Wonder and Awe

Piggy-backing on my post from yesterday, I once read an article about awe. There was actually a three-year research project done on awe at UCal Berkley, their report included such awesome findings as “Awe binds us together,” “Awe helps us see things in new ways,” “Awe makes us nicer – and happier,” and “Awe alters our bodies.” It also touted “the healing potential of awe.” Suggestions for finding awe included observing nature, listening to music, and one I heartily agree with – putting down the ever-present cell phone and simply looking up. I don’t dispute any of their findings or suggestions, but the article failed to ask and answer some very important questions, such as “Why do we feel awe?” and “What makes something awe-inspiring?” I’d like to take a stab at them myself – with the help of the Scriptures.

We feel awe because we were created for worship – and worship is at its purest and truest when it is accompanied by awe. The article says “Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond human scale, that transcends our current understanding of things.” (Dacher Keltner) Is there anything more vast or farther beyond our human understanding than the God of the Universe? David declared “You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary” (Psalm 68:35)!

What makes something awe-inspiring is when we, in our smallness, stand in the presence of greatness. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, and it is awesome because it is huge and beautiful. Deuteronomy 7:21 says “The Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God.” When we sense the presence of God we have no other response but awe. Actually, when we truly sense the awesome presence of God we cannot stand at all. As one of my spiritual mentors said, “There is nothing to do but stand in awe and bow in worship” (J.D. Walt). Still, the most important question is, “What happened to our sense of awe?” Sin happened. Pride happened. The sin of Adam and Eve, at its root, is the sin of pride. Where pride reigns, we lose the necessary humility to be awed. Beloved, if you ponder the fact that the holy, exalted, sovereign God of heaven and earth has singled you out for salvation and relationship and eternal life you should be humbled and awed. Could anything be more incredible, more grand and glorious, more awe-inspiring than that?

Hebrews: See You on the Mountain

When last we met over the book of Hebrews I told you about my childhood neighbor, Mr. Estes. Tall, broad-shouldered, and gruff of voice. I was terrified of him. One day I kicked my ball to my friend and it rolled across the road, down his driveway, through the open gate, and into his backyard. Right where he was watering Mrs. Estes’ plants. It stopped when it bumped his foot. Well, that’s one ball I would never see again. Petra was so terrified she ran back to her house at the end of the street. I started walking toward my house when I heard him call out to me. At least his lips were moving, but it wasn’t his gruff voice. This voice was kind and gentle. “Hey little girl, your ball rolled over here. Come get it, I’ll meet you at the end of the driveway.” Something in this different voice told me I could trust him and so I cautiously walked over. He handed me the ball and then asked me about school and my baby brother and stuck his hand in his pocket to pull out a butterscotch candy – my favorite.  We stood there for several minutes chatting and when I walked back to my yard I had a new friend who always kept a pocket full of butterscotchies for me.

The writer of Hebrews had talked about Mount Sinai, the mountain on which God descended with “fire, darkness, gloom, and storm” and the fearsome voice of the Lord (Heb 12:18-21). But he contrasted that mountain with another – Mount Zion. “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.  You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in Joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (Heb 12:22-23a). Mount Zion is a reference to the heavenly Jerusalem that will be the eternal home for all God’s people in the coming age. This is the place that John saw in Revelation 21:1-2. Unlike Mount Sinai, Mount Zion was a place of absolute Joy – “the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (v. 23b ).

Here we will be welcome to approach God – not just in prayer (Heb 10:22) but physically – even face to glorious face. This is where believers will dwell in the presence of God, where we can once again walk in the cool of the day with our Creator (Gen 3:8). This is where my mom and dad and brother wait for me. This is where I will meet my heroes of the Bible: Deborah, Dorcas, Anna, and Ezra. And this is where I will throw my arms around my Savior’s neck and thank Him for saving a wretch like me. I have a question for you: Will I see you there too? Beloved, is your name written in heaven?

Hebrews: Holy

Mr. Estes lived across the street when I was a kid. He was a big man, very broad-shouldered and taller than my dad, who was himself over six feet. Just looking at him told me he was a scary guy. But it was his voice that really terrified me. Deep and loud and gruff. I heard him yell at his dog once and that was all it took for me to stay far away from him.

