The Weight of Glory

City and Suburbs Skyline

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) was a prominent British (specifically Irish) writer, professor (Oxford and Cambridge), Christian theologian, and apologist. If an award were conceived for “most prolific reader of the 20th century,” Lewis would doubtless be in the running for it, and he was perhaps one of the most brilliant thinkers of his time. He wrote many books, probably the most famous of which is the collection of 7 children’s stories called The Chronicles of Narnia, and was a highly-sought-after lecturer. His imagination, which he repeatedly credited as a vivid channel by which God communicated with him, awes me. Though the breadth and volume of my own reading in comparison to his is meager and anemic, I have yet to discover its equal. And as I study his life and writings, he is quickly becoming a personal hero.

It was on June 8, 1941 — 33 years to the day before I was born and in the midst of World War II — that Lewis first preached one of his most famous sermons, entitled The Weight of Glory (pdf), at the Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin.

The sermon describes Lewis’ view of the glory of God and the hope of heaven, and ends in a call to live in light of (under the weight of) this glory. I listened to it again today, and was deeply moved by its closing call to action and its stark and humbling view of the people in our lives. Any lover and follower of Jesus Christ, purchased from death by God for His glory, cannot possibly ignore this view of the eternal nature of all people. I have reproduced it here with minor paraphrasing, amplification and annotation, less with the intention of changing or adding to it than of maximizing it’s accessibility. May it ignite both in my heart and yours a relentless sense of urgency to love broken people the way God does, and may it expand our own stories to include them. Not tomorrow, not after breakfast, but immediately and with great joy.


For each of us, the cross (Luke 9:23-26) comes before heaven, and tomorrow is a another ordinary day. Each day, a cleft is opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow Jesus inside. Following Him is, of course, the essential point.

That being so, it may be asked what practical use there is in speculating on heaven and the glory of God, which will be visited upon men as they meet Him face-to-face someday. I can think of at least one such use. It may be possible for one to think too much of her own potential glory in eternity, but it is hardly possible to think too often or too deeply about that of her neighbor. The load, the weight, the burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another in this life — all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously — no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our love for them and service toward them must be a real and costly kind, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner — no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies
merriment.

Next to the blessed sacrament of Holy Communion itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. And if he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ Jesus, the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.


What would the world be like if we lived like we believed Lewis’ words and like it mattered deeply to us that they are true? For my part, I want to find out…

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Songs of Heaven

ChoirJesus’ best friend on earth was a man named John (the Apostle). Jesus recruited John and his brother James out of their family fishing business to follow Him and become “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). After Jesus died, rose again, and ascended, John wrote one of the four gospels, and (according to tradition) played a significant leadership role in the church at Ephesus. While a pastor there, he wrote the gospel that bears his name and 3 brief letters to the church (1, 2 and 3 John), which survive as part of the New Testament. Ultimately, the Apostle John was banished to the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea — likely during a wave of persecution by Roman Emperor Domitian c.AD 95 — where he received and wrote down a dramatic revelation from God about the end of history and the final triumph of God’s Kingdom. What John wrote down about his vision survives today as the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament.

In Revelation 5, John records three songs sung to God in His vision which will be sung throughout eternity. I was so moved by this passage recently that I wanted to share these songs, the surrounding text, and a few expositional thoughts of my own (few of which are in any sense original). I wrote not long ago on Revelation 5:1-5 and its description of God’s holding a great scroll, on which is written God’s judgment and the consummation of human history in the bringing about of the uncontested Kingdom of God upon the earth. I’ll pick up where that post leaves off…


Aslan

Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. And there, before the throne, I saw Him … a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

Jesus is both a lion and a lamb … a fierce Ruler, and a sacrificial offering … who takes away the sins of the world, and who will rule over it in power and justice. He was crucified, sacrificed on a Roman instrument of torture, to bear the sins of the entire world in all of history … but now He stands before God, risen from the dead, and utterly victorious! As the number 7 in Scripture often symbolizes perfection, many Bible scholars that the seven horns represent perfect power (omnipotence), the seven eyes represent perfect vision (omniscience), and the seven spirits represent the perfect Spirit of God which goes out into all the earth (omnipresence). This is the Messiah, the Lord Jesus.

