The “Big Price” in Trump’s Tweet

It’s true, there’s a ‘Big Price’ for what happened in Syria. It is also true that what happened is evidence of a big price we all face.

It’s tempting to see the horrors in the world, or even the misfortunes, pain and struggles we face in our daily lives as being ‘of the devil.’ We see wrong and we cast a judgment. There are three groups:

Those who acknowledge (the Judeo-Christian) God will often say, “this isn’t from God.” This group sees the horror that happened in Syria as evidence of Satan working in the world.

Those who do not confess there is a God (Judeo-Christian or otherwise) will see this as supporting evidence that God does not exist. After all, how could a “good” God stand by and let this sort of thing happen?

The third group–which also acknowledges the Christian God–sees this not only as evidence to prove God’s existence, but as support for the Gospel, and our dire need for it.

As I’ve said already, I agree that there is a big price for what has been done. No one commits evil and gets away with it. It may seem that someone sins with impunity. After all, our very own President has allegations of immoral behavior, yet he sits in the chair of one of the most powerful offices in our modern world. Though many hope to see “justice” served according to their own agendas, there is no indication that their version of justice will be served.

Likewise, the election that Trump won had a true “lesser of two evils” dynamic unlike any we’ve seen in my lifetime. No candidate wore the “white hat” here.

The people in Syria who ordered and carried out the chemical attack on its citizens will not go un-punished. They face a God who has commanded that we treat life as sacred. More importantly, those people–long before they ever had the ability to carry out such genocide–have been gnashing their teeth at God in open rebellion against Him from birth.

It’s natural for a child to view a broken toy as the worst thing in the world. Likewise, it is natural for us to view the chemical attacks and the brutality committed as the more heinous crime. And yet, that’s not how God sees it.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Mat 10:28

In Matthew, Jesus tells the people not to fear those who can only kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Mat 10:28. 

This anticipates the martyrdom of Christs’ followers. Indeed, the annals of the world drip with the blood of Christians. The deaths of Christians do not get the tweets and condemnation of the world as other deaths and atrocities do. Today, there are Christians in hiding throughout the world. They are prohibited from gathering and studying God’s word. They are imprisoned under false pretenses. They are brutally killed. No one takes notice. It’s as if it doesn’t happen.

These Christians have paid a ‘big price’ in gratitude for the ‘big price’ that was paid on their behalf.

And that’s the ‘Big Price’ that President Trump, the leaders of Syria, and every human on the planet owes. It is the price for our rebellion against God. And we’re born that way. From the moment we open our eyes and with every breath thereafter, we believe we sit on the throne of our lives. We focus on what’s good for ME. I have RIGHTS. No one talks to ME that way.

Such is our main view of justice. When something happens that appears to trample on personal rights, we demand that payment be made. If we trample on someone else’s feelings, rights or person, they probably just got in our way. I’m quite sure the people who dropped the barrels of toxic poison on the women and children in Syria can justify their actions. We’re pretty good at explaining how what we do is justified.

Just like we excuse ourselves from the first, and most important commandment: Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul and strength.

If that is the first, and most important commandment, the one from which all others flow, we fail. And it is that commandment–or the breaking thereof–for which we all must pay a big price.

In Syria we’ve seen the power of those who can kill the body. But, one day, we will see the power of Him who can not only kill the body, but also has providence over our souls. It is this judgment that should cause us all to tremble in fear.

I’ll admit, I don’t tremble as I should. I have more of an intellectual fear of it than an experiential fear. I remember the time I started an outboard motor while it was in gear. It started up and threw me back, over the rails. Somehow I flipped around, my feet dangling in the water, reached up and managed to shut off the motor. Afterward, I trembled as I realized my feet were probably inches from the spinning propellor and that I could have fallen over and been chopped up. That was experiential fear and trembling.

We don’t have that because we are enjoying God’s common grace. We experience His mercy, which tempers the judgment we deserve. No matter our condition in life, we are experiencing far better than what we deserve.

