Friday, March 21, 2014

What is the fear of the Lord?

On June 28th, a couple months after my 8th birthday, my parents gave me my first Bible. Inscribed on the flyleaf was the reference "Proverbs 1:7." In my youthful enthusiasm, I immediately went to the verse:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Reading this, stopped me in my tracks. I'd been taught about the love of God. Why would I fear Him? I asked my Dad "what does it mean to fear God?" (Or something reasonably close to that.) I remember his reply was that "fear" in this case didn't mean "terror" but more like "respect." I remember that the explanation didn't quite click. I understood it and filed it away, but it didn't really fit.

Over the decades since, as I've thought about, studied and prayed over this verse and others like it, I've come to a different conclusion: the "fear of the Lord" does not mean "respect God." It means to be terrified of Him.

The first definition for fear means "knowledge of imminent danger." I think this is the appropriate meaning.

God is holy and righteous. We are sinful. He is light. We are darkness. When light and dark meet, there is no fight. Dark simply vanishes. This should strike terror into our hearts.

Daniel was a prophet of God. He was part of Israel's royal house. He was captured by the Babylonians and made a servant in the foreign king's court for the rest of his life. Daniel grew up and served in an environment where those in authority had the power of life and death over him and those around him. He lived a long life, at least into his 80s, possibly longer. He had extensive first hand knowledge of the authority of the king. He also had a lifetime of serving God. He prayed daily. He interpreted dreams. He was given multiple visions. He saw angels. He had first hand experience of the miraculous. Towards the end of his life, he had a vision of the pre-incarnate Jesus. Even with this lifetime of experience, both in the natural and spiritual, when God shows up he faints in fear.

John was the beloved disciple. He leaned on Jesus at the last supper. He was one of the three closest to Jesus when He was on earth. He was one of the first leaders in the church. He wrote five books of the New Testament. He stood trial before political leaders who tried to kill him. He also lived into his 80s. Towards the end of his life he too had a vision of the resurrected Jesus in all His power. In spite of this lifetime of experience, both in the natural and spiritual, he too faints in fear when Jesus is fully revealed.

I mention these by way of example. I don't think these mighty men of God, who stood boldly before men who held their lives in their hands, fainted out of respect when God showed up.

No. They were shaken to their core. They trembled. They were terrified. If this was their response, how much more so would (or should) we do the same?

God is holy. God is righteous. We should tremble. This is where we need to start. But it's only the beginning.

God is also love. In love He has provided a way for us to be able to stand in His presence and not vanish like shadows when the light is turned on. He touched Daniel and John to give them strength to stand in His presence and receive revelation of what was on His heart. For us He has provided Jesus blood as the way for us to be cleansed of our sins. As a result, we are able to stand in His presence and receive the Holy Spirit to know what is on His heart.

A pastor named Steve Brown frequently says:
If you've stood before God and not been afraid, you've not stood before God. If you've stood before God and only been afraid, you've not stood before God.
And C. S. Lewis puts it succinctly:
He's not a tame lion.
To tremble in fear before God is a good thing. It comes from the knowledge that He is holy and we are common. He is mighty and we are weak. He is just and we are unjust. And it leads us to the understanding that we need salvation and the good news of the cross. Without the fear we cannot know the salvation.

Fear is where we begin.

Monday, March 3, 2014

What is the gospel?

What is the gospel?

Let me start with what it's not.

The gospel is not "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life."

This statement focuses on the wrong person. It has "you" as the center. "You" is the object in both parts of the phase. The phrase "wonderful plan" also implicitly sets an expectation that, after becoming a Christian, your life will be blessed and without problems.

But the gospel is not about you.

And God's wonderful plan is not to make your life trouble free.

When Jesus uses the word "gospel" it is frequently followed by "of the kingdom." When other New Testament writers use the term, it is followed by "of God" or "of Jesus." The focus is not on personal salvation and eternal life, although these are certainly by-products of it.

