And the Wind Died Down

Only when we come to recognize and embrace the sweetness of Christ’s grace in the hard times are we able to rejoice in the richness and depth of His grace in the good times.

As the title of my website might suggest, the story of Peter walking on water in Matthew 14 is my favorite story in the Bible. I have realized over the last couple of years how rich this story is with meaning; with truths of grace and mercy and hope in every word.

We can read a story such as this so many times, year after year, and yet, in a single moment, we can read it again and find new meaning and new significance.

When I first started writing, it was like my ‘walking on water’ moment; the moment I knew God was telling me to step out of my comfort zone and walk in faith; to trust Him with the story that He had given me and surrender all that I had gone through and was learning to the purposes of His good and perfect will.

For it is in Him that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

Unfortunately, as we human beings often do, I got distracted. I started writing for my own purposes; desiring the approval of those around me more than God’s approval, seeking to write and encourage in ways that I saw best, and following the advice of others rather than trusting in God’s perfect wisdom.

This wandering was not just in my writing though, but in my relationships with others, my walk with the Lord, and in my pursuit of joy and peace.

The words of Robert Robinson’s hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing rang so true in my life at that time – prone to wander, Lord I feel it // prone to leave the God I love.

So with eyes averted and devotion divided, when the wind and waves came, I became afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30)

grace upon grace

In perfect wisdom and love, God used Peter’s failure and mine alike to loudly proclaim His infinite grace. As author C.S. Lewis puts it –

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

And so it was in those moments when I felt way in over my head; drowning in a storm of my own making filled with lies of disappointment, fear, and failure that God spoke the loudest; where grace became the only solid ground on which I could stand.

I cherish those seasons of pain and uncertainty in my life the most though because it is in those moments that leave us stunned and without words that the Lord speaks the loudest.

It is in the moments when we have no where left to turn that His open arms become a sweet refuge.

It is when we are broken that He mends us and makes us whole.

It is when we are empty that He fills us.

And it is only after we have been through a storm that we are able to look back and recognize His saving grace.

and the wind died down

As I look back on 2018, I see beautiful moments of friendship, growth, joy, and hope, as well as tough seasons of anxiety, fear, and doubt. However, more than all of these, I see the unparalleled grace, mercy, and patience of the Lord.

I see my Savior; my Redeemer; the Rescuer of my soul, who despite my moments of resentment and unfaithfulness, never left my side.

When I was broken, He made me whole again.

When I was empty, He fulfilled my every need.

When I felt alone, He comforted me.

When the silence seemed overwhelming, His voice rang loud and clear.

And now, as I look back on the good and bad of 2018 and embrace the Lord’s goodness in the toil and joys alike, I feel the wind dying down around me and grace and peace in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus my Lord (2 Peter 1:2).

It is important though to remember that these seasons of turmoil and rest; of raging storms and quiet waters, all point to a greater reality.

In the storms of life, God loudly proclaims to our bruised and broken spirits that this is not all that there is; that though these sorrows may be painful, they are light and momentary nonetheless.

Storms remind us that we have the hope of eternal and perfect peace in Christ Jesus still waiting for us.

And in the same way, when we are granted seasons of rest and the storms of life die down around us, we are reminded that the good things in this world are but murmurs of the greater weight of glory that is yet to come.

And it is when we recognize this and embrace it in every season of life that we are truly able to rejoice in Christ Jesus; thanking Him with joy and thanksgiving for His good and perfect gifts and sitting back, beaten and bruised by the storms of life to worship Him still.

One of my favorite quotes by John Owen says that ‘beholding the glory of Christ in this life is preparation—small “dawnings of eternal glory”—for the joys of heaven, where we will see Christ in His glory fully.’

This life will be filled with good and bad; with joys and toil, happiness and sorrow. This is simply the reality of our human condition. However, as we learn to recognize and embrace the sweetness of God’s grace in our joys and sorrows on earth, we are preparing our hearts for the day of rejoicing when we will fully behold His glory; when the dawning turns to day, the storm [sin] is silenced forever, and we enter into ‘the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. We will come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. We will come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel’ (Hebrews 12:22-24).