It is tempting to say, “but I’m a Christian! I have stepped forward in faith and should be blessed!” And yet, the Bible never extends us the promise of material wealth or honor in this life. It’s actually the opposite. Psst. That’s how you can tell a false prophet, by the way–they usually promise earthly prosperity and health.

God’s favor and blessing on us is based solely on Jesus’ perfect life, death and resurrection. I can make no claim to God’s favor on my own obedience. He paid the ‘big price’ for me. My obedience–such that it is–is in thankfulness and love, not out of paying a debt.

I read that Mother Teresa lived her simple, austere life because she believed that in doing so, she removed some of the suffering of Christ on the cross. While some may offer a little happy frown and say, “that’s so sweet,” it’s actually blasphemous. Remember Peter who told Jesus that He shouldn’t die, and Jesus responded, “Get behind me Satan, you savor the things of men!” Or when Peter said that He would die before he would deny Christ, and Jesus said, “Would you die for me?”

We are not God. Our hands are covered in the worst guilt–our own–and we cannot remove the suffering Christ paid on our behalf. To suggest this is lowering the sacrifice, the big price, to something far less than what it was. When we do that, we lower our offense to something like a misdemeanor rather than the death penalty we owe. This effectively tells God, your honor and glory is a small thing and you shouldn’t be upset. In other words, we become the judge of God, rather than the other way around.

When we understand that God is not absent in the horrors of this world. He’s not asleep at the wheel. He directs all things, including these atrocities. We see death of ‘innocent’ children as appalling, and we should. But, instead of shaking our fist at God and saying, “Where were you?” we should humble ourselves and give Glory to God and say, “how could we?”

How could we blaspheme and neglect honor to God? How could we run off to violate His moral law? How could we usurp His role in our lives, setting ourselves up as the ones in charge?

When we see sin on display in the world it’s a cop-out to say, “that’s evil” and yet exempt ourselves from that indictment. That is evil. And our failure to glorify God for His pure, righteous, holy, good, faithful and powerful character only contributes to the evil in this world. How does it contribute? Because we’re feeding the enemy. We’re allowing the wound in creation to fester. We’re believing that our little, selfish ‘good deeds’ are able to pay what we owe.

Like the master in Jesus’ parable about the servants, we have been given a way to have our debt canceled out. We’ve been forgiven. Yet, when we assume that those around us are worse than us, and demand that they ‘pay us what they owe us,’ we essentially reject the gospel and forfeit the forgiveness we can have.

Let me explain that lest you think I’m suggesting there shouldn’t be consequences for sin in this life: There should be. A murderer should be brought to justice. The people responsible in Syria should pay a hefty price.

What I’m pointing out is that we shouldn’t regard evil, demand justice, and think we’re doing okay. There should be justice carried out in this life. We should ‘do justice’ in reverence to God, who is just. But we should examine ourselves and recognize that we fall far short of giving God glory. We are in need of His payment on the cross every day, every hour, every minute, every second. We cannot contribute one blink of an eye toward our own salvation. Any attempt to do so (with that as its goal) is actually evil (like a bribe).

We have a big price. But the beauty of the Gospel is that it has been paid. Our response should be humility and devotion to the Lord, as much as we can offer, knowing that it is less than a penny in the offering plate to God, but more than all the riches of the self-righteous who believe they are earning their way to Heaven.


Can I Agree with Pastors, and Still Hate Them?

The pastor thundering his audience with a quavering voice while tears stream down his face is a tired cliché. And yet, when I see some of the most popular preachers in the evangelical world, that’s pretty much what I see. And it drives me nuts!

Here’s the kicker: I agree with much of what many of them say (how is that for a sentence full of qualifiers?). I’m going to pick on a few … by name, so get ready.

Paul Washer. I think he has a lot to say that is very good. While he gets attacked for his “Lordship Salvation” as one who teaches that we’re saved by works, I disagree. He would never claim that our works earn one bit of our salvation. And yet, he works himself up into a trembling, sobbing, voice raising fuss in nearly every sermon (I say nearly because I haven’t heard all of them).

