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Friday, December 19, 2014

Why I've fallen back in love with y'all

When Katie, Mason & myself moved in 2005 from the frozen tundras of Chicago, Illinois to the pollenated southern United States (Tallahassee, Florida), I made a conscious decision that I would not give in to the use of y'all - be it in conversation or correspondence. I've always taken a little extra pride in employing correct grammar (it's the English Lit major in me - we have very little practical application of our studies!). I felt grammatically free of y'all after the now four of us moved to the multicultural Cayman Islands. I even secretly harbored a few  "told-ya-so" moments when listening to some Southern American friends struggle to try to explain y'all to persons of other cultures here in Grand Cayman. 

Falling back in love with y'all. Until, that is, in the Fall of 2010 when I re-discovered the brilliance of y'all. I was reading the book of Ephesians and I was astonished to re-read multiple prayers, teachings & exhortations as addressed to more than one person (as most of the New Testament is written to churches - 2nd person plural - not individuals). But it would be easy to read all of these brilliant verses as written to individuals because while the Original Greek has an expressed grammar that communicates "you" (plural), the English language does not. The British utilized "thou" as the second person singular for some time whilst reserving "you" for 2nd person plural. That faded by the end of the 17th century though. Back to Ephesians. Consider the difference y'all makes to how God's Word to us is understood & received:

1. Y'all were dead in your trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1)
Received individually (you): My story is that I was most definitely dead & following ways of the world, but some people's story may be different - some grew up Christian.
Received corporately as a church (y'all): There is not one person who wasn't dead and running in the other direction from God before He rescued them. Not one! We all collectively share some version of the same story.

2. But now in Christ Jesus y'all who were once far off have been brought near through the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13)
Received individually (you): I've been brought near for a personal relationship to God - Father, Son, Holy Spirit - because of what Jesus did. Every day is great if it's just you and Me, JC! 
Received corporately as a church (y'all): I've been brought near for a personal relationship to God - it's personal but not individual. I've also been brought near to others to experience with them eternal fellowship with God. 

3. [I pray] that y'all, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and how long, how high and how deep is the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:17).
Received individually (you): Jesus, please fill my cup to know and experience your love as an overflow. Please also fill up Jimmy's cup that he might experience this too.
Received corporately as a church (y'all): Jesus, help us as a church body experience the overflow of your love. Jimmy & I will only experience loved pushed to its boundaries as a community - benefitting from one another's encouragements, gifts, wisdom, prayers as expressions of Your love.

4. Let know one deceive y'all with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 5:6).

Receieved individually (you): Jesus, please help me stay alert today for even the subtle lies of this world. Help me fight them off and remember they are empty promises.
Received corporately as a church (y'all): Jesus, help us as a church body fight off lies and empty promises. If one of my family members falls under deception, it could affect us all. Use me to encourage someone in the truth! Protect especially our Elders and leaders from the latest fads and false teachings.

Ephesians reminds us that Christ didn't so much die for individuals as he did for the church: "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25).
Curtain #1: Dividing mankind
from the Holy of Holies

How we went from you to y'all. By taking upon Himself the sin of the world as he died on the cross, Jesus was made unfit for His eternal community - Father, Son, Holy Spirit - "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabacthani" (Mark 15:34). His y'all was cruciformed into an alienated and isolated you. His eternal community - His forever church forsook Him. He did this to make you and I into a y'all. Remember the tearing of the temple curtain that occurred after he breathed his last (Mark 15:38)? Scholars have longed tried to figure out which curtain the gospel writers were referring to - because in the temple there were two curtains. Curtain #1: Divided the Holy of Holies from the Court of Men. This curtain kept sinners from perishing in the pure presence of a perfect God. Curtain #2: Divided the Court of Men from the Court of Women & the Court of Gentiles. It was a glorified airplane curtain dividing Coach from First Class (some of us just want to sneak a peek of what goes on in First Class). Curtain #2 symbolized that there are social divides that are not to be crossed. It is my opinion that the gospel writers are purposely vague on which curtain was torn - because they meant for their readers to consider both barriers obsolete. Through Christ's death, every dividing curtain is brought down (Ephesians 2:14). Thus, it's no longer you but y'all (you + Trinity) and it's not longer you but y'all (you + the church to which you belong).

Applying y'all to you. You are going to experience the goodness, the comfort and the encouragement of a communal God (Father, Son, HS) this Christmas Season. We can be confident of this because God works all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Such good is not simply meant for just you but for y'all! Who is your y'all with whom you will share blessing upon blessing? Who is your y'all with whom you will experience together the width, length, height, & depth of Christ's love?

This Advent Season, I've loved watching families of Sunrise light our church's Advent candles and lead us in a Reading. Doing it in the privacy of their home would suffice, but isn't it so much richer that they do this with community?! Equally, I can't wait to sing "Silent Night" on Christmas Eve. How much more full is the experience with a couple hundred family members letting their light shine forth! Maybe your y'all is comforting those in your church community who are lonely this Christmas or having a non-married member of your church to your home on Christmas morning for breakfast or to open stockings (what a blessing it would it be to even prepare for them their own stocking!).

Through Christ, we have a personal relationship with a Divine Community - Father, Son, Holy Spirit. It's meant to be personal, but it cannot stay individual. It's not meant to be. I'm just speaking the truth...y'all.

(If further interested: (1) Here's a ya'll version of the Bible!!; (2) Here's a respectable Brit who favors using y'all for the Bible; (3) Here's a longer article from a Southern-American theologian- contains extra nuggets of insight; (4) Here's an article on the Remarkable history of y'all) 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

When you can't pinpoint the day/hour of your salvation: Baptism

For those of you who can't pinpoint the exact moment of your salvation, but wish you could: Consider the benefit of water baptism through your local church.  

