The Deep: Big God . . . Little Me
We are in the second part of a series, The Deep. It is about how big God is, how awesome God is and how we only know a remnant about God. I want to thank you all for being here today, word must have gotten out that we serve cookies and milk for communion. It’s good to see you. We had fun last week, didn’t we? I will tell you, a little warning, last week I showed you my bottle of the ocean that I got from the gulf; it’s missing. Please don’t drink it. There was a BP incident and Katrina. I have a new water bottle today.
We are in this series called The Deep. In the bible, more than any other earthly illustration, God is compared to water, God is the ocean, God is the sea, God is a raging river, God is a still water, a pond. I love that it is something we can identify with. We have this image of God and water. We see this.
It’s an interesting thing, because we see this image. You’ve heard me talk about God’s image. Rabbi Zedek, in Kansas City, equates God to the ocean and we are in a boat. And all we can see is ocean. We can see no land at all. He gives us this beautiful image, and I’ve used it before. If God is this ocean, then we are the waves. When Rabbi Zedek tells the story he talks about the movement of the ocean, and how the waves come out of the ocean to crash on the shore; they make a large sound, some larger than others. Then we sink back into the ocean. He says, “We think about God being the ocean and we are the waves. We emerge from God’s presence, we are here on earth.” We bask in the sun/Son and beat on the shore, some of us louder than others. And then occasionally, well inevitably, we shrink back into God’s presence. We pass and we spend eternity with God. And folks, eternity means? … Without beginning and without end. We come from God’s presence, we bask in his sun/Son and we return to God’s presence. That’s the awesomeness of God.
Now, this past year I took off the week after Christmas and New Year’s. We did Christmas Eve services, we had a Sunday morning, and then we took the family down to Dolphin Island in Alabama. I shared an entire house with my in-laws. There were eighteen of us in there: brother-in-law, sister-in-law, nieces, nephews, my own kids and Colleen’s parents. There is nothing like a houseful to make you realize how small you really are. There’s nothing like being the “In-Law” to make you feel insignificant. So for me to escape, for me to breath, I‘d go out and sit on the beach. I’d watch the sun rise, I’d enjoy it.
It was not my bed, and I don’t sleep well when it is not my bed so I’d wake up. I’d see the sunrise and once I took this picture right before sunrise. I also took a panoramic of the entire beach from the east to the west there on Dolphin Island. I was in heaven. I sat there in amazement of God, and amazement of the beauty of the creation around me. Then a storm hit. It was big a storm. It got cloudy and it got nasty. It forced me to go inside again, to feel insignificant, and to feel small. When you look at the video that we started with, when you sit on a beach, or when you are in a boat in the middle of a lake, in the middle of the night when you can see all of the stars, when you are on the mountain tops, of Colorado, Utah, maybe in the Black Hills of North and South Dakota, have you ever felt very, very small?
It’s interesting, because I think that is sometimes when the images of God, the vastness of God as we talked about last week, that Moses got an attribute of God that buckled his knees, comes to us. God told us we couldn’t handle the truth. When we ask God, “Reveal your whole self, let us know everything about you”, God says, “You can’t handle it. I will give you an attribute; I will give you these windows to glimpse through to see me. You’ll never know me fully until the afterlife. Then you can comprehend me. Then you can understand.”
I think people look at this, and they look at God and see how big he is. I think church folks have it wrong. They call the lost those people who aren’t here today. I think sometimes we feel lost. We feel insignificant. If you recognize God’s awesomeness it is easy to feel lost. Some of us might say, why go to God with my concern, with my illness? Why go to God with my loss, why go to God with the things that are happening in my life that I just don’t feel right about? Because, look at everybody else’s problems. Look at the things going on in the world. Mine is just insignificant.