Recently, I heard an impassioned tale from him explaining how a friend showed him a trailer for … a movie. This is an old audio clip because the movie was Spider-Man 3. He tells, in his dramatic way, how the clip showed exciting images of fantastic things, all happening so quickly that he was exhausted by the sheer excitement of the images.

He doesn’t get out much.

He went on to ask, in his most desperate manner, how any child could enjoy playing with his father outdoors after seeing such a movie!?

Indeed. Could be why sports teams have pretty much vanished and dads are no longer going to the parks with their boys playing catch after that blockbuster.

How stupid! How absurd! I could make a similar straw man argument by saying, “A friend took me on a journey. He brought me to the middle of a vast desert. And there, before me, I witnessed a breathtaking chasm, a gulf of unimaginable size! Gazing down to the impossible depth, I detected a rushing, wild river! The beauty of this spectacle left me breathless with excitement and exhausted! And I thought, how could my kids every look up to me as a father, or enjoy spending time with me in our living room when there are these grand, exceptional places on earth!”

See what I did there?

Now, Paul’s point is that Hollywood isn’t real. The special effects that make Spider-Man swing on buildings and stick to walls … that’s all fake. And, if we watch that sort of thing, thinking it’s representative of reality, we’ll be disappointed. We’ll feel depressed with our lives because they don’t live up to being bitten by a radioactive spider!

Here’s the part where I agree with him. Hollywood is fake. Everything is fake. Women, and the way they respond to the male lead, is fake. The good, bad and suspenseful things that happen, are all fake. The actors are pretending to like, love or hate each other.

I laugh when Keifer Sutherland explains that his show 24 shouldn’t be seen as an endorsement of torture since the events in the show are dramatic devices to drive the plot. And he’s exactly right. I’ve never known anyone to work on something that they actually expected to complete within 24 hours! They’d call it a night and save it for the next day.

And yet, we are tempted to buy into what we see on TV and in movies. Movies, and books, and news articles, and devotionals, and self-help books all present an image of something we want. And then promise to deliver it.

Christian publishing is no different. Paul Washer, is no different. They paint an emotional picture, incite a need, then deliver the “answer.”

In some instances, the answer is true. Other times, it’s a placebo and you’ll be no better off, and often a few dollars poorer.

While Paul urges people to purity, he’s absolutely right! We should turn from filth. We should reject the cultural maxims that “everyone knows.” We should renew our minds with God’s Word, no matter how silly it appears to society at large.

To do this we need to recognize the scams. When we watch a show, we should be able to spot when something doesn’t present reality. Have you ever noticed that the “experts in a field” on TV are all in their early 30s? Have you ever seen a show where a late 20-something talks about how they’ve been working “all their lives” for … And we might just eat it up.

FYI to Hollywood, putting glasses on a model and giving her a clipboard doesn’t make her a brilliant scientist.

By the same token, how many Christian books are sold on the basis of “We’ve been promised to have xyz … but, if you’re honest, have you felt that? Do you experience xyz on a daily basis? Would you like to know how you can get more of xyz? Buy this book, then the 20-part series of DVDs, attend the conference, buy the T-shirt, get the coffee mug, wear the bracelet …

I wish that all was hyperbole. Sadly, it’s not.

While I agree with what these popular pastors say … if they tell you how God spoke Whataburger …. Black man, grey pants …. pig tails … into their heads and they wrote it down … then they cruised over to a burger joint and LO, in walked a black man with gray pants!!! Don’t listen to another word they say. That was Matt Chandler, by the way. And he started that talk off with saying, “The same power that raised Christ from the grave is inside you … have you experienced that kind of power?”

He misuses the verses in Romans by changing “Spirit” to “Power” and then asks a subjective question that divorces the verses from their context. Then he tells a story that could have been on The Mentalist. Only on that show, it would be obvious that such random associations are not mystical, they’re coincidental.