The Song of the Saints

He went and took the scroll from the right hand of God the Father, who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures [perhaps types of angels or representing eras in history] and the twenty-four elders [likely representing the Church] fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp [the worship of God’s people] and golden bowls full of incense, the prayers of God’s people. And they sang to God a new song, saying…

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Diversity in ChurchThe final judgment of God and culmination of human history will be in the final establishment of God’s Kingdom. God has been advancing His Kingdom since the dawn of time, but John’s vision depicts, in the final moments of history, the old world passing away forever and the new one coming in power, unmarred and uncontested by the rebellious sin of man. And Jesus, the Son of God, reigns as King. He is worthy to open the scroll, judge the earth, and establish His Kingdom with authority and finality … because …

He was slain

Jesus became a man (the second Adam) and took death upon Himself for all creation, thereby vanquishing death forever, and redeeming all creation — not just people, but the very rocks and stars and distant galaxies — from the curse of the first Adam.

And by His blood, he ransomed us for God

Jesus bought us back from slavery. He paid our debt with His very blood, that we might be reconciled to God.

From every tribe and language and people and nation

And not just a few of us, but the great diverse throngs of those who have humbled themselves, turned from sin to love and obey Jesus, even suffering for His Name, all through history… We will all gather before the throne of grace as one people, just as Jesus and His Father are one. (John 17:20-23)

To be a kingdom of priests

Christians are adopted into God’s family, and therefore have become sons of God, brothers with Christ, and co-heirs in His inheritance (rule in the Kingdom). We carry on the work of the Father here, to be priests — the mediators between God and man. And in heaven, we reign with Christ. I have no idea what that really means, and neither does anybody else. But we do know that when He appears, we will be like Him (1 John 3:2), and that’s good enough for me.

And so we sing!

The Song of the Angels

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

Angelic ChoirGod doesn’t “receive” anything from anybody, in the sense that they have something He wants or needs. In His infinite fullness, it is nonsensical to talk about God’s receiving anything into Himself from the outside. But the angels declare, and we should take note, that God is worthy of His already-possessed infinite power, His infinite wealth, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing. All this and more is due to God, and it is right and good that He possesses them in infinite abundance. It’s like saying that the sun is worthy to shine brilliantly. Of course it is!

And although we do not add anything to God in doing so, we are compelled by God’s greatness to lay down whatever power and wealth, wisdom, might and all the rest at God’s feet. He is worthy to outshine us in all these way. It is our privilege and responsibility to surrender our self-perceived glory, and instead reflect His! Not only that, but He deserves to receive honor and glory and blessing from our others, who observe our lives as His children and cannot help but acknowledge how exceedingly great our Father really is. (Matthew 5:14-16)

And so they sing!

The Song of Creation

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

It isn’t just people and angels who sing to God. The heavens declare His glory (Psalm 19:1-6), and the very elements of creation would declare His praise if men and angels failed to do so (Luke 19:40). Whether birds or fish or earthworms or the great leviathan in the depths of the sea, God’s glory rings out. They all proclaim His greatness. They know that He is both king [seated on the throne] and savior [the Lamb who was slain]. They bless and honor Him. They tremble at His power. And, knowing that they themselves are dust, they bow before Him as everlasting.

And so they sing!

Mosaic-of-Cassiopeia

Worship the Lord

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” [so let it be!] and the elders fell down and worshiped.

We must take our queue from the angels and the elders. In fact, if you are a blood-bought child of the King of Kings, then perhaps one of the “elders” John saw in His vision represent you directly. It’s possible you could even know him. He’d probably be old and gray, poor but content, and almost certainly unremarked, if not downright despised, in this world. But he won’t be someday, and neither will you. I hope you are looking forward with great hope to that day. And in the meantime… let us sing!

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I’d like to thank all the little people!

gavin_stone3Did I ever tell you that I was in theater in high school? Collinsville High School, Thespian Troupe 643. Good times. Great memories. I worked House Management, Set & Stage, Lights & Sound, and was on stage for 2 plays and a Christmas special my senior year. I dabbled in community theater after I went off to college, but I didn’t really have the time to pursue it. Over the years, I’d gotten away from it. I had no idea that Hollywood has been keeping tabs on me all that time, but now my acting talent and long years of waiting is clearly paying off.

A couple years back, though a series of miraculous circumstances and some intentional vision-casting by our pastor (James MacDonald), my church (Harvest Bible Chapel) began to pursue making Christian movies (a la the Kendrick brothers). We started by making a couple short films, which were really quite good and which received some significant acclaim: The Ride and Once We Were Slaves. When these attracted Hollywood interest, Director Dallas Jenkins — on staff at our church and a really great guy, both in the skill of his craft and in his character and personality — set about last year to direct (and help write) a feature length film … about ME!

gavin_stone4This fall, Vertical Church Films will be releasing (likely in theaters) The Resurrection of Gavin Stone. It’s a movie all about me. It’s got some other names in it you might recognize as well, like Brett Dalton (Agents of SHIELD), Emily Eruraviel and Shawn Michaels, which is great for getting my acting career back off the ground after a bit of a break. You know, good for my resume. I’m not playing Gavin Stone in the movie — Brett Dalton is doing that — and I still can’t figure out how my name isn’t in the title, but I understand a lot changes in the editing process, so I’m sure they’ll fix that in due time.

