Friday, July 20, 2012


            Today has been a difficult day for me for two reasons. This morning I learned of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. Last night was the premiere of the new Batman movie. The first showing was at midnight. At about 12:30 AM a 24 year old, young man walked into a crowded movie theater in Aurora and began shooting people. When he was done there were 12 dead and over 50 wounded. This event is beyond senseless; it is demonic.

            This afternoon I met with a friend and his wife for coffee. My friend has liver cancer and has 6-8 months to live. I have not seen him for a couple of months. The man I met today was a shell of the man I have come to know and love. My heart breaks for him and his wife.

            How do we respond when things go so very wrong? Many people want to blame God. They claim that, if God is loving, He would not allow things like this to happen. Many of these same people want nothing to do with God when all is well. God becomes their scapegoat in a time of crisis.

            The real culprit in this mess is Satan. Since sin was introduced into this world, Satan has been causing havoc. Satan knows that he cannot attack God directly, but he can cause God grief by attacking people. The Bible tells us that Satan masquerades as an angel of light. He entices people with the promise of pleasure and, when they take the bait, he messes up their lives. Jesus made it clear that Satan’s goal is to destroy, while Jesus came to give us life. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10 (NIV)

            So how do we respond when things go wrong? I don’t have the “right answer” but here are a few thoughts.

            Avoid trying to place blame. There is something within our nature that wants to hold someone accountable for everything bad that happens.

            Recognize that we live in a fallen world that is in rebellion against God. Sin has twisted everything. The forces of evil are actively at work sowing the seeds of destruction and death.

            Hold onto the character of God. God is holy, just, righteous, loving, gracious and merciful; to name just a few of His qualities. These do not change because something bad has happened. God is still actively involved in our world, and even though we often can’t understand what is going on, we can trust God.

            Trust Jesus to give you the spiritual resources that you need to face the situation. We cannot expect to have all the answers, but we can lean on the grace and power of Christ. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33 (NIV)

            Trust Jesus to bring something good out of the situation. It is very hard for us to see any good coming out of a person dying of cancer or a shooting rampage in a crowded theater. Yet, God has promised that His hands are not tied. He can and will redeem even the worse situation for our good and His glory. He doesn’t make the situation good; He creates good out of the circumstances. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV)

            Be honest about your fear, anger and anxiety. Take your genuine emotions and bring them to Christ. Don’t deny what you feel, but don’t let negative feelings dominate you and drag you down. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 (NIV)

            God has never promised to answer the question “why.” What God has promised is His abiding presence. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

Thursday, July 19, 2012


            Waiting for Godot is a two act play that was written by Samuel Beckett in 1952. The play is about two men waiting on the roadside for a mysterious person named Godot. At the end of the first act a boy informs that two men at Godot will be delayed until the next day. At the end of the second act the same boy shows up and informs the men that Godot is not coming. The play ends without ever indentifying the mysterious Godot.

            When I was in college, our drama department performed Waiting for Godot. The discussion that followed was centered on the identity of Godot. Is he intended to represent Christ? Many people today would embrace that idea. For many people the promise of Christ’s return is a hollow promise. Mankind has been waiting for so long that many have given up hope.

            The Apostle Peter warned us long ago that people would abandon their vigil for Christ’s return. First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 2 Peter 3:3-4 (NIV) This is the day in which we live. Talk about the return of Christ is often treated as quaint, outdated and out of touch with reality. Few people live with a genuine awareness that Christ may return at any time.

            Peter goes on to encourage those who are faithfully waiting.  But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:8-9 (NIV)

            Peter points out two important truths that we need to keep in mind as we wait for Christ’s return. First, God’s timing is not our timing. We are always in a hurry. If we cannot have something right away, we abandon it and move on to something else. We want instant gratification. God refuses to indulge us. He is not concerned with time, in the same way that we are. He is willing to allow things to develop and mature.

            Second, God’s purposes are not our purposes. Many people see the return of Christ as an escape from the horrors of this present world. As our world becomes more and more unsettled, people long for Christ’s return to put an end to it all. Peter reminds us that God’s purpose is not to spare the saints from difficulty, but to open the door for sinners to repent. God is not forgetful or unconcerned. He is patient. His desire is that as many people as possible would respond to His gracious invitation of salvation.

            Samuel Beckett was part of something called “the theater of the absurd.” In Waiting for Godot he seems to cast life as a journey of unfulfilled hopes and dreams; a cruel joke that fills you with promise only to snatch it away.  Many people see life as absurd. We begin life with hopes and dreams and end life with disappointment. Many people are waiting for Godot, but he is not coming.