We will be Home, where joys abound and the wind is no more.

All Things New – Part I

Earlier this month I was able to attend the ONE Conference at Cornerstone Berean Church in Ames, IA. I hadn’t been to a women’s conference in quite a while, so I was excited for some time to get away, learn, and worship.

Now, after all is said and done, I feel challenged to share with you everything that I took away from this conference. The entirety of this weekend away was exceptionally transformational to my walk with God, and I am excited to share that with you.

session one, October 5

And He who was seated on the throne said “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

From the first creation account in Genesis 1 to the final redemption account in the book of Revelation, the Bible consistently and shamelessly speaks of the glory and majesty of Christ; of His beauty and holiness in all of creation; His limitless nature, and His perfect wisdom and love.

We know this, but often I find myself (and I can imagine that you might too) reading the Bible as if it were a book about me – designed to tell me what to do, how to do it, and when to do it (be sure to stay tuned for part three of this series for more on that particular topic 🙂 ). However, if everything in all of Scripture points to the glory of Christ; speaks of the glory of Christ; and testifies to the glory of Christ, then we might just want to start reading it that way.

All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…(2 Timothy 3:16).

This doesn’t just mean the New Testament or the Gospels or the Psalms. This verse literally means that every word of Scripture is the voice of God and should be treated as such.

While I have always believed 2 Timothy 3:16 to be true, the manner in which I’ve approached certain portions of the Bible has not always submitted to such belief. For example, I have always read the creation account in Genesis 1 as strictly historical and nothing else.

However, as we rediscover the creation account through the lens of 2 Timothy 3:16, we  realize that the pattern and shape in which this account was written very intentionally speaks of the greater glory of Christ; foretelling the divine purposes of God Almighty for His church.

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Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep…(Genesis 1:2).

We were formless and empty; void of any righteousness or light. Apart from Christ, we were consumed with darkness; with sin and wretchedness from birth. Yet just as God did not leave the world void and formless; taking chaos a bringing order with His Word, He does not leave us as we are. He takes our chaotic brokenness and makes us whole once again. Indeed, in Him all things are being made new…

Light (Gen. 1:3) – God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Just as God shed light into a dark world, He revealed His light into our dark souls through His Son Jesus Christ. As John 8:12 says, “I am [Jesus] the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Separation (Gen. 1:4, 6, 9, 14) – God separated the light from the dark; the earth from the sky; the sea from the land; and the day from the night. And so He separates us, His children of light from the darkness of sin and death. He sets us apart from the world, inviting us to “be holy, because He is holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

Fruitfulness (Gen. 1:22) – Just as God instructed the animals of the earth to “be fruitful and increase in number…” so too does He instruct us to “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 He has commanded us” (Matthew 28:19-20). We are called, first and foremost, to be fruitful in our faith; increasing in number as we share the good news of the Gospel; making disciples of every nation, tribe, and tongue.

Image Bearing (Gen. 1:26-27) – “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” As image-bearing works of creation, we have the inherent responsibility and great pleasure of bearing forth the image of Christ. And as we are reminded in Revelation 21:5, He is making all things new, giving us the hope of future restoration into the fullest, clearest, image of Christ Jesus for all of eternity. Until then, God’s will for our lives is to bear forth His image for all the world to see.

Dominion (Gen. 1:28) – God gave mankind dominion over the earth; to rule over it and take care of it. In the same way, Christ has established for us dominion over sin. “For sin shall no longer be our master, because we are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). We have been saved from the penalty of sin by the cross; we are being saved from the power of sin through sanctification; and we will one day be delivered from the presence of sin once and for all in final glorification.

Rest (Gen. 2:2-3) – A day of rest concludes the creation account, which foretells of a greater rest for our souls in Christ Jesus. When all of creation was complete, rest was ushered in. Similarly, when the entirety of Jesus’ work on the cross was finished, ultimate rest for the souls of mankind was made known (John 19:30).

*          *          *

This may be an entirely new ‘creation account’ for some of you. I know it certainly was for me, as I had never considered how the creation of the world foretold of life and renewal and eternal hope in Christ Jesus.

