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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).

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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.

Now What? How to Effectively Reflect on a Sermon

I was recently asked to write an article on ‘reflection’ for my church. While a lot of people have participated in a church service where a time of reflection was in place, I have found that many actually have not. Therefore, before providing some practical steps to help us use our time of reflection effectively, I want to first identify what ‘reflection’ is, primarily within the context of a church service.

Reflection, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is ‘the production of an image by or as if by a mirror.’ A little further down the list of definitions we can also see that reflection is ‘a thought, idea, or opinion formed as a result of meditation.’

In Genesis 1:27 we see the creation of mankind as the very image of God; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

In other words, God created mankind to bear forth His image; to reflect His nature for the rest of the world to see. As Matt Chandler explains it, ‘our presence on earth is akin to rulers sand authorities of ancient lands placing a statue or an icon of their image in distant regions that were also under their rule, so that there would be an image of the reign and rule of that king. You and I, as mankind, are that icon; that image of God that shows that there is a creator who is reigning and ruling.’

As image bearing creation, we have been made to reflect God’s nature to the rest of the world. However, with sin and temptation, we get easily distracted and can quite often start reflecting the world rather than God.

Therefore, it is important for us to take seriously what James tells us in chapter one verse 24-25…that we should not be ‘like someone who looks at his face in the mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.’ Rather, we must ‘look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continue in it – not forgetting what we have heard, but doing it.’

As we’ll read later on, ‘all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’ that most accurately reflects the righteousness of God.

A time of reflection is vital to this because as we look to produce the image of God as if by a mirror, we must know; we must have a thought, idea, or opinion regarding the One we are reflecting in order to conduct our lives accordingly, and the only way we can do that is by deep, meaningful meditation and reflection on the Word of God.

This kind of meaningful reflection however is not intended for the last remaining minutes of a church services, but is rather a continuation of dwelling on His truths and promises; meditating on them, and allowing them to change the way we live our lives. Our time in reflection should be about how we approach the Word of God beforehand, how we respond as it is planted in our hearts, and how it changes us into a clearer image of Christ Jesus.

So how do we conduct our lives as James tells us; continuing in the Word preached each Sunday morning and doing what it says?

Here are five reflection and study habits that I encourage you to put into practice:

be expectant.

We do not instinctively hear preaching as the actual voice of God, but rather as the message of a man. When we receive the Word, we need to be like the church in Thessalonica and ‘accept it not as a human word, but as it actually  is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in those who believe’ (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NIV). As you approach each Sunday morning, consider…

  • Reading the designated Bible passage ahead of time;
  • As you read, praying that God would open your eyes and ears and prepare your heart in expectation to hear from Him;
  • Praying for your pastor as they prepare this week’s message; and
  • Preparing your mind prior to the sermon by using the minutes leading up to the service for quiet prayer and preparation.

humble yourself.

To listen humbly is to admit that the Bible is right and that you are wrong; that God is God and we are the ones that need to change. The Word of God is not intended to make us feel good, but rather to cut at the core of our being (Hebrews 4:12-13, NIV); to challenge us to ‘get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and to humbly accept the word planted in us…’ (James 1:21, NIV). In order to humbly respond to the message, consider…

  • Identifying certain points of the message that challenged your beliefs and/or lifestyle;
  • Continuing to pray that God would help you submit to His Word in obedience; and
  • Seeking further guidance and accountability regarding these areas of conviction that you have identified.

fact check.

It is a wise practice to question everything except for the Word of God, including those called to serve, preach, and teach. Listening is active, not passive, therefore it is wise to continually ask yourself how the sermon is validated and supported by God’s Word. To help prepare yourself to approach the Word of God wisely and thoughtfully, consider…

  • Reading the passage prior to the sermon and asking yourself the following questions:

What is the main point of the passage?

Why was the passage written? To whom was it written? What is it intended to achieve for its audience?

  • If you notice large variances in how you understood the passage and how it was delivered, consider asking for further guidance as you continue praying as Martin Luther did: ‘Lord, teach me, teach me, teach me;’ and
  • Do not allow discrepancies to go unchecked. As Proverbs 4:7 (NIV) says, ‘the beginning of wisdom is this: get wisdom.’

be active.

James tells us in chapter one verse 22 that we should not ‘merely listen to the word, and so deceive ourselves,’ but to ‘do what it says…’ The ultimate goal and purpose of hearing God’s Word is ‘for teaching’ what we ought to believe, ‘rebuking’ what we ought not believe, ‘correcting’ how we ought not behave, and ‘for training in righteousness’ in how we ought to behave (2 Timothy 4:1-5, NIV). Therefore, it is important that we actively seek conviction rather than entertainment and obedience rather than validation. To allow God’s Word to change you, consider…

  • Writing down at least one area of conviction or some action that you need to take in order to obey this Bible passage (a change in attitude, an alteration in how you speak, etc.); and
  • On a daily basis, revisit what you wrote down and pray that God would work obedience in your heart and mind through His Word and conviction.