            Unlike Godot, Christ is coming. We do not know the when, but we do know it will happen. One day he will break into our world and gather to himself all those who have faithfully followed him. Jesus himself guarantees it.

            "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” Matthew 24:36-42 (NIV)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


            Recently we had work done on our septic system. We were relieved to finally correct a persistent problem with the system, but it left us with a large area of bare dirt in our front lawn. The people who did the repairs graciously provided some topsoil to cover the clay that had been dug up. We soon discovered that this gracious act had a down side. The top soil was full of weeds.

            We have been experiencing an extended dry period this summer. There has not been any significant rain for a number of weeks, so our grass is dry and brown. The only exception is the area that had been dug up around the septic tank. It was covered with lush, green vegetation, all of it weeds.

            The other day my wife, daughter and I went out and began pulling the weeds. I was amazed at how large and healthy they looked, even as my grass is withering under the unrelenting sun. It took us several hours, down on our hands and knees, to clear away the offending vegetation. As I grabbed handfuls of large, well-developed weeds, I saw that there were many smaller weeds emerging in the relative protection of the larger plants. Pulling the large plants revealed these smaller interlopers.

            My weed-pulling experience reminded me of some spiritual truths about the “weeds” in our lives. Most of us struggle to do what is right, yet we find it hard to cultivate these positive qualities. Sin seems to flourish, especially under difficult circumstances. It easily takes root and takes over, without any real effort on our part. On the other hand, the godly qualities we long to see flourish seem to struggle to stay alive. We have to constantly be cultivating them or they disappear.

            Paul talked about this struggle in Romans 7:14-21. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

            All of us can identify with Paul in this struggle. In our hearts, we desire to follow Christ fully, but in practice we often follow a different path. Praise God, we are not alone in this struggle. God has given us the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and give us victory over sin.

            As we battle the obvious sin in our lives, we discover another reality. The “large”, obvious sins often hide, and even foster, more subtle, less obvious sins.  Just like the large weeds gave shade to smaller weeds and allowed them to get established, so obvious sins create an atmosphere where other sins can grow. I have discovered that, once I have dealt a particular sin, I discover something lurking underneath it. If these are left, they will take root and grow into larger affairs. Weeds tend to have extensive root systems. If allowed to get well established, they become much harder to get rid of. The best thing to do is to deal with them when they are small.

            Most of us are guilty of overlooking the small sins in our lives. When we do, we set ourselves up for a bigger struggle later. It is best to deal with them as soon as we are aware of their presence. John reminds us that dealing with sin is a constant, on-going battle. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. 1 John 1:8-10 (NIV)

            Today, I looked out at a clean patch of dirt in my front lawn. It felt great to have the weeds gone. But I know that it won’t be long and they will be back. The sooner I can replace them with strong healthy grass the better. The same is true with my life. It feels great when I win a battle with some temptation, but I know that the war is not over. My best defense against spiritual weeds is to cultivate strong, godly qualities in my life, and to be diligent about rooting out those pesky “weeds” when I see them.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV)
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Romans 3:21-24 (NIV)
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

            I had one of those humbling experiences yesterday that makes you stop and reflect. For the past couple of years I have been teaching a half-hour orientation on Pastoral Care at our local hospital. This orientation takes place once a month and my time slot is always at 11:00AM. Yesterday I was busy working on my sermon for Sunday, knowing that I was scheduled to present that day. For some reason I thought I was supposed to be there at 11:30. I took my time getting over to the hospital and arrived at about 11:15, only to discover that the coordinator of the orientation was making my presentation. When I came in she welcomed me and I took over. I was embarrassed. I apologized to the class and to the coordinator. She was very gracious and told me to not be concerned. For the next hour or so, I beat myself up for my failure to fulfill my obligation.

            I recently finished reading a small book by Ruth Graham that talked about lessons she has learned from her father, Billy Graham. She related a story about Billy’s brain surgery. The surgery was dangerous and there was the possibility that he might not survive. Before he went into surgery, the many sins and failures of his life came flooding back into his mind. Then he remembered that he has been forgiven by Christ, and an overwhelming sense of peace settled over him.

            I thought about Billy Graham’s experience as I struggled with my own sense of failure. Then I grabbed onto the reality that I am flawed and forgiven.

            The Bible tells us that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. I am keenly aware of that in my life. Because God created me with a strong sense of responsibility, I have always taken failure of any kind seriously. When I have failed to live up to my obligations, I struggle with a strong sense of guilt and remorse.

