The Fear of God

“I want neither a terrorist spirituality that keeps me in a perpetual state of fright about being in right relationship with my heavenly Father nor a sappy spirituality that portrays God as such a benign teddy bear that there is no aberrant behavior or desire of mine that he will not condone. I want a relationship with the Abba of Jesus, who is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy Mystery” (Brennan Manning).

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10, NIV)

The fear of God was the topic of tonight’s sermon from Kairos. I don’t mean fear as in uncontrollable terror, but more as a reverential awe. A healthy fear of God means that I can’t stay comfortable in my own sin, but this God who loves me as I am won’t leave me that way, but does all that is in His power to make me just like Jesus.

This God of the Bible isn’t a daft old grandfatherly type who will wink at your misdeeds and sins. This is the God who is completely Other, whom we could never hope to know if He hadn’t chosen to reveal Himself to us.

My favorite illustration of the fear of God comes from John Piper. He said it’s like witnessing a mighty thunderstorm from the safety of a shelter. You see the majesty and power of the storm but are protected from the danger of it.

This God of love is also a God of holiness. Jesus Himself said that God’s standard is perfection, yet Jesus also met that standard on our behalf. He said not to fear those who can kill the body only, but to fear Him who can kill the body and the soul, namely God.

I’m thankful God poured the wrath that my own sins deserved on Jesus. I hope I never take for granted that my sins always are costly and always bring death in some form. I hope I never lose sight of the wonder and awe and mystery of God who has made Himself known in the person of Jesus.

 

Make Every Effort

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:14-15, NIV).

Living out your faith requires effort. You have to be intentional about striving for peace. We’re called to be peaceMAKERS who actively pursue peace and not those who passively accept it when it comes our way.

These days, peace means reaching across the aisle to those who think and feel (and vote) differently than you. It means learning to seek dialogue instead of demonizing anyone who disagrees with you. It means instead of always blaming “them” for what’s wrong with the world, looking in the mirror and realizing one of the biggest problems is staring back at you.

What are you doing to make your world better? How are you teaching your children to make a difference in their world? Is it teaching them to hate Republicans (or Democrats)? Or is it showing them how to learn to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute them?

I was reminded today that you might be far less eager to criticize someone’s journey if you only knew where they’ve come from or how far they’ve travelled. That was convicting.

It’s easy to bash someone’s views that run opposite to what you believe. It’s much harder (and much more rewarding) to seek common ground and understanding while loving them. It’s harder to live out the tension of loving people without condoning all of their behavior and beliefs.

Jesus died for everyone, not just for those who loved and followed Him. He died for the Pharisees and Sadducees who opposed Him at every turn. He died for the Roman soldiers who drove the nails into His hands and feet. His love led Him to forgive those who were in the very act of murdering Him.

That’s the standard of love we’re called to. That’s what we strive toward when we make every effort for peace. That’s what will ultimately conquer evil and hate.

 

Still Sick and Tired of Politics

Warning: this is one of my rare soapbox posts, so if you’re looking for posts about fluffy kittens or rainbows, this ain’t it.

Here it is. Jesus said to love your enemies. Period.

That includes people who voted for Donald Trump. That includes Donald Trump.

That includes people who voted for Hillary Clinton. That includes Hillary Clinton.

Jesus didn’t make it optional. Jesus didn’t put in an escape clause. There are not ifs or buts.

He said, “Love your enemies.”

He didn’t say that loving your enemies meant that you suddenly agree with everything they say and stand for.

He didn’t say that it meant you suddenly become best buddies and hang out together all the time and share bonbons.

He did say to love them.

Loving your enemies means not readily believing the absolute worst about them without even checking to see if it’s true or not.

Loving your enemies means not speaking hatefully about them and wishing them harm.

Loving your enemies means to love them like Jesus once loved us when we were His enemies. Jesus didn’t read us the riot act or shun us and write us off. He showed a kind of love that went to the uttermost extreme lengths to prove itself– even to death on a cross.

“For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10, NIV).

I truly believe that there are decent people on both sides of the political spectrum. I refuse to believe that someone who acts, thinks, and votes differently than I is stupid or evil. I will never shame or belittle anyone who disagrees with me, no matter how far apart we are in values and beliefs.

This is the ultimate standard that we should all strive to follow in the power of the Holy Spirit: “I tell you this: love your enemies. Pray for those who torment you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, The Voice).

 

Praying for Gatlinburg

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“When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isaiah 43:2b, NIV).

