BECOMING A DIFFERENCE MAKER
PASTOR ED YOUNG
JULY 4, 1993
One of the most prominent pieces of equipment in our church office has to be the copier. Our copier is used, like in most offices, day in and day out. One of the things that really amazes me, that intrigues me, about the copier is the fact that you can take a document, place it on the copier, push a couple of buttons and you can reduce the document. In fact, you can reduce the document to fit your need at the particular moment. That’s amazing! And we love to reduce things.
I am getting ready to make a statement that might rattle your cage a little bit, and I’m going to warn you. A lot of you take God, I’m talking about your concept of God, and you put God on the copier, you push a couple of buttons, and you reduce God. I’ve done that before. Have you? Are you doing that now? A large group of people, in fact a nation, called the children of Israel, made the major mistake of reducing God. After they had reduced God, they paid the consequences. The great news today is this: We can learn from the children of Israel and refuse to reduce God. We can have the proper concept of God, a proper grasp of God, if we listen and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us concerning who God is.
To answer these questions—“Who is God? What kind of concept of God should I have? How can I refrain from reducing God?”—let’s look at our Bibles, Exodus 32, and we’ll read Verses 1 through 5. Let me briefly set the stage for this moment in Scripture. The children of Israel were camped at the base of Mt. Sinai. For the last three months—you’re talking about the power of God—they saw God free them from 430 years of slavery from the nation of Egypt, they saw God supernaturally send ten plagues, they saw God part the Red Sea, they saw God give them water out of a rock, they saw God feed them manna burgers from heaven. Unbelievable stuff! Supernatural things!
The children of Israel had seen this over the last three months, and the man of the hour, God’s man, Moses, went up on Mt. Sinai for six weeks to receive the law from God Himself. The children of Israel were in their pup tents. They were waiting for Israel to descend from the mountain and then lead them into The Promised Land. They were happy. They were fired up! And they do something that shocked me. They began to murmur. Exodus 32:1, “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron [who was Moses’ older brother] and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him!’” Can you imagine the stories circulating? “I bet Moses has bolted. I bet he climbed to the top of the mountain on the other side and now he’s back in Egypt. Maybe a wild animal got him, a king cobra up there. Where is Moses? Six weeks!”
Then Verse 2 tells us, the men, the women, the children, they take off their earrings. You see, people think it’s really cool to wear earrings now; the children of Israel were doing that thousands of years ago. Now, teenagers, you might use this verse with your parents, “Hey, they did it back in….” Maybe not. Anyway, they take their earrings and watches and all this stuff and these sundial Rolexes and they took them and melted them down. Aaron, again Moses’ older brother, he fashions a golden bull/calf, and they begin to worship the golden calf. After a while, the worship turns into a giant orgy.
Aaron reasoned to himself, “It’s not that big a deal because I’m just representing God.” You see, people use the bull in order to communicate strength. I’ve heard a Cowboys fan say, “Boy, that Emmitt Smith, he’s as strong as a bull.” God’s strong. He’s powerful, and the children of Israel think, “What’s the big deal? Let’s make a representation of God and we will represent His power.” There’s the bull and they begin to worship it.
While they were worshipping it, they broke—as big as Dallas—the second commandment, because Exodus Chapter 20:4, God speaking, said, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” Why? Why did God say that? Why did God ban idols? Because God knew that anything that man or woman would try to shape or mold with their hands would automatically reduce God. It would limit Him. It would only communicate a fraction of who He is.
Go back to the bull. Go back to the golden calf. It just reflected a little, tiny tidbit of who God is, just His power. It didn’t communicate His love, His grace, His forgiveness, His mercy, just His power. And God says, “That’s important to me. That is wrong,” and the children of Israel paid the consequences of this major mistake.
I can look on your faces and tell what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Ed, wait a minute. This is 1993, July 4th, this doesn’t relate to me. This doesn’t connect with me. I don’t have this desire to take off my watch and ring and melt them down, mold a calf, and worship it. I failed shop class. I cannot carve the bark off a stick without endangering my life, and if I did cut it, I wouldn’t lie down and worship it. So, I tell you what, I’ll check out of this message. I’ll count some lights up there. Look at the lights. There are blue and orange and kind of Denver Bronco colors,” and you can look around and some of the singles might check out if he or she is available, put your mind on auto-pilot for a second. Don’t do that. Don’t do it. I want you to stay with me because many of us are involved in areas of our lives that reduce God. Many of us are dangerously close to what the children of Israel did because there are modern-day idols, modern-day images that we have.
Go back to this thought: Why did God give us this particular commandment? Why did God say, “Don’t make an idol”? God knew that men and women would want something tangible. He is invisible and we would want something we could grasp. The neighboring countries of Israel, they had all of these gods you could see, and God knew this would be a temptation to us, but again God knew that anything we shaped from the earth would fall miserably short.
