffer a brutal, painful, torturous death so that we could be forgiven, knowing that no amount of legalism can rescue us. You’ll find that he is a grandfatherly friend, and he loves you and accepts you in spite of your sin, but not so that you can somehow enjoy and persevere in your life of sinful devotion to other gods. But just as importantly, if not more so, you’ll find he is a God of great power, the ultimate “shock and awe” of the universe, a majestic, glorious being who created us for one reason: to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever. Not to glorify us. But to glorify Him. And often what glorifies Him the most…glorifies us the least.
Until we view God with a thoroughly biblical understanding, we’ll never be able to truly worship Him in spirit, body and soul. In other words, our lifestyles.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. Ascribe to the LORD, O clans of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! 29 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; 30 tremble before him, all the earth; yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. 31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!” — ESV
(C) 2004 Josh Riley | EMI Christian Music Group. Previously published at worshiptogether.com