From beginning to end, God is showing us Himself through His Word. Even from the first accounts of the Bible, the greater work of Christ Jesus is being glorified; pointing us to His ultimate act of creation on the cross, that through His sacrifice he was reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19) and making all things new.

 

All Things New – Part II – We all have an old name; something that identifies us with our sin-filled past. However, He who is sitting on the throne has said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And therefore, we have been given a new name in Christ and are called to bear forth that image to the rest of the world.

The Dawning of Heaven – Our Great Privilege as Believers

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

This is my favorite time of year.

I love the ushering in of sweater season; of boots and scarves and pumpkins to carve. I love the changing of the leaves, the crisp air, and the fact that the earth is tilted at juuuust the right angle for me to watch the rising sun each morning from my usual table at the coffee shop.

This morning’s sunrise was particularly beautiful. Light bounced off the countertops and wooden floors, gracing the area around me with reminders of new morning mercies that are even more faithful than the rising of the sun.

The window panes framed the dawning sun perfectly, as if to capture each moment of its rising glory and committing it to memory.

As I watched the sun go from one pane to the other, I was captivated by its splendor. Even as I returned to my writing, I could hardly focus because the intensity of the sun left impressions of its bright glory on the pages in front of me.

My gaze returned, surprised and somewhat saddened at how fast the sun had moved in such a short amount of time. I wished it could stay framed in the window forever, but by this point it was already playing with the edges of the frame, bidding its final farewell but promising to return.

I can’t help but think about how the Gospel is a lot like the rising sun; how Christ’s descent into mortality was our first glimpse at divinity; the dawning of heaven.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6, NIV)

It is in the face of Jesus Christ that we are able to behold the glory of God; to dwell in the light of the knowledge of God’s glory.

Let that sink in for just a moment.

Just as the different window panes captured each moment of the sun’s ascent, we have the very words of God; the first hand accounts of the Bible that capture each glorious moment of Christ’s life, work, and mission here on earth; all of which display the beauty and glory and goodness of our Heavenly Father.

Do we see or understand this like we should?

Probably not, if we’re to be truly honest with ourselves.

With the rising popularity of the ‘Instagram Bible’ and a growing propensity toward second hand knowledge of God rather than deep, personal Biblical understanding, our desire to behold Christ’s glory has diminished severely.

We forget our great privilege as believers to behold that which ‘angels long to look into’ (1 Peter 1:12, NIV); something that Isaiah and the minor prophets only got a glimpse of through the Old Testament writings, and something that Abraham went to his grave clinging to but never actually being able to lay eyes upon.

We forget our great privilege as believers to behold Jesus Christ incarnate; the Son of the Living God personified.

We forget that we can actually look into the face of Jesus Christ through the Holy Word and see the glory of God and the grace of our Savior.

With veiled faces, we read the Bible, failing to understand the grandeur of what is being said; of the stories being told and the great eternal implications that they possess.

How could something so marvelous be so easily dismissed?

Prior to the display of absolute grace and mercy in the coming of Christ, the minds of believers were dull; shielded from the glory of God, because only in Christ is the veil removed from our eyes (2 Corinthians 3:14-15, NIV). To be quite honest, we wouldn’t want to behold the glory of God without the lens of Christ’s mercy and grace. Without grace, God’s glory would be utterly terrifying.

But because we know and reside in the grace of Christ’s sacrifice through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we have the great privilege to behold the glory of God. ‘Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away and we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:16-18, NIV).

There is a beautiful, breathtaking mystery in the person and lordship of Jesus Christ. ‘In him there are two distinct natures, the one, eternal, infinite, immense, almighty, the form and essence of God; the other having a beginning in time, finite, limited, confined to a certain place, which is our nature.’ (The Glory of Christ, 1994)

‘This is the glory of our religion, the glory of the church, the only rock on which it was built, the only source of present grace and future glory.’ (The Glory of Christ, 1994)

Think about it…the angels have no need for grace; the prophets only foretold of such grace; and Abraham could only imagine this kind of grace. We have the privilege of knowing it!