How many of you have ever been to Mount Rushmore? Raise your hand. Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. The hands are going up everywhere. Look. It’s an awesome sight. The three heads of the presidents, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Bill Clinton. Just seeing if you were listening. Theodore Roosevelt. Sixty feet form chin to forehead. What if (again raise your hand if you’ve been to Mount Rushmore) I took out some Hubba Bubba bubble gum, gave each of you who has your hand up a piece of it and I said “Okay, I’ve not been to Mount Rushmore, but you have. Most of us have not, but the few people who have, I’m going to get you to take the bubble gum and chew it up. I mean chew it and chew it. Get it soft and pliable. After you chew it, take it out of your mouth, don’t take your neighbor’s gum, take it out of your mouth and then I want you to do this. I want you to go ahead and sculpt Mount Rushmore for me and for those of us who have not been there, because I want to really capture its splendor. Would you do that for me, please?”
You’re thinking to yourself, “Ed, are you crazy?! Ed, there’s no way I could communicate to you how beautiful Mount Rushmore is. You’ve got to be there. I would rather not use chewing gum and describe it to you in words because chewing gum, bubble gum is a poor representation of this work of art.”
How many in here have ever heard Beethoven’s Fifth? How many of you would not even recognize Beethoven’s Fifth if you heard it? It took Beethoven almost two years to write this masterpiece. When it’s played in the concert hall by about 40 top class musicians, what happens? Standing ovation. “Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!” Again, how many of you know Beethoven’s Fifth? What if I gave you a referee’s whistle and I said, “You know, I can’t really grasp the Beethoven’s Fifth; you go ahead and play it for me and for those of us who’ve not really heard it, on the referee’s whistle.
You’re thinking again, “Ed, you’re nuts. I know you’ve been on a fishing trip the last week. You must have spent too much time in the water. Something is going wrong.” You see, chewing gum cannot represent Mount Rushmore, nor can a referee’s whistle represent the full picture and the sound of music. That’s what God’s saying here. God’s saying, “Nothing, nothing, nothing that you mold or shape can come close to my essence.” God is not uni-dimensional. He is multi-dimensional. The children of Israel messed up here; a lot of us are messing up here. We think God is uni-dimensional. He is multi-dimensional.
Right now I’m going to stop and I’m going to take a little trip through a minefield. I’m going to warn you that I might detonate a couple of bombs, a couple of explosions here and there, but I want you to stay with me because I want to list for you two warnings that are implied in this section of Scripture concerning idols. The first warning concerns modern-day visual images. Modern-day visual images. I’m talking about religious images that from a biblical perspective come dangerously close to reducing God. I’ll say it one more time. I’m talking about visual images, religious images that many churches use that come dangerously close to reducing God.
Recently I was in a taxi and over the rearview mirror, this guy had hung a crucifix. I looked at the crucifix for a second, because it was a beautiful crucifix with blue yarn wrapped around it, and there was Jesus hanging on the crucifix, His head down, moments before death. And I know the crucifix, especially if you are from a Roman Catholic background, means so much to you; and the picture of Christ on the cross means so much to me. We are all eternally grateful for what Jesus did for us. Frankly, though, the crucifix is reductionary. It reduces God.
You say, “Ed, now wait a minute. Relax. Give the crucifix some slack here. How can the crucifix communicate everything that God is?” That’s just the point. It can’t. We have a few crosses in our church; that’s our logo, and crosses are fine. But we’re not going to have all of these symbols, all of these candelabras, all of these basins, all of these things in order to get to God because you don’t need equipment in order to get to God.
Let’s say for example that we had a giant crucifix up here and you looked at the crucifix and automatically thought about the Christian life—introductionary. You’ve walked into the Arts Center and you’re dealing with a lot of issues, so am I, in our lives, and you’re thinking about the fact that you’ve got to pray to an almost-dead Savior. You mean that’s your God?
The crucifix does not communicate the empty tomb, the resurrection. Without the resurrection, Christianity is a cruel hoax and Jesus was just another guy with a Messiah complex who briefly walked on the stage of history and gave us a couple of principles. So if we’re going to be fair, if we’re going to use the crucifix, let’s go ahead and put an empty tomb in there to show the resurrection, to show the power.
I want to say something too to people who are seeking the Christian life. Your only hope in this world is to accept the sin sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Don’t leave Him up there on the cross. Make sure you know He’s resurrected and right now He is seated at the right hand of the Father. So if we’re going to be fair to Christ, let’s take the crucifix and put in an empty tomb. Let’s take it a little bit farther. If we’re really going to be fair to Him, we really ought to put a manger in the church because a manger communicates the incarnation of the Lord, the Virgin Birth.
So we’ll have a manger, an empty tomb, a crucifix, and then, hey, He called Himself The Good Shepherd, so let’s put a giant staff and a couple of sheep out there to represent you and me. That’s another symbol we need. Oh yes, He was called a teacher, the Ultimate Teacher, “Rabbi.” Well, let me think, a scroll. That’s it. We’ll put a giant scroll with the teachings of Christ over it. And Jesus also cleansed the temple. Remember that? He said, “I don’t want my Father’s house to be turned into some type of commercial institution. I want my Father’s house to be a house of prayer.” He took a whip and drove the moneychangers out. Let’s portray a giant whip there.