Looking back during Days of Doubt. Just a few years after I first trusted Jesus who saved me from death to life (John 5:24), I began to wake up with doubts. I was in a university setting where students were openly invited to question the very existence of God, not to mention (a) One who is (b) masculine and (c) paternal and (d) would openly subject His Son to "divine child abuse" through the crucifixion. So there was an intellectual battle in which the "shrapnel" of ideas hostile to God filtered even into my very soul and paralyzed me from getting to my prayer closet and living by faith. I'd try and fight back with the Sword of the Spirit (God's Word - Ephesians 6:17), with all manners of prayers whilst asking others fight beside me in prayer (Ephesians 6:18). No doubt these weapons are effective and in no way ought to be muted by the one I'm about to highlight - the moment three years earlier when my eyes were opened to the truth that Jesus is Lord! The image of that day is burned into my memory: 
The table at which I sat and heard the message on 1 John 4:7-10. The outdoor bench at which I afterwards wept over the emptiness of my current life and the bitterness of my sinful heart toward God. Praying with a a Conan O'Brien look-alike named Chris, a summer camp staff member who had first approached me to tell me "dude, you're not where you're supposed to be right now" but changed course when he saw a young man whose life was being changed on-the-spot by the Savior.   
When I have exhausted all rational defenses for the faith and every spiritual weapon at my disposal to dispel doubt, I turn to those three connected images on that evening in the Summer of 1995 and am immediately filled with faith. You had only to know me prior - stubborn, self-indulgent, blind, miserable, lost. I had changed then and there. 

When racked by questions and doubt, I felt a lot like the man-born blind in John 9. After Jesus had healed the man, a mob brought him before the Jewish intellectuals who interrogated him with the aim of getting him to disown the work of Jesus (John 9:13-24). The now seeing man admits he doesn't know everything, but "One thing I do know: I once was blind but now I see" (John 9:25). I imagine, like me, the once-blind Bartimaeus looked back and drew upon the first image he saw after being both healed and saved by his long-awaited Savior (Mark 10:46-52) and that the apostle Paul vividly remembers the day the glorious light blazed as He heard His Savior speak to him (Acts 9:3-6), then immediately went blind (Acts 9:8-9). In fact, he was quick to share this moment with others and on various occasions (Philippians 3:4-11, Acts 22:1-22; Acts 26:1-23).

I can't relate to that radical salvation story. But not everyone who has trusted Jesus can relate. For so many of you, trusting Jesus was gradual. The images then of key moments are strung together over weeks, months, maybe even years. Although there was a moment "the transfer" from darkness to life definitively took place (Colossians 1:13-14), you can't pinpoint precisely when. So if/when you doubt that God really is there and should you wonder if you really have been saved, pointing back to the proof is a challenge. Firstly note, God thankfully entered our history and so gave us a historical moment in humanity's history through the actual life, death & resurrection of Jesus. His finished work is all we need to look to in giving us proof of His love (and the looking itself is evidence of His saving you). But being able to draw upon a concrete picture of His love breaking into your 21st century life, specifically, is remarkably helpful. "They have conquered Satan by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony" (Revelation 12:11). 

Visual Reminders of His Salvation. I suppose the need to visually remember may be one reason why, prior to the advent of Jesus, God was so keen to have his people celebrate feasts and festivals. Seven in total, the feasts lasted up to 50 days, and represented ways for God's people to look back and remember His deliverance on their behalf. However, even deliverances such as the Day of Atonement (when God delivered the nation from sin) and the Passover (deliverance from slavery) were a process. The preparation of the high priest (Leviticus 16:3-5), the casting of lots (Lev. 16:3-5), the preparation of the scapegoat and sending him off into the wilderness (Lev. 16: 8-10), on and on until the high priest concludes the tenth day of the seventh month by going into the holy of holies and making sacrifice for sin (Lev. 16:33). So ends Yom Kippur, a.k.a. the Day of Atonement. Passover itself was a process - the plagues leading up to it, the lamb sacrificed, the blood of that lamb splattered on doors, angel of death, running, Egyptian chariots, parting of the Read Sea - you get the point! (for more see Exodus or The Ten Commandmentsignore the 4* rating on imdb, it deserves 5*!!). God's salvation was itself a process or series of steps. So to reignite so many images of genuine salvation, God commanded his people to remember them through celebrating feasts and festivals some of which reenact the salvation through songs, symbols, and the like. Turns out modern science confirms God's ancient practice re: the importance of human beings having mental photographs to draw upon for autobiographical purposes. As Christians no longer subject to the Old Covenant, we are not commanded to celebrate feasts and festivals because they all point to a final deliverance fulfilled in Jesus (Colossians 2:16-17). Through faith and His indwelling Spirit, we can feast on Jesus at any time and in any place (John 6:57). Jesus left behind two visual reminders of the deliverance He achieved for us - the Lord's Supper & Baptism. Both of which he commanded we celebrate.

What Baptism can do for you. Baptism cannot save you. I want to make this crystal clear. I do not wish to give off any hint that Baptism either saves or offers definitive assurance that you are saved. Only Jesus saves - this good news can become good for you by trusting that He is the God who can save and forever forgive your rebellion toward God. What baptism can offer you who cannot pinpoint your day of salvation: A visual reminder stamped into memory of what Jesus has done in and for you. Jesus caused you to be born again when you trusted him (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3); baptism is your birthday party. You get to choose your birthday theme - songs, Scripture readings, and your 'toast' to Jesus (expressing verbally to friends & family what He's done for you). Jesus reached into your history to kill and bury old identities and old trusts, forgive you, and has raise you to new life (see Ephesians 2:1-7); baptism is the Broadway Play of that history, based on a true story. Pictures will be taken of each of the three "Acts" of this stage play: You going down into the water (old life buried); a moment beneath the water (cleansing of forgiveness); and coming up from the water (resurrection). Here is your visual reminder of Jesus' work. The songs, the pictures, the church leaders responsible for overseeing your souls affirming your trust in Jesus (Hebrews 13:17), the church family who knows you well cheering and clapping because they've seen evidence of His work in your life. 

For those of you who cannot pinpoint the day/hour of your salvation but wish to look back and draw upon a definitive moment you celebrated its reality, consider contacting your pastor, elder, small group leader about Baptism. The picture is all there from one moment, on one afternoon - to be drawn upon duringsome later time of doubt. Those in the picture, a church family to later lean on to offer words of encouragement and assurance; church leaders entrusted to oversee your soul in the waters with you - affirming a genuine faith. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Your Christianity shouldn't work - A meditation in the middle of 1 John

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason the world does not know us is because it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we will see him as he is. Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 2:28-3:3
Fellow Christian, knowing that you are "righteous" (2:29) because of Jesus' righteousness, trusting you are a son or daughter of God the Father because Jesus became your brother (3:1-2), acknowledging your status as pure because "he is pure" (3:3), can only help you to live both freely and productively. The victory has preceded the final total, the verdict has preceded the performance, and your adoption has preceded your family resemblance (to Jesus). So you and I are released by Jesus from the fear of not being enough to genuine change because He is enough. 