            The good news is that Jesus has already taken care of my sins and my failures; past, present and future. I have been justified freely through the grace of God in Jesus Christ. As Romans 8:1 says, Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

            Here is the sticky part. I know that Christ has forgiven me, but I often have a hard time forgiving myself. I carry a burden of guilt that I do not need to carry. That doesn’t mean that I should take sin or failure lightly, or fail to take responsibility for my actions. But, I am not responsible to “pay the price” for my sins. Jesus has already done that on the cross. When I fail to accept what Christ has already done for me, I move back into a “works righteousness” kind of faith. I find myself trying to “make it up” to God. When I become aware of this mindset I need to stop, humble myself, and ask for God’s forgiveness.

                When I start beating myself up for some failure I need to remember that I am a new creation in Christ. Paul dramatically brings this point home in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
                Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

            I am fully aware that I am flawed in many ways. I am also forgiven; a new creation in Christ Jesus. I am a work in progress; striving to become more and more like Christ. When I do stumble and fall, I need to humble myself, receive Christ’s extravagant forgiveness and forgive myself. Only then can I fully experience the freedom that Christ has promised to me.

John 8:36 (NIV)
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


            Recently, in Defiance, Ohio, a man uncovered an enormous treasure in his grandfather’s attic. At first, many people would not have seen the value in his find. Those who have the eyes to see recognized it right away. What the man found was an extremely rare collection of 100 year old baseball cards. The cards were issued in 1910 and are preserved in pristine condition. Experts estimate that the complete collection is worth $3,000,000. Not a bad return for cleaning out the attic.

            This story caught my attention because I have been a baseball card collector in the past. In fact, I still have a cabinet in my house that is filled with thousands of baseball cards. Some are from my childhood and some are from a more recent foray into the arena of collecting. I’m sure that my whole collection could be worth, at least, $100. But I could be wrong!

            This story got me thinking about all of the unrecognized treasures we have in our “attic.” In Ephesians 1:3 Paul writes, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. He tells us that God has lavishly blessed us with all kinds of spiritual treasures. The problem is that we often overlook them or undervalue them.

            Our family is going through a time of transition. This has caused me to begin to re-evaluate some things that I have taken for granted. For the past 26 years our home has been blessed with the presence of children, and all of the activity and vitality that they bring with them. In a very short time our home will become very quiet, as our youngest child heads off to college. We have been blessed with a beautiful home, situated on about three acres of land, and surrounded by trees. I have mowed the lawn numerous times, trimmed countless bushes, and cut down a number of dead trees to use for fire wood.  Just the other day, I was struck by what an awesome gift my home really is. I have had the privilege of serving the same church for the past 25 years. Daily coming to my office to study and weekly standing in the pulpit have become a comfortable routine for me. I have developed a significant number of relationships, which have enriched my life. All of these are a treasure that I often take for granted. These are only examples of the many treasures in my attic.

            There are treasures of far greater value than the ones I have already mentioned. These are spiritual treasures that, unlike my temporal treasures, will never pass away. I have been given the treasure of prayer; the privilege of talking directly to God, without fear of rejection. I often undervalue prayer. It can become just a routine activity that I check off of my to-do list. But prayer is a treasure. Paul invites me to take full advantage of this gift.

            Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV)

            I have the treasure of new life in Christ. I have been redeemed, forgiven and restored. I do not have to fear the future or what it might hold. I belong to the King of Kings. My life is secure in him. Not only that, but I am being recreated in his image. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, I am becoming more and more of the person God created me to be.

            Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (NIV)

            But the greatest treasure of all is having a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. He is not some distant, demanding God, who forces me to do his will. Jesus is my loving Savior and Lord, who cares about every detail of my life. Paul reminds me that there is no greater treasure than knowing Christ.

            But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:7-11 (NIV)

            There is a TV show called Antiques Road Show. On this program, people bring things that they have found tucked away in a closet or in the attic of their house, and have them appraised by experts. Sometimes, what they have is of little value. Sometimes, they discover that they have something of great value. When that happens, most people are genuinely surprised.

            God has filled our lives with abundant treasures. Too many of them remain unappreciated in our spiritual attic. From time to time, God does something in our life that makes us take a second look at what is in our attic. Often, when we do that, we discover treasures of great value. What treasures have you overlooked or undervalued in your life? 

Monday, July 9, 2012


            I recently gave in and purchased a used treadmill. I have contended in the past that I prefer to run outside. I still do, but circumstances have prevailed upon me to reconsider my stance on the treadmill. I was made aware that, even though I prefer to run outside, I am often prohibited from doing it, due to weather and darkness. A treadmill allows me to run whenever I have the time, regardless of the weather or the time of day.