I got the call from VCF last year to come star in the film, when they invited the whole church to sign up to be extras. I decided not to quit my job right away, because I know it’ll take a while for the real money to start flowing in. Instead, I took a few days off work, packed plenty of pens and paper for signing autographs, and hung out for a few days on our Elgin campus with the team. The place was abuzz with movie-making activity, which explains why I didn’t get many autograph requests or interview opportunities. But because my support staff was so good and had been there for a while getting things ready for me, we got to work right away filming the the scenes with me in them.  It was really great working with Dallas, Brett and the others too, even if I was a little disappointed with how they gavin_stone5kept running off to talk about the film and shoot scenes without me. But I suppose it takes a lot of background footage and supporting assistance to make an epic film like this possible. I can’t wait to see how they’ll edit me into all that.

When I signed the contract, I couldn’t find anything in it about how much I will be getting paid, but I’m sure they’ll be sending that in the mail soon. It is odd, though, that it’s been a few months now, and I still haven’t heard back from them. Oh well, I’m not worried. Guess it’ll be even bigger than I expected when it final comes! I was thinking I would splurge and get that Lamborghini I’ve always wanted with the huge payout from this thing. Or maybe put in a pool. Do you think it’d be pretentious for me to buy a yacht after only one film? It’d have to be pretty big, because I love to have people over, and now I have to start including my fans in evites. Ugh! Maybe I’ll hire someone to take care of that.

Speaking of fans and such… while onsite, I met all kinds of people who were involved in one way or another in the movie. They all seemed great. At least, I think they were going to be in the show; I didn’t really ask them too much about themselves. But that does remind me … check out this amazing promotional picture they took of me! I assume the production people, whoever they are, will be making a promo poster from this shot. And they should too, ’cause I think it really captures my … well, I don’t want to sound too self-absorbed, but let’s be honest here … my awesomeness. Observe…

Gavin Stone Star

On stage shot of ME, with my supporting cast

Filmklappe Cut

Okay, seriously, I can’t take it anymore. This is just ludicrous, and I’m sure you get the point. In fact, I feel a little dirty having written it, and a little nervous that someone like Dallas or Brett might stumble across it and read that ridiculousness. VCF really is making this movie, and I really am an extra in it. But only an extra. When they referred to me (and the other extras with me during filming), we were collectively called “background” — an exceptional label for what we were: little different from the furniture on the set. Obviously, I don’t think I’m the star of the movie. Obviously, I’m wildly exaggerating to make a point.

So, what is my point? What do we learn from this totally farcical account of my role as an extra in Gavin Stone…

1) The movie of your life is not about you.

Movie and Pop CornNotice, I didn’t say “the movie of life”, I said “the movie of your life”. Of course the movie of life is all about Jesus. That should be obvious. If you actually think the entire universe revolves around you, you might need to see a doctor. But what I think a lot of us perfectly sane types also miss is that the movie of Jeff Block’s individual life (and yours) is not about me either. In God’s universe, “my” movie would not be called “The Great and Wonderful Adventures of Jeff Block”. It would be called “The Life and Glory of Jesus, the Son of God, as Reflected by God’s grace in the Life of Jeff Block”.

Or something like that.

My life, your life, all our lives, even those who go to their grave cursing God… everyone’s life in all of history… everything is about Jesus.

He is the image of the invisible God [God’s perfect self-expression], the firstborn of all creation [the eldest Son and Heir to all that God enjoys – from transcendent power to quantum time to turnips and turtles]. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead [the cause, prototype and supreme example of our pending resurrection to eternal life], that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)

Amen, and amen! We are not stars in any sense, except what God makes of us. He condescends to give us bit parts in His incredible drama of redemptive history. Even then, we will always be playing the moon to God’s star (to reflect the light, not to generate it), never the star itself.

Solar System

But most of us act like we’re the stars of our individual shows. Especially here in the West. I love the picture I highlighted above which shows the corner of my head sticking out from behind the real stars of the movie. It’s humbling. And it should be. That’s a far more accurate depiction of who’s who in The Resurrection of Gavin Stone. And the analogy holds in the real world. It’s God’s world, not mine. He’s the one in the front of the pack on the poster. And plastering me, or you, or anyone else all over the marquee under neon lights is just as ludicrous as looking at that picture of the Brett Dalton (with a half inch of my head sticking out from behind him), and claiming that the movie is about me. But don’t we treat God exactly like that — as if somehow we should be the ones prominently receiving top billing?

