The Deep: Like a River
We are in the third part of a five part series. I know… you’re counting. It’s called the Deep, because really there is so much we don’t know about God. As we talked about in the first week, God just gave an attribute to Moses. Moses said, “I want to know you. I want to know everything about you.” But God said, “You can’t handle the truth.” You can’t handle the whole thing. So God just gave an attribute, just a sliver of who God is to Moses and it buckled his knees and overwhelmed him. And so to be honest with you, God is like the ocean. We are studying the attributes of God through the images of water, because no other earthly image is used more to describe God than water in the bible.
We’ve talked about the ocean. I’ve shared with you that I brought the ocean back from our mission trip with us. (Holds up a bottle of dirty water) This isn’t it. Someone stole that water bottle. If you have it, please don’t drink it. It was pretty nasty looking anyway. This is the ocean, but it is not the entire ocean. And for us to say that we know everything about God, well we don’t know about God. We know about this much of God’s love. (Holds up water bottle again) We read in Psalms 29 that God is so awesome, so big he can scoop up everything into a cup. So, that makes us feel so small. There’s so much more about God that needs to be revealed to us, just a sliver at a time to buckle our knees.
I talked last week about God’s awesomeness. God is so big and so incredible that sometimes we just feel little. We just feel little, insignificant and we get overwhelmed in God’s awesomeness. And the problem is we don’t think our problems or our blessings should be taken to God. You know, I’ve seen what has been happening around the world, we’ve seen the devastation, we’ve seen the flooding happening in the Gulf Coast, we’ve seen that children are starving, in fact, my Mom reminded me of this every time I didn’t finish my dinner. That didn’t make sense to me. Kids are starving, so I should eat all my dinner? OK. Thanks Mom. When we see devastation we think maybe our problems aren’t big enough to send to God, to take to God. We think that maybe we are so insignificant that God wouldn’t even bother with our problems. God is so big and I’m so small.
I know it is hard for me to say, “I am small”. I’ve been dieting, but in the promises of God we are small. So when we feel this way, we react usually in one of several ways. The first thing maybe some of us have done is that we try to find significance by comparing ourselves to others, right? We do that. We compare ourselves. “Thank God, I’m not like her.” “Oh, did you see his hair?” “Did you see what she is wearing today?” There always seems to be that family that has a cloud over them and you think, thank God that only happens to them and not to me. And so we try to find significance by comparing ourselves to others. There is a problem with this. The first problem is that we feel arrogant. I’m so good, I’ve done these things. I’ve worked so hard, I am significant; I feel I am bigger than I am. So, we get arrogant.
Another problem to this is thinking that we are insignificant, that we feel that we don’t matter. So we get caught up trying to keep up with the Jones’. You know what? I can’t keep up with the Jones’, and it becomes pressing on us. So we become, we think, we feel insignificant.
Another way we react to this awesome God, a big God, is that we find our worth. We find our worth in God. We realize that God cares for us, that God loves us. We find our worth and our significance, not in our achievements, not in what we’ve done, but basically in that same God whose love is bigger that the ocean. Who says to all, this great big ocean of God, not Buck’s little bottle of ocean, but the entire ocean of God, has love for you, and you, and you. And so, we find our worth in God. Why? Why is that? You matter, because you matter to God. Can you say that with me? “You matter, because you matter to God.” Now turn and face each other and say that. “You matter, because you matter to God.” Don’t you feel better? Let’s just go home.
All of creation, we read that the mountains, the ocean, our lake, our community, this hemisphere, for those of you that have moved from big cities to come to the little old, Lake of the Ozarks, don’t you love sitting out at night and seeing the stars that your friends in the city cannot see anymore? God made it for you. God made it for you! Why? Because you matter. God thinks you matter. That’s the important thing. Those starry nights, all of creation, he made for you; everyone unique.
Now this is tough. In fact, we might need to pause a little bit to ponder on this a little bit. The bible tells us everyone unique, is in the image of God. You may think, “Oh, Buck. You didn’t run into the person I ran into yesterday”. But everyone is unique and has the image of God in them. Now I usually qualify that by saying everyone is capable of the image of God, but that is usually giving me the excuse. You see, C.S. Lewis says this, “There are no ordinary people; you have never talked to a mere mortal.” Now listen to this, you have not talked to a mere mortal”, even though we see ourselves as mortals, you have never talked to a mere mortal. “Now nations, culture, art, civilizations, they are mortal”. They come and they die. They come in and they fade away, except for the Beetles, they are doing OK right now. “They are mortal, and their life is to ours, as the life of a gnat.” They come, they go, and you squish them away. “But it is with immortals”, those who, remember last week, who come out of the presence of God like a wave out of the ocean, bask in the sun/Son, and sink back into God’s presence. We are immortal, but “it is the immortals who we joke with, work with, marry”, and who we, yes we “snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” Check one. Which would you rather have?
