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.


Come, Lord Jesus: An Advent Prayer for 2016

“Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a wonder at the wisdom and power of Your Father and ours. Receive my prayer as part of my service of the Lord who enlists me in God’s own work for justice.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a hunger for peace: peace in the world, peace in my home, peace in myself.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a joy responsive to the Father’s joy. I seek His will so I can serve with gladness, singing and love.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me the joy and love and peace it is right to bring to the manger of my Lord. Raise in me, too, sober reverence for the God who acted there, hearty gratitude for the life begun there, and spirited resolution to serve the Father and Son.

I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, whose advent I hail. Amen” (A Catholic Advent Prayer).

At this time of year, I’m always on the lookout for prayers and quotations that reflect the true heart of the Advent season. I found one just now.

The incarnation of Immanuel means so much more than my world getting put right. It’s about the entire world getting put right. It’s about God inviting me to be a part of the revolution that started not from a throne room and a king or a battlefield and a general but from a manger and an infant.

The question this advent: how can we show tangible love to those around us with whom we live and work and play? How can we be the visible body of Christ to those who have never seen or heard this gospel (or who have seen and heard a very distorted version of it)?

I’m praying that this Advent is about more than just me and my own serenity and fulfillment. I want it to be about more than buying and receiving presents. I want to see change in the world and I want it to start in me.


Wisdom and Correction

The one who corrects a mocker
will bring dishonor on himself;
the one who rebukes a wicked man will get hurt.
Don’t rebuke a mocker, or he will hate you;
rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.
Instruct a wise man, and he will be wiser still;
teach a righteous man, and he will learn more” (Proverbs 9:7-9, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

“One who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound judgment” ‭‭(Proverbs‬ ‭18:1‬, ‭Holman Christian Standard Bible).‬‬

In my quest to read through the Bible in 2016, I’ve made it to the book of Proverbs. That means that I am over halfway through. It also means that I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about wisdom.

It’s hard to read Proverbs and not see how precious and priceless the gift of wisdom is. A number of verses tell us to treasure it about silver and gold, above diamonds and rubies. The last time I checked, those trinkets weren’t cheap.

Still, I confess that I see a culture where we value knowledge and belittle wisdom. I scroll through social media posts and don’t see a lot of wisdom.

Recently, God has been showing me that one very important sign that a person is wise is their ability to take a rebuke. No one likes to be told they’re wrong, but those who treasure wisdom seek any opportunity to resist complacency and embrace growth and maturity.

Most people bristle at rebuke. People get very self-defensive at even the hint of correction or negative feedback.

“How dare you judge me?” will get thrown around a lot, mostly as an excuse to avoid any kind of accountability.

But the wise not only endure rebuke; they embrace it. They know that part of Christlikeness is the discipline to put off those habits and actions that contradict our faith message. They understand that spiritual growth may sometimes involve denial and pain, choosing sacrifice over comfort.

Correction does hurt. Still, the amount of hurt from a rebuke is often nowhere near the level of pain that results from a series of bad decisions and poor choices left unchecked. 

I freely admit that I’m not the best at taking correction. Not even close. I get defensive and make excuses whenever I sense that the feedback is heading in a negative direction.

Still, I truly believe that it’s far more dangerous to cocoon yourself from any rebuke. For the record, it’s one thing to distance yourself from verbal and emotional abuse, slander, and hate (which is wise) It’s quite another to close yourself off from constructive criticism of any kind (which is very foolish).

The worst place to be is where you’re only surrounded by “yes-men” who will only agree with you and say what you want to hear but never what you need to hear. The absolute most dangerous place is outside of any kind of accountability.

So may we all seek wisdom, even if it leads to painful places and hard lessons. The payoff will be more than worth it.


True Wisdom

“Reverence for the Eternal, the one True God, is the beginning of wisdom; true knowledge of the Holy One is the start of understanding” (Proverbs 9:10, VOICE).

This is it. Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, or as this version puts it, reverence and awe for God are the beginning of wisdom.

These days, there is a lot of knowledge and a scarcity of wisdom. You can know a lot of facts about a lot of things and it not do you much good. Wisdom is what you do with what you know.

For me, wisdom begins when I admit that I don’t know much. Wisdom happens when I confess that I know a lot less than I thought I did at one point.

The Bible also says that if any of you lack wisdom, let that person ask God, who gives it generously. So maybe I should ask for it more.

I think wisdom starts when I make a declaration of dependence. It’s me acknowledging that  I don’t have all the answers, that I am not Mr. With-It, and that I need help most days. I need God’s help every day.

Ultimately, wisdom is knowing that it’s not about me at all. It’s ultimately about God and what He’s doing in the world.