This is just a couple of examples of why I hate pastors. I hate the emotionalism. The showmanship. I hate the CEO mentality that runs rampant in the so-called church. It’s evil. It blasphemes my Lord.

And yet, I do agree with much of what they say. But I can’t ignore those glaring differences.

God’s Not Mad At You – Or is He?

As a child I remember asking my grandpa if he ever smoked. That. Was. Wrong. If tension were a color, the room turned blistering red. And I ran out of that room to the safety of grandma (who had a secret stash of candy in the linen closet close by).

My grandfather loved me, though I learned never to ask if he had ever smoked (he did, and he apparently really wanted to forget about that habit!). My father loves me, too, though there were times I elicited degrees of wrath with my behavior. As a father who loves his children dearly, I have felt some wrath at my children’s behavior, as well. Most of these instances are directed at a behavior which must stop for the good of the child’s moral development.

Sadly, there are countless cases of “wrath” that are abusive, not corrective. There are some who view all men through a lens of heartbreaking pain and bitter sorrow. Such deep, festering wounds can often be traced back to a father, or other male authority figure who abused his position.

The truth is, we all abuse our positions because we are sinful. There have been multiple times I’ve gone to my children and asked forgiveness for having lost my temper, or snapped off a harsh word or two. I’ve had to ask my wife for forgiveness many times. Bottom line, I’m a man with a sinful nature. My wrath is seldom pure.

As a result, it’s tempting to view God only through the lens of His abundant love, mercy, forgiveness and grace. All of which are true. His mercies are many, His grace is abundant, His love exceeds our imagination. He certainly deals with us all according to His mercy.

In the same way that God’s love is pure, so is His wrath.

Interestingly, by comparison to God, we find that our love is as impure as our wrath.We link our ‘love’ to feelings. We ‘love’ people so long as they please us. We actually have a saying ‘falling out of love.’ God knows nothing of this transient, loosey-goosey love.

In the same way that God’s love is pure, so is His wrath. While we might feel a milligram of righteous wrath at some evil act, we soon hijack that wrath with our own self-righteousness and overreact in a sinful way. See, our wrath–like our love–is tied to our emotions (which tend to be self-serving and prideful). Once the spark is lit, it rages, soon bursting from the furnace and consuming everything (or at least more than we intended).

God’s wrath is not tied to emotion. He’s not like us. His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways. When He turns His wrath towards us, it is measured and just. He deals out exactly what is needed according to His purpose. We can trust this.

I’m reading through Isaiah and came across this verse:

“In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer.” Is. 54:8

Isaiah spoke to a people who had forsaken God and were about to be taken over by their enemies. He prophesied about their suffering and spoke toward their deliverance. Remember that this book has immediate application to the people at the time. But it also has application on a larger scale to God’s true Israel, the Bride of Christ, the congregation of the redeemed, the Church.

On a personal level, this applies to each of the redeemed children of God. We do, indeed, endure the wrath of God. Except it is in small measure to what the unbelievers will face. It is also confined and brief. God is slow to anger, but quick to treat us according to His mercy. While suffering lasts for the night, joy will come with the morning.

At times, we go through things that have us in despair, like the young wife in Isaiah 54. We feel abandoned by God, forsaken when we are full of youth. We feel cast aside. Our enemies deride us as fools, forsaken by our God. Yet, out of the apparent oppression, through the thick gloom of our sorrow, the Lord rescues us. He lifts us up according to His mercy, His covenant, His grace.

Our part is to confess our sin. We can trust He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us. But His mercy and grace are not dependent upon our performance. At times, we may be suffering quite apart from any obvious sin (like Job!). Other times, we may be deep in sorrow because we’ve gone astray in our obedience.

In both instances, we must humble ourselves before God, attest to His glorious character and perfect nature. If we’ve sinned, we must confess.

