Apr 29

The Fear of the Lord

The Fear of the Lord

 

Come, my children, and listen to me, and I will teach you to fear the LORD. 12 Does anyone want to live a life that is long and prosperous? 13 Then keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies! 14 Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. 15 The eyes of the LORD watch over those who do right; his ears are open to their cries for help. 16 But the LORD turns his face against those who do evil; he will erase their memory from the earth.

Psalm 34:10-16 NLT

 

Many Christians struggle with the concept of “the fear of the Lord.” We think of a Scripture like 1 John 4:18 that tells us there is no fear in love, and we wonder if “the fear of the Lord” is really some outmoded Old Testament context.   After all, God is love.

But no, the fear of the Lord is not just an Old Testament idea. Remember that it was Jesus who said, “Don’t fear him who can kill the body; fear him [God] who can cast both soul and body into hell” (Matt 10:28).

So what are we talking about? First of all it is not some nameless dread, that unclean terror of an arbitrary tyrant who is going to step on me if I get out of line. That is the kind of fear John is talking about. He is saying that if we have come to know the love of God living in us and shining out of us, we know we belong to God, and don’t have to live in dread that God is just waiting for a chance to “get us.”

Ok, we know what it isn’t, but what is it? The passage above is very helpful. The fear of the Lord is a way of living, a way that is shaped by wholesome awe of the One, Living God. It is to shape your life in the knowledge that the Creator has made us to live in certain ways, ways that if we follow will result in whole, productive, secure lives.  By the same token it is to know that if we don’t live in those ways, we are headed straight for a brick wall – the brick wall of God’s unchanging truth.  This is why Proverbs 1:7 says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” To live as if there was no God, and that you are not accountable for what you do with your life is really, really dumb.

So the fear of the Lord is a bit like looking up into a clear night sky.  It is that awe-filled understanding that He is God and I am His creature, and that all that I do is finally judged in terms of the way he has made the world to function. The fear of the Lord is a way of life which takes into account the fact that He is God and it is he with whom I finally have to do.

Now, two more things. Before the verses printed above Psalm 34:4 says, “I sought the Lord, and he delivered me from all my fears.” Isn’t that great? Shape your life according to the fear of the Lord, and you need fear nothing else! Then Psalm 25:14 says something fascinating: “The friendship of the Lord is for them that fear Him.”  If we will relate to him in the reality of our Creator/creature relationship, living as we were designed to live, he will take us into the secrets of his heart.  To know Him rightly is to be ushered into His sanctuary.

Apr 22

The Final Surrender

The Final Surrender

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”  9 And he said, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ 10 Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” 11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate;

Isaiah 6:8-11

 

Isaiah’s vision was finally one of surrender, and that surrender was of his own success. What a temptation it must have been to preach a smooth, palatable message, to which some might have turned in a superficial way. But if he had, the truth that needed to be inscripturated would never have gotten preached. And two hundred years later, when people were crying out to God in an agony of repentance, they would never have had that truth to turn to and say, “Ah, there is hope for even people like us.”

The call to Isaiah in his own lifetime was to preach a compassionate, whole, burning word, but one which God knew would not turn that generation to himself. The call of the servant of God is not to be successful but to be faithful. That does not mean that you and I have the right to preach harsh, mean, little words and when people don’t respond, to say, “Well, they are just turning their backs on God.”  No, it does not give us that right, but neither does it give us the right to try to wash away the power of His truth by making it more palatable to a generation that, because of its previous choices, will not hear.

What is the antidote for our rebellion, yours and mine? It is a vision of our need, a vision of the Holy God, a vision of our ruined, unclean selves, a vision of redemption, a vision of obedience, and most of all, since rebellion is the problem, a vision of surrender, surrender of our own success.

Apr 15

Joy

Joy

 

 You have given him his heart’s desire, and have not withheld the request of his lips.

For you meet him with rich blessings; you set a crown of fine gold on his head.

He asked you for life; you gave it to him — length of days forever and ever.

His glory is great through your help; splendor and majesty you bestow on him.

You bestow on him blessings forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.