Has anyone ever thought that way? Why bother God, because God has his hands full? See I think that sometimes even the powerful people that we read about in the bible, are honestly were just like you and me. That’s what I love about the bible; it is filled with screw-ups. So these people, even though they made the bible, they are part of God’s family photo album in the bible, they are glimpses and stories of people who had flaws. David had flaws. He was the king of Israel, but he had to fight for it. He was anointed but he had flaws. He depicts this when he’s writing in Psalms 33, verse 7; he says this. ‘He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses.’ I asked you last week (holds up water bottle) if this was the ocean and you said yes. I asked if it was the whole ocean and you said no. I compared this bottle to an attribute, or just a sliver of God, that God has used to show himself to me. Here is a God that can put the whole ocean into a jar, the entire ocean into storehouses. It gives us an understanding that seventy one percent of the world could be encompassed in something that God could hold. How small are we? I’m kind of glad the video went into us, because then I had a little more self confidence. There is more to me than I knew about. I’m bigger than I think I am, and in this whole complex world, solar system, and creation of God, I am more. But there are times in our lives that we feel very, very small.
Last week we spoke about how we try to fit God into our concept, our sliver of who God is, and now we read that God can take an ocean and put it into jars. Francis Chan, is one of my favorite authors. In his book, Crazy Love, he says, “We worship a God who we cannot exaggerate.” Let’s look at that. When my mother was alive, when she told a story, she could exaggerate. In fact, I had to do a paper in my freshman year in college on my genealogy. My professor called me in and said, “This stuff isn’t true.” I said, “I interviewed my Mom.”
But, we worship a God that we cannot exaggerate. We cannot even think about the limits of God, because God has no limits. So our conclusions are that because God is so big, we must be small and that is uncomfortable. Because we like big! I mean, ever since 7-Eleven invented the “Big Gulp”, we’ve always gone for “Super Size” now haven’t we? We’ve always had to go bigger, go larger. What is it? Go big or….go home! We think in super size terms, we think in big terms, we think of those things. We don’t like to be called small. In fact, some of you have heard me say that we are big ol’ stinkin’ fish, right? Yet God uses us. We don’t like this concept of being small.
We live in a time when we promote personality and self esteem. I’ve read this book called, Grit to Great. Not “Good to Great” it is called “Grit to Great”. It says that we have failed our nation in the last couple of decades by doing personality tests. I never liked the personality tests, because it told me I didn’t have one. Someone got that. And by these personality tests, if you fit in an MDXL or ABCD, or ZDX9, that you would be better for this. I have to be honest with you, I know some of you think this, but I took my personality test going into seminary; you had to take the Myers Briggs, but you also had to take the MMPI. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, where they ask you one same question over and over. Every fifth question was, “Do you hear voices?” “Do you hear voices?” “Do you hear voices?” I’m sitting there wondering, “Do you suffer from memory loss?” “Do you suffer from memory loss?” “Do you suffer from memory loss?” They categorized me. My Myers Briggs came back and the head of testing said, “You are not fit for ministry. You probably shouldn’t be here.” OK, but you know I don’t quit.
In this book, Grit to Great, it claims we’ve done a great injustice. We’ve tried to build self-esteem, we’ve said, “Hold your head up high”, we’ve made self-esteem and confidence the most important thing. In fact, we’ve kind of adhered to the theology or philosophy of Saturday Night Live’s, Stuart Smalley, right? Do you remember Stuart? “By golly” I’m lovable, I’m capable and by golly, I love myself”, right? So we promote ourselves, we talk ourselves into this. This week was very interesting. As some of you know, I’m the Character Coach for the football team and we have a thing called the Jamboree. The Jamboree is a scrimmage where four teams show up and we have twelve plays of offense against this team and then twelve plays of defense against this team, and then we switch and go to the other side of the field to play a different team for twelve plays and twelve plays. We say there is an evaluative purpose for why we have this scrimmage. And we say we don’t keep score and it is only for our purpose. Also, I thought back to when the church sponsored a T-Ball team. Back in our early years, we had this T-Ball team and we didn’t keep score. It was to build confidence and every kid got to bat every inning. You know, I went home thinking about sitting on the bench with those kids, cause I was good at sitting the bench when I was a kid; and even though we weren’t going to keep score, and everyone got to bat and there were no outs, no one failed at T-Ball, I thought that the Jamboree was like T-Ball. No one wins, we are telling everyone it is simply for evaluative purposes, but I thought to myself, those kids know. You could ask those kids after any T-Ball game and you could ask those kids after a Jamboree, how many times did you score, and how many did they have. We would compare if you won or lost, right? We knew. We were told there was no score, we were told there was no winning or losing, but we kept score, and we know who won. That’s who we are.
