Saturday, April 20, 2019

Gethsemane: Did It Matter?

Sometimes, we find it hard to communicate with a friend or our spouse even when we stand face-to-face!  Yet God, who we can't even see, claims to hear our prayers!  Does God really hear us when we pray--alone where no one else can hear?  Does God hear our quiet utterances from quivering lips?  Our groans without words—offered from deep within our souls--in total silence and in solitude?  

My faith is often so weak.  But God knows our weakness and clearly invites us to pray:  Call unto Me and I will answer you… (Jeremiah 33:3).  The Apostle Peter who was no stranger to doubt and fear encourages our faith to pray:  Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him… (1 Peter 1: 8).  And Hebrews 11: 1 adds that faith is the substance (or “reality”) of things hoped for, the evidence (certainty, conviction, proof) of things not seen. 

God knows how hard it is for us to exercise faith.  His knowledge of our human frailty is demonstrated in part through His incarnation—God …became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us (John 1: 14).  The Apostle Paul explains that …although He [Jesus, the perfect ‘God-Man’] existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2: 6-8).

Jesus Christ surrendered His kingly position with God the Father and become a willing bond-servant to serve His Master out of love.  According to many Gospel accounts, Jesus’s life was marked by His habit of praying to His Father in Heaven.  When our faith is weak, we can look to Jesus as our example--and look to His Spirit for power. 

As was Jesus’s dependency upon His Father, so is to be our dependency upon Jesus (paraphrased from F.B. Meyer).  We are to abide in Him.  Jesus taught this principle to His disciples on Thursday of the Passion Week using two methods.  First, he used the parable of the vine and the branches (John 15).  Then He showed His disciples what it means for a person to “abide in His Father” as He approached His anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Consider first, the parable of the vine and branches.

As Jesus and his disciples walked toward Gethsemane, He may have pointed to a grape vine while He explained, I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit (John 15: 1-2).  In this parable, Jesus pictures the life of every Christ-follower as a branch of a fruitful vine (Jesus); and, the Father is pictured as the loving caretaker of the vine. 

Then, Jesus explains that Christ-followers (“branches”) are joined and nourished by the vine so that we can be fruitful (see Galatians 5: 22-23):  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing…(John 15: 5).  If we are to “abide in Him” we must (a) hear and obey His Word and (b) commune with Him through prayer in knowledge of His will:  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15: 5, 7).

The disciples heard this wonderful parable of Jesus.  They had also just heard Jesus tell Peter that Satan has asked permission to “have you to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you (Luke 22: 31-32).”  They also heard Peter’s vow never to deny Jesus; and, Jesus’s prophecy that Peter would deny Him three times (v. 33-34).  Now it was time for them to see what “abiding in Him” actually looks like, especially when they were about to face great trial and turmoil.

Jesus had prayed many times in the dark, lonely setting of the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22: 39).  But neither His disciples nor we as readers of the Gospel accounts will ever understand the physical, mental, and spiritual struggle Christ faced on that crucial night.  There, Jesus poured out His anguished soul to His Father as He anticipated being separated from God the Father as He would take upon Himself the sins of the whole world and carry them to the grave in His physical death.

When we are faced with a great decision, a trial, or a spiritual battle, this example of Christ teaches us to resort to prayer.  His disciples entered the garden with Him; and then, He invited Peter, James, and John to accompany Him to pray and keep watch while He drew aside to pray (Matthew 26: 36-46; Mark 14: 32-42; Luke 22: 39-46).  As we carefully read these accounts of Christ praying in physical and spiritual anguish in the Garden, may we find great comfort and instruction to help when we face temptations and trials that threaten our abiding in the vine-Life of our Savior.  Remember, Christ's dependence on the Father is our example to follow.

When we feel isolated and alone in times of spiritual and emotional distress, may we find comfort in knowing that Jesus knows all about this experience.  His disciples, especially the three closest to Jesus, saw Him praying nearby in great anguish and distress.  But they did not continue in prayer.  Jesus found them three times fast asleep.  If we’ve ever felt the loneliness of being forsaken by our dearest friends in a time of need, we can be sure Jesus knows how it feels.  What’s more, Jesus’s spiritual battle may have been even greater if He heard Satan saying something like, “See, no one cares for You!  Not even your closest friends.  And, you came to “seek and to save” them?”