For [he] trusts in the LORD, and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.                                                                 Psalm 21:2-7 NRSV

 

I am thinking today of one of the two most formative people in my life, one who has recently passed from this life, and of some of the things he taught me. Of all the hundreds of things, it is difficult to isolate one, but at this moment at least, I do think I can. He taught me that living God’s life is not one of unremitting effort, but one of joy. It is not meant to be an attempt to climb up a slippery slope to get to God. Rather it is to walk through a succession of doors into ever wider vistas. Holiness is not a series of impossible demands, but an incredible invitation into all we were ever meant to be.

Is effort involved? Of course, nothing worth doing is ever easy. But it is not a grim, teeth-gritting slog. It is the wondering “yes” when he tells you to raise your sails in a dead calm. It is the daring “yes” when you are marooned on a cliff and he shows you that tiny crack in the cliff above your head that is just big enough for you to jam your fingers into and pull yourself up. It is the reluctant “yes” when he says “That way there  be dragons.” It is to know that if at some point you say “no,” he is not done with you, but will open up another way. It is to live in wondering joy that in the arms of God you have found yourself. It is to live life as an expression of joy and gratitude and wonder. For holiness is nothing other than to be set free in a wholesome awe of God, a sincere love of God and others, and a glad self-forgetfulness.

 

Apr 08

Shalom

Shalom

 

3 You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!

 4 Trust in the LORD always, for the LORD GOD is the eternal Rock. (Isa 26:3-4 NLT)

 

George (not his real name) was a graduate student at a prestigious eastern university. He had finished his course-work and had been diligently working on his doctoral dissertation for two years. Then disaster struck. His supervisor was denied tenure, and as a result, was terminated from the faculty.

What to do? George canvassed the other faculty members in his department to see if anyone else would take him on with his almost-complete project. No one would. Finally, one faculty member said he would supervise George, but only with a completely new project. So–. As George said, “I put two years of my life on the shelf and started over.”

After about a year of work on the new project, the faculty supervisor was giving George a ride home. When they stopped in front of George’s apartment, just as George was about to get out of the car, the supervisor, a man of a non-Christian faith, said, “George, I wanted to ask you a question. I have been watching you for this last year. If I were in your shoes, I would be a very angry man. I would be angry at the university, at the rest of the faculty, at my new supervisor who demanded a new project; I would be angry at the world. But you’re not angry. Does that have anything to do with your Christian faith?”

For the next hour and a half George was able to tell his supervisor how a settled trust in God through Jesus Christ means that God can put all the pieces of our lives together (the meaning of the Hebrew shalom)and give us what the world can never give – inner serenity, even in the midst of calamity and misfortune.

Apr 01

Security

Security

 

Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing?                    (Isaiah 44:6-10 ESV)

 

Idolatry is the manipulation of this world, this physical world, in order to insure my security. That is why the Bible speaks out against it, because there is only one way to find security in this world, and that is by releasing this world.

 

Ever since Eden we have become more and more neurotic about security because we have been looking for it on the wrong road.  Adam and Eve became insecure the moment they walked out through those flaming swords. In their anxiety they looked to this world for their security. If they were to survive, they had to have the rain, so they turned the storm into a god, a human-like being with more than human power. They did this thinking that they could control, or at least appease, such a being through sympathetic magic.

 

We, you and I, are, of course, far too smart for that.  We don’t put any faces on the storm any more. But we are working just as hard to control the forces around us as any ancient pagan ever did.  We are so fragile, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, and somehow we must bolster ourselves against all that threatens us. We, and our needs, are the beginning and end of everything.  This is what happens when we exalt the creation, and us in it, to the place of Yahweh, the I AM.

 

In fact, there is no security in the creation, and so long as we think there is, we will be idolaters, frantically trying to manipulate this world to give us what it never can. The only security is in the incomparable Creator, the Rock, and when we stop trying to manipulate him and his world, we will find true security in sweet rest in him and his gracious provision.

Mar 26

Perfect?

Perfect?

 

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.                                                    Phillipians 3:12-16 ESV

 

In Philippians 3:12 Paul says, “I am not yet already perfect, I have not attained.”  That gives us a lot of comfort: “Whew,” we say, “that lets me out. I don’t need to worry about how I live. Because if Paul, of all people, wasn’t perfect, my goodness, why should I worry?” But then in the fifteenth verse, after he has talked about what is true of him, he says, “Everyone who is perfect ought to have the same attitude that I have.” “Now wait a minute,” you say. “He didn’t say ‘perfect,’ he said ‘mature.’” Well, as a matter of fact, he did say “perfect,” both in verses 12 and 15 (check out the King James Version). So what has happened? Modern translators, reflecting modern culture, cannot stomach any idea of human perfectibility. So, even though Paul uses the same word in both places, they refuse to translate the second occurrence in the same way.