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9, NIV)

Oh the staggering magnificence and glory of knowing such grace of the One who’s face shines bright with the radiance of God’s glory; the dawning of heaven, and knowing that with the emergence of divinity comes a day when we will all be able to fully bask in the glory of God for ourselves.

We see little murmurs of this glory in creation; in the work of His hands, but we have been granted even more than that. We have been granted the privilege of beholding God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ! And it is this glory that stimulates in our hearts a yearning to see His beauty and majesty firsthand; a deep longing for eternity.

It is the glory of Christ that draws our attention; that captivates our gaze and helps us to be eternally focused on Him rather than presently preoccupied by the things of this world, good and bad.

So as I continue returning to the coffee shop every morning, I anticipate many more gorgeous sunrises, just as I anticipate even more beautiful mercies, grace, and loving kindness from my Lord.

In the same way, we keep coming back; we continue returning to the Word of God because we know what an invaluable privilege it is to behold such priceless glory right here, right now.

We keep looking into the face of Jesus through His Word to learn more and more of God’s glory, realizing that one day we will be able to behold this glory for all of eternity when this dawning of heaven ushers in the day of ‘consuming fire’ that is our God. (Deuteronomy 4:24, NIV)

Confessions of a Tortured Perfectionist

My jaw slacked slightly as I continued reading the results of this particular personality test.

“This is so me,” I thought to myself in astonishment.

Despite the many personality tests that I have taken in the past, I still get excited about seeing my results. I find these kinds of tests incredibly interesting.

However, upon completing this most recent personality test, I experienced a slightly different response.

I was discouraged; maybe a little hopeless.

After finishing the Enneagram Personality Test, I got my results and it was exactly what everyone had anticipated…

I’m a One and a Six.

What does that mean? Well, here’s a brief description…

Enneagram Type 1, The Reformer – Perfectionist, responsible, fixated on improvement.

People of this personality type are essentially looking to make things better, as they think nothing is ever quite good enough. This makes them perfectionists who desire to reform and improve, idealists who strive to make order out of the omnipresent chaos.

Ones have a fine eye for detail. They are always aware of the flaws in themselves, others and the situations in which they find themselves. This triggers their need to improve, which can be beneficial for all concerned, but which can also prove to be burdensome to both the One and those who are on the receiving end of the One’s reform efforts.

Enneagram Type 6, The Loyalist – Conflicted between trust and distrust.

People of this personality type essentially feel insecure, as though there is nothing quite steady enough to hold onto. At the core of the type Six personality is a kind of fear and anxiety. This anxiety has a very deep source and can manifest in a variety of different styles, making Sixes somewhat difficult to describe and to type.

What all Sixes have in common however is the fear rooted at the center of their personality, which manifests in worrying, the restless imaginings of everything that might go wrong.

Ask anyone who knows me well and they will tell you that these results are very accurate.

As I continued reading the description, I noticed a sinking feeling in my spirit. The perfectionist in me saw only the negative aspects of these personality traits; the responsible part of me started fixating on all the ways I could improve myself based on these results.

And as I started writing this article, a sudden war broke out between trusting God as I confessed my shortcomings and wanting to hide for fear of exposing my flaws.

Yep, I’m definitely a One and a Six.

After finishing all the different descriptions and associated articles, I realized why I had begun to feel so discouraged…

I am not what I ought to be – ah, how imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be – I abhor what is evil, and I want to cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be – soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection (John Newton, 1772).

I realized that the personality described on the screen in front of me was that of a person who was nothing like Jesus Christ.

A tortured perfectionist … ‘to all perfection there is a limit,’ (Psalm 119:96) so why are you even trying?

An impulsive ‘goody two shoes’ fixated on constant improvement … ‘apart from Christ you have no good thing within yourself after all.’ (Psalm 16:2) You will never be good enough.

A conflicted soul caught between a desire to trust and inherent suspicion … ‘you’re supposed to trust in the Lord with all your heart you know.’ (Proverbs 3:5) You must not really trust God. You’re such a hypocrite.