In times of spiritual battle, our obedience and prayers may not only face “spiritual interference” from our sense of loneliness and from Satan’s attacks.  We may also experience doubt when we don’t cling to God’s Word.  In His humanity, Jesus Christ’s spiritual battle in the Garden of Gethsemane may have brought back memories of the spiritual battle faced by His first human image bearers, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden.  Genesis 3 records how Adam and Eve let go of their faith in God’s Word as Satan twisted the truth and convinced them that he offered a better way than God had promised.  Failing to abide in the Word of God, the first humans took and ate the only fruit that was forbidden in the Garden of Eden.   Now, Jesus had come to a pivotal point in His messianic mission to rescue Adam’s descendants from the curse of sin. Thankfully, Jesus the “second Adam” (1 Corinthians 15: 45) faced the spiritual warfare in “another Garden” and, through prayer and obedience to His Father, did not lose the spiritual battle.

When we face many-colored trials--loneliness, being misunderstood, the lust of the flesh, spiritual lethargy, doubt, or some combination of these, may we be encouraged by the teaching and example of Jesus, the Son of Man-Son of God.  The Apostle Peter who matured through many humbling trials and sufferings later wrote (1 Peter 2: 21-24),

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

Our Savior Prays for Us:  If the teaching and example of Christ are not enough to encourage us in our trials, consider that according to Hebrews 7: 24-25, Jesus is now our faithful High Priest Who holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore, He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.  In Romans 8: 34, in response to the question, “Who would condemn us?”—we read that it is Christ Jesus…who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

As we remember the anguish of Jesus in Gethsemane, and His victory over sin and death through His Resurrection, may we be encouraged that He ever lives and makes intercession for us.  May we abide in the True Vine and so aim toward the ideal of Christ who prayed to His Father, I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do (John 17: 4).  Abiding in Christ with His mind and purpose is the foundation of all stewardship.  And praise God, even when we feel most helpless and besieged, “We are in Christ, not because we hold Him, but because He holds us…” -- F.B. Meyer

How About You?
Like many people, you have no doubt experienced times of turmoil and isolation.  Do you know that God knows all about you and your need?  He also has made provision for you.  If you have not experienced dying to self and being raised through faith to New Life in Christ, perhaps the Steps to Peace with God will point you in the direction of Salvation in Christ.  If you have additional questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you.  Just post a “Comment” below or e-mail me at

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Black History 2: Reparations or Reconciliation?

My junior high and high school history classes in the early 1960’s were enriched by our celebration of the American Civil War (or War Between the States).  My imagination was captured by books, TV programs like The Rebel, and a series of centennial stamps.  Because of the notable character qualities of Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, the South drew my allegiance and I was saddened that they were defeated.

Then, I grew into manhood in the era of Alex Haley’s Roots which chronicled the life of the noble African native Kunta Kinte and his offspring through several generations of American history.   I began to realize that human glory and valor had distracted me from the untold suffering, humiliation, and death brought about by the institution of slavery, and the terrible cost of the Civil War that destroyed the lives and families of so many Americans.  I cannot imagine being a descendant of slaves wondering how my ancestors had suffered from being uprooted from  homeland and family in Africa, transported to a foreign land, and then be confined to labor on a plantation as the property of another human being.

My boyhood wish that the South had won soon gave way to the wish that this bloody chapter of American history had not occurred.  A chapter in which both the North and the South benefited from building their livelihood on the backs of an ethnic group of human beings deemed to be inferior—and a chapter which has continued to play out in the lives of African Americans who have not had the advantages of growing up a two-parent home, receiving a good education, and having a good network of peers.   So, I can at least partly understand the call for reparations (to “pay back,” or undo past offenses) to Black Americans for the losses they and their families have incurred over many generations. 

Ta-Nehisi Coates, correspondent for The Atlantic, has written a landmark article, “The Case for Reparations.”   Coates introduces his argument by quoting Deuteronomy 15: 12-15 in which God commands that slaves be offered freedom every seventh year, and that their masters not send [them] away empty-handed…[but give them] a generous farewell from the bounty of the land, all the while remembering that you were once slaves in the land of Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you!

While some evangelical leaders today appeal to the Old Testament biblical command, many who do not profess faith in God are still moved by their God-given, inborn sense of right and wrong that enables them to feel in some indirect way the pain of injustice against Blacks.  The following Twitter exchange expresses this desire for reparation:

So let me get this straight; our [Black American] ancestors were robbed of their culture, lineage, dignity, and multiple trillions of dollars in wages over hundreds of years.  [But you still think] It’s an “entitlement” mindset for the modern descendants of those ancestors to demand to be paid?