Wisdom is knowing that failure and mistakes can actually be a good thing if they lead to changed behavior and more of a desperation for God to act on our behalf. Wisdom knows that failure is never fatal but the courage to continue is what counts (one Mr. Churchill also said that a while back).

So I’m praying for wisdom, which is one of the smartest decisions that King Solomon ever made. Marrying all those foreign women? Not so much. Asking for wisdom? You can never ever go wrong with that.


More Borrowed Wisdom

“How can we embrace poverty as a way to God when everyone around us wants to become rich? Poverty has many forms. We have to ask ourselves: ‘What is my poverty?’ Is it lack of money, lack of emotional stability, lack of a loving partner, lack of security, lack of safety, lack of self-confidence? Each human being has a place of poverty. That’s the place where God wants to dwell! ‘How blessed are the poor,’ Jesus says (Matthew 5:3). This means that our blessing is hidden in our poverty.

We are so inclined to cover up our poverty and ignore it that we often miss the opportunity to discover God, who dwells in it. Let’s dare to see our poverty as the land where our treasure is hidden” (Henri Nouwen).

It’s hard to come up with something original at 10:35 pm on a Tuesday night (and even more so when you’ve been up since 5:40 am like I have).

So I borrow some wisdom from one of my two favorite writers, Henri Nouwen.

Dare to embrace your poverty as the means through which the blessings and riches of God flow. Dare to boast in your weakness as the pathway through which Christ’s strength comes.

Dare to be nothing so that Jesus can be everything. Dare to believe for the impossible from the Resurrected One.


Severe Mercies


“God never withholds from His child that which His love and wisdom call good. God’s refusals are always merciful — ‘severe mercies’ at times but mercies all the same. God never denies us our hearts desire except to give us something better” (Elisabeth Elliot).

I saw where you entered through those gates of splendor you had written about all those years ago. I read where your own suffering had ended, that ‘severe mercy’ that God gave you to bear, Alzheimer’s disease, was finally over.

You taught me that the mark of a man is in being both tough as nails about what he believes and fights for and tender toward those he fights for.

You shared the words that your first husband, Jim, wrote, before he was martyred for his faith: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

You showed me that faithful obedience and surrender to Jesus aren’t the keys to joy. They are the joy, that a heart given over completely to God is a heart at rest.

You helped me see that trust doesn’t always require explanations or answers or reasons why. Faith is its own reward and God above all is enough.

You defined true femininity when you wrote these words: “. . . my plea is let me be a woman, holy through and through, asking for nothing but what God wants to give me, receiving with both hands and with all my heart whatever that is”.

I hear God saying to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into your rest.”

I and so many others will carry on your legacy you left behind in your books and speeches and letters. We are your legacy.

So thank you. May all who come behind us also find us equally faithful.

Who Is This Jesus?

That’s the question of the night from speaker Tyler McKenzie.

Who else’s birthday do we still celebrate nearly 2,000 years later? Who else do we gather together– some risking their lives to do so–to honor, to celebrate, to sing songs about, to worship?

Who else has changed the way we look at history? Literally, there is a before and after centered around this Man.

Some want Jesus to be a nice guy, a great teacher, a grand example. But Jesus’ own words don’t allow that. The best explanation of Jesus comes from the pen of one Mr. C. S. Lewis, who said that Jesus was either crazy enough to be committed to an asylum, a pathological liar on a grand scale, or He was who He said He was. In other words, Jesus was either a lunatic, a liar, or He’s Lord.

I bet I got a chorus of “Amen”s on that, but how many of us actually live like Jesus is Lord? Like what He did and Who He was (and still is) matters more than anything or anyone else in history?

Jesus is not a board member in your life whose advice you take under consideration. He’s boss of your life. He’s in control. To use a very non-pc term, He’s your Master.

I heard it somewhere and thought it was worth sharing– if someone rejects Christianity, the question to ask is “What version of Jesus was presented to you?”

Was it meek-and-mild Jesus who seemed bored most of the time? Was it the Jesus who just wanted us to all get along and was completely passive? Was it the Jesus who was a white, middle-class Republican who lived in the suburbs and drove a minivan?

Or was it the Ultimate God-Man who beat death on its own terms and emerged from the grave victorious? Was it that Jesus who went through it all for love of you and me?

It’s not about sin management. It’s not about having your doctrines line up like ducks in a row. It’s not about being a good Christian who fastidiously keeps the list of things not to do. It’s about once being dead in sin and now being alive because Jesus died for me and gave me His life so that I could really and truly and finally live.

That’s it.




Teach us to number our days so that we may truly live and achieve wisdom” (Psalm 90:12)

I thought of a movie I hadn’t thought about in a while. The movie in question was Dead Poets Society and the part of the movie was where Robin Williams’ character tells his students to seize the day.