Ah, how painful the war between flesh and spirit is. My thoughts continued to spin on this carrousel of internal conflict and desire.

This was everything I didn’t want to be; it was nothing of what I wished to be; and it was everything I hoped I wouldn’t be tomorrow.

But then the still small voice of Love and Truth broke through the chaos:

‘I AM your perfection. Remember that you are not who you were yesterday because of my grace.’

John Newton went on to say that yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge that, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

Because of my perfectionist tendencies, by the grace of God it doesn’t take much for me to realize that this imperfect world is not my home; that I have a perfect eternity waiting for me. It’s not difficult for me to tap into that sense of eternity that He has placed in my heart. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

By His grace, I desire to be holy because He is holy. (1 Peter 1:16)

Through my internal conflict between trusting and being inherently suspicious, God graciously reminds me to depend on Him as the only steadfast One in this life and the next.

Indeed, to all perfection I see a limit, but praise God that His perfect Word is limitless. (Psalm 19:7; 119:96)

It is true that without God I would have no good thing, but how joyful it is to know that I will never have to live a day apart from His goodness. (Psalm 16:2; Deuteronomy 31:6)

Yes, I know that I need to trust in God, but my heart is assured that when I don’t, I will not be alone. The Holy Spirit will help me in my weakness. (Proverbs 3:5; Romans 8:26)

So remember that despite what you lack; regardless of your good qualities and bad habits, all that you are is because of Him and everything that you’re not, He is.

The Fear of the Lord in the Shadow of the Cross

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you…(1 Peter 4:12, NIV)

Fiery ordeals are a regular part of life. We struggle against trials and temptations such as lust, idolatry, fear, anxiety, and depression on a daily basis while some of us may encounter the horrors of sickness, tragedy, loss, heartbreak, and injustice. Regardless of the degree or nature of our fiery ordeals, our tendency is to fear those things. We avoid them, we lose sleep over them, and more often than not, we allow them to consume our every thought.

It is from this place of fear that we often turn to the Bible. With a heart that feared man and the world, I so often reached for the Bible not as the holy and infallible Word of God, but as a remedy for my fear. One of the biggest oversights that I have seen in my own Christian walk is the omission and misinterpretation of what it means to fear the Lord and how that kind of fear forms a vital piece of our foundation as Bible-believing Christians.

who do we fear?

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8, NIV)

Let’s consider the story in Mark 4:35-41 where Jesus calms the storm. When we read about this miracle and the many like it throughout the Bible, we tend to insert our own personal ‘storm’ into that particular scenario. The violent waves that threatened to vanquish the disciples are often interpreted to be the fiery ordeals that threaten our lives – the tragedy of cancer, the heartbreak of a lost relationship, the loss of a job, or the injustice of abuse and neglect. We are encouraged through this Biblical account to not make the same mistakes as the disciples did but to instead trust that Jesus will calm the storm; that he will cure the cancer, restore the relationship, provide an even better job, or impose His rightful justice on those who inflict harm on the innocent and helpless.

Rather than a right and reverent fear of the Lord, it is our daily circumstances that we use as an elusive reference point for our Biblical interpretation, understanding, and wisdom, which is then easily corruptible by emotion and sentiment. We therefore tailor God’s promises and miracles according to our present circumstances, inadvertently missing the grander purpose of the story. This interpretation that God will ‘calm our storms’ may be applicable, but it is not exactly foundational. Rather, this interpretation places a subtle emphasis on our fear of man and circumstances, subsequently identifying God as a simple remedy for such fear rather than the ultimate object of our fear. This then makes Him out to be only slightly larger and more powerful than the fear that we face. It places God’s power to save in relation to our fear rather than submitting our fear to the one and only powerful and holy God, thus shrinking God down to be nothing more than a modern day Hercules.

How do we break this pattern of thinking?