We see God as a vending machine or a genie. We treat Him like He’s just one part of our oh-so-important busy schedule. We talk about Him like He’s our supporting cast. But there is NO sense in which God is somehow fitting into your life or that you have God in your back pocket (such that you can pull Him out when you need divine backup). God is to be feared and worshiped and adored. Period. He is to be treated as He really is: transcendently holy, awesome in power, dwelling in unapproachable light. It’s amazing that He comes to us and pursues us and establishes relationship with us. It’s amazing that He doesn’t strike us down where we stand for our insolent rebellion and ridiculous self-importance. But that doesn’t make Him tame. And it doesn’t make Him, in any sense, less of the absolute beginning, center, and end of everything.

2) Life makes a lot more sense when you get that

confused2Did you notice, in my silly little parody, how confused I was? Why are those guys being shot in a scene without me? Why does my contract read this way? Why don’t I have an IMDB page yet? Why am I all the way in the back of the crowd for this shot?

That’s the way life is too, when we don’t understand Who life is really about. If I’m the hero, if the movie’s all about me, then I should be strong enough and smart enough to get what I want when I want it. I should live in the big house, always get the girl, lead the team to victory in the big game, and get the promotion at work — all while the stock market does nothing but careen northward. I certainly won’t get cancer in the middle of the second scene, or experience bankruptcy, or end up divorced … and if I do, then surely by the 2nd half of the movie, I’ll be well on my way to miraculous recovery, and everyone involved will have crystal clarity as to why all those things happened up front to create drama or deepen the plot. Right?

Real life doesn’t work that way. Horrible things happen to people that don’t seem like they deserve it. Despicable people win big and brutally oppress kind and decent folk every day. Cancer, bankruptcy, and divorce are seemingly everywhere. Some people really do die before the second commercial just to prove the situation is serious!

So if you think the movie is all about you, and that God is your supporting cast or the makeup artist who’s here to make you look good or the sound guy back stage amplifying your melodious voice, then you’re going to be terribly confused and continuously disappointed by your life.

But if you understand that God is sovereign and holy, that the movie is entirely about Him, and that you’re a bit part who is only aware of every 104,792nd scene in the show (approximately), then you might be a little more willing to let go of your crazy expectations and demands. Maybe you have no idea what’s going on because God doesn’t intend you to. Have you considered that it might be more loving for God NOT to cater to your wishes or explain Himself to you? And either way, God has the right to play this out any way He chooses. And if you believe the first thing the Bible says about His character, then you know His goodness and love and faithfulness warrant complete faith in His plan, regardless of how little we understand it.

3) Comparing yourself to others distorts your view of yourself

Comparing to OthersNotice also that my perspective of myself in comparison to the others who were involved in the film was completely skewed. I repeatedly referred to Brett Dalton, Emily Eruraviel and others as my “supporting cast”, when in fact they were the stars, and I was “background”. I just assumed that everyone around me was there for me. I didn’t even mention the other extras, except to dismiss their invitation to be a part of the movie, assuming I was special among them. See what I mean? I was SO much more important in my own mind than I really was.

That too happens in life. When we boot God off the throne of our hearts and climb up there ourselves, we inevitably start believing our own press. In my life (and in observing the lives of people around me), one key indicator I use for this is assessing what I (or others) really mean when I say, “Excuse me.” It sounds silly, but it works. Have you noticed that “excuse me” can mean either “I’m sorry I’m in your way” or “Get out of my way”? Interesting, isn’t it? When we perceive ourselves to be at the center of the universe, then we start demanding that others serve us as they establish their orbits around us … even in something that simple.

And it could go the other way too. Without God’s voice ringing in our ears to tell us who we are, all we need is to find one thing someone else has that you don’t — a skill, a physical trait, a toy, a membership, a bank account, a husband, whatever it is — and suddenly they’re a giant in our eyes, and we’re small and insecure and … not behaving like a child of the King. But when we realize that all of us planets orbit the Sun together, we get a much healthier view of ourselves and one another. And it frees us to worship God rightly, to love and serve each other well, and to let all the stupid stuff roll off our backs.

Final Take

gavin_stone6I can’t wait for Gavin Stone to be released. Some friends on staff at the church have already seen early cuts of it, and they say it’s great. I was gunning to see it before I got involved, and even moreso once I played a tiny role in making it. And I am in it, which is exciting, humbling, and a little bizarre and disconcerting all at the same time. I hope you see it too; obviously not because I’m in it, but because Dallas is über talented, and I’m quite sure it’s going to be amazing and powerful. And in general I want to support projects like this which exalt the name of Jesus!