            I will confess that I have taken to the treadmill; not as a substitute for running outside, but as an alternative. The treadmill offers me several advantages that I am not afforded when I am on the trail. I can set the pace at which I run. I can adjust the incline, in order to increase the challenge. I can monitor my heart rate. And I can watch TV as I run. Something that is rather difficult when one is running on the trail.

            For all of the benefits that I have gained with my treadmill, I have noticed some significant drawbacks. Up to this point I have not been able to run as far on the treadmill as I do on the trail. My usual outdoor run is four miles. My usual treadmill run is only two miles. Also I am not able to easily vary my pace on the treadmill. I set the pace at the beginning of my run and the machine dutifully keeps me running at that pace. When I am running outside, I vary my pace throughout the run. Normally, I am slightly slower on my first mile. On miles two and three I settle into a slightly faster pace. When I hit the three miles mark, I push a little more to the end on my run. On the treadmill, I am in a controlled environment. The temperature is constant and I don’t have to deal with any environmental issues. When I am on the trial my environment is constantly changing. I may be running in the hot sun or a light rain. I often have to contend with the wind, which can be very strong at times. And there are always bugs of some sort to contend with.

            As I was running on the trail the other day, I thought about how my Christian life is similar to my experience with the trail and the treadmill. When I settle into a comfortable routine, I feel like I am on a treadmill. My days all look pretty much the same. I do the same things over and over again, without much change of pace. When I am actively engaged in serving Christ, I feel like I am running on the trail. When I step out of my comfortable routine, I am confronted with a constantly changing environment. I feel the heat of opposition. I feel the rain of discouragement. I face the irritations of unexpected obstacles in my way. The temptation is to get back on the treadmill as quickly as possible. But, here is the most important point of this analogy. When I am on the treadmill, I am not really going anywhere. I am marking time, covering the same small space over and over. When I am on the trail, I am actually moving forward. I am covering new and different ground with each step.

            I believe the Pharisees were running on the spiritual treadmill, and that is why Jesus had such harsh words for them. They were wrapped up in keeping the Law and maintaining the status quo. They were not really moving forward spiritually. They were just marking time. They demonstrated all of the outward signs of being religious, but they were not moving closer to God.

            When Jesus called his first disciples, he invited them out onto the trail. His invitation was simple: follow me. In Matthew 4, Jesus called Peter and Andrew to leave their treadmill life and experience something completely new.

            As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:18-20 (NIV)
            Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was constantly on the trail. He refused to settle into a comfortable, treadmill life. He intentionally challenged the status quo, engaged with common people, and kept moving forward.

            I am feeling like I have been running on the treadmill lately. At a conference I attended recently, I was challenged to break away for my comfortable norm and discover the trail again. I am looking for that trail, where Christ is calling me to follow Him.

            Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)

Friday, July 6, 2012


            This past Sunday our youth took over the morning worship services. They did an excellent job of sharing their experiences on a recent mission trip. There was genuineness in their presentation that was compelling. A comment that several of the youth made grabbed my attention. It was an innocent comment and meant to be encouraging, but it caught me off guard. The comment was that they shared the gospel with the children so that one day they could be with Jesus in heaven. Their desire to share the Gospel is exciting. The eventual goal of being with Christ for eternity is right and appealing. But, I found myself wondering if we put too much emphasis on being with Jesus some day in heaven to the detriment of our being with Christ in the present.

            Often our evangelism is focused on getting a person to make a decision for Christ, by offering them the hope of eternity. We put great emphasis on the point in time when a person steps over the line of faith. I fully agree that calling people to make a definite commitment to Christ is essential. It is also essential that we teach people how to walk with Christ in the present.

            The danger that is inherent in putting all of our emphasis on making a decision so that we can go to Heaven is that we make salvation fire insurance from Hell. Salvation becomes a future reality without a present impact. Many people have “prayed the prayer” and then gone on to live less than Christ-centered lives, because they believe that they are going to Heaven some day. Salvation is definitely about Heaven and eternity, but our encounter with eternity needs to begin now.

            When Jesus issued the Great Commission, he established the pattern for true discipleship. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

            Jesus commissioned us to make disciples of all nations. He defined what that would look like in the second clause; baptize them and teach them. Baptism relates to that initial commitment to follow Christ. We could say that, in this context, it equates with making a decision for Christ. Baptism is a profound act of publically indentifying with Jesus. In some cultures, even today, baptism becomes the defining moment in a person’s life. It signifies a break with the old and a conscious choice to embrace a new life in Christ. This is often accompanied with dramatic and drastic changes in the person’s life, which may include separation from family and friends.