We must first come to realize that the entirety of the Bible and the mission, person, and office of Jesus Christ here on earth points to a greater, more eternal reality than the harsh realities that we face on a daily basis. While it is easier and certainly more manageable to associate our daily battles with the storm in Mark chapter four, it is important that we pull back and realize that the storm in this story and the many stories like it points to a greater, far worse ‘Storm’ that we all inevitably face as a fallen and broken people.

the wrath of god

If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. (Psalm 90:11, NIV)

Throughout the Bible, the sea often serves as a representation of God’s wrath. This is evident in both the Old and New Testament. We see this representation very clearly in the story of Jonah (Jonah 1:15-17, NIV) as he plunges himself into the raging sea to calm the storm. He is swallowed and remains in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights until being spit back up onto dry land. The entirety of this story points to the greater sacrifice and coming glory of Jesus Christ. Just as Jonah plunged himself into the depths of the sea to calm the storm so too did Jesus plunge himself into the depths of sin to satisfy God’s wrath. Just as Jonah was spit back up onto dry land three days later, so too was Jesus resurrected from the grave three days after being buried.

Even in the book of Revelation, there are a number of references made to the wrath of God being like the sea (Rev. 18:21; 21:1, NIV). Babylon, which represents the seat of all idolatry and the enemy of Christianity, will be cast into God’s wrath as a boulder would be cast into the sea, never to be seen again and with the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, the wrath of God will be no more as His justice will have been satisfied in and through Jesus Christ, thus bringing to completion the original covenant made with God’s chosen people (Gen. 17:7-8; Rev. 21:3, NIV).

We can therefore delineate that Mark 4:35-41 is not necessarily a display of Jesus’ power or will to save us from our daily fiery ordeals, but rather that this story and the many stories like it is pointing to a much greater salvation that Jesus provides – salvation from the wrath of God.

The disciples rightly expressed a deep, unnerving fear of the sea. They were afraid of the unstoppable power that this storm possessed and were even more afraid of being consumed by its waves. In similar fashion, humanity throughout the Old Testament expressed the same kind of trembling before the presence of God Almighty. One such example of this can be found in 2 Samuel 6:1-7. After being commanded by God to not touch the holy things secured in the Ark of the Covenant, we read about a moment where the Ark of the Covenant begins to topple over the edge of an unstable cart and in what we would consider an act of valor, the Israelite named Uzzah reaches out to steady this precious relic. In response, the Lord’s anger burned against [him] because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:7, NIV)

Even our best intentions are infested with sin and insolence towards God. As Isaiah 64:6 says – all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Jerry Bridges explains this concept beautifully as he considers how ‘even our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb.’ Even on our best days, we are helpless against the vast and just wrath of God. In front of the Holy of holies, the Great I Am, and the Creator of heaven and earth, sin cannot stand. In its entirety, sin must be destroyed. David understood the necessity for this kind of fear of the Lord as he penned Psalm 90. He knew how essential a right fear of the Lord was to the foundation of his faith. He knew that the entirety of who he was – good and bad – could not bear under the holiness of who God is, and therefore he knew this fear; this appropriate and right fear of the Lord and His holiness and righteousness. It is only when we have a knowledge of the magnificence of God’s holiness and perfection that we recognize the depth of our own depravity, causing us to tremble at His Word. And it is in that moment as we stand trembling before the transcendent God that our hearts are humbled and prepared to behold the glory of Jesus Christ.

the shadow of the cross

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24, NIV)

Imagine that you are on some country road all by yourself. There are no other cars around and no indication of civilization anywhere to be seen across the acres of one corn field after the other. The only thing that disrupts your endless view of the horizon is this ominous, terrifying F-5 tornado. Your car radio blares with emergency warnings, instructing all who are in this tornado’s path to find shelter immediately. You realize that you are in the direct path of this tornado, but even more alarming is the realization that you have nowhere to go. You are in fact helpless.

That’s when, out of the corner of your eye, you notice someone waving their arms, trying to get your attention. They seemed to have shown up out of nowhere but are now motioning for you to follow them into what appears to be a bunker; an underground refuge. So you follow in faith that this bunker will protect you and suddenly find yourself out of harm’s way. From the refuge of this bunker you are now able to see this F-5 tornado for what it really is – a magnificent, overwhelming, unnerving natural phenomenon that possesses unspeakable power. Without fearing your own demise, you are able to take in the full magnitude; the awe-inspiring massiveness and greatness of this F-5 tornado. And not only do you observe with fear and trembling as the tornado passes by, but you also experience a reverence and an awe-inspired gratitude for the bunker that protected you from such inescapable annihilation.

