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Outdoor God - HBIYG

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1.  The Power of God Revealed in Nature

I used to love a good storm on Grand Manan Island.  I remember days sitting in the cab of my father’s truck looking out at the white-capped horizon and hearing the roar of the relentless surf and the artillery-like pounding of the waves as they assaulted the shore line.

I recall the incredible power of those Fundy storms. 

The Whale Cove wharf sat, nestled away from the unprotected Grand Manan coastline, a place for weir seiners to dock or to take on supplies.  It provided a rendezvous  point for retired fishermen to re-spin and embellish yesteryears’ yarns or to criticize newer fishing methods.  Curious tourists gathered there to capture pictures of things for which they had little to no understanding.  I learned on that very wharf to shoot seagulls and occasionally to pull a harbor Pollock from the waters around it. 

I was there the day that they pulled Heber Beal’s body from the ocean, the victim of some sort of accident that I was too young to understand.  The old wharf was the command point for the operation.

It was a typically over constructed Fundy wharf.  Huge creosoted timbers, cross-connected.  And the whole crib work was filled from top to bottom with stone from the sea wall.  Unlike some of the other wharves on the island, I remember its birth.  As a matter of fact, I outlived it on either end. 

One of those wild storms literally picked the wharf up and tossed it shattered remains 7-800 feet down the seawall.  Another storm somehow lifted sea logs over a 15 foot cliff in my mother’s back yard and deposited them in the middle of the road in front of her home.

Adulthood has made these memories more meaningful to me than the actual experience because I have a greater appreciation for the power of the wild untamable sea.  Back then it was just a storm.  Today it is somehow connected to a God whose might and strength is reflected in these sorts of things.  That power goes beyond anything that I can imagine.  A God whose power makes men tremble and whose love is infinitely tender and kindhearted.

2.  The Heart of God Revealed in His Mindfulness of Man

The years have also brought to me a greater awareness of my insignificance and lack of knowledge and understanding.  And for some reason this does not make me feel less of myself.  In some ways the opposite is true.  Because the years have also brought me to a breath-taking revelation of the Almighty God who is the ruler of the wild, who is somewhere behind the storms and the sunsets and unmatchable beauty that surrounds us.  It is there as a grand sanctuary, defying our disinterest and self-absorption, offering us a window on eternity and an essential perspective on life.

And then I wonder with David as he reflects,

"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" (Psalm 8:3-4, NIV) [1]

3.  Man’s Role in Creation

Man’s significance comes from God’s estimation.  By virtue of the fact that this world was somehow incomplete until man was created in God’s image and given his own kingdom to rule.

"You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas." (Psalm 8:5-8, NIV) [2]

I find it curious when we blame God for the inequities and the injustice that we face in today’s society.  The scripture indicates that this is our responsibility.  David says: “You made him ruler over the works of your hands. . .”

It’s not as though God couldn’t do it.  It is his gift to us.  One that ought to teach us something about ourselves.  Life in the here and now is what we make of it.  The problems that we face in life are of our own doing, not God’s.

And it’s not as though God has abdicated.  He stands ready to guide us into a fuller more purposeful existence.  If we’ll just listen and implement the direction that we receive.

Usually the most insecure people are the most difficult to help.  They feel that it is weakness to need or to ask for assistance.  They want to “do it” themselves.  The majority of mankind believes that they hold their own highest good.  While God has, without reserve, given mankind the mandate to rule, he delights in those who recognize their weakness rather than their adequacy.  Those who recognize their limits make better rulers.  They make better supervisors, better parents, better people.

4.  The Impact of Sin on the Order of Things

Sin spoils.  After Adam’s disobedience came the curse.

"To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”" (Genesis 3:17-19, NIV) [3]

As man rises in rebellion declaring his independence from God, so nature rises rebellious to the rule of man.  It will not be tamed.  It reminds us poignantly and periodically that we do not rule unchallenged.  Recent natural disasters in our own day declare the insignificance of mankind.  Ask Katrina victims of the power of nature.  Ask those who suffer at the hands of nature.  The Tsunami, earthquakes.  Even the atrocities of evil men, acts of terrorism pale by comparison.  The truth is that we are not in control.  It is an illusion of a prideful heart.