When you see the film, if you catch a glimpse of me, may that moment serve to remind you of how exceedingly great our mighty God really is, how central He is in the story of our lives, and how much we are NOT the stars in His show. “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass” (1 Peter 1:24-25), which is hear for a moment, then dies, withers, and blows away in the wind. Life is a vapor. But standing over all of history is the God who made you (Genesis 1:26-27), loves you (John 3:16), redeems you (John 3:17), and has a plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11).

What many of us need most is to get over ourselves. Stop demanding (whether in word or deed) to be the center of the universe. Stop asking “why” all the time, or insisting that you need one more thing to be happy. Focus instead on cultivating a moment-to-moment appreciation for how amazing it is that God has invited you into His story in the first place. Then trust Him, walk with Him, and give Him glory. The movie He’s making is going to turn out to be … awesome.

Blank clapboard in hands

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Fear the Lord, and become rich

Fear of the Lord

Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it. (Proverbs 15:16)

The fear of the Lord is a powerful theme in the book of Proverbs. It’s a difficult phrase to understand with our modern ears. Having written at some length on the topic recently, let me just say that the best definition I’ve come to thus far isn’t really a definition at all, but rather a synonym: worship. We demonstrate that we fear God when we properly worship God. When God is in His proper place in our hearts — Lord and King, Master, Father, Lover, Unquestioned Ruler holding infinite and immediate sway over our thoughts, words and deeds — and we in our rightful place before Him— servant, child, beloved, unquestioning follower, quick to joyfully obey, submitted and humble. This means that those who have been redeemed, restored, and reconciled to God by Christ — purchased with the precious blood of God’s only Son (1 Peter 1:17-21) — may simultaneously view God both as terrifyingly powerful and lovingly familiar, a great conquering Ruler but also a tender and merciful Father. Those who thumb their nose at the foolishness of the cross and trample underfoot the blood of Christ, however, meet upon their deaths only a justifiably wrathful Warrior-King, not a welcoming parent. This is the “trouble” to which Solomon is referring.

Two PathsSolomon is portraying a vivid contrast between the person who is poor (has little) in this life but who fears God (worships Him) with the person who is wealthy in this life (has great treasure) but who comes to a bad end (receives the wages of his self-worship). This is a powerful picture of the choice between life and death, which has stood before every person in every generation — the fundamental question of all of redemptive history. Will you bow before God and live (choose life) or square your shoulders and ultimately get exactly the independence you’re gunning for (choose death)? Obviously, Solomon prescribes that it is “better” to choose life.

However, from an earthly perspective, to fear God is very costly. If it doesn’t cost you something in this world, then what you’re doing isn’t worship. All legitimate worship of a holy God requires the shedding of blood – both literally, on the cross of Christ – and in the heart and soul of the worshiper. David said it well, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). So is it with us. All worship acceptable to God is accompanied by sacrifice — the shedding of Christ’s blood and the putting to death of idols which compete in our hearts for God’s glory. You are not worshiping God in any meaningful sense if He gets only a trifling of your time, your attention, your money, or your will. You are not worshiping God if you bring your sin to the altar with you, subtly and conveniently tucked away under your robe where others in your small group can’t see it. God always sees. And whether it feels like worship to you or not, God will not account your effortless leftovers as a fragrant offering. (See Malachi 1:6ff, especially v10, for some sobering related reading.)

But even if it costs us everything in this life, Solomon says it’s better to have little, but to fear and worship God, than it would be to have amassed great warehouses of earthly treasure, and stand before God having not bowed your knee and fallen on His grace. This is exactly the same point (though somewhat more cryptic for the sake of Hebrew poetic license) Jesus made to His disciples 1,000 years later when He said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26).

Dancing KidsWe should be learning from David, who flung off his clothes and sacrificed his dignity and dollars alike to worship the Lord with all his heart (2 Samuel 6:12-15). We should be learning from Paul, who left behind everything he had (which was a lot) and considered it to be garbage compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing and serving Christ (Philippians 3:7-11). We should be learning from Jesus, who considered the greatest treasure I can even imagine — equality with God, and eternal, perfect, divine fellowship within the Trinity — things to be laid aside in order to that He might glorify His Father (Philippians 2:5-11). To learn these lessons is to pay whatever it costs to be right with God, which unequivocally requires that we fear Him and fall down on our faces before Him. Whether it costs us pride or position or possession to live a life marked by worship and the fear of the Lord, it is worth what it costs. Conversely, no matter what we receive in this world, if it breeds pride of self rather than fear of God in our hearts, then it wasn’t worth what it cost. No matter what in this life must be laid aside to gain the rewards of heaven, it would be foolish not to pay it.


