YOUR GOD IS TOO SMALL
Your God Is Too Small
July 6, 2008
Is there room for doubt in the Christian Faith? Do you sometimes wonder if you are the only one that has those doubts? Join Ben Young for this four part series as he explores some of the difficult questions that shape our view of God.
What’s the problem with your relationship with God? Why do you feel dissatisfied, or perhaps disappointed with God? It’s because you are worshipping a God that is way too small.
In the first message of this series, Ben Young will walk through four small gods that we are so tempted to worship in our culture today. He will discuss how it is time for us to restore in our lives, in our church, and in our nation a fresh, vital, living view of the God who is.
Several months ago, my family and I took the obligatory trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Buying into the Disney World vacation is a whole message in and of itself, but I will not go there. One exhibit we went to at Epcot that was kind of fun was “Honey I Shrunk the Audience.” It’s an exhibit based on the movie that Disney came out with in 1989 called, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. It’s the story about this crazy mad-scientist father who invents a shrinking machine. His kids and the neighbor’s kids accidentally get in front of the machine while trying to retrieve a baseball. The machine zaps the kids; they shrink, and get thrown out with the trash in the back yard. All of a sudden, the grass is like 50 feet high, and ants are the size of tyrannosaurus rexes. Everything is just whack because they’ve just been struck down to size.
I thought about that movie as we are beginning this new series. I thought about the climate that is going on in our country. Let me say this about our country: We live in a great nation! We are the home of the free, and I’m glad to be an American. Our country, regardless of what some people will say, was founded by men and women who believed in the God of Scripture. That is simply a fact. A few were Deists, but by and large, most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, believe it or not, went to seminary of all places. That is the foundation of our country whether you like it or not. That’s the reality. In saying that, I think it’s tragic that within the last 40 to 50 years in our country, and really in the western world, we have been involved in a process of shrinking God. By and large, we live in a God-neglecting, God-shrinking nation.
- W. Tozer, a great theologian and writer said this, “What comes to our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” The most important thing about you; the most important thing about me; the most important thing about us as a congregation and us as a nation, because people comprise a nation, is what our thoughts are on God. Tragically, many of our lives are insufficient, dissatisfied, and empty because we are guilty of shrinking the awesome, majestic God.
I know that Disney has come out with sequels from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, not that they would milk a concept for money or anything like that; but I have an idea for Walt and Company. Why not come out with a movie called, Honey, I’ve Shrunk God.
They could talk about how God has been chopped down to size, and shrunk in our culture. They could talk about how we live in a time when people, self, and our needs are big, but God is as small as Jiminy Cricket.
It’s good to be validated. We’re not the only people and the only country to live in a time that is guilty of shrinking God down to size. We can look in Scripture centuries ago when prophets roamed the land of Israel. Jeremiah gave a warning about what happens when individuals, people, and nations shrink God. Look at Jeremiah 2:10-11. Jeremiah warns, “Cross over to the coast of Kittim, and look; send to Kedar and observe closely. See if there has ever been anything like this! Has a nation ever changed its Gods? Yet they are not gods at all, but My people have exchanged the glory for worthless idols.”
Now, don’t opt out here like we’re tempted to do, and I’ve done before. When we think of idols, we think of an idol of some remote tribe in the Amazon, or some remote jungle natives who worship an idol. We think we aren’t idol worshippers. Listen—an idol is anything that you and I put in the very center of our lives, besides God. That’s what an idol is.
John Calvin said this, “Human beings are idol-making factories.” That’s true. We are gifted at making idols, and that is what Jeremiah is speaking out against here in this verse. He says, “They have exchanged the glory of God for worthless idols.” There is a parallel to Romans 1:18. Jeremiah 2:12 continues, “‘Be appalled at this, O’ Heavens, and shudder with great horror,’ declares the Lord. ‘My people have committed two sins. They have forsaken Me, the spring of Living Water, and they have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.’”
What’s the problem with your relationship with God? Why do you feel dissatisfied, or perhaps disappointed with God? It’s because you are worshipping a God that is way too small. You are worshipping a God that is like a broken cistern that has holes and cracks in it that will not hold the weight of the water of your life.
In 1952, English theologian J. B. Phillips wrote a book which is a classic. It is entitled, Your God is Too Small. In that little book, he talked about the variety of small gods, of worthless gods that we tend to create in our culture. It is amazing how relevant that book is today.
This morning, I want to talk to you about four small, shrinky-dink gods that we are so tempted to worship in our culture today. They are so popular, so pervasive. The first small god is what I call the “Feel-Good God.”
It basically says that God exists in order to help you feel good about yourself. God exists to boost your self-esteem, to boost your network, to get you that promotion, to get you out of that ditch. He exists to get you on your way to living the American dream so that you can be healthy, wealthy, happy, and wise. All you have to do to get this is to think right thoughts. If you think correct and positive thoughts about God, not negative thoughts, then you’re going to get from God what you want. As if our puny little minds could control, or handcuff the hands of the Almighty God!
