This blog is part two of two blogs inspired by a sermon called “Barbie God” by Pastor Scott Wiens. Here is the link to the first blog. Usually, when I quote verbal or written messages by people who believe in eternal torment, these people accuse me of taking their words out of context. Since I will quote from “Barbie God” throughout this blog, I encourage you to click here and listen to the message in its entirety. That way you can be a fair judge of whether I have taken Scott’s words out of context.
Today’s religious system is the modern-day version of the Pharisaical system.
In his message, Scott notes a classic confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees (religious leaders) and points out that there are two major sections in their discussion: Jesus talking about the Father and Jesus’s identity as it relates to the Father.
The scriptures are Matthew 7:21-23 and John 8:37-59:
[Jesus said,] “Not every one who is saying to me ‘Lord, lord,’ shall come into the reign of the heavens; but he who is doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, lord, have we not in thy name prophesied? and in thy name cast out demons? and in thy name done many mighty things?’ and then I will acknowledge to them, that – I never knew you, depart from me ye who are working lawlessness.”
[Jesus said,] “I have known that ye are seed of Abraham, but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you; I – that which I have seen with my Father do speak, and ye, therefore, that which ye have seen with your father – ye do.”
[The Pharisees] answered and said to him, “Our father is Abraham.”
Jesus saith to them, “If children of Abraham ye were, the works of Abraham ye were doing; and now, ye seek to kill me – a man who hath spoken to you the truth I heard from God; this Abraham did not; ye do the works of your father.”
They said, therefore, to him, “We of whoredom have not been born; one Father we have – God.”
Jesus then said to them, “If God were your father, ye were loving me, for I came forth from God, and am come; for neither have I come of myself, but He sent me; wherefore do ye not know my speech? because ye are not able to hear my word. Ye are of a father – the devil, and the desires of your father ye will to do; he was a man-slayer from the beginning, and in the truth he hath not stood, because there is no truth in him; when one may speak the falsehood, of his own he speaketh, because he is a liar – also his father. And because I say the truth, ye do not believe me. Who of you doth convict me of sin? and if I speak truth, wherefore do ye not believe me? he who is of God, the sayings of God he doth hear; because of this ye do not hear, because of God ye are not.”
The Jews, therefore, answered and said to him, “Do we not say well, that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a demon?”
Jesus answered, “I have not a demon, but I honour my Father, and ye dishonour me; and I do not seek my own glory; there is who is seeking and is judging; verily, verily, I say to you, if any one may keep my word, death he may not see – to the age.”
The Jews, therefore, said to him, “Now we have known that thou hast a demon; Abraham did die, and the prophets, and thou dost say, If any one may keep my word, he shall not taste of death – to the age! Art thou greater than our father Abraham, who died? and the prophets died; whom dost thou make thyself?”
Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing; it is my Father who is glorifying me, of whom ye say that He is your God; and ye have not known Him, and I have known Him, and if I say that I have not known Him, I shall be like you – speaking falsely; but I have known Him, and His word I keep; Abraham, your father, was glad that he might see my day; and he saw, and did rejoice.”
The Jews, therefore, said unto him, “Thou art not yet fifty years old, and Abraham hast thou seen?”
Jesus said to them, “Verily, verily, I say to you, Before Abraham’s coming – I am.”
They took up, therefore, stones that they may cast at him, but Jesus hid himself, and went forth out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
After reading through the scriptures, Scott says:
So, what’s the main problem here?… The Pharisees had in their minds a concept of Who God was. The God that Jesus was introducing them to didn’t fit that mold. Face it. Think about it. The God that they knew was the strict, stern God from the Old Testament that came out of the law… Yet the Pharisees had done something through the “obedience” to the law, they had turned this obedience into rigid religion, and therefore, they had shaped and fashioned a god who was truly not the God that Jesus knew… So there was the communication breakdown… And it made me think, how many of us have a warped sense of who God is? How many of us have consciously or unconsciously created… our own Barbie god? A god that we have dressed up according to our preferences, a god that we have formed and shaped and accessorized so he’s pleasing to our eyes, yet indeed, it isn’t the God that Jesus introduces us to… How you view God is the most important thing in your life. And I think it’s up to us to ask the tough questions about how we view God… How do I view God? What do I base this belief on? Is my view of Who God is correct? How can I tell if it’s correct or not? How does my view of God impact my relationship and how does my view of God impact my life? If we are truly seeking the Lord, these questions should not scare us. Yet in the back of our minds, sometimes when we read this and go, “I don’t know if I want to know that,” as Christians we run the risk of doing exactly what the Pharisees did. We can create our own Barbie god and accessorize him as he is most palatable to us.