In response to the questioner, Bob Woodson, Founder and President of The Woodson Center, tweets:

How is it (reparations) a remedy for the problems facing Black America?  What does it solve?  Reparations is a distraction, false solution, and an illusion of a cure.

I Invite Your Opinion
Rather than writing at great length about reparations when I’m just beginning to grasp the complexity of the subject, let me offer some points for discussion and invite you to respond in “Comments” below.  My points are as follows:  How will the cost of reparations be computed?  Will reparations really help?  Are reparations the right moral response?

Family separation at a slave auction.
Computing Reparations
First, consider the difficulty in computing the cost of reparations to Black Americans.  How could we establish the monetary value?  At what point in history would we choose as the starting year for the computation?  Realizing that most Black Americans today are not subject to the same harshness of their ancestors under slavery, how would this variable be factored into the cost to be paid for reparations?  For example, in his Atlantic article, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes that enslaved Africans in 1619, though torn from their homeland and transported to the colony of Virginia, “…did not initially endure the naked racism that would engulf their progeny. Some of them were freed.  Some of them intermarried. Still others escaped with the white indentured servants who had suffered as they had.”  So, are reparations also owed to enslaved whites?  Should Native American tribes who enslaved Blacks also be required reparations?

The fact that reparations are difficult if not impossible to compute does not itself provide reason for opposing the notion.  As Coates argues, “…for the past 25 years, Congressman John Conyers Jr., who represents the Detroit area, has marked every session of Congress by introducing a bill calling for a congressional study of slavery and its lingering effects as well as recommendations for ‘appropriate remedies.’”  Conyers’ bill does not require computation of reparations, but would “submit the question to study, and then assess the possible solutions.”  What do you think—should the Conyers bill be brought to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives?

Will Reparations Really Help?
Some argue that reparations to Black Americans would simply be another slap in the face in which “advantaged White’s” are perceived as “paying charity” to “inferior people” who are not capable of “making it on their own.”  And, even if reparations were not perceived in this way, what will be their effect on the social and economic status of Black Americans?  Bob Woodson believes, “It is important to recognize that the destiny of Black people is not determined by what White people do or not do; it is in our own hands… It is our values that determine our condition in life not what some oppressor has done.”  
What do you think?  Instead of trying to pay reparations, would it be more beneficial to Black Americans in the long run to use contributions and tax dollars to develop educational, spiritual, and employment opportunities for all ages aimed at restoring hope, dignity, and purpose to individuals and families?

Are Reparations Morally Right?
Here, as with any moral issue coming under the category “social justice,” we must identify an objective standard for judging what is moral.  For example, in his landmark article cited above, Ta-Nehisi Coates references a biblical command given in Deuteronomy.  Whether he acknowledges it or not, the only truly objective foundation for moral judgments is the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3: 16; Proverbs 1: 1-7).  Unless we all agree that Blacks and all other ethnic groups are equal and valuable, that racism or any oppression of one ethnic group by another are moral and spiritual problems, and that reparations must be weighed against the need for moral and spiritual restoration of people living today, our efforts in my judgment will fall short.

The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel presents a view of social justice and ethnicity (or “Race”) based on the Word of God:
God made all people from one man. Though people often can be distinguished by different ethnicities and nationalities, they are ontological equals before God in both creation and redemption. “Race” is not a biblical category, but rather a social construct that often has been used to classify groups of people in terms of inferiority and superiority. All that is good, honest, just, and beautiful in various ethnic backgrounds and experiences can be celebrated as the fruit of God’s grace. All sinful actions and their results (including evils perpetrated between and upon ethnic groups by others) are to be confessed as sinful, repented of, and repudiated.

DISCUSSION:  Inviting Your Comments:
Question #1 Individual Accountability: 
Do you agree that everyone of us is individually responsible to act according to an objective moral code or law?  For example, how would you respond to the following statement and the Scriptures cited:
Any human deviation from obedience to God’s commands in Scripture, including our neglect to love our neighbor, regardless of ethnicity, is sin.  The Bible teaches that every person is individually accountable to God for his or her own thoughts and actions (2 Corinthians 5: 10; Romans 1: 18-2: 16).  The Bible also teaches that every person has an inborn sense of right and wrong which can lead us to repentance, confession, and forgiveness (Romans 1: 18-21; 1 John 1: 9).  This point is illustrated in Acts 3: 17-21, a portion of the Apostle Peter’s sermon preached not long after the crucifixion of Christ.  As you read it, notice how Peter’s challenge comes down to a clear invitation to individuals and their spiritual accountability to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Question #2 Responsibility for the Past:  Do you feel responsible to make reparations for the sins of our ancestors? What motivates individuals to look beyond their individual moral standing and become committed to reparations for the failings of others throughout history?  Do you agree or disagree with the following:
Grievous as human sins of the past may have been and as much as we wish we could be a part of erasing the evil of the past, those sins are not “our sins.”  We are not meant to bear the weight of conscience from sins committed by others in history.  Yet, many in both the Church and in the secular world are obsessed with paying back what is owed by the injustices inflicted throughout history.  But God’s plan through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is for redemption of humans and His whole creation is not about reparations, but all about restoration.  God spiritually regenerates and restores individuals and adds them as “living stones” into His church, the body of Christ on Earth (1 Peter 2: 4-6).   As the psalmist writes (Psalm 49: 7-8), only God can redeem us (buy us back) from the slavery of sin because only He can pay the infinite cost:

No man can by any means redeem his brother
Or give to God a ransom for him—
For the redemption of his soul is costly,
And he should cease trying forever

Only God knows perfectly each sin of the past, and only God has the full remedy.  The Apostle Paul declares, For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5: 19). 

Can we agree, human effort alone cannot eradicate injustice?
Question #3 Is there a “right way?”:  Most would agree that history is filled with gross violations of what many call “social justice.”  Although we may not agree on how to address social injustices, would you agree that we must have a moral standard or reference by which to judge what is or is not “just?”  Would you also agree that this moral standard ought to address the nature of humankind and our tendency to fall short of that standard?  If we answer the above in agreement, then can we also agree that there is a common root cause for both the actions of perpetrators of injustice and the responses of those who are objects of injustices?  Finally, if we can agree on the root cause of injustices, can we also agree on at least the general nature of a restorative plan for both perpetrators and those unjustly treated?  Consider the following excerpt from the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel which states, based on God’s Word, that …whatever evil influences to which we have been subjected via our culture can be—and must be—overcome through conversion and the training of both mind and heart through biblical truth.

For anyone who is grieved at the injustices perpetrated against Black Americans, and for those who have been victims of perceived injustices, healing and restoration begins by repentance and confession of sin.  Our restoration and healing are made possible because Christ paid for both our sins and our griefs on His Cross (Isaiah 53).  We must rely on the authority and trust in the sufficiency of His Word (2 Timothy 3: 16).

Will reparations of past injustices solve current ones?
Once we are transformed by the grace and forgiveness of Christ, the words of Bob Woodson can become a guide to moving forward in the freedom of Christ: “…the destiny of Black people is not determined by what White people do or not do; it is in our own hands… It is our values that determine our condition in life not what some oppressor has done.”  

All of humanity, deceased and living, are offenders and have been offended.   Grave injustices still occur all around the world as statistics on current human slavery reveal.  Christ-followers need to be attentive to how they might participate or support efforts to end human slavery and other injustices through biblical means.  

Concluding Points to Consider:
We began with a citation from Deuteronomy 15: 12-15 by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his Atlantic article that slave masters not send [slaves] away empty-handed…[but give them] a generous farewell from the bounty of the land, all the while remembering that you were once slaves in the land of Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you!   Based on the spirit of this passage, what would be the nature of an approach to promote meaningful and lasting restoration of Black Americans and others suffering under real or perceived injustices?  Are you aware of organizations or programs that resemble such an approach?  Check out The Woodson Center which offers a hands up approach.

Related Article:  Black History: I. Correct History Brings Light

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Will “Mittens” Be in Heaven – Part 1

Our 10-year-old granddaughter, Della Rose, became a forceful advocate for a stray cat that she eventually named “Mittens.”  But, for some unknown reason, soon after Mittens snuggled and purred her way into the family, they found her dead.  As you can imagine, Della Rose was devastated and began to question her mom and dad, and even her grandpa, about where Mittens went after her death.  But her lead-in question to me was more general:

Della Rose and doggy pets, Riley and Ruby.
“Grandpa, do you think there will be animals in Heaven?  