The writer of Hebrews wanted his readers to remember their history with God. Stop here and read Hebrews 12:18-21. This is referencing the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinia (Exodus 19). God came down to the mountain amid thunder and lightning and fire and smoke and a “very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled” (Ex 19:16). I reckon so. The people were commanded to not touch God’s mountain under penalty of death. Animals were forbidden to approach it.  Even Moses trembled with fear. Why? Because the presence of God made the mountain holy.

We’ve lost the concept of “holy” today. The word is often combined with farm animals and even gross bodily functions and vulgar euphemisms for sex as an expression of surprise or even a curse. This should not be. Holy is not just four letters strung together – holy is God. It is the word the angels declared thrice before His throne: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;” (Is 6:3). “Holy” is His own self-description: “You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own” (Lev 20:26). Even within the church, the word is not held with honor and reverence. This is one of my most fervent frustrations. If you use the word “holy” flippantly, I hope you are convicted and pay attention when it is on the tip of your tongue.

Wherever God goes, whatever He touches becomes holy. Remember Moses and the burning bush? God told him to take off his sandals because the ground surrounding the bush was holy. When God spoke to the Israelites at Mt. Sinia, they begged Him to stop because even His voice was holy. Their sinful ears could not bear to hear it. Whatever is set apart unto God is also holy and anything that touches the consecrated thing was also considered holy.  That includes you. Just a couple of chapters back we learned that “we have been made holy” through Christ (Heb 10:10). If you are in Christ, you are holy – set apart unto God for a relationship that will last forever. That, Beloved, should make you tremble with Joy.

This Little Light of Mine

The power went out at our house for five hours during a very strong storm last week. We immediately started grabbing flashlights. There’s something about darkness that is unnerving. Maybe because the Bible equates darkness with sin and evil and emptiness. Before God created all that exists, there was only darkness (Gen 1:2); the first thing He did was call forth light (v. 3-4). But He didn’t create the sun and moon and stars until day four (v. 14-19). So where did that first light come from? From Himself. It was His light breaking through the dark, empty void.

When men were lost in darkness and sin, and could no longer see the light of God, He brought His light down to us. John said that Jesus, the very Son of God, is “the true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9). John also said, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it” (1:5). When we turned on the flashlights and lanterns the darkness dissipated. It was driven away because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. Wherever light shines, darkness cannot exist.

The same is true spiritually. Consider this – Jesus declared that He is “the light of the world.” He added, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Did you catch that – “will never walk in darkness?” That is both a hopeful promise and a statement of character. Jesus brought the light of God so that we won’t stumble in darkness and sin. But John also said, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth” (1 John 1:6). Simply put – Christ-followers WON’T walk in darkness. And if we do we should recheck the validity of our claim. If we have the light of Christ, there should be no place for darkness in our lives.

Paul says that we are “sons [and daughters] of the light . . . We do not belong to the darkness” (1 Thess 5:5). We belong to Christ. Darkness and all it implies have no authority over the believer. Our testimony in the world is the light of Christ. Jesus said that now “we are the light of the world” (John 5:14). That means that you, Beloved, need to let your little light shine.

You are God’s Masterpiece

I used to write a lot of bad poetry in high school – full of angst and pining and teenage wisdom. I did write a couple of things that were not so awful. My creative writing teacher submitted one of my poems to a national contest.  I got an “honorable mention” award and my poem was published in their compilation of “outstanding works.” I don’t remember the poem or the contest, but it made a mark on me and encouraged me to keep writing. It became more than a hobby. It’s my calling from God as part of this teaching ministry.

In Ephesians 2:10 Paul tells us that “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  When we consider this verse we tend to jump on that last part so quickly. You were created to work for God. Like we’re just one of many employees in God’s business. You – preach. You – sing. You – teach. You – keep the nursery. You – type bulletins. You – cook the Wednesday night suppers.  You gotta stay busy for God.