Be urgent.

We read in Deuteronomy 30:15-16 (NIV) that life and prosperity, death and destruction has been set before us today; that we are commanded to love the Lord our God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees, and laws today; that we may live and increase and be blessed by God. One of the easiest lies to believe is that there is no hurry – no hurry to confess our sins and no hurry to change our ways. What we fail to recognize however is that every promise we make to start tomorrow, we guarantee that tomorrow will never come. In your time of reflection right now, consider…

  • Immediately confessing the things that the Holy Spirit has convicted you of;
  • Acting on at least one way you can change your behavior, attitude, or lifestyle to come in line with God’s Word today; and
  • Thanking God for His gracious invitation to walk with Him and rejoice in His grace, forgiveness, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word, conviction, and redemption.

Dear God, (Are You Sure) You Don’t Mess Up

I could feel the pain radiating off of her as I moved closer, putting my arm around her slumped shoulders.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” she muttered. “Why did it have to happen this way? What’s the point of hoping; of trying at all if God already has His master plan in place?”

My mind scrambled for an answer. Surely there was an answer that could satisfy her questioning; that would help her see that God was still good, even when the world hurt so bad.

“I don’t really know,” I said.

That’s it!? That’s the best you can come up with? My own thoughts betrayed me now as insecurity and doubt flooded my mind. You’re no help at all.

I shuddered, as if trying to shake free from the lies and accusations.

I could offer no answer. Even after years of studying and growing, I still did not know why life had to hurt so much; why God allowed certain things to happen; why He made us the way that He did – fragile and vulnerable and weak.

As we kept talking, I felt the old question simmering beneath all the theology and doctrine and ‘right’ answers – ‘oh God, are you sure you don’t mess up?’

I recently heard a song that explored this same line of questioning. In an interview, artist Hunter Hayes explains that ‘we wouldn’t honestly ask this question if we weren’t already certain of the answer. We know that God doesn’t mess up. If the opposite were even remotely possible, it would be a reality far too frightening to even consider.’ (Dear God, 2018)

So we ask the question as if to remind ourselves that He doesn’t mess up; that He didn’t mess us on us or His plans.

Doubt still overwhelms us though, doesn’t it? We still have unanswered questions. There are still doors that we’ve knocked on for years that remain closed; open-ended prayers that have yet to receive their ‘amen.’

I could see her disassociating herself now; drawing back into her autonomy and retreating deep into the recesses of her own mind. Fear and pain and the lack of answers has a way of convincing us that we’re better off on our own.

She didn’t draw back out of anger though. It wasn’t even out of pride or arrogance. She wasn’t shaking her fist at God, she was shaking her fist at herself. She was humiliated.

How could she ask such accusing questions of the One she loved? How could she be hurt by the One she trusted? Who was she to question the Perfect One?

You see, we don’t ask such a question to examine the character of God. No, we ask a question like this in examination of ourselves; knowing deep down that we have not lived up to the indescribable glory and perfection of the One who made us and calls us His own and that we never will.

Maybe that’s why we become so confused and frustrated by the way God created us. He made us this way after all, didn’t he? ‘He made us fragile. He made a heart that could break. He set us on the road less travelled knowing full well that we would run away.’ (Dear God, 2018)

Why, oh why God did you make me this way? Are you sure there’s nothing wrong with me?

I wish I could offer some kind of resolution to these questions; writing with conviction about how everything happens for a reason. The thing is though, these questions and doubts are not incompatible with faith like we might think they are. We don’t have to distance ourselves from God and faith just because we’re hurting and confused.

Consider the father in Mark 9:22-24 (NIV), pleading with Jesus to heal his son.

“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” Jesus said. “Everything is possible for the one who believes.”

This father knew that Jesus could rescue his son. Why else would he have travelled as far as he did and fought to gain and audience with Him? He still questioned Jesus’ goodness though; he still struggled with doubt and uncertainty.

The father in this story, much like us all, found himself stuck in doubt even when in the presence of Jesus himself. In response to Jesus’ gentle rebuke, the boy’s father immediately exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Are you stuck in doubt? Do you still find yourself asking that question; wondering if there might be something wrong with you, even though you know that God doesn’t mess up?

Do you believe, yet still struggle with unbelief?

Cry out to God! He hears you and He loves you. Don’t let those questions and doubts keep you from pressing into Him; into His truth and His love that does not weaken in the presence of unbelief.

This father wrestled with unbelief, but he came running nonetheless. He ran into the arms of his Father despite the doubts and fears that tried to keep him away.

Even when you don’t understand, run to Him, your loving Father and trust that He remains true to His character and does not mess up.

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)