The beauty of the fear of the Lord

Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
    for those who fear him lack nothing. (Ps. 34:9)

We don’t like that word “fear.” We’ve let it be stolen by our weak definitions. We can try “revere” the Lord… but what does THAT mean?

The concept of truly bowing to the One who is “wholly other” and acknowledge that HE is God… and WE are not… has become a foreign thought. We are so into ourselves and how we think, then God must be more… well… like us. 

We have made God into our own images. Small, tiny images… and then called it “great.”

Don’t understand the “atonement” or the “wrath of God?” Turn it into “cosmic child abuse” and feel better!

Think that word “sin” is just a bit to harsh? Then try the word “issues” and move on.

We have moved away from an understanding of “fear of the Lord,” where we fall to our knees in worship because he is GOD. He is supreme. He is majestic. He is great and worthy of all our attention… and obedience. We willingly submit to his call and his way. We long to follow his way because following him doesn’t diminish us, it fulfills us.

We have diminished God, made him into our image and jettisoned the “fear” of the Lord. And as a result, we move from “lacking nothing” to having nothing. 

The tragedy is when we get to that place, we most likely don’t even recognize it. We’ve become our own little god… and that feels pretty good.

Lord, we lack. Without you, without your rule and reign in our lives, we are so diminished. With you, we have ALL we need. But that must come with sacrifice and surrender on our part. You are a GOOD God! You provide all we need and it is abundant. Move us away from our tiny little desires and bring us into the abundance of your Kingdom and presence. We need you. Let us take you as YOU are, and not as the tiny image we have in our minds. Heal us and bring us into Kingdom power. Amen. 

 

The challenge of holiness

Working our way through our Multiply material this week, our small group has come to a sobering conclusion: God really wants our FULL attention when we come to him. He has given us ALL of himself… so we need to take the care necessary to approach a HOLY God with reverence, with attention, with deep awe and respect. He is so worth it. 

15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Heb. 9:15)

Lord, I take worship too lightly. I am so concerned about time… weather… temperature… sound volume… I take so little care to ask, “Lord, do I come ready?” Forgive me, Lord. Set my heart on you. For your glory. Amen. 

Holiness… that’s a thing, right?

This week’s reading for our MULTIPLY discipleship is on “Sacrifice and Atonement.” Scripture reading takes us briefly through some chapters in Leviticus.

Leviticus 19 sticks out. It is a call that has been with Israel and still comes to the people of God today… or should. (We’re just not very good at it at times.)

Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.’ (Lev. 19:2)

Holiness was a code when I was growing up. It was how you looked. It was what you didn’t watch, places you didn’t go, things you didn’t smoke or drink, etc. Outward codes. When we read Leviticus, it’s fairly easy to get that initial impression.

That impression leads probably every one of us as believers to push the line on those “codes” at times. We think we’re being “rebellious” or maybe even “truly spiritual” or some other excuse. We’ve pushed some visible boundary and, lo and behold, we have not experienced fire from heaven, or the ground opening up and devouring us!

Holiness has never been just about the outward. The outward may look different at times… but for an inward reason.

Holiness is about “otherness” or “distinctiveness.” It is about something separate from the ordinary or the common.

Here is what I find interesting at this particular point: We are inundated in our culture with the different and we are almost commanded to acknowledge and “affirm” the different, yet when the Church talks about being “different”… we raise all kinds of objections and all of a sudden we want to be “common.” Go figure.

Human nature.

Holiness is about being set apart and there are times that may look different. God is the One who is truly “wholly other” so our call is to heed HIS direction. That may look different from time to time. Behavior may be different.

Holiness is about desire. God is wholly other… and he calls me to himself. Do I desire to listen to that command, or do I desire to keep being absorbed into what I know?

It is, without a doubt, a choice. It is a call. It is an invitation. But if I am to be with God I am called to HIS standards… and that means a choice. Do I desire HIM above all other desires in my life? Am I willing to lay all my life on the table before him so HE gets to make the call? If I am not willing, or if I am making excuses, then I am NOT “set apart” and he is NOT my God. It’s that simple.

It is PAINFUL to think of this, which is why we have moved away from words like “holiness” and “sacrifice” and “atonement.” We crave normalcy… and God calls us to a new normal.

Yet, this is the crux of where we are in discipleship. All that has come before in MULTIPLY has led us to this point. All that will follow has to flow from this foundation.

Am I set apart for God or not?

The Path to Holiness

We want “holiness” is a few easy steps.

Holiness might be “possible” in a few steps, but they aren’t easy. Our affections have to be turned. Holiness comes when our affections are on Christ and not our own agendas. Our vision is full of Christ, and rid of this world’s agenda.

We need the taste of the Kingdom in our spiritual mouths. We need that holy hunger. Taste and see the Lord is GOOD.

We also need “crisis” moments. We realize our tastes have been wrong. Our tastes don’t just need adjusting… they need changing. That brings crisis. We like our lives. We like the way we think things are.

But the Kingdom comes. The taste touches us and we are awakened. But the old tastes don’t go quietly into the night. There is a crisis. Sometimes there may be several crisis points. We have to face our frailty. We have to face our ugly nature. We fall on Christ.

Taste and see… he is GOOD.

God’s Best is Not Always What We Have in Mind

3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit. (1 Thess. 4:3-8, NIV)

The biggest issue in discipleship is moving away from what we think God prohibits to understanding that what God wants is our best. That means we may not get all of what we “wanted” from our old life, or what our culture may be offering up. God doesn’t have our misery in mind. He has our best in mind.

But we battle. And it’s not just cultural norms or what we perceive to be “legalism” within the church. Sometimes we forget we really do battle against principalities and powers.

As I study and pray, what I find is it’s not “cultural wars” we battle. There are strongholds within every culture and those strongholds guard the territory, so to speak. There are a few beasts who jealously guard our culture and make sure we stay in bondage.

One is consumerism/materialism. The other is sex. (Of course, we could talk about more.)

So, for me, the “cultural war” issues are not the real issues. They are symptoms of the larger beasts who jealously guard this territory. Their job may not be to make us utterly “pagan,” but their job IS to make sure we don’t see God’s best for our lives.

We have settled in our lives when we have statements like, “I don’t see what’s wrong with it.” Or, “God wants me happy.” And we have no idea what God’s best for us really is in our lives. I refer to Christians in that context, of course.

Friends, we need to move past what feeds the beasts of this culture and realize we are called to please God. NOT because he is a demanding ogre like the beasts that guard our culture, but because he has our best in view.

God’s will is holy living. His best for us needs be in full view.

John Piper Taking a Leave of Absence

This news came out this past weekend: John Piper is taking a leave of absence from ministry from May 1 to December 31, 2010. The letter of explanation is here.

I have always had a deep admiration for John Piper and his ministry, though our theologies may have an occasional clash. His integrity in incredible, and it shines through in this letter.

This paragraph is gripping:

“But on the other hand, I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I’ll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I’m sorry. Since I don’t have just one deed to point to, I simply ask for a spirit of forgiveness; and I give you as much assurance as I can that I am not making peace, but war, with my own sins.”

I can remember so vividly over 20 years ago the fall of some televangelists, one of whom I deeply admired. He had been prophetically warned to do exactly what Piper is doing. Piper sees this on his own and is taking aggressive action. The evangelist didn’t see it on his own and then ignored godly counsel.

Piper will remain in my prayers.