An amplified proverb (see more in series)

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In the Light

God is Light

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

The Word of God, who was with God and who IS God and who was from the beginning… This man Jesus, we [Jesus’ best friend, John, and the other apostles] have heard with our own ears and have seen with our own eyes and have have touched with our own hands. This Jesus is God’s very Word of Life to us, and taught us true life by His presence in our midst. Ultimate and eternal life was made manifest [obvious, clear] among us in Him. We ourselves experienced it, and so we testify to the life God makes available to all of us. We proclaim it to you, in the hopes that you too would seek God’s face and appropriate His life for yourself, as we have. Thereby, you will have fellowship with God the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, and with us as well — the ultimate community, the form and nature of which cannot be surpassed. We declare this life and fellowship to you, because nothing gives or could give us greater joy.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)

We heard this message from Jesus Himself and therefore proclaim it to you … that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. The light is the kingdom and glory of God, where He lives and reigns, uncontested and unquestioned — where the Lord sits rightly on His throne, where His every judgment is good and His every command is joyfully obeyed. The darkness is everywhere beyond those walls — a wicked and twisted kingdom where others wrongly sit on thrones, where God’s law is ignored or even despised, and where there can be no life or joy or fullness of any kind. Only deception, withering sorrow, defeat, and certain death.

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (1 John 1:6)

Dark WoodsIf we say that we have fellowship with God while we walk in darkness, we are lying to ourselves and to others. We thereby deceive ourselves and practice falsehood rather than the truth. Only the delusional would believe they are eating at the table of the King while they in fact walk alone in the dark woods many miles from the King’s castle.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, then we have fellowship with Him. From out of the depths of the lonely haunted forest into the well-lit laughter of the great banquet hall of the King. And we do not eat alone with God, but in the fellowship of His children, the church. Fangorn ForestAnd we do not eat free at His table, for the blood of Jesus his Son has purified [cleansed] us from all sin, permitting us entrance not just for the occasional meal but to become a part of God’s own family.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)

If we say we have not sinned and do not need cleansing before we enter the palace, then we make God out to be a liar. We stand in the garden of Eden all over again and declare that God has no right to identify one thought or word or act to be “good” and another to be “evil”. We will judge that for ourselves, thank you very much. Thereby we claim that God in His judgments lies, while we in our judgments are wise and trustworthy. Surely we, in our minds, are better suited to the throne than He is. In the midst of this delusion, we are strangers to His ways and His word. His law can therefore be neither in our hearts or on our lips. His truth is not in us.

If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:10)

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. God admits no one to His table who is not clean … pure … spotless. There are no filthy hands at God’s table and no filthy hearts among God’s children. No haughty eyes or self-righteous proclamations or tightly-gripped rings of power, either.

Nine Rings of Men

But they were, all of them, deceived…

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Only the clean and the humble will eat at God’s table. But this is not of ourselves. The great lie of the human race is that we can clean own own hands and purify our own hearts. I cannot. You cannot. Only Jesus. Only by the precious blood of the only begotten Son of God. For if we confess [profess, acknowledge, avow, proclaim] our sin before God and man, He will act in power on our behalf. This Jesus, whom we crucified…

  • He is faithful — never failing to do what He promises
  • He is just — always acting in the right and for our good, justified in His every action
  • He forgives us our sins — sends them away, releases them, remits against them on their behalf, erases our debt, lays aside His full right to vengeance
  • He purifies us from all unrighteousness — makes us utterly pure, with no stain or blemish remaining; where there were filthy rags, there remains now only spotless white

Out of God’s very nature, He acts within His right as sovereign Ruler to cancel your unpayable debt and credit to your account His infinite riches.

Forest SunriseHow can we hold onto the dark, when the light has come?

The True Light, Who gives light to everyone, has come into the world (John 1:9). But this is God’s devastating judgment: that people love the darkness instead of the light, because their deeds are evil (3:19). Jesus has come to the world He Himself created, but many do not receive Him. However, to all who do receive Him, to those who believe in His name, He gives the right to become children of God (1:11-12).

Darkness or light? The choice is yours.

I want to be in the light, as you are in the light. I want to shine like the stars in the heavens. O Lord, be my light and be my salvation, for all I want is to be in the light. All I want is to be in the light.  —Charlie Peacock, for DC Talk

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A Prayer of the Christian Life

This is the concluding from The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal, amplified and modernized, shared in the hope that it is as convicting and instructive to you as it was to me. Let us resolve together, in this prayer and those like it, to approach God with a renewed and expanded seriousness of purpose and worship…


Henry ScougalGod, reveal yourself to us in power

O most gracious God, Father and Fountain of mercy and goodness. You have blessed us with the knowledge of true joy in your presence and the way of life that leads to it. Excite in our souls only the desires which lead us to diligently pursue knowledge of you, O God, such that we will be content in holiness and discontent without it. Let us neither presume on our own strength, nor distrust thy divine assistance, but while we are chasing the activities of the day (whether perceived as important or mundane), teach us still to depend entirely on You for success.