But consider the original Greek meaning of the word workmanship: “poiema” – from which we get our English word “poem.” Now read that verse again: “You are God’s poem.” You are God’s sonnet of love, His work of beauty and rhythm in a world that is ugly and chaotic. You are the expression of His creative brilliance and power; a testimony to the graciousness of Almighty God. When you do the “good work” you were created to do you are a living ode to the One who created stars and mountains and vast oceans. God created you, not to be a worker bee, but to point the world to Him. Beloved, how will you show the world the creative beauty of the Author of your life?

More than Live, Love, Laugh

This week in VBS we are learning about the value of life. One night our lesson was about God’s design for us. We were made by a Designer for a wonderful purpose. I asked the 5-6 graders what are the three purposes for which man was designed. One student blurted out “Live, Laugh, Love.” Somebody’s mama loves Hobby Lobby. The correct answer was “to know God, to praise God, and to love God.”

Jeremiah 24:7 says, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” Paul said that everything God does in this world is so that “men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him . . .” (Acts 17:27). Of all the things that God created – which is everything – only man was designed to know his Creator. When we miss getting to know God, we miss the foundational purpose of our lives.

We were also made to praise God. The psalmist said, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). Praise is the natural response to knowing God. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, seen the Eiffel Tower, and witnessed both sunrises and sunsets and my reaction is always the same: “Wow!” How much more so when we see even the smallest glimpse of God.

We were made to love God. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Your heart is the foundation and seat of your thoughts, passions, desires, and intelligence. Loving God with all your heart is an emotion driven by reason or conscious thought. The mind is the part of the inner person that thinks and processes information into understanding. Loving God with your mind involves making choices driven by a thoughtful process of information. The soul is the immaterial (and eternal) part of the inner person, Loving God with all your soul involves emotion fueled by desire and affection; a special connection to the beloved (in this case, God).  Strength is a marker of great degree or quantity, something beyond measure. Loving God with all your strength denotes a measure of quantity, abundance, and ability, in other words – obedience. When we know God, praise God, and love God all the rest falls into its proper place. Beloved, do you know your purpose?

Hebrews: Noah and (more than) the Ark

I grew up on Bible stories: Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Joshua and the Battle of Jericho (if you’re my age you just sang that one), and Noah and the Ark. Bible stories are great – when you’re a kid, but at some point, we have to grow up. We have to dig deeper into the familiar stories of our childhood and find the treasures under the surface. Noah and the Ark is a good place to start.

The writer of Hebrews placed Noah in this chapter of heroes – not for the ark that he built, but for the reason he built it.  “By faith, Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family” (Heb 11:7). What was the “thing not yet seen?” Rain. Since creation “streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground” (Gen 2:6). So when God comes to Noah and says, “I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights” (Gen 7:4), Noah had no idea what “rain” was. He had to believe in something he had never seen. Noah obeyed because he was sure that God was going to do what He said He would do.

But there’s another phrase in the verse that gets overlooked: “in holy fear.” Wait – Why was he afraid of God? He is all love, love, love. “Holy fear” means Noah reverenced God. He was in awe of His greatness and power. He respected God. That has been lost and it shows. Noah believed when the Lord said, “I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens . . .” (Gen 6:17). He also believed in God’s promise to save him and his family (Gen 6:18). He did what God told him to do because he believed in God’s power and authority to destroy all living creatures and in God’s salvation.

That’s the foundation of the gospel. I know we’re not supposed to re-write the Bible, but I want to tweak John 3:16 just a little: “For God so loved the (sinful, disobedient, condemned) world that He gave His one and only (perfect, holy) Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish (as he deserves to) but have eternal life.” The gospel of love is incomplete without the truth of man’s sin and condemnation. We have to tell people why they need to be saved. Noah believed in both the judgment and the mercy of God. Do you, Beloved?

Adam and Eve and the Hall of Faith

I was up very late trying to finish my last assignment for school. I am so tired. I don’t have the brainpower to think very hard. I’m going to share an observation as we work through the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. School is over until Fall for me. More profound things will come later. Anyway, just read this while I go get more coffee.