By most measures, those attracted to
& sustained by the gospel should
be more like Wonka's Veruca Salt.
Consider: Every other religion/life-philosophy attracts and maintains allegiance through (a) works which may or may not be enough on the divine scale or (b) the fleeting results (ie. temporary forms of peace, stillness, vigor, confidence) of rigorous discipline which no one can forever maintain. The gospel message contains an offer to rescue us from death to life, separation to reconciliation, godlessness to God-in-you immediately, permanently, and for free! This should never work as a religion or life-philosophy because all of its adherents would be like spoiled children who always get their dessert at the beginning of every meal and their allowance prior to doing their chores! Yet adherents to the good news have historically done more work of significance and societal transformation than any other (though no such work is required). Furthermore, people who derive life from the gospel message also endure over the long haul in varying disciplines (although rigorous discipline is no condition for entrance). 

Significant works, societal transformation, rigorous self-discipline might not be the phrases you'd use to characterize your life at this point - though you'd wish to. Do not dismay! The process of maturity is typically subtle and non-obvious to the one who is actually changing. This is why the apostle gives us the hope of certain victory 3:1-2: "We shall be like him because we shall see him as he is" (3:2). And so then says: "Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure" (3:3). During either the heat of battle or tepid doldrums when, in either case, little progress seems to be made, we are reminded that we will one day fast-forward to the likeness and glory of Jesus - at which point we will realize that He had all along been inching our resemblance far closer to the final result than we had imagined.

And at which point, every tongue will confess: It really did work!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What can you do for Persecuted Christians?

The 2nd & Final Return of Jesus to this earth is especially good news to those whose lives are filled with bad news. He will finally return to restore everything to its rightful place. Those with us on Sunday saw that Jesus' teaching in Mark 13:31-37 (echoed later in the Garden of Gethsemane - Mt. 26:38-45) leads us to stand with those who long for that Day. Applying Jesus' repeated (x3) admonition to "stay awake" encourages those of us whose lives are not characterized by bad news to "stay awake" and "keep watch" as alert intercessors with saints who do suffer to the point where Jesus' return is truly their "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13). 

Those who suffer most for the gospel are persecuted Christians. They suffer precisely because they place their hope, their treasure, their very lives in neither false gods nor empty philosophies - but in a God-man who lived the perfect life they could not and then died the death they deserved, so that he might offer to us a free gift of reconciliation to God. How might we "stay awake" and "keep watch" with those who suffer because of this message - the glorious gospel?

Jerusalem-based journalist Lela Gilbert here offers 6 suggestions (I've summarized 4 below):

1. Be as informed as possible. With the rise of ISIS and its extreme persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria, especially, there is a lot of information circulating "out there." You may have received to your Inbox or smartphone calls to pray with, albeit, sometimes contradictory information. The most up-to-date and accurate website has been put together by the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom: Reports are grouped by continent. Tab it and check it out regularly . 
2. Support organizations that aid persecuted Christians. Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors, Christian Solidarity International are among those who do. Open Doors has an gift catalog from which you can send out various helps of your choosing (starting at $5 US). You can also write words of encouragement to those who are imprisoned because of their love for Jesus.
3. Pass the word via social media and email - perhaps start with this blog post, the above article, or suggest to your Community Group following through with #4.
4. Pray. On the same weekend as the Int'l Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, SCC will be holding a 12-hour prayer vigil to stay alert & stand watch with those who need strength to endure, boldness to witness, and final restoration from suffering. 

  • Saturday, November 1st. Stay awake and stand watch with us!! Sign up here for at least one hour. Share also any requests of suffering saints you know for which the church body can be praying. Jesus' words in the Garden have been deeply convicting to me: "Could you not watch with me for one hour?" (Matthew 26:40). 
  • Traveling to the U.S. between now and November 1st? We could use your help. I'd love to have a this pack of global church reports, commitment to pray brochures, and banner on hand to assist our intercession on November 1st. If you feel led to purchase, pick up, and bring these items back to Grand Cayman, that would be an awesome blessing!
  • You can also pray individually. Voice of the Martyrs sends out an email every Friday with prayer requests, which they also regularly update. I've found this to be a regular fixture on my Fridays and have proved a great source of praise as you discover that God has used your prayer to deliver comfort, relief and restoration to a fellow saint thousands of miles away.  

Let's commit to stay alert & stand watch with those who experience bad news because of they love His good news!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Creative Activity to Engage Kids in Prayer

Over at the Verge Network, Karen Hardin has relayed to us a fantastic, creative, and get-off-your-behind way to engage your child(ren) in prayer. Namely, as she puts it, you can use your child's tendency to see differences to foster gratitude and a habit of prayer. Who doesn't want to do that and who doesn't have a child who has complained "Brother, sister, Bobby, Sally has more/better ______ than me" ?!

Read here: "Turning Your Child's Focus Inside Out."

I will be trying to implement with our boys this week and can let you know how it goes. I can imagine this becoming a weekly prayer activity or maybe doing 1 or 2 of the ten "stations" per night along with regular worship & Bible Reading. Even though they are now getting a bit older, there are some nights my kids just have a hard time sitting - thus, this station-to-station idea may on such nice prove a nice alternative to exasperating "Ah, forget it, just go brush your teeth and get ready for bed."

May God use this wisdom to help your child engage with the God who can empower all of us to cease looking outward to compare but rather look outward to behold the goodness and glory of Jesus who can transform us toward love (II Corinthians 3:18).

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Church-Branding Overwhelms the Cross

Jesus' object lesson in Mark 11:15-19 about the ineffectiveness of religious ritual continues to stir in me because I recognize that church attendance, just like temple worship in Jesus' day, can provide "a den" (a refuge, a hideout) for people to take cover under the banner of: "Me & God are good...because I'm a pretty good person who goes to church." Worse yet, those of us who are pastors, elders, or lay leaders are prone to propagate this twisted idea - even if unconsciously. Thus, the irony: We hurt the church we love by spending ourselves to promote the church we love. We ought not be about "our church" preservation and "our church" promotion - but Jesus-preservation (preserving his teaching) and Jesus-promotion (promoting His name).