Guide us into obedience

Open our eyes, O God, and teach us from Your law. Bless us with an exact and tender sense of our duty to You and to our fellow men, and a knowledge to discern perverse things — anything that would twist your will for us and for creation, and change what You made beautiful into a disgust in Your eyes. O that our ways would be directed in all things to keep Your statues, then we would not be ashamed when we evaluate our lives in light of your commandments or when we see You face-to-face. Invade and take possession of our hearts with a generous and holy disdain (a hatred, a disgust) for all the poor (unholy and unsatisfying and unworthy) enjoyments which this world holds out to allure us, that they may never be able to draw us to them, or captivate our hearts, or betray us into sin. Turn away our eyes from beholding vanity, from gazing long and hard on ourselves or others, only at You, and set in stone Your law in our hearts. Fill our souls with such a deep sense and full persuasion of those great truths which You have revealed in Your gospel, as may influence and regulate our whole conversation. Grant to us that the life which we live on earth, from this day forward, we would live through faith in the Son of God, who loves us and gave Himself up for us (Galatians 2:20).

Give us a life-changing love for you

O that the infinite perfections of Thy blessed nature, and the astonishing expressions of Thy goodness and love which we see in your Word and in our lives may conquer and overpower our hearts, that our hearts may be constantly rising toward Thee in flames of the most devout affection. May those affections only enlarge themselves in our hearts, and be revealed in sincere and eager love toward all people around us, for Your sake. And may we cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, pursuing holiness in reverent fear, without which we can never hope to behold and enjoy Thee.

Draw us, in humility, to yourself

Finally, O God, grant that the consideration of who and what You are and who and what we ourselves are, may both humble and lay us low before Thee. May this revelation stir up in us the strongest and most ardent aspirations to run to you, to pursue you, to hold on to you. We desire to resign, to surrender ourselves to the freedom of your Holy Spirit in our lives to have His way in all things. Lead us in Your truth, and teach us, for You are the God of our salvation. Guide us with Your intimate counsel as we submit and listen to You, and afterwards receive us unto glory, owing entirely to the merits and intercession (His work on the cross and His righteousness) of Your blessed Son, our Savior.

Amen, and amen!

Father and Son Walking

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Terrifying, but Good

Great Warrior King

I feel like the theme of the fear of the Lord has been coming up a lot lately in my studies, and I’ve always found it to be a difficult subject. So, I thought I’d write about it.

The Bible has quite a bit to say about the fear of the Lord, describing it as…

So, I ask… What does it mean to “fear the Lord”? It’s an extremely foreign and challenging phrase to our modern ears. How do we understand it biblically?

aragorn1A Great General

When I hear this phrase, the first image that comes to my mind is that of God as a great and powerful Warrior-King, the ultimate military general, engaged in a fierce cosmic battle. He is invincible … unstoppable on the battlefield. He brings crushing defeat to His enemies — demonic hordes, even death itself — in every engagement. He commands men like a hammer commands steel on an anvil. His sword is lightning fast, double-edged and razor sharp, His arm is incomprehensibly strong, His horse is unequaled in speed, His strategy and experience are unmatched and unmatchable. If all the powers in all the universe were combined into one hideous beast, He would slay it effortlessly. God is terrifying.

But the terrifying power of God is not uncontrolled. He is not unstable or unpredictable or wrongly spiteful in His wrath. God is purely and only good, and guided exclusively by that goodness. He is right and just in everything He does. Only those who deserve His judgment and anger receive it.

GollumA Broken People

We, by contrast, are wicked and deceitful — deserving death. As sinful, broken, flawed human beings desperately compare ourselves to other sinful, broken, flawed human beings, so that we can feel better about ourselves and declare ourselves “good enough”. But God is under no such delusions. He compares us to His own perfection, and by that standard we are all found wanting. All are guilty, and deserve death.

God has made the choice very clear: Those who shake their fist in God’s face and declare themselves to be doing just fine on their own (thank you very much) have no hope of escaping the wrath of God, which they themselves have justly incurred with every sinful thought, word and deed. There will come a day when they will meet this great Warrior-King on the battlefield, and that will be a horrifying day indeed. God is terrifying.

aragorn2A Loving Father

But all those who fall at the foot of the cross and beg for mercy because they feel the weight of their darkened hearts… To those who see that Jesus died to take their place and make them clean, doing for them what they could never have done for themselves… To all who receive God’s only Son, to those who believed in His Name… God gives the right to become His children (John 1:12-13). If this is you, then you are God’s adopted child. You will never meet the Great General on the battlefield. Instead, you will know Him as the Father who laughs with you at the dinner table, tucks you into bed at night, holds you during thunderstorms, reads to you, and kisses your tears away.