When I first saw the posts about about the wildfires raging between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, I felt like my best friend had just died.

I have so many childhood memories tied up in that place that come alive whenever I drive up into the Smokies. I’m not overly a fan of how touristy the place has become, but I still wax nostalgic whenever I’m walking up and down the main drag.

I’m praying for Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains tonight. Sure, I have my selfish reasons, but I’m also thinking of the many who live and work there. I’m thinking of all the history and nature that’s in peril.

The world needs a place that’s quaint (and sometimes even a little hokey), a place that’s  not hipster-ed to death or upscaled and overpriced into absurdity.

There needs to be a Pancake Pantry and a Space Needle and a Dollywood and all the riot of colors from the leaves turning in the fall. All of those do wonders for restoring my soul.

I’m praying, “God, let it rain.”

That’s what is needed more than anything, I think. A nice long downpour.

Update: Apparently, several structures have caught fire in Gatlinburg. I don’t know which ones, but I know that the residents there would appreciate as many prayers lifted up as possible during the night and into the morning.

Most of all, pray that no lives are lost. Property can be replaced and buildings can be rebuilt but no human life can ever be replaced.

Above all, trust in the sovereign hand of the One who is Lord over both the flood and the flame. God’s still in control.

One more update: I just read where the rain has finally arrived. God is already working.

 

What Is Your Second Mile?

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:41, NIV)

The gist of the passage is that back in ye olden Bible times, a Roman soldier could conscript anyone to carry his gear for up to one mile. Many Jewish people would put a marker exactly one mile from their houses so they would know precisely how much they were required to do.

Remember Simon of Cyrene? The Roman soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross, probably based on this idea.

But pay attention to Jesus’ own words.

If anyone asks you to go one mile, go two. In other words, do above and beyond what is expected of you.

So the question that I heard today is the one I now pose to you: what is your second mile?

How can you serve where you’re planted in a way that goes beyond the minimum requirement?

It’s not necessarily about doing more, but about how you do what you’re doing. It’s all about your attitude.

Where you are, what you are doing, is your ministry, whether it’s in a church building or a seminary or a classroom or in a grocery store or in your own home.

I think the Apostle Paul nailed it when he said this: “Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work” (Colossians 3:22-25, The Message).

That goes for any sphere of life for wherever you live,work, play, and serve.

Do it all as if you were doing it directly for Jesus Himself.

See everyone you meet as possibly Jesus in disguise and treat them like you would treat Him if you knew He was standing right in front of you.

This Is The Voice!

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First of all, I bet you just sang those words. Especially if you’ve watched NBC’s The Voice, a reality singing competition. But this blog has nothing to do with that.

Here, The Voice refers to a new translation of the Bible that I’ve chosen for my annual read through the Bible campaign. So far, I’m up to Leviticus. Not bad for me getting a late start this year.

So far, I’m vividly reminded that those pesky Israelites never quite got it right. Even from the start, they were bowing down to idols, sleeping around, and whining like my cat.

Then I’m reminded that I’m a LOT like that. I may not bow down to little wooden statues, but I do have mixed-up priorities where other things and people get put ahead of God. I may not sleep around, but I’ve harbored a few lustful thoughts in my head from time to time.

And I do complain. Maybe not always out loud, but I do get grumpy occasionally and have bad attitudes every now and then (as in every other day).

I’m also reminded that God stuck with His people through all their growing pains and bad choices and outright rebellion. He kept His word, not because they were so faithful but because He was– and still is.

Side note: I’m extremely thankful I’m not bound to offer sacrifices every time I sin. For one, I don’t keep a flock of sheep, goats, and bulls in my backyard. Also, it’s a very messy affair. All that slaughtering and sprinkling blood and burning organs grosses me out a bit.

That reminds me that 1) the cost of my sin is never cheap and 2) the price Jesus paid for my sin was way too high, more than I deserved by a long shot. I should never ever ever take my sin lightly.

I recommend that if you read through the Bible every year that you vary it up and read different translations and different styles of translations. Maybe read a word-for-word version like the NASB one year then read a looser version like the NIV the next. Or possibly even The Message.

More to come on my Bible reading progress. . .

Yet Another Bible Find

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Lately, my quest is to go to used bookstores and thrift stores in search of obscure or relatively unknown translations of the Bible. I have all the popular ones, like the NIV, NASB, ESV, NKJV, and so on. Why stop there?

Today. I found a copy of the Revised English Bible at a bookstore in Green Hills. It’s a revision of the New English Bible and both are primarily British translations. I bet you’ve never heard of either one.