So the list goes on and on and on, and you walk into the church and there’s no place to sit. There are objects, relics, symbols—even the ones I mentioned still only give a facet of His personality. They cannot communicate the totality of God, of Christ. Could that be you? Could that be me? Do we have some sort of visual that we think we must have in order to pray?
Here’s what the Bible says about that. James 4:8. It says, God speaking, “Draw near to me and I will draw near to you.” We don’t need beads, basins, crosses, or candelabra, folks, to get to God. John 4:24, “Worship me in spirit and in truth.” God’s saying, “Come to me as you are, wherever you are. Come to me whenever you’re working out. Come to me at the office. Come to me on the freeway. Come to me in church.” We can boldly go in the presence of God through Christ, and once we go into the presence of God and we meet with Him daily, then we’ll understand and grasp who God is. So a lot of us need to get rid of these visual images that we have that just communicate a little fragment of who the Lord is.
Again I’m not saying I have anything against crosses or necklaces with the cross on it. That’s great to wear, but don’t just use that as your only symbol, as your only image of who God is.
Here’s the second warning: mental images. I talked about visual images, now I want to talk about mental images. It’s another warning implied in this commandment, in this section of Scripture, that the children of Israel totally failed on. Mental images, I think, are as reductionary as visual images, and specifically I’m talking about mental images of God.
Let me explain. This past week I went fishing with four of my friends here at the church and we were out in a very remote area. I’m talking about remote, I mean, radio contact was all that we had. We fished for six days. One of the gentlemen on the trip is a great photographer and he got us all together and he took one picture of all of us on the trip. That’s it. He said, “I’m just going to take one picture.” How many believe that? You can tell I’m lying. This guy took hundreds of pictures. Hundreds and hundreds of pictures. I don’t know anything about cameras, but he had zoom lens, wide-angle lens, black and white pictures. He had the whole thing and he wanted to document the trip. He wanted to get so many pictures that 20 years from now he looks back on this trip and goes, “Oh, we did this. We did that. Look at the beauty. Look at the fish. Look at the water. Look at the boat.”
Our spiritual photo album, it should be packed with pictures of God. I’m talking about different pictures of God. Look at God’s Word. On one hand, God is a just judge. On the other hand, God’s a loving Father. Isaiah described Him as a nursing mother. Jesus said, “I’m your best friend.” The list goes on and on and on. But too many of us, we are operating on a little single photograph of God that someone gave us 20 years ago, and that’s the only thing we think about when we think about God. Maybe it’s a God who’s watching us. Maybe it’s a policeman God. Maybe it’s the female God.
A lot of those pictures are wrong, they are incorrect, they’re not the God of the Bible. Some of you think God is a judge, the big gavel, the black robe. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Here’s what the Bible says concerning that, Romans 8:15, God says “Call me dad. Call me dad.”
Some of us think of God as a general, don’t we? With the knee-high leather boots and the Ray-Bans, the policeman tights, giving commands, all legalistic. We have all these rules, and most of us who have an approval-type personality problem, we have a concept of God like that. Because again, someone gave us this or maybe we took a picture of God, we have it in our photo album, and that’s all we look at every day.
Some of us have an image of God that is a dangerous, dangerous snapshot of God. In fact, this is the most deadly: the grandfatherly image of God. The grandfatherly image of God. The George Burns-type, thick glasses, toupee, cigar. “God is my grandfather. God, He wouldn’t deny me. Hell? He’s going to open the doors of heaven. He’ll pat me on the head and say, “Eddie, it’s okay. Even though you didn’t live for me, even though you took my name in vain, even though you lived an immoral life, even though you were filled with lust, even though you had this rebellion, even though you were abusive to your spouse, come on into heaven, man! Come on in! Everything is cool with me. I’m like old pa-pa, just come on in!”
That picture of God sends more people to hell than any other picture. It really does. Yes, God’s a God of love and a God of grace, but He’s also a God of judgment and a God who will see to it that our sins are paid for and will judge us on whether or not we know Christ. Then, if we know Christ, He’s going to judge us on how we use the gifts that God gave us while on this earth. Do you have a concept of God like that? If you do, that comes dangerously close to being an idol in your life, an inaccurate mental picture of God.
Here’s my challenge to you, a little homework. I want you to expand your photo album, your spiritual photo album. All of us can expand it. I can expand it; you can expand it. I want to take pictures of different facets and character qualities of God. Here’s the homework assignment: Take a week and study the fatherhood image of God. Take another week and study the nursing mother image of God. Take another week and study the forgiveness of God. Another week and study the grace of God.
I just gave you four little tidbits, and every time you study it, every time you listen to a tape series, every time you buy a book, every time you hear a message, add another picture, another picture, another picture. Soon you’ll be like my friend, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pictures of God in your photo album. Then you’ll be able to grasp who God is.
Refuse to reduce God. Know God because you’ll experience the freedom and the joy and the power like you can never, ever imagine.