The disciples had an experience similar to this as the storm raged around them. They experienced a fear for their own lives. They knew that they were helpless against the unstoppable power of the storm and therefore feared that they would be lost to the violence of the waves. What is interesting about this first-hand account of Jesus’ miraculous power is that Mark mentions the terror expressed by the disciples only after Jesus calms the storm. Of course, their cries – “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” – imply fear, but it is only in verse 41 after Jesus rebukes the storm and tells it to be still that Mark actually notes the terror of the disciples.

Likewise, there is a certain fear that we get to experience in the shadow of Jesus’ power to save unlike the fear expressed by Old Testament believers. Just as the disciples trembled at the power that Jesus demonstrated in calming the sea, so too do we tremble at the power displayed by Jesus on the cross as he satisfied the wrath of God against all sin. Our trembling at the cross however can never be fully known or truly expressed until we first recognize what exactly it is that the cross continuously saves us from.

the fear of the lord

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10, NIV)

Pastor J.D. Greear describes the fear of the Lord as ‘a recognition of the size of God.’ Aside from a real trembling before the Lord in right, reverent fear of him, we will never, as Proverbs 9:10 assures, attain a true wisdom and understanding of God. When our view of God grows too small, we do not fear His sovereignty. When our faith and trust in Him becomes too manageable, we begin trusting in ourselves rather than His omnipotence. When He is diminished to a mere being that is only slightly greater and wiser than ourselves, we become arrogant and lofty in our thinking; becoming wise in our own eyes rather than dependent on His omniscience. How does this happen? Consider the words of Grace Thornton in her book, I Don’t Wait Anymore: “If we don’t realize how big the Kingdom on the horizon is, we risk seeing God as really small here. And if the Light on the horizon isn’t so bright that it’s nearly tangible, the small here can become really big.”

When we reach for the Word of God as a remedy against our fear of this world, God only becomes slightly larger than our fears or problems. He is diminished to be only wise enough, powerful enough, and sufficient enough to ease our fears, and that’s it.

Think about the massive F-5 tornado that you encountered on the desolate country road for a moment. What would the bunker have meant to you apart from the presence of that F-5 tornado? Nothing. It would have been a simple bunker with no real or necessary power to save. Without an acknowledgment of God’s wrath and an assent to our own helplessness in light of His justice, the cross of Jesus Christ would bear no real necessity or power to save.

The unstoppable and overwhelming, indisputable justice of God serves as an agent that prepares our hearts to deeply treasure the saving grace of Jesus Christ. This right understanding and fear of God’s wrath is necessary for us to recognize our deep-rooted depravity, which then elicits in our hearts a true and appropriate reverence and awe for the saving grace of Jesus Christ which stands between God’s wrath and our immorality. We tremble before the cross only when we recognize what the cross actually defends us from and then assent to the fact that we could not and cannot defend ourselves. When we recognize that the entirety of who we are as sinful human beings cannot bear under the weight of God’s holiness, we start down the path of wisdom; understanding the extent to which we need the cross. This prepares us to approach the cross of Jesus Christ with a humble and contrite spirit; trembling at the glory of His sacrifice and standing terrified at His power to save. A deficiency in understanding the magnitude and severity of the Storm that is God’s wrath and justice results in a minimized and diluted sense of Jesus’ love, grace, and power to save us from that Storm. When we lose sight of the greater problem that we inherently face as a fallen and broken people, we naturally become preoccupied with the ‘light and momentary troubles’ (2 Cor. 4:17, NIV) of this world rather than remaining eternally fixated on ‘God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6, NIV). A fear of man is derived when we forget to look beyond the cross into the ‘consuming fire’ that is the one and only sovereign and holy God Almighty. The beauty of the cross diminishes only when the reality of God’s wrath becomes inconsequential in our hearts and minds. When we rightly understand what it is that Jesus saves us from and firmly place our faith and confidence in the love and mercy of Christ, only then are we able to witness the magnificence and fullness of God’s righteous and holy power; bearing a right, reverent fear of the Lord from the security we have in the shadow of the cross.