But if that is true, what is Paul saying? It looks like he is saying he is not perfect, but that everybody who is perfect ought to be like him! That makes no sense.  So what is he saying? He is using the word, purposely, I think, in two “perfectly” good, but different ways. On the one hand, he is saying that God is not done with him.  ”I don’t know Jesus yet like I plan to know Him, like I believe I am going to know Him.  I don’t know yet the full power of His resurrection in all that it could do in me. I don’t know yet the fellowship of His sufferings, the likeness to His death, in all the possibilities that it has for me. No, I am not finally perfected.”

However, he then says, “I will tell you what God has done for me. He has perfected me in this sense. He has made my heart one; he has made my desires one; he has made my goals one; he has made me one.  He has put before me the vision of what I may be in Christ, and He has imprinted it so much on my mind that everything in my life is subordinated to that vision, and in this sense, I am perfect, and you should be too.”

Brothers and sisters, that can be true for us. Done, finished, nothing more to be done? Of course not, not this side of heaven. But—one? Yes! “All for Jesus, all for Jesus, all my being’s ransomed powers; all for Jesus, all for Jesus, all my days and all my hours.” That perfection we can know—now.

Mar 18

More than a Bus Ticket

More Than A Bus Ticket

 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith –and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do       (Ephesians 2:8 – 10 NIV)

What was Jesus’ purpose in coming? It was to make it possible for the Old Testament promise to be realized. Yes, He came to die for our sins, but that isn’t the end purpose for which Jesus came. And a great deal of the tragedy of the evangelical church in America today is because we have missed that point.  Today it is largely impossible to distinguish believers from non-believers on the basis of the quality and character of their lives. Why is this? We think that Jesus is a bus ticket to heaven; you come to the altar and buy a ticket and wait for the bus to come.

No!  Jesus came so that the Holy Spirit as promised in the Old Testament could come upon His people and enable them to live holy lives (see Ezek 36:24 – 26). But the Spirit cannot take up residence in a filthy temple. So Jesus came to be the perfect sacrifice whereby our sins could be forgiven and the temple be made clean and the end result of the whole thing could happen – the Holy Spirit could come into our lives and take up residence and we could share His character (see Matt 13:42-45 about what happens when the temple is left empty).

That is the point being made in Ephesians 2:8 – 10. Many of us have memorized the first sentence and paid no attention to the second. That is exactly what has happened in the church. We are saved by grace, not by any good thing we have ever done. So, while it is good to do good things, they don’t really matter! No! Read the second sentence. The reason God created us is to do good works (that is, share his character, be holy).  That was his plan from the creation of the world (Eph 1:4). Jesus is not a bus ticket; in the Spirit he is the living, breathing presence in us, enabling us to live God’s life in the present world and forever more.

Mar 11

Intentional and Unintentional Sin

Intentional and Unintentional Sin

4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6 He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. (Luke 22:4-6 NIV)

54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance.

 55 But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” 57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. (Luke 22:54-57 NIV)

 

The two passages above illustrate an important point about the Bible’s understanding of sin. There is intentional sin, called “sin with a high hand [raised fist]” in Numbers 15:30, and there is unintentional sin, or going astray (Numbers 15:22). Judas’ sin was intentional. He planned it, discussed it, and looked for an opportunity to commit it. There is no stated sacrifice in the Old Testament for this kind of sin. Can it be forgiven? Certainly. But the problem is that committing it so scars us that genuine repentance (as opposed to remorse) becomes very difficult, as it was for Judas.

Peter’s sin, on the other hand, was unintentional. When he followed the mob to the High Priest’s house, denying his association with Jesus was the farthest thing from his mind. But in the moment, seeing how Jesus was being treated, and fearing the consequences for himself, when he was asked to identify himself with the defendant, he said the fateful words, “I do not know him.” How tragic! For three years Jesus had been revealing himself to Peter, so that Peter could know him intimately, and in the end Peter denied knowing him. But precisely because the sin was unintentional, when Peter recognized what he had done, he wept bitterly. This was not what he planned, not what he wanted, and he regretted it with all his heart. Jesus knew this, and weeks later, by the sea, he gently drew Peter back into the ministry that Peter had thought was forever closed to him.