My goal is not to pay $80 for a top-quality leather Bible. I try to keep it under $10 if I can.

I never know when I’ll run across a version of the Bible that I’ve never heard of before. I find it’s helpful to read through more than one translation to get a better picture of what the original writers were trying to communicate.

For the record, I am not a fan of the KJV. I personally would rather not have to translate the translation, but if that’s your Bible of choice then more power to ya. I still say it’s good to diversify every once in a while.

I’m still looking for a New Jerusalem Bible. It’s a Catholic translation that Brennan Manning used quite a bit in his books. And it is quite the tricky one to find, apparently. If you see one, let me know where and how much (preferably in the Nashville area).

If there’s any point to this, it’s to read your Bible more. And yes, I’m preaching to myself, too. If I believe I possess the words of God written to and for me, I should do more than carry them around. I should read them, obey them, and live them.

I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie

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As you probably already know from reading earlier posts, I have quite the collection of Bibles. I don’t mean on my iPhone or iPad, either (although I do have TWO Bible apps with a plethora of translations between them). I mean actual Bibles.

I have a 1611 facsimile of the King James Bible. I also have at least one of the following: American Standard Version, New American Standard, Revised Standard Bible, New Revised Standard Version, New King James Version, English Standard Version, New International Version, New Living Translation, Holman Christian Standard Bible, Amplified Bible, New English Bible, The Message, and The Voice.

I ran out of breath just typing that.

I have lots of Bibles that look pretty and make me look all spiritual and impressive when I tote them under my arm. Not all of them at once, mind you. I only carry one at the time. Two tops.

But for all that, how much of a Bible do I carry inside me? How well do I know this Bible I profess to love, that I boldly proclaim as inerrant, perfect, God-breathed?

And if people are reading my life like the only Bible they will ever read, what kind of message are they getting? Is it that God only loves good little children? Is it that God loves the same causes I do and is against everything I’m against? Is is that you have to jump through all the right hoops and say all the right magic words to get God’s approval?

Or is it that I (like you and everyone else alive) am a broken person living in a broken world, hopelessly lost and estranged from God? Is it how that very God took on skin like mine and came to live among people like me to show me the way Home? To be the way Home?

I don’t have a neat and tidy ending for this post. I don’t have a funny story to close on. I do have the feeling that with all these Bibles, I should know a lot more about THE Bible than I do.

I also know that God is faithful and patient. He wants me to know Him far more than I do most of the time. And He’s very persistent.

I’m praying for a deep hunger and thirst for God’s Word. I want to crave it, to live it, to breathe it, to cherish it, to make it as much s part of me as my own skin.

“Deep within me I have hidden Your word so that I will never sin against You. . . . Your word is a lamp for my steps; it lights the path before me” (Psalm 119:11,105).

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My Favorite Bible

I have to admit it. I have an addiction. Of all things, I’m addicted to collecting Bibles, particularly the pocket-sized ones. So far, I have a NASB, ESV, NIV, RSV, NRSV, HCSB, NLT, KJV, NKJV, NCV, CEV, ASV, Amplified, Pbillips, and the Message. That’s a lot of initials. And a lot of Bibles.

My favorite Bible that I own didn’t cost very much. It looks like it didn’t cost very much. But I love it.

It’s a Greek-English Interlinear Bible with the Revised Standard Version on the side margins. That means it has the Greek text and underneath each Greek word is the closest English word. It’s as literal a translation as you can get.

It takes a bit of getting used to, as the word order in Greek sentences isn’t always structured like it is in English. Often, the most important words come first, not the usual subject-verb-type structure.

For me, it is as close as I get to reading the original Greek New Testament. I can still sound out the Greek words, but I’d be lost without those little English words underneath.

The point of all that is for you to find the one you like and read it. It could be a literal translation or one of those dynamic equivalents, which are “thought for thought,” rather than “word for word.” Heck, it could even be a paraphrase, like the infamous Message version by Eugene Peterson.

Just find one that speaks to you, that makes the Word of God come alive to you and makes you fall in love with it. Find one that won’t be just mere words on a page, but words that change your life.

I heard once that if you have a Bible that’s falling apart, it usually means that your life isn’t. I don’t mean bad things never happen when you’re soaked in Scripture, but you have a solid foundation from which to anchor down in the stormy seasons of life.

By the way, my Bible doesn’t look anywhere as good as the Bible in this picture. But what matters is what’s inside. Kinda the same for you and me, don’t ya think?