Teach me your way Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths, from the realm of the dead. (Psalm 86:11-13, NIV)

When Love Breaks Your Heart

For the sake of transparency, I’ll start by saying that I do not know what unexpected loss feels like. I’ve lost relatives, but never without warning.

It was anticipated and I was blessed with time to prepare for the inevitable.

While every loss we experience is painful and heart wrenching, this is not the kind of heart break that this day in history brings to so many.

Rather, it’s a sudden, unsolicited, unexpected ripping of your heart – a kind of pain that leaves you breathless and paralyzed.

It’s a kind of pain that one feels as they helplessly watch the plane holding their loved one careen straight into a building.

A pain that courses through their soul every year as they remember that horrific day; a day filled with fear.

Perfect Love Casts Out All Fear

When we think of love, we think of the good moments in life; the moments that leave us smiling and hopeful.

Love is a white gown and tux.

Love is laughter and the cry of a newborn child.

Love is found in the comfort of a friend.

Love is extended through the hands of rescuers responding to Hurricane Irma.

Love is experienced when our brothers and sisters in Christ are truly happy.

Love is known in and through Jesus Christ.

Love is the cross.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them (1 John 4:16).

But what about the hard times; the times when we actually feel our hearts breaking inside of us?

I recently watched a movie starring Will Smith (Howard) titled Collateral Beauty.

In this story, after coping for years with the pain of his daughter’s death, Howard writes letters to Love, Death, and Time.

To his surprise, Love, Death, and Time incarnate actually approach him.

The part that stuck out the most to me was when Love (Keira Knightley) approached Howard and passionately tried to remind him that love is the fabric of life; the only reason for anything and that he simply could not live without it.

In his excruciating pain, Howard retaliated, crying – “I felt you [Love] every day when my daughter laughed and you broke my heart.”

With sympathy in her voice, Love responded with words of hope – “I was there in her laugh, but I’m also here now in your pain.”

Scripture tells over and over again that God is Love; that they are one in the same; that whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4:8).

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them (1 John 4:16).

As human beings, we naturally categorize those which are alike together – things such as joy, happiness, life, contentment, peace, love…all of these are considered to be good.

In the same manner, we also categorize all that we believe to be bad into a separate group – pain, hurt, sorrow, destruction, death, hate, etc.

As basic as these constructs may seem to our societal fabric, they are but mere human paradigms and have no bounds against the Love that is God.

If Love is God, then it is not restricted to only that which we consider to be good.

Sometimes pain is the truest form of love because it keeps us from living a life without all the fullness that God offers, because as our hearts break, they are graciously exposed to the love and comfort that God so desires to pour into your life.

It is ‘out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given (John 1:16).’ It is ‘the fullness of Christ that fills everything in every way (Ephesians 1:23), and to know this love that surpasses knowledge is to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19).

There is complete fullness in God; a fullness that is seen in the life, mission, and purpose of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:19) and therefore, accessible to us through a love saturated in pain.

Those two words – love and pain – are rarely coupled together, but in all of history, Jesus’ pain is the ultimate expression of love.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…(John 3:16).

When the grip of pain bears down on our hearts – the pain of loss, confusion, loneliness, betrayal, self-loathing, abandonment, a burning hatred for those who stole what we love most – it is hard to recognize the sweet essence of Love.

But just as Love broke the one and only Son, so too does Love break our hearts to put them back together again; to raise to life a man or woman set free in the arms of Grace.

Life is painful and sometimes all that’s good seems so ambiguous and obscure against the smoke and fire of a life crashing down around us.

But as we remember this day 17 years ago, we can turn our eyes from the smoke and fire and instead look into the face of perfect Love.

Human tradition and the basic principles of this world tell us that where there is pain and heartache, love cannot exist.

But this is not true.

Truth – the Gospel – tells us that God is Love and that this Love will go with you; He will not leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6), even when He breaks your heart.