            Baptism is to be followed with active discipleship. Jesus defined this as “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” This is to be the outcome of making a decision for Christ. There is no place for passive discipleship; just marking time until we get to go to Heaven. The true follower of Christ has the responsibility to learn and act. We are to learn as much as we can about Christ and what He teaches. Then we are to act on Jesus’ teaching. Jesus says to obey what he commands.

            Throughout the New Testament, the emphasis is placed on living out our faith in the present. Living with Christ in Heaven is the culmination of living for Christ on earth. The Apostle Paul was constantly calling us to demonstrate an active faith.

            As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 (NIV)

            Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NIV)

            Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)

                Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9 (NIV)

            As we share the Gospel, it is important to emphasize that eternity does hang in the balance. We can, and should, look forward to living in Christ’s presence in Heaven. But we should also emphasize that life with Christ begins now. Jesus’ invitation is still the same, “Come follow me.” 

Monday, July 2, 2012


            I do it all of the time. Maybe you do it too. I misuse the word awesome. Someone tells me about some minor accomplishment and I respond, “That’s awesome.” An athlete makes an outstanding play on the field and I respond with, “Awesome!” In many ways, we have lost the true sense of awe. We use the word awesome for so many things that it has become meaningless. We are exposed to so many stimulating experiences that we fail to be moved anymore. We have lost the feeling of wonder that stops us in our tracks and overwhelms us.

            The Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary defines awe as “a mixture of wonder and dread.” It goes on to expand that definition in this way. “A feeling of amazement and respect mixed with fear that is often coupled with a feeling of personal insignificance or powerlessness.” Most of the times we use the term awesome today don’t even come close to this definition.

            Sadly, one of the places where we have lost a true sense of awe is in worship. Much of our worship is far more entertainment than standing in awe of God. We focus on pleasing the people in the seats; making it a comfortable experience. There is very little in the way of true awe and wonder. I confess that I am guilty at times of being more concerned about how people will respond to the service than if they truly encounter God.

            After Communism collapsed in Ukraine, people began to flock back to the church. They didn’t come to be entertained or comfortable; they came to encounter God. In the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, there are no seats. When people come in for worship, they stand. No one even thinks about making the environment more comfortable for the congregation. The services are long, the worship space is cramped and crowded, and often it is hot and stuffy. Few people complain. They are not there to be comfortable. They are there to stand in awe of God.

            I am not suggesting that we get rid of all the seats in our churches or make them as uncomfortable as possible. I am suggesting that we have put our emphasis in the wrong place. We have shifted our focus away from the awe of standing in God’s presence and placed it on our personal experience.

            Throughout the Old Testament we see many examples of God’s people standing in awe of Him. One good example is when the people of Israel encounter God at the foot of Mt. Sinai. God led the people Mt. Sinai to receive the Law. In Exodus 19-20 we read about their encounter with God. It is an excellent example of genuine awe.

            On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Exodus 19:16-17 (NIV)
            When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die." Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning." The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. Exodus 20:18-21 (NIV)

            I am not sure what we would do today if God revealed Himself in a similar way in our church services. I’m sure that we would experience the fear of the Lord in all its fullness. Some people would run away. Some would faint dead away. If we stayed put, we would all fall on our faces before God. That is true awe.

            We have lost our understanding of what it means to fear the Lord. The fear of the Lord does not mean to be afraid of God, in the same way that pagans are afraid. Their fear keeps God at a distance. They want to appease God so that He will leave them alone. For the true believer, there is no place for that kind of fear. In over 70 passages of scripture, we are given the command, “Do not be afraid.”  

            Genuine fear of the Lord is wrapped up in the word awe; wonder mixed with dread. We are to acknowledge God’s authority, power and majesty. We should never presume upon God or treat Him as our “best buddy.” We have no right to even come into His presence, but we are invited to come. When we encounter God we are struck by His overwhelming beauty, holiness, and splendor. We are breathless in His presence. We can bring nothing to the table. We have nothing to offer God, except our genuine gratitude, admiration and worship.

            The Grand Canyon is a good example of genuine awe. It is both beautiful and dangerous. It is overwhelming and inviting. It is accessible and inaccessible at the same time. Few people take the Grand Canyon lightly. If they do, they do it at their own peril. Most people give the Canyon the respect it deserves.

            On an infinitely highly plain, our worship of God should reflect that kind of awe and wonder. God is both beautiful and dangerous. He is approachable yet overwhelming. We can encounter Him, but we will never fully understand Him. We owe God our amazed wonder and our humble respect.