The dangerous thing about this “feel-good god” is that it is everywhere, it is everywhere you look. Listen, God is not against good feelings at all. Many times, when you’re following the real God, when you’re following Christ, there are ecstatic and wonderful emotions of joy, happiness, peace and contentment. That’s all a part of the God, the True God that we worship. But God ultimately is so much more than a feeling. You can’t use God or use Scripture as a means to an end. But that’s what is currently happening. You know, it is easy. I could stand up here today and just cherry pick different verses out of Scripture and say, “The Bible says this and the Bible says that,” and not read the Bible in context. In doing that I would create a very small, feel-good, wants you happy all the time god. But that is not the God of Israel. That is not the God of Scripture. That is not the God of this universe. That is a small, psycho-babble, Freudian, feel-good god.
The second kind of small god is what I call the “Faith-Friendly God.” This god is small, but big in popularity. Maybe you read about him in USA Today, or on the front page of The Houston Chronicle a few days ago. It talked about a survey by the Pew Research Institute. They interviewed 35,000 Americans on their views on religion, and 70% said they believe that there are many paths that lead to eternal life.
Oprah Winfrey said this, “One of the biggest mistakes that humans make is to believe that there is only one way. Actually, there are many diverse paths leading to what you call ‘God’.” There are many people who will teach this view, which is basically the view of religious pluralism, or relativism. That is a view that there is a god, or whatever you want to call god, at the top of a mountain. At the bottom of the mountain are all these diverse paths representing all these diverse religions and they go in many different ways; but ultimately, all these roads, all these paths lead to the top of a mountain which you call God, or eternal life. This view sounds all inclusive, and all accepting, but it is really not. It is a ruse. You can break that apart in many ways.
First of all, ask the question, “How do you know that all roads start at the bottom? Is it possible that one of the paths, or many of the paths, actually start at the top of the mountain?”
Another question I would ask someone who says, “Well, God is at the top of the mountain, and there are many ways to get to the top of the mountain, you have the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Christian. Everybody has their own different way.” I would also ask, “How do you know that all paths lead to the very top of the mountain?” To know this, you’d have to know the ins and outs of every religion, every philosophy in the entire world. Also, you’d have to be sitting where? On top of the mountain. It sounds like an all-inclusive world view, “Hey, let’s accept everybody, let’s love everybody, can’t we all get along.” In actuality it is just an exclusive religious truth claim.
Also, people who hold the view that God is a faith-friendly god, think that all you have to do is be sincere and believe. It doesn’t matter what you believe, we’re all going to get there—no one can really know for sure. This view sounds good, everybody has to be sincere, but you can also be sincerely wrong. I would ask the questions, “What about the views and the path of David Koresh? Does that lead to the top of the mountain? What about the path of Osama Bin Laden, and Wahhabi Islam? Does that lead to the top of the mountain?” That’s a popular view! “How about the path of the KKK? Do you like that one?” They’d say, “Well not that path!” “Why not? You said all paths, if we’re just sincere!” That view doesn’t wash! Plus, that view also doesn’t listen to the distinctive voices of the various world religions. Think about it. They’re not listening to the Buddhist who says, “It doesn’t matter whether you believe in a God or not. Follow this particular philosophy!” They are not listening to the Hindus who say, “We don’t believe in eternal life. We believe in reincarnation.” They are not listening to the Muslims who say, “Mohammed is the ultimate authority and interpreter of who Allah was in the Koran.” They are not listening to the Christians who say, “Jesus Christ said He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.” They’re taking all these various religious perspectives and putting them into their big blender and grinding and pureeing. Then pouring out this bland, vanilla god who will accept everybody from everywhere, no matter what they believe or do. That’s the very popular faith-friendly god. It seems to be an egalitarian god, but that god is simply the god of relativism, an entirely different faith, an entirely different religion and world view. It’s a small god.
The third small god is the “Father Hang-Over God.” This is the belief that some psychologists say that our concept of God and His character is greatly influenced by our earthly fathers when we were little kids. They say that if you had a father who was mean and harsh and when you grow up as an adult, subconsciously when you hear the term “father” in church or different places you’re going to think of God the Father as someone mean and harsh. If you grow up with a dad who was passive and who wasn’t there, someone who didn’t really interact in your life, then you’re going to grow up and see God as someone way up there from a distance; passive and uninvolved in the details of your life.