What about your health?  Fine today, so far as you know.  What might the next visit to the doctor reveal to you?  And what happens when life takes an unexpected, hairpin turn?  Man, fiercely independent of God, begins to blame God as though He should have been running interference for us.

He loves us enough to allow us to choose our own direction, knowing, sooner or later that we will be enlightened.  We will come back to Him looking for answers.  Life leads everyone to their limits and reminds them that there must be something more sufficient than themselves.

5.  The Message in the Madness

Let me ask you again a recurring question, one that you’ll hear time and time again in the months ahead.  Just how big is your God?  In your efforts to try to make sense of life are you looking to define a god that fits, that makes sense or are you looking for a God who defines life and asking yourself how you fit in the light of His Sovereignty.

It doesn’t matter how big your box, God will not confine himself to your parameters, your expectations your assumptions.  I’d like to write a book from the sermons that I preach this year.  One that would inspire people to see God as He is and then to see ourselves as we are. 

You see He is a God of the wilderness, the wild.  He delivers his people through the wilderness.  It would seem that He leads His people to the places in life where they cannot survive without His Presence.  They depend on Him to supply what the surroundings can never supply.  In order to follow Him they have to turn their backs on subsistence and the slavery of sin and be willing to risk everything to follow Him.

If you’re looking for a ride, this is where it is to be found.  Not a religious trail ride on a broken down horse who follows the rear end of another broken down horse.  That’s all that religion can offer you.  Something safe and predictable, something that fits in the box.  I have to say that I find this nauseous – absolutely undesirable.

I have come to a point in my own spiritual journey where I believe that the best efforts of the church that I have experienced are lame.  We have all the appeal in our society today of a trail ride on broken down horses.

I absolutely love my church.  I believe that God is in the process of building a church of spiritual adventurers.  We’re looking for something fresh and new on an individual and a corporate level.  While we have deep appreciation for our past, we are ready to go forward to discover a future of God’s design.  Our temptation is to map and chart and predict and control.  To dare to sail under higher orders is a frightening thing.  All of the good input that we have heard on leadership wants to be at the helm. 

6.  The Necessity of a Greater Vision

People want a vision that they can buy into.  And yet I am afraid to offer them anything except that which God gives me.  I could construct plans and charts but I am so tired of that.  Why?  Because the best planners and visionaries that I know in the North American church have shown us precious little.  We have seen the Christian consumer shopping and hopping from church to church and we have congratulated each other at our ability to attract them.  Meanwhile the disinterested multitudes march toward a Christ-less eternity.  And every once in a while we experience God’s presence among us.  We get a trickle and call it revival.  I feel that there has to be something normative about those times and the fact that God visits rather than dwells among us is disturbing to me.

I am just not going to settle for less.

7.  The Question Rarely Asked

The question is will you . . . are you . . . do you dare even ask if this is the case?

So rarely do people push on in their faith to ask this question.  A move called the Trueman show portrays Jim Carrie living an idyllic life.  He was born and raised in an elaborate TV set.  His neighbors, work associates, wife, friends, were all actors.  One day, leaving his home, a theatre light fell from the sky, narrowly missing him.  An elaborate news report was concocted solely for his benefit to explain some kind of jet debris that was scattered after an accident.

Gradually his suspicions grow until he discovers the elaborate lie and the truth.  There has been nothing real about his world.  Everything was contrived to make him think that he was normal and to provide evening entertainment for bored people on the outside of the bubble.

Once he saw the truth, he was dissatisfied with the perfect life that he knew and wanted to escape.

The devil will give you most anything that he can to keep you in a state of distraction.  He’ll give you trinkets, bobbles, applause, recognition, power and influence as long as he can keep you believing in yourself and the Trueman bubble that exists around you, blinding you from a greater reality.

When Christ was tempted in the wilderness, he tempted Him to exercise His power as God to satisfy His hunger, a natural drive.  Turn the stones to bread.