I like this quote from Matthew Henry:

“It is often the condition of Christian churches and of particular believers; without are fightings, within are fears; they are like the disciples in a storm, ready to perish; and where is their faith?”

We fret at so much. We begin to wonder, where’s my faith? How could God love me if I’m so faithless? We begin thinking God has led us out to the wilderness to die.

Don’t fear, He hasn’t. His overflowing wrath is for a short time, but His love is everlasting!

Is Tragedy From God?

A week and a half ago my family was given devastating news: my oldest daughter was diagnosed with inflamed Bowel Disease. This encompasses Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Both are auto-immune diseases that are considered chronic, meaning they’ll stay with her for her whole life.

When someone receives such a diagnosis it is hard to imagine that God ordained it. In fact, the common response is: This isn’t from God!

They can go into remission, or they can cause damage that could require removal of parts of her intestines. While there’s a spectrum, there are “horror stories” that no one without the disease can truly fathom. When someone receives such a diagnosis it is hard to imagine that God ordained it. In fact, the common response is: This isn’t from God!

In my Bible study I’m in Isaiah 53. This is one of a number of passages that directly point to Jesus Christ. Verse 10 stands out to me: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him…” 

It made me think of another who was crushed by God: Job. I just did a study in that book, as well, and noticed a few things:

  • God pointed Job out to Satan: “And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” 1:8 ESV. Satan, of course, claims that Job’s only incentive to praise God and turn from evil was due to God blessing his life. Satan challenges God to “stretch out [His] hand and touch all that he has” and then Job will curse God.
  • God pointed Job out to Satan a second time in chapter 2, “”Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” Here, God confirms that He struck Job, though He had given Satan permission to take certain things and set limits.
  • Job never attributes his suffering to Satan. He confesses that it comes at the hand of God. In chapter 13, verse 15 he says, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him…”

The hard part of faith is recognizing that God is the primary mover in all things. Some quibble that God permits evil, he doesn’t cause it. And, there’s truth in that. God is not the author of evil, but evil serves at the sovereign will of God.

Before I tie this up, I’d like to point out why Job is a significant book to understand in terms of God inflicting suffering on the righteous man. Job is a type of Christ. His character is descriptive of the true righteous one who always turned away from evil and glorified God perfectly: Jesus Christ.

When Christ was born, Satan sought to kill him through Herod. He sought to destroy his sinless nature through temptation. Finally, Satan sought to destroy Christ through pious, religious people accusing Him of blasphemy. Yet it was God who ordained all of these sufferings. God appointed Judas as the son of perdition who would betray the Christ into the rulers’ hands. God appointed the suffering on the cross, though Pilate had been inclined to let him go free. Jesus confirms that it is the cup prepared for Him by the Father.

She urged Job to let go of his worship of God as the benevolent, righteous and true God to whom our worship is due. She urged him to truly blaspheme God’s nature by turning his back on God and conclude that He must be a horrid being, devoid of love.

Do you see the parallel with Job? Job lost his family, his wealth and his health. Satan was prevented from killing him, though he likely wanted to. The righteous are an offront to Satan because they offer true worship to God, which is right. Then, Satan sought to disrupt Job through his wife and his friends. His wife urged him to curse God and die. It wasn’t merely a word of cursing that she advised. We like to think that a momentary curse is what is meant, but it is much worse. She urged Job to let go of his worship of God as the benevolent, righteous and true God to whom our worship is due. She urged him to truly blaspheme God’s nature by turning his back on God and conclude that He must be a horrid being, devoid of love.

Job’s response was that she spoke as the foolish women. He challenged her, “Shall I take good from the Lord, and not evil?” Job 2:10 ESV.

Both Job and Jesus suffered under the hand of God. Certainly, there is suffering in the world because of sin. Suffering offers powerful testimony to the existence and pervasiveness of sin. Without sin, Jesus would not have suffered on this earth and had to die on the cross. Since Job is a type of Christ, without sin, Job would not have had to suffer under the hand of God. There would have been no evil to deal out in God’s sovereign plan.