I remember talking to a guy years ago who I will call “Martin.” He came to talk to me and said, “I want to tell you right off that bat that I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God.” I said, “Well Martin, tell me why you don’t believe in God.” He laid out three or four classic reasons as to why some people say that God simply doesn’t exist. He said, “Well, look at the evil and suffering. How can you say there is a loving God, an all powerful God when there is so much rampant evil and suffering around the world? What about the people who have never heard? You say that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. What about those who never heard? What about them?” He went on to list several other reasons, and I asked him, “Martin, tell me about your childhood. Tell me what it was like growing up in your home.” He said, “Well, I never really knew my dad growing up. When I was two years old, my father left me. He later remarried and divorced, and remarried and divorced again and again.” I listened to his story, and I said, “Martin, I can answer those questions you had earlier, the reasons you gave for not believing in God. Or I can find books with some people who have much greater knowledge than I do, and they can give you reasons.” I said, “But I think you’re going to find out, that in your journey what has happened to you as you’ve taken the experience of your childhood, and the fact that your father left, is that you’ve projected them onto God, and when “god” left you as a child, you feel like God has totally left you now, and He’s not there!”
Many times, we have a view of God, or a view of God the Father that is totally tweaked or distorted because we’re viewing God primarily through the lens of our childhood, be it good, or be it bad. This gives us a small view of who God really is.
The fourth small god is the “Forever-Angry God.” There are a lot of people who have this view who come into this church. Whether they came from a Baptist background, or a Catholic background; they grew up in a place where they saw God as someone who had a lightning bolt in one hand, and a Louisville Slugger in the other. He’s got a big old police notepad of tickets in the back, and He’s just waiting for you to get out of line. He’s going to give you a ticket. He’s going to write you up. Then POW, He is going to hit you right over the head. That is your concept of God; someone who is this very powerful, megalomaniac, great cop in the sky who is watching you, and who is going to find out who is naughty or nice. When you get out of line—POW, he’s going to crack one right over your head. Or, KAPOW!! He’s going to put something in your life that is utterly going to destroy you. So you walk around your entire life kind of like Pig Pen in Peanuts with this cloud of guilt that follows you around, because that is the way you think God is. He’s out to get you. He’s a God of rules, and regulations, and you’d better shape up, or ship out.
All of these gods are false gods. They are shrinky-dink gods; gods that we’ve chopped down to size, whether we’ve done it consciously, or subconsciously on another level. Basically, we don’t want God. Want the reverse of God!
We have a new, seven month-old, Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy, except it doesn’t have a ridged back. It is still full-bred, but not full priced, which is nice. This dog came in very shy, and very timid, kind of like it had been beaten with that Louisville Slugger. I was wondering, “Is this dog going to come out of his shell?” Well, BANG! Three or four days later, the dog came out of her shell. We also have a seven year old yellow lab—sweetest thing on earth. All of a sudden though, the lab and the Ridgeback about three times a day—ding, ding, ding. They would strap it on for a battle royal. I mean, we’ve never seen our lab’s teeth open like that. They would go after it, back and forth. I thought about calling Michael Vick up for odds. I mean this was good stuff. I don’t have cable, so I was thinking, “This is great!” We had a dog fight three or four times a day, right there in our den.
We realized that as this Ridgeback got older, it’s going to be about 90 or maybe 100 pounds and is going to be really strong. We knew we had to get this thing under control. So we sent the dog to obedience school. We left for vacation, came back, and when we brought the dog home, she kind of came into line a little bit. When I take her on a walk, I put her on a leash, and tell her to sit. If she didn’t sit, I’d jerk the chain a little bit. It doesn’t have spikes on it, or electric shock. That’s next week. Just teasing! I would tell her to heel, and she would heel beside me and kind of trot on the left side, so she’s actually doing pretty well.
I thought about that, and I thought about God. I thought, “You know, what we want is God on a leash!” Do you ever think about this? This is deep…If you take God and spell it backwards, what do you get? Dog. I find that interesting, because I think that’s sometimes what we want. We want a God who is kind of like a dog that we can control, who is always going to obey our commands. When we say “heel,” He’s going to heel. When we say “stop,” He’s going to stop. He’s real nice and cuddly and makes us feel good and warm. That’s the kind of God we want. We don’t want a God; we want a dog. We have shrunk God down to such a small size in our society today it is no wonder people are running away from the church. They look at so-called Christian T.V., and so many of the people on T.V. are just preaching about a little squeak, squeak, small god. It’s just pathetic.
I don’t want to look back at the end of my life and realize we have been guilty as a church and as individuals of having people look back at us saying, “Wow! Those people at Second—Honey, they shrunk the God!” I don’t want that. I don’t desire that.
Listen to this quote. It’s from a guy who was a specialist in general relativity theory. His name is Charles Meisner, and he wrote this about 50 years ago. He had a beef against organized religion, much like Einstein did. Here’s what he wrote in his journal. Again, this is 50 years ago. He said, “I do see the design of the universe as essentially a religious question; that is, one should have some kind of respect and awe for the whole business. It’s very significant and shouldn’t be taken for granted. In fact, I believe that is why Einstein had so little use for organized religion, although he strikes me as basically a very religious person. He must have looked at what the preacher said about God and felt that they were blaspheming! He had seen much more majesty than they had ever imagined, and they were just not talking about the real thing. My guess is that he simply felt that religions he had run across did not have a proper respect for the Author of the universe.”