The gospel is closer to the line of thought that: This world is badly broken by the effects of sin. God is going to invade it to remove the effects of sin and make things right. If you are living in sin (and everyone is), this means you're part of the problem and are going to be removed too. But God loves you enough to pay for your sins Himself and offers salvation from the removal process as a gift. Once you accept His gift, He also loves you enough not to leave you wallowing in your mess. He will work in your life to remove the things that keep you from wholeheartedly loving Him and being a fit citizen of His kingdom.

The focus is on God and what He has done and will do. It's on His kingdom and Him preparing us to live in it. Because of the effects of being born into a sin filled world, He has a lot of work to do in us to make us ready for His kingdom. This work is frequently associated with pain and hardship. Sanding off our rough edges skins our egos. Cutting out the cancerous sin from our souls leaves scars. The end result is wonderful, but we may not appreciate the result in our mortal life.

Yes, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life" is part of the gospel. But it's a whole lot bigger than just you and the time-line is from the standpoint of eternity, not today, tomorrow or even your lifetime.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

7 things

He who created light[1]
      became the light of the world.[2]
He who separated earth from sky[3]
      was born onto the earth under a night sky.[4]
He who formed the land,[5]
      was tempted in its dusty wilds.[6]
He who hung the sun, moon and stars[7]
      was himself hung between heaven and earth.[8]
He who populated the water with fish[9]
      directed those fish into the net.[10]
He who breathed life into the first Adam[11]
      as the last Adam breathes His Spirit into us.[12]
He who rested on the seventh day[13]
      provides rest to all who believe in Him.[14]

1. Genesis 1:3
2. John 1:4,5
3. Genesis 1:6
4. Luke 2:7,8
5. Genesis 1:9
6. Matthew 4:1-11
7. Genesis 1:14
8. Acts 5:30,31
9. Genesis 1:20
10. John 5:1-11, John 21:3-6
11. Genesis 2:7
12. 1st Corinthians 15:45
13. Genesis 2:2
14. Hebrews 4:1-11

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Praying for our enemies

Listen to my words, Lord,
    consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help,
    my King and my God,
    for to you I pray.
        -- David (Psalm 5:1,2)
Psalm 5 talks about our enemies. For David, his enemies were obvious. For us, probably not so much. Even those who we may not get along with, they're still not enemies in the same way as Saul was to David. Really. I mean, when was the last time someone tried to pin you to the wall with a spear?

I last read this Psalm during a time when I was also spending time in both Ephesians and The Sermon on the Mount. As I read David's words, I was reminded that, the guy at work who's manipulative and duplicitous isn't my enemy, even though it may seem like it.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
-- Jesus (Matthew 5:43-45)
Jesus actually calls me to love him.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. ... And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
-- Paul (Ephesians 6:12,18)
However, the demons jabbing him are my enemy. I don't wrestle with men, my fight is with the spirits manipulating them. My weapons are not physical or even political or intellectual. My weapons are spiritual because that is the realm of the battle. Paul exhorts us to give ourselves wholly to prayer so we may stand when things are at their worst. From a cave in hiding, David gives us an example of what this looks like.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Philosophy of Communication

I touched on this topic briefly in an earlier post talking about the stories we tell ourselves. This post is a short expansion on some of the principles illustrated in that article.

Multiple Creative Commons attributions

Psychology has found people tend to fall into one of three primary ways of processing information: visual, kinesthetic and auditory. Thinking may be in pictures, feeling and physical sensations, or language and sounds. As individuals, we may use more than one of these ways, but typically we each have one that predominates. We perceive reality and conceive thoughts primarily through one of these three modes. It is the means by which we construct in our heads a model of the world. It impacts how we learn, how we create and how we communicate.

Most of what we call Wester Civilization is passed down through just one of these mechanisms: the auditory channel. This is done through oral histories and these abstract symbols called letters and numbers. They are often supplemented by diagrams and drawings, but the primary content is via words. Spoken and written language is the main way information is passed from individual to individual.