When I heard her question, I thought to myself: “How can I comfort a sweet granddaughter while her little brown eyes search my face with childlike faith and wait for an answer to her big question?  Sure, Della Rose believes her Bible which promises that her faith in Jesus as her Savior from sin makes her a child of God (John 1: 12; 3: 16; 1 Corinthians 15: 1-10).  For every Christ-follower, Eternal Life begins at their moment of decision (Luke 23: 43) where they also receive the assurance of a home in Heaven.   Babies and young children, developmentally disabled children who remain childlike, and the unborn who die of “natural causes” or tragically by abortion will also enjoy Eternal Life in God’s presence (Deuteronomy 1: 39; 2 Samuel 12: 18-23; Isaiah 7: 14-16)

Della Roses's kitty named Lily still lives in Wooster.
Whether I can answer her questions or not, I am thankful that Della Rose is falling in love with Jesus and is prepared to go to Heaven one day.  However, on that day of her distress, I soon realized the real purpose of Della Rose’s big question.  She really wanted an assurance that she would see her Mittens again.  Trying to be too logical, my mind remained fixed on her more general question, "Will there be animals in Heaven?”   

My answer was “Yes, I am sure animals will be in Heaven.”
But then, I quickly dashed Della Rose’s hopes by adding,   
“Della, I don’t know if you will see Mittens in Heaven.”
Sadly, she replied, “But Grandpa, I want to see Mittens again.”

Learning More about Heaven
Realizing my inability to comfort her and give hope on that day, I decided to do more study on the subject.  Fortunately, the Bible has much to say about animals.  Randy Alcorn, in his excellent book, Heaven (Tyndale, 2004), states that the Bible portrays animals as Earth’s second most important inhabitants.  God entrusted animals to us, and our relationships with animals are a significant part of our lives (p. 373).  Why wouldn’t animal life also be a part of Heaven?

Before we discuss the future God may have in store for animals, we ought to lay some groundwork to establish God’s plan for humans who will receive the reward of life forever in Heaven.  Two questions are important to consider:  Where will Heaven be?  And, what will the nature of the lives and bodies of God’s redeemed people in Heaven?

The subject of Heaven is vast and is well supported throughout the Bible.  Alcorn’s treatise on Heaven is regarded as one of the best single sources on the subject and I highly recommend the book.  Yet many preachers and teachers seem to shy away from addressing the details of this eternal hope of Christ-followers.  Consequently, many believers lack the knowledge and enthusiasm exuded by men like the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12: 1-4) and the Apostle John (Revelation 21, 22).  Paul said, I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).

Alcorn attributes our lack of anticipation of Heaven’s glory to both the lack of clear teaching on Heaven, and to the blindness promoted by “the father of lies” (John 8: 44), Satan himself.   Alcorn quotes Revelation 13: 6 which states that the satanic beast opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven.  Here, Alcorn rightly points out that Satan slandered “God’s person, God’s people, and God’s place—namely, Heaven.”

Heaven on the Resurrected Earth
I appreciate that Randy Alcorn’s teaching about Heaven is based on his careful interpretation of Scripture.  After all, “now we know in part” and will not know fully until “the perfect comes and the partial is done away (1 Corinthians 13: 9-10).”  Therefore, I am comfortable with Alcorn’s interpretation of Scripture that locates Heaven on what he calls the “resurrected Earth.”  This view is very consistent with what Jesus taught about Heaven when He prayed, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6: 10).  Early Christians anticipated the imminence of a New Heaven and a New Earth where righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3: 13).  This claim is reinforced in Old Testament passages like Isaiah 65: 17-19:

For behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I create;
for I will create Jerusalem to be a joy
and its people to be a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem
and take delight in My people.
The sounds of weeping and crying
will no longer be heard in her.

Notice that Isaiah’s prophecy affirms that God will one day come and “rejoice in Jerusalem.” According to Revelation 21:22, God’s beloved “city of peace,” will have no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  

In his book, Heaven is Place on Earth (Zondervan, 2004), Michael Wittmer states, “The story of Scripture is the story of ‘Emmanuel’, for it describes how God progressively comes to live with us on our planet, at each appearance staying longer and in more permanent form (p. 205).”   Scripture suggests that God is looking forward to the time when His coming to Earth will not be a visit for a few hours like He spent with Abraham (Genesis 18), or for only thirty-three years as He did through the incarnate life of Jesus Christ (Luke 3: 23), or even for 1,000 years of the Millennium (Revelation 20: 4).  He will come to abide forever—then, Emmanuel will literally be “God with us.”

I hope my brief summary of what at least some theologians believe about Heaven will motivate you to read more on the subject and search the Scriptures for confirmation of your belief.  Before considering what God may have in store for the very prominent and valuable part of His creation, namely animal life, we ought to consider what the Bible promises for human life in heaven.