What a damning quote—an indictment coming from the pen of a skeptic. What would happen if we were somehow able to restore the reality of the awe-inspiring God we know is there? The God who is the Alpha and the Omega; the All Powerful, All Knowing, All Sovereign, All Loving God who spoke the entire universe and galaxies into existence; who calls the stars by name; who made and designed you and me in this intricate, incredible planet that we are walking around on. What if we could get a glimpse and a restored reality of the real God, the One God who is the One who can bring us Living Water?
Isaiah 40:25, 26 says, “‘To whom will you compare Me? Or who is My equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the Heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts, one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”
Astronomers tell us that the Planet Earth is located in a galaxy called The Milky Way. It is about 120,000 light years, as far as its span is concerned. The Milky Way itself contains 200 billion stars. You might say, “Well, that’s really big! That’s really grand!” But really, the earth is a small spec in The Milky Way galaxy. When you think about it, The Milky Way galaxy is simply a small galaxy in a collection of 27 different galaxies, spanning 3 million light years. You think, “Well that sure is vast! That sure is big! That sure is grand!”
Yes, but these 27 galaxies are part of The Milky Way, and the earth is a small part of that one galaxy; but the 27 galaxies are nothing, because the 27 galaxies are a small, nano-bite, miniscule part of the entire universe. Astronomers tell us that our entire universe contains 200 billion galaxies that have about 100 billion stars apiece. For those of you keeping score at home, and here at church, this makes a grand total of 20 billion, trillion stars. Behind all those billions and trillions of stars; behind the entire universe is a great, grand Designer who has revealed Himself to us through nature, and creation, and through His Word. And this God is not a small God. This God is a big God. He is an indescribable God. He is an awesome God. He is a powerful God. He reigns, and He rules in the Heavens, and on this earth; and He is in control of everything that is happening. If there is one maverick molecule on this planet, then God is not God.
It’s time, friends that we restore in our lives, in our church, and even in our nation a fresh, vital, living view of the God who is. He is a majestic, awesome, powerful God who spoke these billions and trillions of stars and galaxies into existence, and calls them by name. We don’t crave these small gods. Deep in our hearts, these small little gods that we worship that are simply a reflection of self don’t deliver the goods. They are broken cisterns, and they leak. Our hearts were created to worship the God who takes our breath away.
Someone asked the question, “Why do people go to the Grand Canyon—to increase their self-esteem?” Is that why you go to the Grand Canyon? Is that why you go to the ocean, or to Niagara Falls to just sit there and increase your self-esteem? When you’re standing in front of the Grand Canyon do you say, “Somebody—go get me a mirror! Quick!” No—you don’t do that at the Grand Canyon. You say, “Aaaah! This is awesome! This is beautiful!” You see, the self was not meant to esteem self; but we were meant to esteem Someone and Something much greater than ourselves. God. It was God who made this world and universe, and the God who made you. Show me the love. That’s where the love is. It’s when God is big, and we are small. We realize the place that He has put us in, and the purpose He has for us as little specs that He loves so much in this great, grand, majestic, beautiful world.
The good news is this, and I don’t want you to miss it. This God, our God who is so grand, who is so big, who is so large, who is so powerful, who doesn’t really need us, has made us somewhat in His image. This God who is so grand and majestic knows you better than you know yourself. He knows when you sit down and when you stand up; He knows when you’re walking. He knows what you’re going to say before you say it, even in the darkest moment in your life, He is there. If you try to run from God, He is there. He cares about you. He knows the number of hairs on your head. They are numbered. He likes the way you part your hair. He knows you; He loves you. And this God came for you. The most rational, yet trans-rational, yet miraculous event in the history of the world and to this all powerful God, He actually walked among us.
Whatever it is you are going through today, I want you to know that God, the True God, the Real God is big enough to handle it. Let’s pray.
God, thank You for waking us up here today. Thank You for waking me up. God, deliver us, rescue us from small concepts of who You are. Rescue us from this crazy culture that creates these small, little gods—little “L”, little “G”—that don’t hold water in the long run. God, we know that we’ve been created for You, the great, awesome, powerful God, and we know that You have come for us in Jesus. We know that You care deeply about what we’re going through. You care about the details of our lives; not just the details of the galaxies in the stars, and the quasars; You care about the hurt we’re going through. You care about the crisis we’re going through. You care about the stress load that we’re carrying right now. God, You care. And You command us in Your Word to cast those cares upon You. God, we know that Your shoulders are big enough to carry whatever load that is. Thank You, God! In Jesus name…Amen.