June 18, 2015

The Fear of the Lord

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." Proverbs 1:7
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom..." Proverbs 9:10

What does it mean to fear the Lord?

Am I supposed to be scared of Him, like my kids were scared of the dark?

And doesn't the Bible also teach us that "true love drives out all fear"? 

Yes, it does. So how do we reconcile that?

There is one type of fear that is characterized by reverence, awe, and respect.

There is another type of fear that involves being actively afraid.

Some people (like my friend Jeff) fear tornadoes in the sense that they are fascinated by them. They study them. They chase them. They have great awe and respect for what they can do and want to prevent others from being harmed by them. They want you to fear them in the same way they do. They know there is something very healthy about their strange fear.

Other people (like my friend Meagan) fear tornadoes in the sense that they are almost paralyzed be the thought of a storm. Maybe they have literally and miraculously lived through the devastation (as my friend Meagan's family did) and find themselves panicking at the sound of a weather siren. This fear grips you, seizes you, and can keep you up at night. You could call this being "afraid".

The fear of God should look like the former.

The fear of God - some times and in some ways - should also look like the latter.

I believe the fear of the Lord is something we have neglected to talk about recently. Maybe we've forgotten that God devised a plan that took a hundred years to carry out to eradicate a sinful, rebellious people from the face of the earth and start over. Maybe we've forgotten that God wiped out nations that came against His people. Maybe it's slipped past us that God disciplined His own people in the desert for 40 years because of their sinful disobedience. Could we possibly have neglected to learn that those who even came into the presence of God without Him first beckoning were struck dead? 

Achan stole from the things God said to burn. He was stoned to death.

Uzzah touched the Ark of God. He was struck dead.

Have we lost our fear of God? 
Our respect?
Our reverence?
Our sense of awe?

Or did we ever have it in the first place?

If we "fear the Lord", we not only hold His Word - the scriptures - to be the Truth, but we build our life on them by obeying them. And as we grow to know Him, we begin to comprehend how mighty, awesome, sovereign, perfect, and just He really is. And it is in understanding this that we are overwhelmed by His mercy and grace - because we know of His wrath and justice. When we realize that we are sinful people who deserve God's justice - that we are a rebellious people who in no way deserve or could ever earn His grace and mercyHe did not have to save us - that we are undone because of His unconditional love for us. He never had to pursue us. He did not have to sacrifice His own Son to redeem us. But He did.

"The fear of the Lord" is the beginning of everything good in our lives.

Make no mistake, when someone like Miley Cyrus decides to go on a RANT about God's Word, God's wrath, God's righteousness, and God's redemption being a "fairy tale", this is not "fear of the Lord". But also understand, when you and I - when those of us who know and believe the truth of God's Word - choose to live in unbelief and disobedience, we have lost our sense of awe as well. It infuriates us to see someone openly mock God. Pray that it will infuriate us even more when the Spirit gives us the humble discernment to see that we have secretly mocked Him. David said that God desires "truth in the innermost parts" - He wants "honesty from the heart". (Psalm 51) May this be the attitude of heart and frame of mind with which we approach the Lord.

When those around you who are lost mock God, love them.

Pray for them.

Warn them.

But don't hate them. 

Don't be infuriated by them. 

Show them that to fear the Lord is to love others - even those who hate you.

Seek Him. Fear Him. Love Him.

"My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." Proverbs 2:1-5

June 9, 2015

So That...

There are 2 very short, yet very potent words laced throughout the scriptures. You don't find them often, but when you do they should be like a lighted billboard in the dark of night on a road in the middle of nowhere, screaming out an answer to the age-old question of "Why". Those 2 words are as follows:


First off, let's use them in everyday sentences.

We taught our kids to swim at a very early age SO THAT they would not drown.

I try to eat wisely SO THAT I feel better and I don't gain unnecessary weight, but mostly to practice self-control and discipline.

We encourage people not to text & drive SO THAT their full attention is on the road ahead and they don't have an accident, possibly injuring someone, including themselves.

SO THAT. It brings even more clarity and understanding. And when it comes to the Word of God, this is life-changing. 

This past Sunday at The Brook we closed out the sermon on The Work of Sanctification with 2 Peter 1:3-8. Read Peter's words in verses 3-4:

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, SO THAT through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire."

Work through this verse with me.

God has given us everything we need to live a life of holiness and righteousness through His Spirit and His Word. And He's given us His Word - His promises - His truth - SO THAT through the knowledge, application, declaration, and power of those promises we might be transformed into obedient followers of Christ.

God has given us His Word to grow our faith.
He's given us His Word to lead us into wisely choosing the path toward holiness.
He's given us His Word that we might know Him and that we might have self-control and that we might patiently endure whatever life brings our way.
He's given us His Word that His love might consume and control our motives.

We have the Word - the truth - the promises of God - that we might be effective and fruitful for His Kingdom and for the sake of the Gospel.

"He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that...."

Are you meditating on these "precious and very great promises"? (Ps.119:15)
Are you "hiding them in your heart that you might not sin against God"? (Ps.119:11)
Are they consuming your thoughts and actions?
Do they have priority in your life as the foundation of your beliefs and decisions?

Don't let your response to SO THAT be "SO WHAT?"
Seek the Lord. Meditate on His Word. 
Set your mind on things above.
Be effective and fruitful and useful for the Kingdom of our great God.

Dig Deeper:
Psalm 119
Colossians 3

June 3, 2015

Why I Oppose the Death Penalty

I grew up in Texas. In Texas, we kill people.

Tonight at 6:00, the State of Texas is slated to kill someone I know: Les Bower.
[Here is the latest article written about Les's story by The Intercept.]

