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?

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.

Spiritual Math

My favorite way to study the Bible is to slowly chew on small bites of Scripture to get every bit of flavor from it I can. But there is also great value in looking at the bigger picture. I was reminded of that when a memory popped up on my Facebook feed this morning. It said: Light + Truth = Life 1 John 1.

John made several proclamations in this first chapter. He proclaimed Jesus as “the Word of life” (1 John 1:1), much the same way He called Him “the Word” in his gospel (John 1:1). He was the “Word made flesh” (Jn 1:14). The walking, talking Scripture who came to deliver the message of the Father in person.  What is that message? “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all” (v. 5). Wherever God is, light exists; not just a lamp, but a floodlight. That’s why John said we can’t claim to be a Christian and walk around in the darkness. It’s impossible. That’s also why, when a light-filled believer enters a place where there is spiritual darkness, one of two things happens. Either the light changes everything it touches, or the darkness and the ones living in darkness flee. Light illuminates, it reveals, and it forces us to confront the things that were hidden or take them and slink farther into the dark recesses.

Because light shows us things – including ourselves – as they really are. That’s the “truth” part of our equation. Light says, “If you run from me it’s because you don’t want to know the truth.” I’ll admit, sometimes the truth is hard to take, but who wants to live by lies? I know I don’t. The truth is, I was born a sinner and lived like it. Then the Light came and I saw what I was. I saw the lies that said I was “good enough” and my wrongs were too petty to keep me out of heaven. I saw how the enemy and the culture said that my sins were just “lifestyle choices,” “addictions,” “illness,” “personality quirks,” and “errors in judgment.”  And I saw the corollary to the 1 John equation. If Light+Truth=Life, then Darkenss+Lies=Death.

Beloved, I pray you will choose Life. I pray you will choose light and truth. I pray you will not run away from the sin you see in the light, but will put it all in Jesus’ hands. The darkness is no place for you.

The Measure of My Faith

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent”  (John 17:3).

One morning not too long ago I had the urge to grab a tape measure and measure the distance between my head and my heart. 22 inches.

“What does that mean Lord?” I asked.

“That is the difference between what you know in your head and what you know in your heart.”

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical and Theological Studies and I am working on my Master’s. Thus far I have seven years of studying and pounding out acres of papers, reports, and tests.  I read scores of pages every week in my textbooks and have taken numerous studies of books of the Bible. I’ve dug into words and context and history and I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve learned about the Bible, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, creation, Israel, the Church, prophecy, doctrine, apologetics, theology, eschatology, ecclesiology, Christology, – and yes, even algebra.  None of that makes me an expert – far from it. In fact, I’ve barely scratched the surface. Still, all that knowledge does me no good if it just sits in my head and never reaches my heart.  It’s like a seed lying dormant on the surface rather than under the ground where it can put down roots and grow strong.

I used to think it was enough to learn all I could know about God, but I’m finding that when it’s all head-knowledge, it doesn’t move my heart – and my heart is what God is after. My heart is where change happens. So how do I make all this knowledge transition from my head to my heart?  Honestly, that’s a work of the Holy Spirit.  But I do have some responsibilities, such as coming to study the Bible with an attitude of humility and inviting the Spirit to teach me, then meditating on what He has revealed.  Oh, and then living it out. It’s the practical application of the Scripture that makes it take root in my heart.

Twenty-two inches isn’t much on a tape measure, but it is the difference between knowing about God and knowing God. I’m not satisfied with a head full of knowledge anymore.  I want to know God with all my heart. How about you, Beloved?

You are . . .

I don’t typically study the Bible like I’m picking apples, jumping from branch to branch looking for the fruit. I prefer to work through an entire book, slowly and carefully and glean everything I can from the whole. Context is so important to understand and apply the Scriptures appropriately. Recently I studied through Colossians, and I detected a theme Paul had carefully woven throughout this epistle. It’s one you will find through most of his letters. (That’s another favorite method of Bible study – to work through all the books by a single author such as Paul, Luke, or John.) The theme I discovered is “Once you were . . . but now you are . . .” and it is one of the most encouraging words to me in Scripture.

Paul said, “Once you were”: slaves to sin, deceitful, sexually immoral, thieves, greedy, drunkards, angry, envious, wicked, fearful, filled with hate, dead in sin, lost in darkness, and most of all alienated from and enemies of God. . . This is the life you and I once lived – it was our normal, just as it is the norm for anyone without Christ. We lived for ourselves with one goal – to satisfy our flesh.