The difference between Job and Jesus lies in the sinless perfection of Jesus. While Job admits that he’s sinful, he contends that he didn’t do anything against the Lord (such as harbor blasphemy and rebellion) that deserved the suffering he endured. Jesus, on the other hand, was sinless, yet endured 32 years of suffering within a sinful world in rebellion against Him. He then endured the hateful words, the beatings, the spitting, the whipping and the humiliation of the cross … for our sin.

When we suffer a chronic or terminal illness, or when we suffer tragedy in one form or another, we have a choice: Do we say with Job, “Blessed be the name of the Lord?” Or do we side with Job’s friends, and the Pharisees that evil events and tragedy in this life are evidence of God’s displeasure at us?

Do you see that when we view God as one who weighs our good and bad deeds, then deals out in sudden retaliation, or seems to “catch up” with a wicked person, we’re saying something about God’s Name, or Nature. We’re suggesting that God is punishing sin through cancer or heart disease, or tragedy instead of dealing with us according to His mercy and offering us His grace.

As with all of these topics, this line of logic comes with a caution. There are instances where God does inflict suffering on people for their sin in this life. But that serves His purpose and His glory. For instance, the people of Israel were hauled off to Babylon and suffered at the hands of their enemies more than a few times. This was to turn their hearts toward God. And when they called out to the Name of God (that He is good, righteous, perfect, loving…) He would restore them and heal them.

The trial of Job, and the suffering of Jesus hold lessons for us. Job came through the suffering and learned greater humility than he had before, thus glorifying God. Jesus suffered for the sin of the world, purchasing a people for God’s glory, confirming God’s righteousness, justice, love, mercy and grace.

The Gospel is about God’s glory, not our value. If suffering speaks loudly to the presence of sin, the Gospel shouts even louder for the presence of God’s love. We read in Hebrews about how Abel’s blood cried up to God regarding sin (11:4), yet Christ’s blood speaks louder for Grace (12:24).

Our suffering in this life serves God’s glory. When we suffer thorns in the flesh, we learn to endure and confess the Lord’s greatness while others would abandon the faith. Though others may urge us that our suffering is some random thing that God didn’t send, we can say, “though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”

And Jesus was poor, a man of sorrows, stricken and despised during the years of His life. Anyone who tells you differently is reading from a different Bible and you should avoid them.

By God’s grace, He can heal any sickness that’s given. Like the man born blind from birth (not due to sin of his own, or his parents, see John 9:1-3). Though, as in the case of Paul, some thorns are not removed. They’re given to us that God’s grace might be more fully shown to the world.

There are plenty of “life coaches” or motivational speakers who meld the Bible to their positive, empowering platform for success. But they’re false prophets. The world loves them. People speak well of them and they’re sought out for counsel because they give good words. Jesus doesn’t play that game. Jesus speaks of a comfort that rests in the glory of God, not our material comfort.

God controls the afflictions we suffer and designs them for our good. That good is to be conformed to the image of Christ. And Jesus was poor, a man of sorrows, stricken and despised during the years of His life. Anyone who tells you differently is reading from a different Bible and you should avoid them.

Does this mean we don’t pray for my daughter’s restored health? No. I pray that daily. We are encouraged to bring our requests before God. And we wait on Him for our provision. He’s blessed us with great medical care. We have been blessed with an early diagnosis and prompt attention. We’re blessed to live in a country that has access to a lot of food. There are those who go into complete remission of the disease. I believe that, too, is the work of God for His glory. But if we relegate bad things to some random evil over which God is helpless to change, we’d be maligning His character and disparaging His name. We must take the good from the Lord, as well as the evil. Blessed be the name of the Lord!


Can I Make The Bible Say What I Want?

I suspect there’s a common misconception that someone can make the Bible say what they want it to say. Actually, there’s a lot of truth to that. We see it so often, it probably doesn’t even register as an event to us anymore.