Up until this point in the sermon, I agree with almost everything Scott says. The Pharisees do have the wrong idea of Who God is. That’s why they don’t recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Eugene Peterson explains this phenomena beautifully:
Imagine yourself moving into a house with a huge picture window overlooking a lake with a grand view of mountains beyond. Snow-capped mountains, beautiful mountains. You have a ringside seat, before all of this beauty, the cloud formations, the wild storms, the entire spectrum of sun- illuminated colors, and the rocks and the trees and the wildflowers and the water. At first you’re just captivated by this view. You sit and you stand and you look and admire; you catch your breath. Several times a day you interrupt your work and stand before this window to take in the majesty and the beauty. And then one day you notice some bird droppings on the glass, and you get a bucket of water and a towel and you clean it. A couple of days later, a rainstorm leaves the window streaked and the bucket comes out again. One day some visitors with a tribe of small dirty-fingered children come, and the moment they leave you notice there are smudge marks all over the window. They’re hardly out of the door before you have the bucket out again. You’re so proud of that window, and it’s such a large window. But it’s incredible how many different ways foreign objects can attach themselves to that window, obscuring the vision, distracting from the vision. Keeping that window clean now becomes compulsive neurosis. You accumulate ladders and buckets and squeegees. You construct scaffolding outside and one inside; you have to get to all the difficult corners and heights. You end up having the cleanest window in North America, but it’s now been years since you’ve looked through it. You’ve become a Pharisee.
A.W. Tozer writes, “The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness.” The Pharisees are rebuked by Jesus Christ on a regular basis. In fact, they seem to be the only ones who stir up His anger. Jesus applies ideas in Isaiah 29* to the religious leaders: “in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” The heart of Pharisaical doctrine is that they were “confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else” (Luke 18:9). The Pharisees’ view of God was that God counted them as righteous. In their eyes, they, the Pharisees, were the only ones who were seriously pursuing God in the right way. Because of this, they felt like they had the right to point out the sins of others.
I imagine that Scott will continue in the same line of reasoning throughout the sermon, that he will explain how the Pharisee’s view of Who God is differs from Jesus’s view of Who God is, and that he will bring all these ideas together as he answers the questions he proposes. I expect that that those answers will be based on Who JESUS says God is, not based on Who PEOPLE say God is. Unfortunately, Scott devotes most of his sermon to the the latter and barely touches on the former. By the time he’s done, his message is stained by the modern Pharisaical system. Scott begins by explaining two competing views of God:
There are many other views of God, as well. A God that is truly ultra-justice (with no love, grace, or mercy) would either destroy everyone or would never have created us in the first place. A God that is truly sloppy-love (with no justice or judgment) would allow His Kingdom to be overcome by evil and darkness. Neither view is accurate. So there’s no way that trying to find a happy middle or the right mixture of the two views will result in an accurate view of God. Just like the old saying goes, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” At one point, Scott suggests that if you are humble enough, you can experience both views. I reject this idea. Instead of getting bogged down in semantics and petty arguments, it would be more productive for me (to do the “hold on to what is good” part of our responsibility as believers to “test everything; hold on to what is good”) to run with the ideas that ring true and discard the rest, concerning the two views Scott names. Specifically, I agree with the suggestions Scott gives later on in his sermon:
…admit that you didn’t have it figured out. […] Ask for God to reveal His true self to you. How many times have you done that? I mean, literally said, “God, reveal to me Who You are, show me Who You are, show me truth…” I don’t just sit here holding on to my suitcase, saying, “I’m comfortable, right here.” Immerse yourself in God’s Word.”
Here’s the thing. The suggestions above are true and right and good for many reasons. But Scott’s suggestions are also church-speak for ideas that are contrary to the way Jesus taught us how to know God. On the surface, the suggestions mean one thing, but dig a little deeper, and the suggestions are really just lip-service. To say, “admit that you don’t have it figured out” is one thing. To actually DO this, is another. To ask God to “reveal His true self” is one thing, to believe God when He does, is another. To claim, “I don’t just sit here holding on to my suitcase, saying, ‘I’m comfortable, right here'” is easy. To actually let go of the suitcase and venture out of that comfort zone is not so easy. What does it mean, to immerse yourself in God’s Word? Does it mean reading a set of verses over and over until you hear God speak to you? How can you be sure that it is God speaking and not Tradition? What is God’s Word? Is it the Bible? As you read on, I will answer these questions.