God is utterly terrifying … but not to you. At least not in the same way.

If you are His child, then the wrath of God, justly poured out upon His enemies, will never be turned on you. You will only know His love and grace. Though you had declared yourself to be His mortal enemy, He loved you when you didn’t deserve it, sacrificed His Son to pay your debt to Him, and made you His family.

Filipino Sign of RespectAn Echo of Fear

So, in a sense, your fear has been conquered by love (1 John 4:18). But lingering in the back of your mind, the fear is still there. Changed, but present. You aren’t afraid God will throw you out of His house or run you through with His sword. You aren’t afraid He’ll suddenly decide your adoption was a bad idea and turn on you. At least you shouldn’t fear these things; it would be irrational and foolish, and deny God’s character. I declare to you, in the Name of the Great King, that if the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed (John 8:36). And if that’s true, then God is your perfect Father. When it comes to your sinful, rebellious, disobedient heart, He has already poured out His wrath on Another. So there’s no more wrath, no more punishment left for you to fear (Romans 8:1).

But that doesn’t make God tame. He’s not weak. He’s not in any sense deceived or duped or distracted. Objectively, He has lost none of His scariness. He’s still the God of angel armies, who holds galaxies in His right hand. And every son or daughter of this great King knows it. They would never, knowing Him as they do, approach Him flippantly or disrespectfully. If you think God is your homeboy, then you don’t know Him as well as you think you do, and you might not be as justified as you think you are helping yourself to drinks from His fridge. You might actually be trespassing.

Anyone who actually knows God — over and against whom God’s position has changed from terrifying Warrior to treasured Father — actively remembers God’s magnificence. No child of the King forgets that He is still, in fact, the King. The truth is, we rejoice in it. I think this is where the idea of “the fear of the Lord” has been frequently morphed into “awe” or “reverence” or “deep respect”, but I don’t think any of these terms go far enough. They all apply, but I think what we’re really talking about is “worship” — the only response the child of God would consider in reaction to God’s majesty and love.

worshipFear = Worship?

Saying that the fear of the Lord is in fact “worship” means we’ve traded one term for another. But this is intentional, because in my mind, they are closely linked. If you were to corner me and demand that I define “the fear of the Lord” in a single phrase, I think it would be “the right worship of God”. Perhaps they’re synonyms? We demonstrate that we fear God when we properly worship Him, and we worship God properly only when we fear Him. When God is in His proper place in our hearts — Lord and King, Master, Father, Lover, Unquestioned Ruler who holds absolute and immediate sway over our thoughts, words and deeds — and we are in our rightful place before Him — servant, child, beloved, unquestioning follower, quick to joyfully obey, submitted and humble … only then are we truly worshiping the Lord. Why? Because of that fear … the knowledge of who God really is, amplified by a gratitude which radiates in our whole being for what He’s done for us. Worship is not ultimately about singing certain songs, playing specific instruments, or saying the right words, though all those things can be involved. Worship means God is lifted up and we are bowed down. Very high contrasted with very low.

Taking God Seriously

Put another way, the fear of the Lord means that we “take God seriously”. We know the power God wields. We know how small and insignificant we are, but for His compassionate grace. We know that our Father is a strong tower (Psalm 61:3), mighty in battle (Psalm 24:8). We approach Him with sobriety, in reverent awe, in humble submission, in holy fear. His love for us, His adopting us, His personal outreach to us, His drawing us to Himself… None of this brings Him down to our level nor elevates us to His. It humbles us and fills us with grateful worship. If you understand these things, you will bow lower not less.

Ah, but I thought we are to boldly approach the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16)? Yes. Boldly, but not flippantly. This “bold” approach is in gratitude, aware of the safety of redeemed brokenness, not in the misplaced confidence of a perceived lack of desperate need.

A Fear That Leads to Life

To know and live this in our daily lives — the knowledge of who God really is, the reverence of a child of God, the humility of worship, taking God seriously, rightly understanding the ground for our “boldness” before God — is to fear the Lord. To fail to do so is to stand before the leading edge of the shock wave of a nuclear explosion. In a few seconds, this foolish person will be devastated by God’s wrath and spend eternity regretting their wrong-headed, rebellious self-confidence. If this sparks fear in your heart, then embrace it and run to God. It means there’s still time. If it doesn’t, then the tragic reality of your life is that you aren’t enough afraid.

Praxis Exploding Shock Wave

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