JR Kerr provides a "gut-check" to every church, including ours, in this little article: "Church-Branding Overwhelms the Cross." (A side note: I met JR Kerr at a Chicago Cubs baseball game - in the bleachers of Wrigley field. I kept in touch with him for a while and he helped me during a pivotal time in my ministry. A gracious and godly dude). His question toward the end is particularly challenging: "When people think of your church, what do you think they more readily think of, the cross or your brand?" Recently, a new Christian who attends our church turned to me and a friend and asked: "After all these years walking with God, how do you guys keep the fire going?" Let's just say neither of us respond firstly with: "A firm Commitment to our local church." Rather we replied similarly with: "A daily, return trip to the cross of Jesus Christ" (see Luke 7:47; II Corinthians 4:11; Galatians 2:20). Let's point people toward the fuel that will sustain the fire!

Why do people get so "my-church-promoty"? Various reasons I'm sure but one comes readily to mind: The Fear of getting left behind. Here are some fears that go to work on us who rightly love (but perhaps over-love) our church: "Is God moving in our church? If not, will others leave us for a newer and more exciting work? If He is working, I'm pretty weak and inadequate: Won't He choose to use others and leave me and my puppet ministry in the dust?" However, God promises a couple things concerning the local expression of His universal church - (1) He has every desire and motivation to advance and build His church (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:22; 1 Peter 2:5) (2) He wants to use your God-given gifts to do so (Ephesians 4:7, 4:12-14). 

I pray God uses your holding on with confidence to these two promises to free you and your church to be all about speaking and living the message of "Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2) while letting Him take care of the advancing and the using. He says He will. He can be trusted to do so.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Kids & you Fathers that help raise them

I was just reading through an old journal earlier this morning and came across some thoughts in response to the Apostle John's poetic pronouncement of truth (it's not quite hymn/poem nor quite benediction/blessing) in 1 John 2:12-14. Here are the first two poetic pronouncements of truth:
I am writing to you, little children,                                                                    because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake,                                                      I am writing to you, fathers,                                                                             because you have known him from the beginning. 
Fathers, consistently confront your children with the life-altering forgiveness of Jesus - because children have a unique ability to utterly self-forget and focus outward when first awestruck. What happens then at being awestruck? They are able to learn about Jesus without the jaded cynicism, without the colored past that colors our view of Jesus and what we like best about him, without the pressures of adult life that aims to get what we wish to get out of Jesus. When they discern and acknowledge the "Big No" in their own hearts called sin and make the connection to Jesus the Rescuer - they camp out on that bridge! It becomes all about "his name's sake" and there is no other season like this in their lives. 

Earlier this week, we had a night of hockey practice (yes, in the Cayman Islands...lots of wonderful Canadians live here and have brought their beloved hockey!!) and two different elementary school open houses to attend. Juggling the boys on my own at the hockey rink, I came across a decision Katie had made that didn't immediately "sit well" with me. I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve and, while I didn't say anything, the boys detected that I was visibly upset. In between a little chaos here and there, Katie engaged in her own talk with God in the car and humbly apologized to me, which she didn't need to but her example deeply softened my heart. She proceeded to join her own open house where she is an Art Teacher while I set out on my own to engage our boys with our nightly family worship. We talked about the difference Jesus' forgiveness makes. I asked if they recognized Dad's anger earlier in the day: "Uh, yeah, your face told the story" said Mason. I had opportunity to share with them how their Mom responded: Humbly having already sought out and experienced God's forgiveness - and how her example impacted Dad. They both responded with smiles and snuggles (10 & 7 year old boys - getting increasingly rare) and with awe: "Man, Jesus can really do that, can't he?!" The forgiveness of Jesus breaking into real life absolutely captivated them such that we then had opportunity to talk more about instances in the gospels where Jesus humbly extends forgiveness and its softening impact on those who experienced it.

Fathers, remember you can know the One who has been a Father from the beginning. You feel the pressures of caring for a family. Thinking about what you are imparting to them, how to say it/impart it, their education now, their education years from now, balancing time in the office and your travel schedule with time at home. Furthermore, your responsibility for others, as a kind of father-figure, may extend outward over those in a small business, or providing direction for those who care for others. There is One who has been a Father from the beginning, who has cared for every need and been faithful to every promise for generations.  He's had to stomach hard decisions: Kicking Adam & Eve out of the Garden; starting over through Noah; keeping Moses from the promised land, withholding the temple building project from David who dreamed it, and not taking from Jesus the bitterest cup of just wrath -- and all the ones in between both in the Bible and since. All along He's watched each decision profit the person, His people, and His name. He knows. Learn from Him, stay near to Him.

I love you, fathers. God is using you! Keep fighting the good fight as you hold out to your kids the forgiveness of Jesus and hold fast to the faithful Father of every generation. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Effective name-calling: The Power of Imputation

My ultimate goal in this post is to empower you to participate with God in fruitful change in those whom you care about. You watch them flail, flounder, fret, and frustrate themselves. But your attempts to be of any help to them have proved in vain and, in addition, have left you feeling equally stuck and equally frustrated. God has been nudging me personally towards a different tack through something known as imputation. 

This past Sunday AM I had the privilege of preaching on Jesus' interactions with fig trees, temple turnover, and mountain-moving. He curses a fig tree, turns-over temple worship, and then the next Peter points out (in front of the the whole class) that the fig tree is fully withered (Mark 11:11-25). Jesus' point is that: Mere religious ritual neither effective to please a perfect God nor effective for personal change. Like the charlatan fig tree: In-and-of-itself religious ritual is fruitless and its end is death-to-the-roots. Yet how many times have we urged those in a rut: "Come to church with me" or "start giving/being useful to others." Churchgoing and charity-giving seem good enough for God but it's impotent and, should any person continue to take refuge in such close counterfeits, the end is nothing short of death.

Before imputation: Necessity of real and complete change. We need to trust Jesus so we might become an entirely "new creation" (II Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). In becoming "a new creation", a.k.a. "born again" (John 3:3, 7), a.k.a. trading in the a hard heart for a new and softer one (Ezekiel 11:19-20), we get right with God, obtain ability do the Law God talks about and "be the change" that everyone talks about but no one can ever do on their own. As human beings we prefer renovations like a little more church and a little more charity because we wish to believe we are basically good and have a lot to offer - but God says: Put down your pride and accept the offer of a total rebuild

Christians: You are a new creation, You are born again, Your heart is tender and empowered to do good. Do you see what just happened there? Something called "imputation." You may feel less than 'new' - I understand, believe me. You may feel like the only thing 'born again' in you is a re-birth of spite towards your boss who robs you of both credit and, thus, career progress. "Tender heart?!" Your heart feels primarily hard (or at least numb) toward God, toward your spouse, or anyone else for that matter. But that is not you.