He tempted Him to cast himself from the highest point of the temple to publicly and sensationally demonstrate His power.  God never demonstrates His power to get attention.  He still works in inconspicuous, unassuming ways, displaying His greatness in the lives of people who are passionate about a full experience. 

Look at the final temptation.  The devil craved the worship of God.  He wanted to be higher than God.  Humanism at its best.  Bow down and worship me and I will relinquish the bubble.  I’ll give you my kingdom in return.  Everything that you see can be yours if you’ll worship me.

That’s the out of the bubble perspective that the devil sees clearly.  Everything that people passionately pursue apart from God is cheap fodder, “South of the Border”, “Wall Drug” commodity.  Bait for the tourist trap.

8.  The Absolute Necessity of Spiritual Passion

There’s only one thing that I know that can help a person keep their bearings in the blindness of a neon-lighted world.  That is an all-consuming love for God.  You can’t just say that you’re going to love Him more.  That’s not the way it works.  We can’t muster it.  It has to be touched and awakened within us.  Human love for God is pale and pathetic, often so convoluted by love for self that it makes God into an entity that exists to help people feel better about themselves.

For years, I read the 1st and 2nd greatest commandments and contented myself to believe that this was a “head” thing.  I would love God with my head, intellectually.  It was a one dimensional thing.  Intellectually I would decide that I would love God.  God knows the emptiness and the sterility of those who love him correctly.

I had a friend at Bethany, Gary Hicks who met his wife at Bethany.  Gary was “Spock-like”, “Vulcan-ic” for the Star Trek fans among us.  I remember watching him fall slowly in love with Connie.  She ran into the cafeteria one morning extremely excited.  In semi subdued tone she told me that Gary had expressed his love for her the previous night.  She was overjoyed to tell me that in a romantic moment well within the rigidity of Bethany rules of conduct, Gary told her that he was “favorably impressed” with her.  I laughed out loud at this less than articulate expression of “like”.  With Gary it was primarily shyness that produced this expression.  They remain happily married and in love with each other after decades of marriage now.

We worship “Spock-like” – we are “Vulcan-ic” in our expressions of worship to God.  You know, I don’t want to bark or laugh or do back-flips to convince God that I love Him.  I just want to love Him.  I want to come to church and lay my dignity on the line.  In other words, if I am moved to raise my hands, I don’t want to be checked by a concern of what others might think.  Sometimes I am.  I don’t want to cop out by saying that I am not a demonstrative person when it comes to expressions of love.

A few years ago a book called “The Five Love Languages” was written by a man named Gary Chapman.  It spoke of the fact that we all have a love language.  If someone is going to express their love most meaningfully to me they will do it in my language.  The five languages were:

[     Words of Affirmation

[     Quality Time

[     Receiving Gifts

[     Acts of Service

[     Physical Touch

So if I value the expression of love in the “giving of gifts” then the most meaningful way that I can be loved is to be given gifts.

The problem in marriage comes when I think of me more than I think of my spouse.  Because I don’t take time to ask myself how I can best express my love I tend to love in my own language.  So many marriages are ruined by gift givers who are loving in their own language when the spouse understands love expressed better in their own and different language.

How does a person learn to be a great lover?  By learning what other people hold dear, by learning their love language and expressing their love in a way that the other person understands.  You have to know someone to truly love them.

I would say that we do the same in our relationship to God.  If we really love Him at all we do it in a language that He does not understand.  He doesn’t understand the one day a week lover, the partially committed believer, the person who says I love you but never wants to spend time together.

In worship, I am not going to tell you how to love God, but I am going to suggest ways not to do it.  Watch your language – your body language.  Don’t come with closed body language – arms folded, hands in your pockets, eyes down.  Have an open responsive posture.

Remember that when you come to church, God is watching.  What he sees is more important than what your pew buddy sees.  What He thinks – what he knows – is more important than what the person behind you thinks he knows.  God sees beyond what inhibits you.  Don’t love yourself more than you love Him.