Taking these two things together, communication involves converting a rich internal model, in any one of three ways of thinking, into words and transmitting those words to someone else via some mechanism. That mechanism may be voice or hand written or printed or a blog. Then someone has to take those words and convert them to their own internal model, possibly using a different mode of thought than the first person.

In this process, the originator may very well have to take a concept that they feel or visualize and convert it to words. These words have multiple and varied meanings which overlap with different words and their subtle shades of meaning. The speaker (or writer) goes through a process to select what they believe to be the appropriate words to convey their internal model. This is an act of interpretation. The hearer (or reader) then takes those words, with possibly a different set of meanings and tries to construct their own mental model in possibly a different way of thinking. This is also an interpretive act.

There are many things that impact the way individuals may interpret words on both sides of the conversation. A few of the things that may impact it are: different social, economic and cultural backgrounds, different native languages, current emotional state, educational background, political and religious beliefs, time in history and intentional duplicity.

When I think about what goes on in this process, I'm amazed anything resembling communication happens at all.

Friday, October 12, 2012

My Litmus Test

In this election year, as in every one, we all make our list of issues by which to measure candidates and decide who will receive our vote. Some of the important issues this election cycle, in no particular order, include the overall economy, governmental spending and debt, foreign policy, jobs, national security, energy and personal freedoms. However, my first and foremost criteria when judging a candidate's credentials is their stand on abortion. They must not support killing children in the womb. They must protect life from the point of conception. If they are not unequivocal on this point, then no other policy issues matter. That's not to mean the other issues don't matter, just that this one out-ranks all the other's combined in importance. If there are multiple candidates that are equivalent on this issue, only then do other ones come into play in the selection process.

Some may consider my criteria unreasonable. That's fine. I don't really care. I must answer to God, not them. I believe this issue is more important to His heart than the others and so I must align my beliefs and actions accordingly. He creates life.[1] He dances with joy over us.[2] He knows us and forms us in the womb.[3] He desires the children to come to Him.[4] Harsh judgement awaits those who cause little ones to stumble.[5] And He removes societies who destroy their children.[6]

In the last 39 years, we have killed 54 million American citizens.[7] Stop a minute and let that number soak in. That's equivalent to the states of California (37m), Oregon (4m), Washington (7m), Nevada (3m) and Utah (3m) combined.[8] That's over 40 times the U.S. dead from all our wars since 1775 combined (1.3m).[9] Look what we did when an enemy killed 3,000 on September 11, 2001.[10] Look what we did when an enemy killed 2,400 on December 7, 1941.[11] As a nation we rose up and put an end to the perpetrators. And yet we do little when four orders of magnitude more people are slaughtered. And not just people, but infants. The most weak and vulnerable among us. As a nation, we stand condemned before God. All we can do is repent, align ourselves with His kingdom principles and beg for His mercy.[12]

1. Genesis 1:26ff; Revelation 4:11
2. Proverbs 8:31
3. Psalm 139:13ff
4. Luke 18:16
5. Mark 9:42
6. Leviticus 18:21, 24; Jeremiah 32:26ff
12. 2nd Chronicles 7:14; Psalm 32:5

Friday, September 14, 2012

Our stories

I recently ran across a brief blog post enumerating some hints at effective leadership. The last two items were:

  • Entertain more than one interpretation about any situation.
  • What story are people telling about me?
In an equally brief blog post, here is a minor expansion of the list.

On a human level, I think there are four important stories to think about:
  1. What is the other person's story about me?
  2. What is my story about the other?
  3. What is my story about myself?
  4. What is their story about themselves?
On a spiritual level, I think we also need to think about:
  1. What is God's story about me?
  2. What is God's story about them?
In our relationships, the more 1 and 3 align with 5 and the more 2 and 4 align with 6, the better off we'll be.