Resurrected Bodies on the New Earth
As I have written in an article entitled, “Recognizing Loved Ones in Heaven,” God’s special revelation in Scripture affirms and complements His natural revelation in creation to teach that resurrected Christ-followers will have new bodies and personality (1 Corinthians 15).  Consider that the resurrected Christ is a “first fruit” or promise of things to follow.  We understand that we will have at least some of His capabilities in our resurrected bodies.  This means we will engage in meaningful worship, work, fellowship, and enjoyment of meals together, even as the resurrected Christ enjoyed with His disciples (John 21). 

It seems logical from Scripture that humans who are created as relational beings in the image of God would enjoy an eternity in intimate relationship with our Creator, with one another, and with God’s creation—including animal life.  Heaven will represent a complete restoration of what was so tragically lost in the Fall of humankind in the Garden of Eden.

With reference to these and many other Scriptures, Alcorn’s vision of Heaven is reflected in a Gospel Coalition interview in which he states (emphasis mine):  What God made us to desire is exactly what he promises to those who follow Jesus Christ: a resurrected life in a resurrected body, with the resurrected Christ on a resurrected earth. Our desires correspond precisely to God’s plans.

Grief Gives Way to the Joy of Heaven
I can understand why both children and adults grieve at the loss of loved ones including their beloved pets.  When a death occurs, an intimate relationship is broken and we feel as if we have lost a part of ourselves.  But for Christ-followers who anticipate a blessed reunion with family members in Heaven, God’s Word offers comfort and assurance that what we hope for will become reality.  As Alcorn believes (emphasis mine), It’s not that we want something, so we engage in wishful thinking.  It’s the opposite—we want real human lives as real embodied people because God has wired us that way, and has always planned for it.

The Bible offers much assurance to Christ-followers of our hope of Eternal Life in Heaven.  But, for a little girl who has lost her kitty, the assurances about human life in Heaven may bring little comfort.  Della Rose’s plea sums up this point: “But Grandpa, I want to see Mittens again.”  

Will there be animals in Heaven?  More specifically, will Della Rose see her beloved Mittens there?  Please stay tuned for Part 2 of “Will We See “Mittens” in Heaven.”

How About You?
The Bible makes it clear that Jesus came into our fallen world to rescue sinners, people whom God’s Spirit has convicted of their sin, or rebellion against God’s authority in their lives.  When a sinner is convicted of his or her sin, repents, and asks Christ to become Lord of their lives, they are assured of Eternal Life in Heaven.   For more specific information on Heaven and the Resurrection of those who have surrendered to Christ, refer to the article entitled, “Recognizing Loved Ones in Heaven.”

Friday, February 22, 2019

George Washington: A Worthy Hero?

During my elementary school years, the month of February was one of my favorites.  As winter daylengths grew longer, February brought Valentine’s Day and the excitement of exchanging Valentines with my classmates.  I gave special attention to preparing and then exchanging Valentines with the girls in my class.

On a more serious note, February invited my teachers to offer interesting projects and studies of two of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.  I was always impressed that, unlike my birthday, theirs was honored with red numbers on calendars--February 12 and 22, respectively. 

George Washington (1732-1799) was born in Westmoreland Co., Virginia, south of what would become our nation’s capital, now named for him. His vocations were varied and significant:  Virginia farmer, Ohio valley wilderness land surveyor (1749-1750), commander of the militia in the French and Indian War (1754-1763), commander in chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War (1775-83), contributor to the drafting of the U.S. Constitution (1787), and first president of the United States (1789-1797). 

Washington’s accomplishments became familiar to me very early in my study of American history—accomplishments that made him one of my most worthy heroes.  Later, I learned to associate George Washington with other titles—Anglican, Deist, Freemason, slaveholder.  More recently, the era of political correctness has labeled Washington as simply “a dead white guy.” 

Peter A. Lillback’s 1,200-page treatise which now rests heavily on my lap is entitled George Washington’s Sacred Fire.  Lillback attempts to portray Washington accurately from his extensive references to the historical records.  I highly recommend this book, and have chosen to include only a few excerpts here in defense of Washington’s integrity and faith in God.

The most frequent attempt to deny that George Washington had placed his faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and as his hope of Eternal Life claims that he was a Deist.  Many who label Washington as a Deist would align him with the agnostics who claim neutrality on the issue of whether God exists.  If God does exist, He has been so uninvolved in the world that He is unknowable.

The Deist label upon Washington can be soundly dismissed.  In Sacred Fire, Lillback notes that the practice of prayer was gradually abandoned by Deism.  After all, why pray “to a Deity who on principle had abandoned all contract and communication with his creation?”  On the other hand, Washington is documented as having adopted a “lifelong practice of prayer.” Sacred Fire contains references to and excerpts from over 100 prayers that Washington had written out!  In addition, according to Lillback’s research, “There were numerous accounts from family and military associates—too numerous to be dismissed—of people coming across Washington in earnest, private prayer.”