Can we, through the Holy Spirit, be delivered from committing intentional sin? Yes! We can live lives that are to the very core intentionally, wholly, his. But will we ever be free from the danger of “going astray,” or from the need to guard our souls diligently against such a thing? No. To be sure, we ought to have such an experience of the Holy Spirit that we are more and more sensitive to his gentle voice pointing out the danger signals, and we ought not to fall into the same pit again and again. But Jesus knows our hearts, and as he said to Peter, he has prayed for us, and like Peter, he will meet us at our seasides.

Mar 05

Until it’s Over

Until it’s Over

4 In Solomon’s old age, [his wives] turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the LORD his God, as his father, David, had been. 5 Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. 6 In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the LORD’s sight; he refused to follow the LORD completely, as his father, David, had done.                                          (1Ki 11:4-6 NLT)


However you look at it, Solomon’s story ends badly. After all his accomplishments, after all his glory, to have these things said about him. They are his epitaph. What a tragedy! It makes me think of the words of the famous baseball player, Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” How easy it is for those of us who are older to think that that now that we have reached the sunset years, we can sort of coast. But it is not true. Our enemy remains the implacable roaring lion whose unchanging goal is to destroy us. He does not “back off” as we come nearer to the end of the earthly road. He is just as eager to destroy us in our last days as in our first. Regular examination of our motives, our commitments, and our behavior is just as necessary in the twilight as it was in the dawn.

But that brings us to another thought. Solomon’s story is not merely about failure at the end. That final failure was the fatal flowering of a plant that had been planted years before. Chapters 1 and 2 of 1 Kings tell us how Solomon became king and how his rule was firmly established. Then 3:2-15 tells the beautiful story of his humbly asking God for wisdom to rule God’s people, and of God’s gracious response. But what about the first verse of chapter three? It is almost an aside, as though the narrator is saying, “Oh, by the way….” But by placing it here at the very beginning of the story of Solomon’s accomplishments, the narrator is subtly saying that his “by the way” has deadly implications. The little verse says that Solomon married an Egyptian princess. What a coup! What an honor! What a great statement about the surrounding world’s recognition of Solomon’s significance at the very outset of his career. Yes, but it was something that had been forbidden by God. It was just a little thing, only worth a single verse. But it was not a little thing. It set a course in Solomon’s life that was to prove deadly in the end.

In the days before paved highways, when roads were simply muddy tracks, deep ruts would form. It is said that somewhere on the Plains was a sign saying, “Choose your ruts carefully, you’ll be in them for the next 40 miles.”  What seemingly unimportant little choices are you making today that will hold you in iron and perhaps even write your epitaph years from now?

 

 

Feb 27

Don’t Profane His Name

Don’t Profane His Name

 

“I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you profaned in their midst, and the nations will know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when I am hallowed in you before their eyes.                                 (Ezekiel 36:23 NKJV)

 

We pray, “Hallowed by thy name” in the Lord’s Prayer, but do we really mean it? I suggest that we American Christians, like the Judeans in exile, profane God’s name in a variety of ways. We are not talking about cursing or swearing here. We are talking about making it appear that God is helpless, or that he is a petty little being who exists for us. For instance, many preachers say in so many words, “God exists to make us happy. He exists to answer our prayers. He exists to make us rich.” No he does not! God is not a rabbit’s foot who exists to make our prayers come true. He is the I AM, the One on whose Being all the universe depends. He exists in himself in his triune nature. What he wants is to share with us the self-denying love the Trinity have for each other, and to have us share that love with one another. To suggest anything less is to profane his holy nature—his name.

When we pray that his name should be hallowed, we are asking that God’s incomparable nature might be seen in us. We are asking that the world might recognize that he alone is God, and that he alone has the power to deliver us from our addictions to wealth, pleasure, and comfort, and above all, to our own way. The Judeans were in exile as a result of their sin, and that made it appear that Yahweh could not deliver them, that he was as helpless as any other God. So God says that he will show himself holy through them.

Have we been delivered from the old habits, the old ways of thinking, the old guilts, the old hatreds, or are our lives and behaviors indistinguishable from the lost around us? To the degree they are indistinguishable, just to that degree, we are profaning the name of God.