We are eternal, we come from God, we bask in the sun/Son, we roar on the beach, some of us louder than others, but we return back to God and we can have either immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. You see, you are an eternal expression of God’s self. God says you matter. We didn’t get it in a love letter, yes the bible is there, but we didn’t get it in a love letter, we didn’t get it in the message of God. Some of us call it the primal nature of God, when we can sit on a mountaintop and see God and know that we are blessed. We can sit on the lake in the middle of the night and look at the stars, and know that we are blessed, but how do we know? We didn’t get it in a love letter from God.
Paul tells us in Romans, chapter 5, ‘But God demonstrates his own love for us, in this, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ An infinite God loves all people, all people. God loves you and God loves me. You see if all people in the world were created in God’s image, then God loves all people. So here comes what should be happening. Let me repeat that. If all people were created in God’s image, and God loves all people. Then…all people should love one another. Do you agree with me? Is it true? We were created in God’s image. Knowing that God loves all people, then all people should love one another. All people should treat one another in the way benefitting of the value that they hold, being loved and valued by God. See, if we truly felt loved and valued by God that would reflect on other people. So, Jesus said it and someone pressed him. Hey, if you could put God in a bottle, if you should do all these commandments, which is the best? If you could speak for God, Jesus, tell us everything that God would tell us. Which is the greatest commandment? And it’s the one you hear every Sunday, isn’t it? Love God, love one another, and love your neighbor as yourself, right?
Love your neighbor. But here’s the definition of love. Agape love is providing for and protecting one another at all costs. When we talk about agape love, when we talk about God’s love, the true definition is providing for and protecting one another. And then there is “at all costs “. Now some of us as parents know that definition, don’t we? You know, they are first born, we bring them home, you think, I am going to provide, I am going to protect at all costs, and then they talk back to you. Then we use that word, “tough” love. Oh, it’s tough love. I’m not going to give them any more. They’ve got to learn to do it for themselves. And yes, that is providing and protecting at all costs. That’s the definition of agape love. But that is not what we all do here on earth, is it?
Maybe I shouldn’t ask for a survey, but if we are to love God, love one another and love your neighbor as yourself, does it feel like the world should be a better place if we all followed that? Do we feel the world’s a better place? I’m afraid to answer that. Aren’t you? Can you imagine what could be done if we just would adhere to the greatest commandment that Jesus is talking about? If everyone in the world just did that, what a world it would be, right? Do you ever feel that that will not happen in our lifetime? Do you feel that? I’ll never see that. There will always be someone taking advantage of one another. Honestly, it feels like it will never happen in my lifetime. So today we are going to deal with this question. The question is how are we to live in this life? How are we supposed to live here?
Why is this happening to me? Why is this happening to them? Why can’t we all just get along? The question today is how are we supposed to live in this life? That’s why I picked the image of a river, for God today. God is the River. We learn in Psalms 23, ‘I lay beside still waters’, peaceful, rest, healing. Some of us just love the lake the first thing in the morning, when there is not a ripple, when there is not a boat out there; it is just peaceful and wonderful. It brings about healing and it brings about peace. It brings a restfulness that we seek. God is like a river because Psalms tells us ‘he leads me by still waters. He restoreth my soul.’ He brings about peaceful, easy healing; right band?
There are also those pockets in the river that get really, really deep. And what are those pockets that get really, really deep? This is like Jacob’s Well, down in Texas. Believe me, the cliff is only about five feet from the water, but it doesn’t look that way, does it? There are those deep pockets that those of ancient times, that those in history, in the movement from the east to the west who knew that this is where you got your drinking water. This is the water that quenches the thirst. This is water that Jesus talks about, the ‘Living Water’. The water in the river where we get refreshment, we get rehydrated, that we get reconnected to God, that we remember that we are God’s and God is ours.
Then there is the image of the roaring river. The rapids, yes like from our summer vacation. From a month ago, that‘s the Cueni-Smith family in the boat, screaming their heads off. That is the motion, that is the hustle and bustle, that is the life, that is the God that is always in motion. It’s moving whatever way the water goes. It is always moving. Amos 24, chapter 5 says this, ‘Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!’ Justice; you see, water is powerful.
Water is powerful. The folks in Mississippi and Louisiana know water is powerful, right now. Some of us have known before that water is powerful. It’s easy for you to move with it. I’d rather canoe downstream, than canoe upstream. So when it is against you, you know the current gets strong. You can stand in the Arkansas River when you are out of your boat, and you are doing all that you can to walk upstream. You are being careful because you never know what is under you feet. But water is powerful. The image is that the river flows down the canyon, doesn’t it? The truth of that is the water cut the canyon. It is easy to look at the canyon, the Grand Canyon, and say, “Oh my gosh, look the water just flows right through that maze of the deep valleys and the mile long canyon.” But when you look at it, God is like a river, you understand that that water cut the canyon.