And this is what He says: “You are precious and honored in my sight and I love you” (Isaiah 43: 4). Those are His words, not mine. Who you were before Christ is not who you are in Christ. Oh, and one more thing God says about you: “You are mine” (v. 1) From His heart to yours Beloved, it’s the truest thing you’ll ever hear.

“But,” Paul wrote, “now you are . . .”: washed, sanctified, justified, saved, renewed, restored, pure, holy, righteous, set free, children of light, and best of all reconciled to God, accepted, adopted, and dearly loved.”  If you are in Christ, this is your new normal. This is the truth about who – and whose – you are. But maybe you don’t recognize yourself this way. Maybe you can’t shake the ugliness of your past. Maybe some people in your life keep reminding you of who you were. No doubt the devil keeps bringing up the old you. But this is where you must take God at His Word – literally. No matter what anyone, even your own confused heart, tells you – God gets the final say.

Open Eyes, Open Mind

I was looking for something in the first chapter of John and my eye caught two verses I had previously marked on the opposite page: Luke 24:31 and 45. Luke 24 is the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus as witnessed by His disciples. The first was when Jesus met up with two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. For most of their journey together they didn’t recognize Him, even though they talked about Him the whole way. (Boy, there’s a commentary on the state of the church!) Actually, Luke reported that “they were kept from recognizing Him” (v. 16). Why? As the account plays out, Jesus gave them the bigger picture of Himself and the purpose for his life and death – and resurrection, which they were struggling to believe. Verse 31 says: “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” Their physical eyes were able to recognize Jesus their teacher and their spiritual eyes were able to recognize Jesus the Son of God.

While the now seeing disciples reported their encounter to the rest of His followers Jesus came into the room and showed them His hands and feet, proof that He was indeed alive. Luke says, “they still did not believe it because of Joy and amazement” (v. 41).  He reminded them of the things He had taught them about the Law of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms, and the fulfillment of prophecy. “Then,” the Scripture says, “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (v. 45).  This means that He enabled them to put what the Scriptures (what we know as the Old Testament) proclaimed about the Messiah with what they witnessed about Him. He enabled them to finally understand who He was and what His mission was all about. And what their mission was going to be: that they would be witnesses of all they had seen and heard and experienced “to all nations” (v. 47).

That’s my prayer for the church: that our eyes would be opened to recognize the Lord and our minds would be opened to understand the Scriptures. And our hearts would be opened to share the gospel – the good news of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God with a lost world. Beloved, do you understand who Jesus is? Pray for your eyes and mind to be opened wide to believe that He is . . . everything.

Hebrews: The Living Way

In our last Hebrews devotional, we talked about the confidence we have to come to the Lord with all our needs and concerns – all because of the blood of Jesus (Heb 10:19). The author went on to call Jesus’ sacrifice “a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body . . .” (v. 20).  There is so much here, we could spend days unpacking this one verse. The old covenant was built on the sacrifices of dead animals, whose blood had been drained away. But Jesus shed His blood on the cross and rose from the dead – He is a living sacrifice and a living Savior. And He is The Way (John 14:6) – the only way – to the Father.

But I want to focus your attention on “the curtain, which the writer says is “His body.” Picture Jesus on the cross, his hair matted with blood, His body beaten and broken, life draining from the holes in his hands and feet and side. And as death begins to crush the life out of Him, an unseen hand reaches down from heaven, into the Temple, and tears the tall, heavy curtain in two – from the top down (Matt. 27:51). The curtain had long separated sinful man from holy God. Now the perfect blood sacrifice had been given and God Himself tore the curtain and opened the Way into His presence.

Do you see the beauty here in Jesus’ broken body and the torn curtain? For centuries there was separation between God and man. But through the blood of Jesus, we are invited to “draw near” and “approach the throne of grace” (James 10:22; 4:16). Paul confirms that we have been reconciled to God in his great doxology: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword. I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37-39).

Do you know who Paul was talking to? You, Beloved. The one scrolling through this devotional on your phone. God loves you. Jesus died for you. If you trust in Him, there is nothing – not even your sin – that will keep you from God.

Hebrews: Love and Obedience

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Why did Jesus come to earth? Why did He willingly go to the cross? Why did He leave the glory of heaven to suffer and die? In our modern theology, the answer is because of love – and that is not a wrong answer, but it’s also not entirely the right answer according to the Scriptures.

First, let’s consider the love of God. I’m sure you know John 3:16, which perfectly defines God’s love: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That verse says volumes about God’s love for mankind. Likewise 1 John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.” (Isn’t that a wonderful parallel!) Plain and simple: God sent His Son to die for man’s sin because of His great love.  Paul tried to express this amazing love in dimensions that we could understand talking about “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18). Indeed love was what nailed Christ to the cross.