What is imputation? To impute is to ascribe qualities to someone that are intrinsically absent. Imputation calls bad things by a good name. In Paul's letter to the Philippians, he recounts quite the rigorous and righteous life he tried to lead and does so for God!! (Philippians 3:4-6). But even his best work falls short (Phil. 3:7-8) and so instead of relying on his own right-living he relies on Christ's right-living imputed upon him by faith (Phil. 3:9). Like Paul, you who have trusted Jesus have been ascribed his rights and titles that are absent otherwise. You weren't born with them, they are not intrinsic: Son, child, heir, beloved.

How can God use the name-calling of imputation to empower & change you? A friend of mine was recently recounting a story of when he was in middle school and, whilst staring at the exam in front of him, he felt he had misunderstood a question. Jittery, tearing at his hair, waving pencil, gnawing at his fingernails. When the teacher approached this juggernaut of nerves, he calmly put his hand on his shoulder, answered his question and purposefully added with a look in the eye: "I know you are going to do just fine." My friend recalled: "Immediately a rush of calm confidence surged through me." Treating him other than he was. Such is the force of imputation.

That name-calling has some level of an effective, imputative force, has not been lost on the world-at-large. In fact, it has been assigned the title nominative determinism ("name-driven outcome"). 20th century's most renown psychologist Carl Jung recognized something to this in his own colleagues: "Herr Freud (whose name means 'joy' in German) practices the pleasure principle. Herr Adler (whose name means 'eagle'), the will to power, Herr Jung (Young) the idea of rebirth." In an April 2013 post to the Blog Science Friday, Adam Alter further chronicles some pretty astounding examples where name-calling shaped one's future:
The current Lord chief justice of England and Wales is Justice Igor Judge; his colleague, Lord Justice Laws, is a judge in the Court of Appeals. In the realm of athletic pursuits, Anna Smashnova is a professional Israeli tennis player, Layne Beachley is a seven-time world champion surfer, Derek Kickett was an Australian Rules footballer, Stephen Rowbotham was an Olympic rower for Britain, and Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world...Some names come before less auspicious destinies: Christopher Coke is a notorious Jamaican drug dealer.
Anna Smashnova
What else could I grow up to do?
The Bible is full of these. The most notorious, perhaps: Nabal, who foolishly puts to shame the fighting men of David with very little to no thought (1 Samuel 25:10-12). Nabal's wife, Abigail, pleads with David for mercy and while doing so says of Nabal: "Let not my Lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so also is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him" (1 Samuel 25:25). Who names their kid: "Fool"?! I guess parents who are ready to see their kid's destiny shaped by the imputation of such a name.

There is a danger here in how one presses this forward. Often what makes for bad theology is how an otherwise true concept is adopted, used or even over-emphasized. I'm not talking about the power of positive-thinking made famous by Robert Schuller nor am I speaking of a kind of mechanistic magic often called "positive confession" ("if you speak a certain truth, especially about health or wealth, so it shall be" - see channel 24 on WestStar TV for some good examples). 

The difference between such human effort toward positive-thinking or leveraging Scripture for what's tantamount to magic and what the Bible teaches: God Himself. His effort, His leveraging this lump of flesh for nobler purposes by the quickening of His Holy Spirit. He has wrought a real change which brings about new names (imputation), which, in turn, frees us toward further change. Here's how Paul puts it in Titus 3:3-7:
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
On the one hand, God wrought real change with new names, On the other hand, each individual never denies that he/she is included in the "former we" of verse 3. Each of us intrinsically is foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved, full of malice and envy. As we, like Paul, keep one hand on what we would still be on our own while the other hand is set to the plough - moving forward as we look through the lens of real change with new names, we are freed to live other than what we sometimes feel we are. For God now sees us other than what we feel we are. New, re-born, tender-hearted, able, child, heir, beloved, gifted. 

Attempts to Empower Others but Beating a Dead Horse. I'm not sure if the idiom "beating a dead horse" is familiar to you. It originated in British parliament but was inspired by the Ancient Greek playwright Sophocles. In his play Antigone, the blind seer Tiresias is led onstage to says: "Don't stab the slain who have already been stabbed" (my paraphrase). His advice: "All men are liable to err; but when an error hath been made, that man is no longer witless or unblest who heals the ill into which he hath fallen, and remains not stubborn." In other words, if you've been stabbing at that which has already been stabbed or you're beating a dead horse, don't be stubborn - try something different! The subject is gruesome (so much stabbing!), but it is otherwise really old and really good advice. I have a desire, which perhaps you share, to see people change and become more like Jesus. For my church family, my spouse, my children, my friends, my neighbors. I feel what Paul says in Galatians 4:19: "I am in anguish until Christ is formed in you!" Some people are just harder to exhort and spur on than others (and believe me, I'm sure I am one of those people for some of my brothers and sisters in Christ). I've tried to exhort through cheerleading ("you can do this"), through instruction ("here's what God says about"), through suggestion ("have you tried ____"), through warning ("if you keep on this route, it won't bring the satisfaction for which you're looking but only pain"), and through the classic oughta's and shoulda's that usually can't spur on more than one or two steps forward (see Col. 2:20-23). Yet they remain in that still-same rut. Lately, I've tried to heed Tiresias' advice: Don't be stubborn, try something different!

God can use your name-calling to empower others to His glory and for their good.
Instead of "beating the dead horse" through other strategies for change, consider supplementing prayer (1 John 5:16) with treating your fellow Christian as he or she is, according to God's Word. 