Regarding our first president’s practice of the Christian faith, Lillback writes, “George Washington was not a perfect man. He occasionally lost his temper, he drank wine—maybe too much when he was a young man…he had a revenue producing distillery on his Mount Vernon estate…he owned slaves…which was not uncommon for a Southern gentleman of his day.  Like other human beings, [Washington] struggled with personal challenges such as illness, fatigue, pain, deaths of loved ones, loneliness, financial pressures, and step-parenting challenges, to name but a few.  Yet, as we can see from his writings, he attempted to walk according to the duties of the Christian faith.

George Washington’s Farewell Address (September 19, 1796) near the end of his two terms as president expresses his humble faith in the Almighty, a love for the nation he helped to form, and a hope that his contribution of over forty years would be viewed with good will for many years after he has gone to his eternal rest:

Though in reviewing the incidents of my administration I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

I’ve lived through many February’s since I first celebrated Washington’s birthday.  But, having read portions of George Washington’s Sacred Fire, I am pleased to say that he remains one of my heroes.  Any of us who study the history of Washington or any other historical figure ought not to miss the blessed evidence of the hand of Providence in the lives of imperfect men and women.  As for me, I must especially remember that their lives are now history, but my race is still to be run to the finish. 

Lord, may we who fix our eyes on You lay aside the encumbrances and sin that weighs us down, and run with endurance.1  May we speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty2the liberty that causes us to live in the Joy of our salvation and to be gracious and merciful to others because of the costly grace and mercy Christ purchased for us and extends to all who will receive.

George Washington:   Monday Evening Prayer:3
Most Gracious Lord God, from whom proceedeth every good and perfect gift, I offer to thy divine majesty my unfeigned praise & thanksgiving for all thy mercies towards me. Thou mad'st me at first and hast ever since sustained the work of thy own hand; thou gav'st thy Son to die for me; and hast given me assurance of salvation, upon my repentance and sincerely endeavoring to conform my life to his holy precepts and example. Thou art pleased to lengthen out to me the time of repentance and to move me to it by thy spirit and by the word, by thy mercies, and by thy judgments; out of a deepness of thy mercies, and by my own unworthiness, I do appear before thee at this time; I have sinned and done very wickedly, be merciful to me, O God, and pardon me for Jesus Christ sake; instruct me in the particulars of my duty, and suffer me not to be tempted above what thou givest me strength to bear. Take care, I pray thee of my affairs and more and more direct me in thy truth, defend me from my enemies, especially my spiritual ones. Suffer me not to be drawn from thee, by the blandishments of the world, carnal desires, the cunning of the devil, or deceitfulness of sin. Work in me thy good will and pleasure, and discharge my mind from all things that are displeasing to thee, of all ill will and discontent, wrath and bitterness, pride & vain conceit of myself, and render me charitable, pure, holy, patient and heavenly minded. be with me at the hour of death; dispose me for it, and deliver me from the slavish fear of it, and make me willing and fit to die whenever thou shalt call me hence. Bless our rulers in church and state. Bless O Lord the whole race of mankind, and let the world be filled with the knowledge of Thee and thy son Jesus Christ. Pity the sick, the poor, the weak, the needy, the widows and fatherless, and all that morn or are borken in heart, and be merciful to them according to their several necessities. Bless my friends and grant me grace to forgive my enemies as heartily as I desire forgiveness of Thee my heavenly Father. I beseech thee to defend me this night from all evil, and do more for me than I can think or ask, for Jesus Christ sake, in whose most holy name & words, I continue to pray, Our Father.

1Hebrews 12: 1    2James 2: 12  
3From:  George Washington’s Sacred Fire, page 807 (Providence Forum Press, Byrn Mawr, PA)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Science Research: Is Smaller Better?

Today, a large percentage of scientific research is conducted in large, collaborative teams.  But according to a paper published in Nature yesterday (February 13), “researchers may be better off working in small teams.”  The Nature study, led by James Evans of the University of Chicago, was reviewed by Ruth Williams’ article in today’s online edition of The Scientist.