It’s interesting to look at the rock formations. In a cave when there is just a drip over many of years, that on that rock forms a hole that is worn sometimes twenty, thirty or forty feet deep. Stalactites, stalagmites, all of those great things are formed because of water. And so that is the image we see, and sometimes we “Go with the flow”, right? Because water just goes through the canyon, but we have to realize the canyon was cut. Over the years, water changed the rock. Is that true? I mean, when you look at Brown’s Canyon in Colorado, you see it was cut because of water. A never failing stream of righteousness is what Amos talks about. Back in Amos again it says, ‘a righteousness that is a never failing stream’ that can cut through anything that can make its way among humanity and the world. It says, ‘Let justice roll on like a river’. It is an understanding that is ‘a never-failing stream’ of righteousness. If you look at Micah chapter 6, verse 8 it says this, ‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ You see, here are basically the things we have to do. Whenever the bible mentions love it also mentions justice. Love and justice are together. Love and justice are brought together. What does the Lord require of us? There is justice, and there is love and mercy. And we walk that with humility. So every amount of love there is, there is also justice. Justice and righteousness come hand in hand. You might say, Buck you just switched love to justice. You switched love to righteousness. What does that mean? What is the understanding of love with grace and mercy, and compassion? That is who our God is. When we are commanded to love people we are also commanded to bring justice; love and justice.
A couple of weeks ago I went fishing with some buddies, down on the Grand Lake in Oklahoma. At one time, all five of us were ministers. Now only three of us are ministers, one from Texas, two from Missouri and two from Arkansas. We got down there and we talked for a long time. The ones that aren’t in a ministry anymore, we ask how the insurance is going, how the social work is doing, and how they got out of the ministry. We try to meet every year, but to be honest with you, because of scheduling it has been every other year. The one who sells insurance has changed churches and has been traveling around church hoping, church shopping, so we asked, “What happened? Last time you really loved your church.” He said, “This church just hopped on the justice band wagon. And that was all they talked about.” We need to speak out, we need to be bold, and we need to raise this up. Then he said, “It was that Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.” In fact he said it became the same and only message. And he said, “That’s good. We need justice. We need this understanding that people are not treated fairly. But, “he said, “I needed some love. I needed some time for mercy and healing.” We need that balance. Love with mercy, grace and compassion, but when we command people to love one another we are also commanded to bring justice. Loving people, brings justice. Loving people do justice, and they do it together.
We are to love people and let justice roll like a river. We are the agencies, we are the understanding that we are the ones who have to cut through the rock, that have to cut through those hard places so that we can reach to a place of understanding and that’s not always easy. I am in a denomination right now that has come to this cross road. In fact, we did the best we could and decided not to decide on anything now. We’ll get back together in two years after we’ve researched it, and come together. I call that kicking the can down the road, guys. It is a hard subject and we are at a cross roads. We know the love portion; we know everyone has an image of God, we know we matter because God matters. We know, even though we don’t want to admit it, that that hard to love, or I like to say it this way, “That God can only love that person”, person is still an image of God.
So, how do we move forward? How do we speak? How do we understand that this justice of God will eventually cut through the surface? It’s what has happened in the past, isn’t’ it? I mean, half the people from years ago don’t know they were bigots because they’re not alive anymore. We get to call them that because of the injustice they’ve done in the past. We understand that we are to love.Proverbs says this in chapter 31, verse 9, ‘Speak up and judge fairly.’ OK, we are starting school here tomorrow at School of the Osage. Teachers, that word “fairly”, we are to be fair with students aren’t we? That’s right. ‘Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.’ Now, there’s a justice issue there. But to speak up, that cuts, and defends the rights of the poor and needy. Psalms 146 starting in verse 7 says, ‘He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner’. That’s not a subject that needs to be talked about today is it? Refugees? Oh Buck, you went there. If everyone wasn’t staring at me, I’d get up and leave. But God, the Lord, ‘watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.’ You see, it is the ones who are judgmental, the wicked, the ones who cannot understand why God is cutting through the rock and setting the path he is through the way. He frustrates those because about the time they figure this out; we send them for a loop, isn’t it. We understand about God’s love and understanding.
In Galatians chapter 6 it says this,’ Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.’ Where there is love, and we all agree that we are loved, I got the agreement from all of you. I tricked you, didn’t I? I said God loves all people, we love all people, and we should love all people. But love and justice goes hand in hand. Love and understanding, where we have those times when we look at that person and say, “That can’t be in the image of God”, then, maybe we need to fight for that person. So they will know the image of God. So, let justice roll. Let justice roll, but let it roll like a river that God’s love can be shown, and that we all know it because we matter to God – because we matter to God.
We matter, because we matter to God.