  • "You are gifted" (I Corinthians 7:7; Ephesians 4:7)
  • "You will overcome" (1 John 5:4).
  • "I'm so glad you are not who you used to be" (II Cor. 5:17; 1 Cor. 2:16).
  • "I can't wait to see how God will use your patience, endurance, hard obedience" (Romans 8:18).
  • "You are salt and light to your co-workers, neighbors, family, spouse" (Matthew 5:13-14).
  • "God has put a calling on your life" (Romans 1:6).
  • "You belong to something bigger than yourself/your circumstance" (Romans 1:6).
  • "You are a pillar amongst God's people here" (Revelation 3:12).
  • "You are perfect in God's sight" (1 John 1:9).
There's a dear gentlemen in our church who likes to address me sometimes as: "The Pastor whom Jesus loves" (based off what the Apostle John self-reference in his own gospel - 'the disciple whom Jesus loved). I appreciate this for two reasons. One, I don't always feel very pastoral. I do not love and care for God's flock as I ought, I fail often to follow-up and check-in, I'm prone to seek first for others to understand me before I seek to understand them. Even still, this man's name-calling serves as a reminder that God has called me, by his grace, to be His under-shepherd to a people He loves. Imputation - he has called me to that which I am not on my own. My friend reinforces this. Two, I don't always feel very lovable - and for many of the same reasons I mentioned above. Yet, Jesus loves me stubbornly. He puts upon me what is not intrinsically there. Again, imputation. When my friend calls me this, I'm reminded of the reality of how God truly views me - which is other than how I may be feeling or thinking. At his words, I can sometimes sense this twinge of confident love which I then want to spread to others. One way of thinking of it: God wishes to use your subjective, name-calling act of imputation to re-activate His objective imputation - what He has already and objectively both done in them and called them. Your name-calling act of imputation can serve as the spark to ignite what's already been imputed by God Himself.

This doesn't mean you never talk with them about the reality of something hard. Faithful still are the wounds of a friend when absolutely necessary (Proverbs 27:6). Though I would suggest this approach be used selectively and as the exception (see Ephesians 4:29). Nor ought you fear that they will only see the good, causing ego inflation, and thus become blind to the need for real change. God changes people through primarily through grace not by law and condemnation expressed through "my role is to keep them humble/grounded."

I've spoken about beating horses so it seems appropriate I end with a horse story that I pray leaves a lasting imputing impression.* Our family tries to record and re-watch the Kentucky Derby Horse Race every year (it's brutal to watch live as the lead-up to the race is 2 hours while the race is approximately 2 minutes - Bob Costas can produce some inspiring journalism, but come on!). The 2009 Derby, however, stands out to me. That year a smaller horse named Mine That Bird entered the race at 50-1 odds and had fared poorly in its previous two races. The owner and trainer both visibly displayed utter shock after the race. The horse's owner: "[Winning] wasn't something that was on our was a shocker." 

At the first quarter-mile stage, Mine That Bird was not only running dead last but, at that point, NBC's announcer initially missed even seeing him only to then mention him as a mere footnote. Not only did Mine That Bird go on to win that Kentucky Derby, he did so by 6 and 3/4 lengths!! What happened?! What precipitated such an impossible shift after the first quarter-mile?

The only person in Churchill Downs who appeared unshocked by the results was the horse's jockey, Calvin Borel. When asked in the immediate post-race interview what changed during the race to empower the horse to emerge victorious, Borel said simply: "I rode him like a good horse."

You love a fellow Christian who likely feels the weight of the 50-1 odds just as much as you see it in them. As you pray for them, try also a season of imputing upon them the reality God which has already wrought in them & a name which He has already called them. Encourage them like he or she is. 

*For the record, I am not pro-horsebeating - whether dead or alive.

Monday, August 11, 2014

An Unlikely match: Fearing & Loving God at the same time (PART 2)

Welcome to Part 2 (Part 1 here). To summarize Part 1: (a) Most Christians tend toward either fearing or loving God, but certainly not both at the same time (b) Fear, by nature, is consuming - specifically feasting on your thoughts so it can get fatter and take up more space first in your mind, then trickle into your values & priorities (your heart) & then outward from your will (your actions); (c) The Fear of God is different, it is equally thought-consuming but, unlike other fears, it is life-giving. So you can fear and love God at the same time. Having looked at the apostle Paul's conception of the terrible mercy and merciful terror of God in Romans 8, let's turn back the Bible clock and look at Psalm 130...

Psalm 130. This is perhaps my favorite Psalm (though Psalms 27, 77, and 139 are strong candidates). If you read this post and are somewhat inspired to begin simultaneously fearing and loving God, memorizing Psalm 130:3-4 would be a great place to start:
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities (ie. sin), O Lord, who could stand?                    But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. 
Here we have described in two verses what Paul was describing with a lot more ink & parchment. The psalmist, who has no doubt fretted and feared just as he has endured real and potential harm in his life, now awaits a solution to His biggest problem. God marks sin in His holy ledger and none can stand without a solution. All will fall. But the psalmist anticipates a future solution:
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits; and in his word I put my hope;                                My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning (Psalm 130:5-6)
Watchmen on the wall knew their shift was over and the danger of invasion had passed when the morning came. Morning always came - but, without timepieces, they just didn't know when that first sign of dawn would lighten the sky. Similarly, the psalmist is confident a solution will come...he just doesn't know when. That solution to falling, justly, into the abyss of God's eternal judgment will be complete and total.
O Israel, put your hope in the LORD. For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him there is full redemption.                                                                            He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities (Psalm 130:7-8)
As with Paul, the psalmist is in touch with his greatest potential harm - full, awful, wrath-filled, just condemnation for a heart and life that daily rebels against its Creator. His default posture when considering how he will one day answer to God: Can't even stand! Full redemption and forgiveness come through Christ..."that you may be feared" (v.3). He wants to consume our thoughts with this wonderful deliverance. The fear of God is the only fear that doesn't lead to all its negative implications (worry, self-protection, insulation, flight) though the God is the greatest potential threat & destructive force we will ever encounter. We currently know and relate to the same God from whom we deserve the fulfillment of eternity's worst fear, a real fulfillment that we still be executed for some (ie. the same God who is no less wrath-potent & will execute the fullness of his just wrath once more), yet not for us who trust Christ because He consumed it on our behalf. This is the terrible mercy/merciful terror designed to grow larger as it consume all thoughts - thus crowding out all smaller and earthly fears. Unlike the others which robs your time, shrinks your trust toward others, and spends time (unlike every other fear) life-giving. 

So in summary: The Fear of God is all-consuming, ever-growing thinking whose central refrain is: "I relate, respond to, worship a God who is terror-potent with a wrath-promise...just not toward me because Jesus mercifully absorbed the wrath I deserved" and with the result that every other earthly fear must shrink in comparison to the growing Fear, such that earthly fear will cease limiting bold acts of faith done out on the ledge of life.

A Way to Enter into simultaneous fear & love: Sometimes we have to enter into something new by way of what's familiar - via an illustration or a word-picture that relates more concretely to our lives. Jesus did this all the time when he related truth through parables. His listeners could thereby enter into His truth by the familiar ways of the agricultural, familial, or economic venues which daily inhabited.