As a child of God, follower of Jesus Christ, I have great conflict with capital punishment and, with much mixed and conflicted emotion, oppose the death penalty. This is not a conclusion I came to merely because someone I know is facing it, but also through much prayer and deliberation working through the scriptures. Allow me to explain to you why I have come to this conclusion in my convictions.

First off, for a long time, I have heard Christians (and non-Christians) quote Exodus 21:23-24: "But if there is harm, then you will pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." We simply boil it down to "An Eye For An Eye". This is a scripture fixed in the midst of laws that God gave having to do with restitution. On one hand, I cannot argue that Exodus doesn't say, "Whoever strikes a man so that he dies will be put to death." But on the other hand, I can argue that 99% of the other directives - laws - given in these chapters of Exodus are no longer followed. Not only by Caesar's court, but moreover, by Christ's church. It is of no surprise that many who champion these verses as a whole theology also struggle with taking the Lord seriously in Deuteronomy 32:34-35 or Matthew 5:38-42. We have great difficulty in leaving vengeance and judgment to God. We're all very schizophrenic and undiscerning in how we follow Moses.

Moving on, let's leave Moses and turn to Jesus.

In Matthew 25, Jesus gives one of the most powerful and paralyzing descriptions of what we refer to as the Final Judgment. He says that His sheep - the ones He will "place on His right" - will be those who fit the following description:
"I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me."

Jesus? In prison? What did He do?

He identified with - He stood in the place of - sinners.
He walks with "the least of these" and there is no greater "least of these" than those in prison. Their identity is traded for a number. Their freedom is replaced by a cell. And yes, many deserve it. But many do not. (More on that in a moment.) Jesus says, "When you come and minister to them, befriend them, show them grace and mercy and forgiveness even in the shackles of guilt - when you come and love them - you have done it to me." When someone's life is taken, we no longer have this opportunity. Let's expound on that.

In the The Revolution, Father Demetri Kantzavelos makes this statement:
"The Church can minister to living persons, corrupted as they may be. But the Church cannot call the dead to repentance and cannot visit and minister to them as Jesus taught." What I'm about to say is not an accusation. If it is, the first person indicted is myself. That said, please consider this possibility: Is it easier for us accept the death of a prisoner than the call of Christ to go and visit the prisoner? Has anyone who supports the death penalty ever visited - taken the Gospel to - the one awaiting execution?

Are we more OK with the Death Penalty (issued by the State) than we are obedient to the Great Commission (issued by the Lord) to go to those who have the death sentence on their life of not knowing Christ?

Jesus said, "You have heard it said, ___________. But now I say, __________."

Is it possible we're not actually following Jesus in our view of this issue?

Again, moving on, let's leave the biblical and spiritual arguments and turn to the practical and social. Let's be really human(e) for a moment.

While I would not debate or argue for a moment that over the course of history that countless people have been executed for crimes they did commit - many gruesome and horrific - there have also been countless people executed for crimes they did NOT commit. In 1999, the governor of the State of Illinois announced a moratorium on the death penalty. Why? Because seventeen (17) "convicted criminals in our state awaiting execution had been vindicated and proven innocent of the crimes for which they were condemned." Was this achieved or proven by the courts or private investigators or police? No. It was through the efforts of a group of students in law school and some hard working reporters. The painful truth that has to be dealt with is this: the death penalty kills, executes, and ends the life of innocent people.

"Capital punishment doesn't pay a debt; it kills the debtor." -Richard Stith, Valparaiso University

One reason many support capital punishment and many seek it out is in pursuit of "closure". We talk about families - the loved ones of those who suffered - needing "closure". This is a worldly, carnal, unbiblical idea. 

I cannot say that I have ever stood in that place.
I don't know what it's like to have another person take my family member's life.
Cancer took my Dad's life. And his mom's life. And the lives of many people I know and love. I HATE cancer! I long for the day when Christ returns, all creation is made whole, and cancer is eradicated from existence. I guess maybe then I'll have "closure". 

Friends - Closure is another way of saying, "I need someone or something to blame."
Closure is our attempt at trying to reconcile loss and pain and sin.
Closure - if there is such a thing - is not found in restitution and revenge, but in forgiveness and repentance.
The only thing that ever reconciles loss and pain and sin is the Gospel.

I encourage you to truly pray over this conviction.
I exhort you to allow the Spirit and the Word of God to guide your thinking in this.
I pray that capital punishment would be put to death.

2 Peter 3:9

After some discussion with a friend, I am adding this clarification to hopefully be even more specific about what I believe and the conviction I hold. I do not believe that the death penalty is always wrong or unjustified or unbiblical. Let me be specific with an example. 

If you have an individual that confesses to brutally murdering 8 people and all the evidence supports his/her confession and the court (justifiably) finds him/her guilty and believes the only adequate punishment is death (which I believe echoes Exodus 21), I would have a very difficult time in mounting an argument against this, socially or biblically. 

So to be clear, I am not at all times &/or in all circumstances opposed to capital punishment. 

But here's the problem with this: we don't get to pick and choose. We have no choice but to see this through the lens of being an American. Our justice system and courts can be so deficient - refusing to reopen cases to save face and save money, refusing to even consider new evidence, motivated by overcrowded prisons - that the innocent still get put to death. The State doesn't ask us, "Would you support the Death Penalty if we promise to only execute the guilty?" They can't offer that promise. They still get it wrong. And because of this - as Americans - we don't really get to sit on the fence with this. As Americans, we can only lobby for it or against it. Because of this, I oppose the death penalty.