We hear TV “evangelists” howling about how we should give money–not time, prayer, labor, but MONEY–in order to see the blessings of God and it sounds normal. Another “leader” in the church pulls some verse suggesting a blessing and then promises the thousands in attendance that God wants their lives to be filled with luxury NOW!

Continue reading →

What Is The Fear Of The Lord?

If your friends all jumped off a bridge, would you do it too? That’s a gem everyone has heard at least once in their lives. Rhetorically, I hope. The answer is obvious–“Heck no!” Because we’d be crazy to leap to our deaths. We fear death.

For some reason, though, Christians want to re-define “fear” when it comes to fearing God. I’ve heard it said that the fear of the Lord is “reverential awe.” Which is fancy for saying, “really amazed.”

Some believe that at His return, the world will tremble in fear–or amazement– at the goodness of God. It’s a nice thought, but the Bible doesn’t support that view.

I won’t get into a deep study of all the uses of fear in the Bible, but the Greek word (NT) is phobos or phobeo. Not too hard to see where we get our word phobia or phobic. In Hebrew the word was yira, or mora. Regardless of the language, the words convey an emotional response ranging from unease to stark terror, or trembling reverence. Context around verses provides whether it is someone “striking terror” or someone “filled with dread,” or someone “falling on their face in fear.”

One thing is certain, if we experienced any of the fear associated with God, we wouldn’t be talking about it in a den with cups of joe.

Here’s something interesting, though. In doing this word study I found that the Old Testament was filled with “fearing God.” God asserts His omnipotence and men are taught their place in Creation. I’m brushing with broad strokes here.

When we get to the New Testament, there are more verses telling us to “fear not.”

Those opposed to the whole “fear thing” might be cheering and high-fiving right now. But not so fast.

Those verses are correcting God’s people’s view of fear. Since the whole Bible is good for instruction, reproof and godliness, we need to take it as a whole. We tend to fear things in this world. We fear the unknown. We fear dark corners, under our beds, or the lump of monster that’s slithering from our closet at night. We fear a bad review at work. We fear sickness or car repair costs.

Yet God tells us not to fear for what we should wear, or what we will eat, or where we will live. God knows our needs!

Yet, we’re also told to fear the one who has power over not only our body, but also our souls! We are reminded in Hebrews that it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God! Paul tells us in Philippians to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

We should fear … but we should fear rightly. If you make a practice of sinning, you should fear (but you probably don’t). If you have turned from a life of sin, accepting God’s grace in Jesus’ sacrifice, you should NOT fear condemnation, or death. Rather, we should fear offending God’s love for us.

To use a simple, yet relatable example, imagine a husband is out with the guys. He’s having fun at a restaurant, or bowling alley … and a girl he knew in high school sees him and they start chatting. Suppose the husband’s wife–who realizes he forgot his wallet–heads to the restaurant/bowling alley to deliver the billfold. Just as she walks in, the little tramp puts her dainty little hand on her husband’s chest, tosses her frosted locks back and laughs through her pearly white teeth, batting her eyelashes.

Just then, the husband catches sight of his wife at the periphery of his sight and feels heat race up his neck to his face, the other woman’s hand burning a hot spot on his pectoral muscle.

At that moment, the husband’s mouth dries up, his eyes widen and he stammers with cold, tingling fingers, trying to explain the innocent coincidence that resulted in this scene.

The fear he feels is not terror of condemnation because he wasn’t unfaithful. Being fully devoted to his wife, he just happened to bump into a woman he knew. Being polite, he engaged in small-talk. But, being sensitive to the love-bond between he and his wife, he realized how it could look, and the pain it might cause.

Granted, this is a bit embellished. In a healthy relationship, there wouldn’t be such melodrama. But, using absurdity to illustrate a valid point, we should have the same fear with God. For us, however, we could fill in the story. We’re often caught texting someone we shouldn’t (using the example above). Or we get as close as we can to flirting with another god, if not starting to go steady. We grow disillusioned with God since he doesn’t fit what we’d like Him to be, and we play the field of worldly ideas.