If you would then, take a moment to approach your largest fear which contains potential harm. And what if I could guarantee for you, that thing you fear will cause others harm in the future. Yet as you approach it, without losing it's potential for harm, it just keeps on not harming you. Could you stand to remain near it? Would you not be compelled and drawn, yet wide-eyed and perspiring all the while?  I mentioned some possible examples in my first post:

A tarantula that sits on your knee but never does bite you.
A viper that has slithered up your shirt sleeve but never strikes.
Saying something conspicuously embarrassing in front of group of people but they never turn to gawk nor give the slightest laugh at your expense. 
$1 in your savings account but despite your spending, that dollar never runs out. 
Standing on the edge of a cliff, now walking, now dancing, but never teetering nor toppling over the edge.

I trusted my life to Christ and later worked at a International Christian sports camp in the
Pilot Mountain: God hath redeemed the thought of you.
foothills of North Carolina. I met lifelong friends there including Katie, my wife. We would occasionally get to spend time 'off-campus' - usually during a day off or with a smaller group of remaining campers from the previous week's session. One off-campus place to which my friends and I would often go is nearby Pilot Mountain. We'd take food out there, go hiking, and tool around for a while. Most of my friends especially enjoyed hanging their feet over the edge of the precipitous fall. The only way I could get near the edge is by way of "army crawl," which if you are not familiar: Front of the entire body making contact with the ground while inching forward using only your forearms (thus minimizing risk of the accidental "trip," "stumble" or "slip"). Hearty laughter often abounded as I slowly crawled my way into a conversation. 

I must say it was a spiritual if not darn near "mystical" experience that led to the writing of these two posts (but I think this subjective experience lines up with the objective, biblical concept of the simultaneous fear and love of God). In prayer one day, I sensed the Holy Spirit beckon me to the ledge of that same cliff to which I used to crawl - along with the invitation: "Come learn what it means to fear me." After approaching the edge of the cliff on my feet: "If you trust me to keep you from falling, walk along it" and, then, "Run!" All of this played out in my mind's eye. Even though I was safely in my backyard with two feet on the ground, I was sweating through my shirt at 7 am. I think God put me through this spiritual exercise to help me appreciate truly approaching and relating to Him. If I call Him Savior, make no mistake He is saving me from something real and terrible. If I can expect a warm and Fatherly embrace, I must walk to the edge of the abyss to get it.

As I was working on this posts, I did have a couple days where I thought I might be a little 'out there' with my understanding of the fear of God. So I was exceptionally grateful at that point to hear the idea of such an edgy approach to God so similarly advocated by an older and wiser pastor whom I esteem so highly (note especially: Grand Canyon):
Fear and trembling are not because God is our enemy but because He saved us from His wrath through Christ, and now we stand on the brink of the Grand Canyon of His holiness and justice and grace and wrath with unspeakable wonder, knees wobbling and hands trembling, but overcome with worship at the depth of his majesty, not with worry that we might fall in  (John Piper, "The Present Effects of Trembling at the Wrath of God," March 6, 2005). 
What does a simultaneous fear & love of God do? 1. Solves the problem of trying to 'get' ourselves to fear God. It's not something you start doing, it's something you start thinking. You don't get rid of fear - you replace it. So utilize the one life-giving fear available to you.  2. Helps us better discern our design. You can start to tell we were designed for fear. We are made to be filled full with fear (Ps. 139:14). As a good friend pointed out to me over lunch this week: There are activities in this world which we both love and fear and so "hint" at our design.  Sky-diving (death), gambling (loss of money), a suspense murder mystery (heart attack?), game hunts/safaris (loss of limb or worse), roller-coasters (loss of lunch). All involve real and potential harm...and toward us. But what a rush! We are designed to live out on the edge. That begins with our relationship with God, who is full of potential and again-to-be-deployed wrath...just not toward us who trust Christ. 3. Fear & Love are wed. All those verses about trembling with joy and delighting in fear (see Psalm 2:11; Isaiah 11:3; Nehemiah 1:11). The only way to access this is through fearing the God of the gospel. That we are teetering toward the abyss of eternal torment and only the merciful hand of God keeps us out. "Thank you and wow!" Might such be our forever response. "Thank you and wow!" Awestruck & Lovestumped.   4. Empowers you for more and bolder faith-risks. The more we meditate on this unseen reality, the more we are emboldened for faith-risks on the edge of life because thoughts of their potential harms shrink as the fear of God grows larger. This doesn't happen overnight and I'm not sure you wake up one day and everything else is just "whatever bad happens, no biggie" (I'm not sure because this journey of fearing God is something to which, in some ways, I'm still pretty new).

This edgy, terrible mercy/merciful terror nature of God is something we must neither simply give mental assent nor be satisfied to experience only on special occasions, but daily meditate upon, soak in, and keep before us if we are ever to fear and love God at the same time. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

An Unlikely match: Fearing & Loving God at the same time (PART 1)

A tarantula that sits on your knee but never does bite you.
A viper that has slithered up your shirt sleeve but never strikes.
Saying something conspicuously embarrassing in front of group of people but they never turn to gawk nor give the slightest laugh at your expense. 
Standing on the edge of a cliff, now walking, now dancing, but never teetering nor toppling over the edge.
$1 in your savings account but despite your spending, that dollar never runs out. 

That's where we will end up. Such paradoxical illustrations will reappear at the finish line as I seek to unwind what is an explicitly biblical mystery of how a true Christian both simultaneously fears and loves God. And how it changes them...

The Problem: Either fear or love of God likely bothers you, even if just a little (& certainly trying to both at the same time!).

  • There is the love of God. Intimate, faithful, other-delighting, vulnerable love. We are told: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear, for fear has to do with punishment. Whoever fears has not been perfected in love" (1 John 4:18). Fearing God would mean that I'm worried at any moment, depending on an inward thought, an outward action, or just the fact that I'm not naturally a good person on the inside, He might just leave or even throw some wrath my way. People who tell me "to fear God" need to creep on out of the Old Testament!
  • There is the fear of God. Reverential, trembling, awestruck, gulping, "can'" fear. We are told: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom/knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7). Treating God (or "buddy Jesus") like the bloke I most want to have a drink with after work or person with whom I want to plan my baby/bridal shower is not a God worthy of my worship. People who say: "Jesus is my homeboy/bestie" should probably turn off Christian radio and spend a month in the Book of Revelation. He is the Almighty, the King, our Judge.
But these two crazy kids belong together. The Bible almost inexplicably weds the two ideas and more often than the appearance of the occasional proof text (see 1 John 4:18 above) used to prove the other side wrong. Consider the following appetizers:
  • Psalm 2:11: Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.
  • Isaiah 11:3: And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
  • Nehemiah 1:11: O LORD, let you ear be attentive to the prayer...of your servants who delight to fear your name.
The Game Plan. How might we arrive at such an awestruck & lovestumped kind of life? It is upon this question I've been reflecting considerably. First, we need to reevaluate what fear is and what fear does. Second, armed with what fear does to us, we will learn how fear and love are wed such that the fear of God becomes functional and life-giving (unlike every other fear which is offers no return on time & energy invested & is utterly debilitating) Third, we'll delve into how such a fear changes how we relate to God and the world around us. It also turns out that God has been teaching me so much on this these past couple weeks or so that this will be Part One of a Two-part effort.