Think about all the people listed in this chapter. You know what strikes me. Adam and Eve aren’t here. The first two people – the Lord God’s hand-made human beings are not in the Hall of Faith. Why? Because they sinned? Yes, but not entirely.  This chapter is all about faith and their sin showed they had none. Faith = obedience. That’s what James was pointing out: “Faith by itself if it is not accompanied by action [aka obedience] is dead” (2:17). The corollary then is disobedience = no faith. Yet Adam and Eve had the most intimate knowledge of God of any human being in history. They walked with Him in the Garden every evening ((Gen 3:8). They saw His face. Their eardrums vibrated to the sound of His voice. Don’t you imagine He put His hand on Adam’s shoulder as He pointed out the animals?

Do you know what that tells me (the seminary grad student and Bible teacher)? Knowledge of God doesn’t equal faith. Remember that the writer of Hebrews said “the message [the Israelites] heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (4:2). You can know all about God and still not know God. You can even believe that He is real and not believe Him. James also said, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. You can even memorize every word in the Bible and still not have faith. Jesus talked about the religious leaders who “diligently study the Scriptures” but did not believe Him (John 5:39-40). Beloved, with all my heart I plead, don’t let Jesus say that of you. If all you want is a head full of knowledge, go study philosophy. But if you want Jesus and eternal life, apply your mind and heart to the Scriptures and bend your knee to the Word.

You Matter

I am just a middle-aged (moving closer to senior-adult) woman from a small community in the deep south. I live a simple life. We rent a good house – but nothing fancy. I go to work every day at a small Southern Baptist college in a small town in Florida. I drive a very modest car. I’m married to a sweet, kind man. We help to raise our granddaughter. I love to write but I haven’t published any books.  I teach the Bible to my Sunday School ladies, but I’ve never stood on a stage. I’m not well-known and that’s okay with me. I am one face among the billions of faces in the world. And I have lots of struggles and hard situations in my life.

This morning as I was reading Isaiah 40, I came to this verse: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (v. 26). I sensed the Lord saying, “I don’t miss anything.” That’s when I realized that as insignificant as I am in the world, God hasn’t overlooked me. The Creator and King of the universe is not only aware that I exist, He cares about me and the difficulties I face. And do you want to hear something amazing? The same thing is true for you. You and I are not just part of the vast sea of humanity to God.

The Bible says that “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son . . . to save the world” (John 3:16, 17). But He is also a very personal God; He who knows the name of every star knows your name too.  Jesus attested to that; He is the Great Shepherd who “calls His sheep by name” (John 10:3). Maybe you feel small and insignificant today like no one notices or cares about you. I understand. I feel that way sometimes too. But nothing could be farther from the truth, Beloved. You are seen and you are known. And you matter. Greatly. You need not worry that you are just a face in the crowd – God never overlooks the one He loves.

Why Do You Worship God?

Sunday morning as I walked Joy to her “Honey School” class we walked past the sanctuary and she asked me if I was going to the big church to sing. I said yes. Then, like all good three-year-olds should do, she started peppering me with “Why’s.” “Why do you want to sing” “To worship God.” “Why do you want to worship God?” “Because I love God and because He is great,” I answered.

All of creation worships its Creator. David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Ps 19:1). Every rumble of thunder is a call to praise. The trees clap their hands in worship (Is 55:12). The rocks cry out His praise (Luke 19:40). Birds sing. Crickets chirp. Frogs croak. The sound of their worship fills the skies. I love to worship. Corporately, privately, with shouts, and through tears. I love Sundays with my church family, all our voices blending together to praise the One who saved us. If you see me when I’m driving you may catch me belting out a song with one hand on the steering wheel and the other raised to the roof. You might want to proceed with caution. And worship is not just music. I usually write out my private worship – words are my love language. But the sweetest worship is singing of the goodness of God in lovely harmony with my granddaughter.

We are commanded in Scripture to worship God but the purest worship is voluntary – no, more than voluntary – it is drawn out of us from deep within. Like the angels in Isaiah’s vision who called to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Is 6:3). It is the response of our spirits to the Spirit of God. I think that when we get to heaven and stand in His presence, worship will be more than something we want to do, it will be something we have to do just by the sheer majesty of His glory.

Joy’s question stuck with me all day.  I mulled it over and over: Why do I worship God?  I realized the answer I gave her was true. I worship God because I love Him. I worship God because He is great. I worship God because He is worthy. Beloved, I encourage you to ponder her question: “Why do you worship God?” Then do it.