We should fear. And that fear should drive us away from those other gods and back toward the One who loves us.

For those who have rejected God’s love, they’ve rejected His rightful claim on them. And they should fear condemnation, which is coming at a time they won’t expect.

Out With the Old

As our glittery 2018 glasses land in trash bins and we sweep up the streamers from the floor, many have resolved to cast off the old and put on the new. 2018 will be a fresh start. New wine must not be placed in old wineskins! Let’s leave the past and press on toward the future. Great! We’re off … but we don’t want to strike out on the path only to realize we’ve left our GPS. As Christians, we have a Great Commission, but we still need the Bible. Today, having a firm understanding of the Bible is more dire than ever, and I’ll explain why.

It strikes me that when Paul and the other Apostles wrote their letters to the various groups of Christians, they weren’t always “preaching to the choir.” What they wrote came across as controversial. As a matter of fact, they simply carried on the example set by Jesus. Far from being a winsome, charismatic speaker, Jesus offended a lot of people. More than once people sought to kill him. Not so coincidentally, the same thing happened to the Apostle Paul.

Turns out, people don’t like new wine. Or new wineskins. They like the comfort of the old ways. And that’s bad.

Except, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes we get that itch to have something new. We’re tired of the old lessons and we want that word of encouragement. This desire for mercy and grace is good, so long as it’s coming from a place where we recognize how hopeless we are before a Righteous, Good, Loving and Holy God. It’s good when we turn in endless thanksgiving to God for His sacrifice on our behalf through His son, Jesus Christ. It’s good when we understand that only Jesus’ righteousness covering us makes us acceptable to God and that apart from that, we have nothing to offer.

Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians when he says in 3:6: “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” The “letter” refers to the Law of Moses, which condemns us before God. We can’t keep that Law. And even if we try to keep it, if it’s done apart from faith (like Cain) it’s not going to be accepted.

Believe it or not, there’s controversy around this verse. Some point out that Paul is showing that the Old Testament Law, the old Covenant is abolished. Others point to the words of Jesus that not one letter of the Law will be abolished and that He came to fulfill the Law. There are those who believe we need to follow all the letter of the Old Law in order to be pleasing to God, though we are saved by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

I’m not going to deal with that controversy here.

There are still others who take that last part, “the Spirit gives life,” and contrast it with the Bible, or even doctrine. So, the “letter” means verses in context, discussions over a proper interpretation, etc. while the “Spirit” refers to less tangible things like the way we feel about people, the way we behave, etc.

It is certainly important that we behave in humility and love to everyone. But that’s not what Paul is referring to in this passage.

Some may take the “Spirit” and use it for the idea of new prophecy that people are allegedly getting. This is a dangerous trend that is nothing new. People claim that “God told them something” apart from the Bible, or “the letter.”

This is when we strike out and forget the GPS or our directions. The path ahead is exciting. We see a bright, new adventure spread out before us. We could certainly throw the map away and see where things take us. And for a while, that will be fun. But, when we get lost, we’ll probably get cranky and lose heart.

Paul wasn’t telling the Corinthians that they should toss out the Old Testament and just follow “The Spirit.” We need to understand what Paul meant by that phrase. In John 6:63, Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

The words of Jesus are spirit. We believe the writings of the Apostles are words from Jesus, as well. Thus, they are spirit. While some claim that God hasn’t closed off direct revelation and that there are “New Apostles” getting “new words” from God, we are commanded to “test the spirits” to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). So, whether you’re one who believes in new prophecies or not, we are commanded to be discerning of things people say.

That includes me, and this blog. I don’t want people taking what I say at face value. I want anyone who reads these words to search things out for themselves. We grow in our faith by encouraging each other to good works and a proper understanding of God’s word and who He is.

And we can’t do that if we toss out the Bible as being our GPS.