I believe that sometimes, no, I believe we ARE making a grave mistake in America right now telling everyone they are winners and no one loses. We have to cope. We have to learn to cope when we lose, because we can’t all win. We cannot all win. And we do. We do win, when we believe that God is large and we’re small. God is large. God is in charge. We had this T-Ball team, no score was kept, everyone got to bat, but there’s a kid on the bench crying. And I felt like I was going to be Tom Hanks. “There’s no crying in baseball!” He was keeping score. He knew the score. We have to cope with loss. That’s what the book, Grit to Great, tells us. It’s not your personality, it’s not your self-esteem, it’s how hard you are willing to work to reach that goal. It’s work that makes you successful. It is not your personality, it is how hard you work towards your goal, and yes, not everyone wins. Sometimes, some of us more than others, we will fail. We learn to cope with it and move on, and try harder the next time.
You see, we Character Coaches, or FCA Sports Chaplin’s, we over use a verse from Philippians. Philippians chapter 4 says this, ”I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” We read that verse and we are pumped up. I’ve got to admit, I’ve used it. It has been plastered in locker rooms, it has been said in conference offices, it has been spread in the office, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” By golly, I feel good and I love myself. Our Stuart Smalley comes out in this verse. But we fail to see the context in which it came from. You see, Paul wrote it from prison. Let that sink in. He wrote it from prison. Here is a man who had been beaten, who’d been stoned, not the way you are thinking folks – with rocks. He’d been imprisoned; he’d been attacked, and chased by wild animals. He had been in a shipwreck in which the ship had sunk, not one time, not twice, but three times. I think that if I had been on a boat that had sunk twice, I wouldn’t get on it a third time. “I’m done with boating.” But he’d been on a boat that had sunk, three times. And so, we live by this, but we’ve never understood the context. In fact, if we’d read the verse before it, number twelve, what does it say? ‘I know what it is to be in need,’ because we have gone without, haven’ we? There have been times in our lives when we have gone without. ‘I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ So, in the loss do we recognize that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us? In the wins we recognize this.
I love the sports playoff system and every championship game, the TV goes crazy, the confetti flies; they spend the first half hour after the game in the winner’s locker room. Everyone is cheering and spraying champagne, and now they are smart and wear goggles, and safety glasses. I guess OSHA got involved in the NFL and NBA. They are just having a blast. And finally, about ten or fifteen minutes later they creep over to the losing teams’ locker room. I just want one time for them to say, it was a tough match, you tried your best, I’m sorry you came up on the short end of the stick, do you have any words of wisdom? I wish they’d say this,”I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” That would be an awesome testimony. That even through our losses, we recognize that in Philippians there is more to that than just thinking God’s just going to empower you and by golly, you are going to win, and you’re going to love yourself. You see, in Psalms it says this in chapter 33, verse 7-8, ‘He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; we already talked about how ‘he puts the deep into storehouses.’ How big God is, but then we stopped at verse 7. We didn’t go to verse 8 which says, ‘Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all people of the world revere him. That’s when we know that God is big. We’ve only seen glimpses of this. In Psalms, chapter 40 is says, ‘I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him. Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.’
You know, there is this contrast, there is this big God, and we understand that we are small. We understand this awesome God, but God only gives us glimpses, only gives us slivers, so we can know God better. We truly do not know God, so it makes us feel small. James recognized this. In James, chapter four verse 13, ‘Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.’ So we plan, right? I should have used this verse in the last series, Life Interrupted. We have plans, we want to go and do this and that, we want to go on vacation, we want to set up a business, we want to make money, but James says, ‘you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.’ Basically, James called us mist. God is the ocean and we are mist. The song we just sang talked about a vapor and a mist. So, if God is the ocean, and we are the mist what does that tell us?