David suffered the scorn of his wife Michal, the proud daughter of a proud King Saul.  She scathingly rebuked him for dancing

"Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went down and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart." (2 Samuel 6:12-16, NIV) [4]

Now read with me the account of the ensuing confrontation between Michal and David.

"When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death. " (2 Samuel 6:20-23, NIV) [5]

David’s quest was to return the Presence of the Lord to the people of God.  After one failed attempt he understood that we worship in God’s language not ours and we do things according to His pleasure not ours regardless of what it costs us.

9.  The Source of Spiritual Passion

How do we get there as a people?  I will tell you that the power and presence of God will be marked, effective, miraculous in the midst of a people who love Him supremely.

I’m here to tell you that we don’t just decide one day to start loving God more or most or whatever.  I’m here to tell you that people who experience Him fully love Him fully.  If your experience is partial, your love for God will be commensurate with your experience.

How do I love God. Seek His face.  Coram Deo.  Our love for God is nothing more than a response to our experience of His love.  Our ability to forgive others is nothing more than a response to God’s forgiveness in our own lives.  When we have truly experienced God’s forgiveness we will find forgiveness for others.

Show me a person who harbors grudges and struggles to forgive and I will show you a person who has never really seen what happened on Calvary.  I choose to call that person a disadvantaged person.  I make no judgments as to the state of their souls but I feel so sorry for the person who has an incomplete experience of a God who defies our constructs.

The scripture tells us:

"And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. " (1 John 4:14-21, NIV) [6] 

Not only do I love the storms, I love the sunsets.  I can never recreate or capture either.

Elaine and I sat on a promontory overlooking the setting sun on White Head Island a few years ago.  It was my first experience with worship painting.  I killed the engine of the Jeep and rolled the windows down.  The cool ocean air filled the cab and I breathed deeply feeling each cc that I inhaled.  I thought I’d stop and see the sunset.  I did but I saw so much more that night.  We sat there in silence together sharing a common experience, one that we will remember for a lifetime and never be able to adequately communicate others.  Maybe you’ve had this experience.  I pray that one day you will.

To try to capture that moment digitally would have been mild desecration of the Holy movement that we observed.  I should have taken my shoes off because of the Holy ground that we occupied.

The colors subtly change in every sunset - the moments of beauty pass so quickly.  As I watched, I saw the Master Painter brush and blend the tapestry of the skies with a heavenly palette.  There were colors that I never saw before nor since.  I wept that night as I watched the picture that God was painting just for Elaine and I.  I had every sense that somehow He was loving me in a language that I understood, one that my father had taught me.  My Dad had used this kind of language.

From a ship out on the ocean

Sailing east toward the land,

I watched the morning sunrise

And felt that God was close at hand.

Oh the glory of the dawning

Oh what beauty doth unfold

As the Mighty Master Painter

Spreads His colors to Behold

Even now the noisy seagull

Echoes not a single cry

As the colors fade now deepen

Across the Eastern sky

-- Clifton Ingersoll

It was like being in one of those movies where you don’t want your wife to see you crying.  One where you are overcome and there are convulsive sobs, of gratitude.  I could almost feel the cab of the truck shaking with my shoulders.  It was the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen.  Perhaps there are sunsets that are more beautiful – ones that He paints for others.  Every night He paints for someone somewhere.  Did I have to think about loving God there in the cab of that truck?  Not for one minute.  I was overcome by a Divine Love that I was powerless to resist.  I could do nothing but worship to love in return.  Want to find the reality and the joy that comes with the greatest of all commandments.  Just watch the sunset.  Just stop . . . watch your children.  Don’t get distracted with silly things like dollars and cents, degrees, power, fame or fortune.  Lay those trinkets in worship at the feet of the Christ whose blood covers your sin and paves the way for you to come boldly before the throne of God.

In living, God’s love language is obedience.  There is no greater way to love God in life between Sundays than to obey His commands.  Don’t be a jerk about it either.  Don’t be a smug self-righteous soul who communicates that you are better than other people.  The best way to love God is to love people.  Relative to our earthly relationships this is the 2nd greatest commandment.  The command to love encapsulates all others.


[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[5]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[6]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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