Then there’s the line from the movie Braveheart that goes something like this: every man dies but not every man truly lives.

That’s all good and great, but what does that look like? I mean, how can I tell if I’m truly living or just existing?

I think it has something to do with being in the moment. That means not looking back with regret or looking forward with anticipation while forgetting to see what’s around you now. That sounds vague and shadowy, but it’s true.

Too many times in the past, I’ve wasted a week looking to Friday and the weekends that never lived up to my expectations. Too many times, I didn’t really see my surroundings because I was waiting to get to the next place. Too often, I missed out on one part of my life because I was so eager to get to the next part.

True wisdom comes from being fully present to where God has you and cultivating the habit of gratitude, learning how to see the blessings around you instead of always seeing what’s wrong with the picture.

I can’t say that I’m always very good at this. Mostly, I suck. But I’m better than I used to be.

I also read something that stuck with me: always celebrate those who are always making forward progress, no matter how slow. I like that, because usually, that’s me– Mister Slow and Steady.

So yay for all of us slow and steady folks out there because we’re the ones who truly win the race.

Hank Sr and the Night Air


I spent another night in downtown Franklin with two good friends. It was another picture perfect evening, weather wise and in every other respect. I could almost literally feel the smile of God over me as I walked with my friends and revisited my favorite spots.

On the way home, I selected Hank Williams because it felt right. I had the windows rolled down, the night air blowing in, and that plaintive voice from the past crooning me to a happy place on my way home.

Hank died over 60 years ago under mysterious circumstances that may never be fully known or understood. From what I understand, he led a very sad life. I read an apt description that he was going 90 miles an hour down a dead end street. But he could write some of the most poignant, heartfelt lyrics.

I’d rather listen to his music any day than most of what passes for country music these days. It feels mass-produced and manufactured, even though the production sounds a lot better and recording studios have come a very long way.

Sometimes, it’s good to go back. To revisit the old values and the old sayings. To remember the stories handed down through generations and the ancient wisdom time-tested and proven true.

Like this one. It is more blessed to give than to receive. If you want to save your life, you have to lose it. If you want to be treated a certain way, you have to treat others that way.

Or this. Love God with everything you’ve got and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. That’s the Bible in a nutshell, all the laws and commandments at their purest, and everything you need to know.

Oh, I almost forgot. You can’t love God until you’ve found out how much He loves you and then received that love as your own. You can’t love your neighbors if you haven’t discovered who you are and where you belong and found that you have priceless worth as one not only created by your Abba Father, but redeemed by Him.

That’s an old truth that will never ever get old for me.



Back to Loving Being Me


It really is okay to love yourself. After all, the Bible does say to love your neighbor as yourself and you can’t very well do that if you’re not too fond of you. I think there’s a kind of false modesty that gets passed around where we have the “aw shucks” mentality and downplay any compliments that come our way. I can tell you for certain that kind of thinking doesn’t come from God or the Bible.

God made you. He created you exactly how He wanted you to be and no matter how many scars and breaks and bruises and messes you may have accumulated along the way, He still loves the work of His own hands– you. No matter how you may have been rejected or friend-zoned by girls or guys, God is enraptured and enamored and captivated by you. He is completely and totally crazy in love with you.

I’m loving being me. I can say that I’m not like anybody else out there. That doesn’t make me odd. That might make me eccentric. What that does make me for absolute certain is unique. There is no one in the whole wide world quite like me, and I like that.

I love that I can be socially awkward at times. I love that I can be overly enthusiastic in my friendliness and sometimes be perceived as coming across a little creepy.  That’s okay. Aside from maybe needing to visit Decaf-land from time to time, I’m fine if not every single person likes what I have to offer. Many people were turned off by Jesus.

I love that when God sees me, He sees Jesus. He sees beauty and perfection and wisdom and strength beyond measure. He sees my very best self, the one only hinted at in my best moments of selfless devotion. He sees the finished product of who I will become.

As of this moment, I refuse to take on myself any names other than the ones He has given me. Not from family or friends. Not from co-workers. Not even from me. I don’t have to be defined by words spoken in frustration or anger or resignation. I am no longer the mistakes I’ve made or the chances I’ve missed or the good intentions coming up short.

I am Forgiven. I am Set Free. I am Redeemed. I am A New Creation. I am Blameless.

Of all the names God has given me, my favorite is this: I am His Beloved Son in whom He is well pleased.

My hope and prayer for you tonight is to let go of all the names you or anyone else has called you out of hate or anger and embrace the name given in love by your Creator and Redeemer and Savior. Listen to Him calling you His Beloved Child. Hear Him singing His delight over you and smiling over you. Let your life be defined by God’s pleasure over you instead of people’s disappointment in you.

I truly hope and pray that you will come to the point where you can truly and honestly say that you love being you.