First, it tells us God is big and we are small.
God is big and we are small. I’ve heard it put this way. There is a God and I’m not him. Have we every said that, when things are out of control, out our control? God is big and I’ve just found out that I’m not him. So He is God and God is big. You know Psalms 100, verse 3 says this, ‘Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.’ If there are more earthly attributes than of God being water, then it is usually us being dumb animals. Why is that? I have to be careful, because my student church was in southern Cass County, and when I was in seminary I served at this church. It was at the corner of W and WW, and it was four miles out of place called Urick, Missouri. It wasn’t even in town. The one time I brought up sheep and I told my entire congregation of farmers and farmer’s families about sheep, and at the back door, and this is probably why I don’t go to the back door any more, I was told I was completely wrong about sheep. He said that this city boy didn’t know “Sheep” about sheep. I said sheep. We are compared to sheep in the bible over and over again, and it lets us know that God is big and we are small. The thing we need to realize about the awesomeness of God is the second point of today’s sermon.
Second, we are God’s. We have value.
We are God’s. God created us. God loves us. God has given us value. In the times that we feel that God is so big that I’m not even going to bother God with this…surgery. God gives us value. God made us with value. We are God’s. That’s why in Luke 15, Jesus tells a story and lets us know in verse 1-7, ‘Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent,’ or let’s just say they do not feel they “need” to repent. Sometimes we feel lost in the awesomeness of God, but because we have value and we have worth, and our worth comes from God, we are empowered. Our power is God’s power. We are empowered to be on this earth, to be a part of this creation, to have a relationship with God, to have a commitment and an understanding, but sometimes what gets in the way is our own self.
The first thing that gets in the way is our egos. We’ve been told we have to have self-esteem, we have to stand up on our own two feet, and we have to do it ourselves. The second thing is sometimes we just don’t want God, we feel we are bothering God, because God is so big. If God is taking care of the Middle East, and famines in Africa, and God is taking care of the incidents that are happening throughout the world because of ISIS then why bother God? God says, “Bother me.” Our worth comes from you, Oh God. You have given us this value. And, God wants to hear from us. Matthew chapter 10, verse 29 says this, ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs on your head are all numbered,’ Some more than others. ‘So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’ We are taken care of; we are cared for. God endows us with value.
You have value no matter how you carry out your mission. Through wins, through losses, through illnesses, through health, we have value. So what do I say to you? Do it well. Carry out your mission to the best of the ability that God has given you. We will lose, we will fall, we will buckle, we will not have the best day ever, but God isn’t looking for that. God is looking for us to be faithful. We are not responsible for the outcomes; we are just responsible to be faithful. Earlier on I read from James, chapter 4, and verses 13-16. It says this, ‘Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life?’ He reminds us that in this ocean, in this massiveness, in this awesomeness of God, we ‘are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.’ Remember what Rabbi Zedek said. We are that mist, we are that wave that appears in the ocean that basks in the sun/Son, to crash on the beach and that mist, that vapor, that wave sinks back into God’s presence. To be honest, James has another verse that we rarely get to. It has always confused me; it just never felt like it fit verses 13-16. Starting in verse 15 it says this, ‘Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.’ Verse 17, ‘If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.’ See, most of us think about sins as something we have done wrong, things that we have failed; things that we get caught at, things that are not lifting up our society. But James reminds us that if we don’t do it well it is a sin.
The world puts pressures on us, people put pressure on us, I put pressure on you. I’m a preacher, I’m supposed to do it; it’s in my job description. There’s a pressure not to fail, but the thing we need to remember is that God knows us. God gave us value, and through James, God says, “Don’t let fear paralyze you.” Yes, go ahead and plan, yes, do these things, but don’t let it paralyze you where you don’t do anything. Your value is not from your success. Your value has already been given to you through your heavenly father. We learn from losing, so God invites us to jump into “The Deep”, to know God better, to live life better. Yes, we are going to fail, we are going to lose, but let us remember what Jesus said, ’that he came that we may have life, and have it abundantly.’ Do life well!