First, the only way that we are really going to understand Who God is and what God does is if God reveals Himself to us. Sure, being humble is necessary. Our asking and really meaning it when we ask is part of the process. However, just as grants repentance and the faith of Christ for salvation – the humility, sincerity, and desire for truth that we need to have in order to gain even an elementary understanding of Who He is are gifts from God given to people who did nothing to earn or deserve them. If we should find that we possess a change of mind about God (repentance), or we possess the faith of Christ, or humility, or sincerity, or the desire for truth, our hearts should be filled with gratitude toward God, because He is the One Who gave us these qualities. But if we attribute these qualities to ourselves, as if we have somehow conjured them up by sheer will or human decision (Phi. 1:29, Gal. 2:8) then, as Peterson writes, “You end up having the cleanest window in North America, but it’s now been years since you’ve looked through it. You’ve become a Pharisee.” The Pharisees perverts the law by making himself out to be better than everyone else, because he makes a decision to keep the law. Modern Pharisees pervert grace by making themselves out to be better than everyone else, because they made the decision to open the gift wrap and receive the free gift of salvation.
Perhaps this situation could also be likened to Peterson’s window – we, humanity, are all sitting in the dark in a house in the mountains. One day, God installs windows. Suddenly the rooms are flooded with light, and some of us turn our heads and see the mountains. But we find a way to pervert even this. We say that the reason we see the mountains is that we made the decision to turn our heads and look out the window. We think that everyone else could see, if they made the decision to do so, but they don’t make that decision. We forget that God gave us eyes to see the light, and that the only reason we turned our heads and saw the mountains was because the urge to do so was irresistible. This mentality is demonstrated in Scott’s altar call at the end of the sermon. :
If you have not yet made the decision to experience God, for, I mean, the decision to really experience God, where you don’t know Jesus Christ, and you want to know Him, you [say], “What [Scott] said today,” what God told you today, [you] said, “That’s the God I want to know, Scott.” If you haven’t made that decision, I really would love for you to come up. And you want to make that decision. We can pray you, pray with you, and we can help you make that decision today. For the rest of us, I’m going to lead us in a prayer… “Heavenly Father, we are humbled that you revealed yourself to me and to everyone here. We’re humbled to know that the great and powerful and mighty God of the universe has chosen to have a relationship with us. We’re humbled by that, Father, and Lord, we live in a fallen world… “
Second, what does it look like, to “admit that you don’t have it figured out”? I must dig through my old journals to answer this question.
[About an hour later…]
Okay. I just got digging through my journals to find an example of “admit that you don’t have it figured out,” and I realized that this is going to be more than just a two blog series! This is just too important to try to fit into two blogs. For now, here is a journal excerpt from June 2008. Keep in mind that at the time, I had just completed a two year study on church history, and I was convinced that as believers, we were missing something very, very important in our understanding of Who God is and what God does. But, I had not yet discovered what it was that we were missing. Also keep in mind that I was still very much a part of the broken system of institutional church. This journal entry is a written prayer addressed to God:
When John the Baptist asked, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” He goes on to say, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he…” What does that mean for me, God? “From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” …Lord, I want all you have for me. I have tasted the sweetness of hearing Your voice, and I want more. I want You to speak to me, show me, tell me, like You did for Isaiah and Jeremiah. I want to hear Your words clearly, see the whole picture, understand with an understanding that can only come from You. Let me borrow the very words of my Savior as a prayer of praise to You – “I praise You, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” Jesus said, “No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” Jesus has chosen to reveal the Father to me. So I pray, almighty God, in the power of Your Spirit and the name of Jesus, to know my God, to hear His voice, to be used in a mind blowing way during the next 30-40 years until I die… You to told us to ask you to “send workers into His harvest field.” I am asking. Show me. Tell me. Where is the crop? Where is the sickle? God, You said to me, through Your Son, Jesus Christ, in your word, “The knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more…” I have been given and believing You and what You said, I expect to be given more, not because of me or any thing I did to deserve it, but because of You and the fact that You said it. You do not lie. So, I give You glory by expecting more. What if I have been appointed only a certain mount of revelation? Can I ask for more? I believe I can, based on the story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.” I believe one crumb in answered prayer from You is enough to feed me for a lifetime. So give me my crumb! “Woman, you have great faith. Your request is granted.” This is what Jesus said. Do I lack faith? Then I ask for more faith. Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Lord, I believe for more faith, and I ask for more faith. I believe You will reveal yourself to me in a very big way. I believe my life and the lives of those around me who see Your light will be turned upside down. I believe You will allow me to be a part of Your worldwide revival of the body of Christ. Let me see it, Lord. What are you doing? How are you doing it? What is my part? Speak to me. “Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to Heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Fill me with Your Spirit. Let me see Your glory on display in the lives of those around me and in my life. You promised the abundant life. It has been amazing so far, but I know there’s more. Send your angels to rescue the religiously imprisoned people. Bind up Satan and have at it. I am so ready for You to pour out Your Spirit in this world. I try to explain this, but no one seems to understand. Open their eyes! Paul and Barnabas spoke boldly for You… Do this for me. Let me speak boldly, and let the words you give me to speak be backed by the power of Your Spirit. Just as your word spread throughout the known world to the lost, let your word go out to the religiously imprisoned people. Bring the church to a perfectly functioning state! Bring healing in your wings… Help us to be ready. It’s time for a miracle of Biblical proportions in the hearts, minds, and spirits of believers all around the world. Let us unite in the name of Jesus and the power of Your Spirit, to do the work the Father has prepared us to do since the beginning of time. You told Daniel, “the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end… those who are wise will understand.” Lord, give me wisdom so that I can understand.
God waited three months to answer this prayer. That’s why I decided to lengthen this blog series. Let me put this into perspective. I am not tooting my own horn here, saying, “Oh look at me, and how great I was at admitting I didn’t have it all figured out.” The best way that I know how to relate an idea to someone is to give a real-life example. It just so happens that I knew that there was a real-life example recorded in my journal from 2008 in my closet. It was convenient, accessible, and personal. So I used it. I know very well that there are other people who probably were better at this “admit that you don’t have it figured out” thing than me, but they aren’t here writing this blog. So there you have it.
Notice that Jesus pointed to what He does as an answer to John’s question. That hasn’t changed. We can know God the Father, because He has put Himself on display for us in flesh and blood – Jesus Christ, the image of God. If we want to know the Father, we don’t go about knowing the Father by hoping to find the right balance between two inaccurate ideas of Who the Father is, we find out by looking at Jesus Christ, the Word of God. If we think God is ultra-justice or sloppy-agape, we look at Jesus Christ, the Word of God. We ask for a crumb. We see ourselves as no more and no less than anyone else to whom God has chosen to reveal Himself. We recognize that if we have faith, it is because God gives faith. The wise and learned teach terrible things about the Father, and children have enough sense to ask hard questions about what they hear – are we willing to reevaluate our views with the hearts of a children, or are we just too high and mighty for such nonsense? If someone had asked me what “the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end… those who are wise will understand” means in June 2006, I would have had an answer for them. And that answer would have been wrong. Why? Because God had not revealed Himself to me at that point. Sure, I was a believer – I was “saved” (if we must keep misusing that word) – I was “born of the Spirit”, but I barely knew my spiritual Father. I had spent a lifetime being taught in a Pharisaical system being taught wrong ideas about my Father. It took two years of studying the system to become convinced that this “Father” was NOT MY FATHER. But I did not yet have accurate knowledge to replace the inaccurate knowledge. There needs to be an UNLEARNING before there can be a learning. There is no such thing as admitting you don’t have it all figured out, if in the very next breath, you have it figured out. Scott prays:
We ask that You would clear our minds and hearts and that no more, Father, would we dress up a God that is not even close to You and Who You are, but rather, we would stand before the God Who reveals Himself to us.
There are two very important words in Scott’s prayer, “but” and “rather.” Those two words are terribly important. They are easy to say. They work together as a nice, smooth, quick transition from error to truth. I contend that this is the place where Jesus was crucified – between “but” and “rather”. It the place where everything we think we already know about God is stripped naked and nailed to a cross. It is a place of humiliation. It is also the place where we, too, must be crucified, if we are to understand Who God is.