1. What fear is and what fear does. I would define fear as a deep-seated emotion toward some potential harm, the growing thoughts of which causes a person to remain distant, protect, or run. Fear is not inherently evil but neutral because the potential harm is, in fact, real. However, the fears that cause us to remain distant, protect ourselves at every corner and run, turn negative when we've fed such fear with more and more of our thoughts such that it has grown inordinately large. Hence, what fear does. Fear consumes thoughts. Anxiety, worry, fears become inordinately large because we think on them. We imagine the possibilities of life ruined by them, we mull over our past hurts related to it, we consider a news item, a doctor's warning, or anecdote your friend told you and begin to think of the consequences should the potential harm become actual. Fear feeds on our thoughts. Such that whatever potential harm we think on most, that becomes our largest (or fattest) fear. And Fear never stops eating on it's own. In fact, it goes on to consume our priorities & values (heart) and then finally eats out to our will & actions (behavior) [see horribly-rendered drawing above].

You can see how this begins to relate us to God. He has made us to function with fear (we are not just wonderfully made, made to fill full with wonder, but fearfully also, made to fill full with fear - Psalm 139:14). We want Him to become largest in our minds, our all-consuming love that we sing about, teach about, tell our lost friends about, write Facebook posts about, and influences every thought and action. So combining God and fear would be great because Fear never stops eating on its own - grows in our minds, down toward our hearts & outward through our actions. Except that fear always thinks on potential harm and fear, as we normally experience it, would cause us avoid, protect, run. Not to mention the Bible affirms God is the greatest potential harm and destructive threat we will ever encounter. Jesus told us bluntly: "And do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell" (Matthew 10:28). 

2. How is the fear of God different from every other fear? How does God get larger in our minds without simultaneously avoiding Him altogether in fear or living ever-cautiously like He is ready to bring down the hammer with any false move on our part? How can God consume our thoughts with His largeness without also putting aside His tender, humble and secure love? What I am going to share is nothing more than the gospel. However, it's the gospel with an edge. Those who sit under my preaching have heard me say frequently: The greatest gift of the gospel is God. Through trust in Jesus Christ, you are reconciled to the Father who created you. You get God! But it's not a God who has thrown out wrath, terror, divine justice for mercy only; nor is it a God who shows to us only one face - the sweet lamb face and not the lion. Every time we approach God and relate to God (even now!) He is lamb and lion. The real, three-personed God puts us on the edge with HIm - the edge between just wrath and tender mercy - and empowers us to live with emboldened faith on life's edges as we begin to really fear Him. 

There are two places in Scripture I've turned to most frequently when I worry, grow anxious, even fear. One is the Book of Romans, where I find a bedrock of truth regarding my firm standing with God secured by Christ through faith. The other is the Psalms where my fears find a voice and a God who speaks to them. It is in these two places where the Holy Spirit has helped me grow in simultaneously fearing and loving God. Let's look together first at Romans 8.

Romans 8. Romans 8:31: "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us." That Scripture has given many of us great comfort and emboldened us to step out in faith - for a business meeting when a promotion or our very job was on the line, for trying something, getting up the nerve to pop a question of great import, saying "no" to people who've never heard you say that, for the courage just to get out of in bed, and to speak up for Jesus. Now the Apostle Paul did step out in faith to do some or most of the above (though it was likely 40 lashes minus 1 and not depression that made it hard to get out of bed). Yet none of these gave cause to Paul writing this courageous battle cry. Deliverance from the just condemnation and wrath of God was Paul's supreme reason for bold living. I say this for two reasons. Just a couple sentences later:
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died - more than that, who was raised - who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or danger, or sword?  (vv.34-35).
There was only One who can condemn and who still condemns but will no longer do so toward the lawbreaker who trusts in the Jesus - who bore the full weight of the condemnation on our behalf (what the Bible calls propitiation; see Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 4:10). "If God is for us, who can be against us" and the glorious section describing the Christian's essential invincibility to follow is the end of one long thought that began in v.1 of chapter 8. In fact v.1 of chapter 8 is the undisputed turning point of Romans that separates chapters 1-7 and 8-16. Paul has just described justification by faith in chapter 6, the ongoing presence of sin in chapter 7 and ends that chapter describing his ongoing struggle with sin. In a word, he expresses fear - fear that he'll never be done with sin. Then chapter 8, verse 1. 
There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
The most eternal fear & greatest love: Both present at the cross.
All other worldly fears dissipate because there is no longer fear of condemnation. The condemnation is still real because it fell on Jesus and because there is still condemnation to come for those in the world who do not trust Jesus to make them right with the Father...just no longer toward Paul. This liberating truth consumes Paul's thought. You can feel it escalating with every word in Romans 8! Out of awestruck gratitude & armed with every-moment access to a God of both merciful & terrible power, he risks all manner of potential harm for the glory of Jesus. Potential harm like tribulation, distress, persecution, famine (ie. not eating for days), danger, sword... even nakedness. His earthly fears shrink or are "crowded out" now that this new Fear expands even as it consumes most every thought.

Paul can teeter on any earthly edge precisely because He has/is teetering on the edge - between merciful eternal life with God and holy, just, divine judgment (again, it's the same God) and yet remains supremely confident he will never topple into it. This thought has so consumed Paul's mind that any bold act with the potential to harm - things present, things to come, demons, rulers, and spiritual powers of the gnarly sort (Rom 8:38-39) - are mere child's play by comparison.

In Part 2 (here), l share about Psalm 130, speak to how the fear of God transforms us, & finally explain the spider/snake/ledge/$1 bank balance...