But there is another element to consider and the writer of Hebrews borrows from David to highlight another important aspect of Christ’s sacrifice:

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said:

Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for me;

With burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased.

Then I said, “Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll

– I have come to do your will, O God.”

Hebrews 10:5-7

Christ came to earth and surrendered to the cross in obedience to the will of His Father. He came because this was God’s plan from before the foundations of the world. Jesus was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world’ (Rev 13:8), and He said that the Father arranged our inheritance, a “kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matt 25:34). God provided for your salvation before ever committed the first sin, in fact before you were born; even before He called forth the light (Gen 1:3). Jesus coming to earth, living a perfect life, dying a selfless death was an act of perfect obedience to the will of the Father. So was saving you, Beloved. Because He loves you.

The Imago Dei

All my life I believed there was nothing good in me – nothing worth redeeming. Recently I took that belief to God’s Word – back to Genesis and creation.  Please take a moment and read Genesis 1:26-27. Both verses record the creation of man in the image of God, the Imago Dei. What does that mean?

It means there was a certain essence of God imbued in man at the time of creation. It’s the very nature of humans, something we are rather than something we have or do.  Man was created as body, soul, and spirit.  It is within this trichotomy that we are unique from every other living creation. We have a body – a physical shell –. that houses the soul – the seat of reason and emotion. But what truly sets us apart from all the rest of creation is the spirit – the part where the most distinctive image of God is found: the Imago Dei. It is the spirit that enables us to commune with God.  Scholars and theologians have debated this for centuries. It is one of God’s great mysteries and we can only accept it and rejoice in it, for this image is what God sees in man that calls out to His heart for redemption.

God saw His image – the Imago Dei in me, and He pursued me. Me, who’s never been pursued in her life – and He drew me to His Son. He saved me through the cross of redemption, through the blood of Christ, and in saving me He imparted His Spirit to me, and His Spirit brought my spirit to life.  He brought Image and Spirit together to create a perfected being – (Perfect – teleioo – to perfect, complete, finish, to reach a goal, be fulfilled, made complete.)  He restored me to God’s original design – complete in Image and Spirit.

Now God sees in me His completed design. He does not see my faults and failings, my shortcomings, my weight, anxieties, character flaws, temper, or impurities. He only sees His Son. Because of Jesus, He sees a completed, beautiful and whole person. I don’t know what that means to you, but it means the world to me. In Christ, I am made complete. Beloved, this can be your testimony too. You were made in the image of God and the redemption of Jesus Christ is available to you – just receive this wonderful gift – it is given freely. Will you be complete in Christ?

Hebrews: The Better Covenant

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“I promise.” There was a time when those two words meant something. When you could count on the person and the pledge. A couple stood before “God and these witnesses” to declare their life-long love. A politician made campaign promises that ensured his election, and his supporters could depend on the word of their elected official. A prospective employee agreed to a salary and benefits in exchange for faithful, dependable, service. All of these are the pattern of a covenant and covenant is the foundation of the relationship between God and man.

A covenant involves three people (or people groups) – two parties who wish to make an agreement of mutual benefit and a mediator to bring them to agreeable terms.  The covenant would stand as long as both parties lived and fulfilled their responsibilities. God made a covenant with Adam and Eve, first to allow them to rule over the earth (Gen 1:26), and then, after their sin, to bring a redeemer to crush their enemy (Gen 3:15). He made a covenant with Noah to never again destroy the earth with a flood (Gen 9:15). His covenant with Abraham was for his descendants to possess the land of Canaan (Gen 17:8). He made a covenant with Moses and Israel at Mount Sinai which involved a host of laws. He also made a covenant with David that his descendants would always sit on the throne of Israel, including One who would rule over an eternal kingdom ( 2 Sam 7:1-16). All of those covenants except one were dependant solely on the faithfulness of God. The Mosaic covenant demanded obedience from the people for God’s blessings and promised curses for disobedience.

The writer of Hebrews said the old covenant was perfect, but “God found fault with the people,” (Heb 8:8) because they were unable to maintain obedience. Rather than give up on them, he determined to “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (v. 8). It was a covenant of forgiveness (v. 12) and of the Holy Spirit. The writer quoted Jeremiah saying, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time . . . I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people . . . and they will all know me” (v. 10,11).

While Moses was the mediator between God and Israel, Jesus Christ is the mediator between a holy God and sinful humanity – and the covenant was sealed with His blood. This covenant will never become “obsolete” and it will never “disappear” (v. 13) because its foundation is the obedience of Christ, not man.  Beloved, it’s not up to you. It’s up to Him, and He is forever faithful.