Evans et al. studied the citations of tens of millions of research papers and patents.  Papers were evaluated for degree of innovativeness or “disruptiveness” based on the degree to which subsequent research articles cited the papers alone without including citations used in the paper itself.   Highly disruptive papers, those cited alone by subsequent authors, were found to contain research that was more transformative.  Such innovative papers provide a ‘jumping-off point’ for a new field of research,” says sociologist Jason Owen-Smith of the University of Michigan.

A closer look at the disruptive papers revealed that “big teams tend to work on existing theories rather than instigating new ones.”  The analysis showed that “the most disruptive papers, patents, and software products tend to be produced by small groups, and that, as team size grows, disruptiveness declines.”  Interestingly, even an individual scientist’s disruptiveness tended to drop as the number of co-authors increased.

At a time when big government funding has contributed toward major inflation in cost of health care, housing, and college tuition, the Nature report affords the scientific community a timely opportunity to consider how research funding approaches affect research progress.  According to Anita Woolley, who studies organizational behavior and teamwork at Carnegie Mellon University, funding agencies often “push us in the direction of having bigger and bigger teams.  This [research] is really calling that into question.”

I thank my friends Roger and Margaret Riffle who have long ties to West Virginia for sharing an article by Connor Griffith, business editor of WVNews.  The article, entitled “Touchstone Labs: Growing Business and Sending WV Coal into Space,” features the innovative research by a small R & D firm, named Touchstone Research Laboratories.  Touchstone was launched in the basement of a monastery, in 1980, by president and CEO, Brian Joseph.

Since its founding, Touchstone Research Laboratories has become a “three-time Tibbetts Award recipient for its broad-based product development research philosophy, which focuses on the development of next-generation, over the horizon materials and products.”*  Since its founding, Touchstone has formed a research park and has spawned three other companies. Other spin-off companies are in the works.  According to Joseph, “This is not that far off from Thomas Edison’s whole approach.  He called his place the Invention Factory and what we basically have is an invention factory.  Everything we’ve been spinning out, we invented this stuff.”

One of the companies spawned by Touchstone is CFOAM, named after its principal product, CFOAM®, short for “carbon foam.”  CFOAM is produced by pulverizing coal (something West Virginia has plenty of), foaming it under pressure, then heat-treating and cutting it into desired shapes.  This structural foam is light-weight and can withstand temperatures above 6,000 degrees!  CFOAM is now used in place of ceramic tiles on space shuttles, and its future is promising for applications not yet discovered.

Touchstone Research Labs also developed Metpreg, the world’s strongest aluminum.  Metpreg is now used in bicycle frames where it provides as much strength as current commercial frames at one-third of the weight.

I’m sure that Touchstone is but one example of the many “invention factories” that have arisen from the innovative ideas of small groups of researchers.  Such stories make it tempting to conclude that the future of science and technology rests in the philosophy that “small is better.”  However, Ruth Williams concludes her article in The Scientist with a reasonable assessment by Jason Owen-Smith who believes “we need a combination of big teams developing and strengthening existing ideas and small teams performing high-risk, high-reward, innovative projects.

The fact that there seems to be no end to the creativity of humankind is a testimony to our Creator God in whose image we were created.  The Genesis account in Scripture records that, In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Genesis 1: 1-2)Into this formless void, God began to create order and diversity of mineral, microbe, plant, and animal.  God created these things with the capacity for further development and diversification through science and technology.  And then, He created Adam and gave him and his descendants dominion over creation with a mandate to exercise servant stewardship as His representatives on the Earth.  The current article seems to have featured some of the more positive examples of God-given creativity in science at work.


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

LOVE: Part 6 – Humbly Received, Graciously Given

Valentine’s Day helps us focus on the love we share with special people in our lives.  We express our love by sending cards, candy, flowers, or more extravagant gifts.  In most cases we do not create the gifts.  We purchase them, add a few tender words, and share them with our love.  In doing this, we are acting out the meaning of stewardship—i.e. handling things which we didn’t create and which ultimately do not belong to us.

If we agree that buying and giving gifts is a form of stewardship, we might say that being loved and loving others is the ultimate core of stewardship .  As explained in LOVE Part 2: “It’s Out of This World”, love does not originate from us.  Like a Valentine gift that we didn’t create, love enters our lives and relationships from God.
 God’s love (agapeo and phileo), like the sweet fragrance from a flower, is the central essence of His character. As 1 John 4: 8 states, God is love.  God’s inspired Word and His actions continually express His limitless love for His creation and humankind--expressed ultimately through the Life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Since Christ’s resurrection some 2,000 years ago,  His Spirit has been transforming sinners into Christ-followers who submit to the authority of God’s Word.  These who follow Christ, do so as stewards of the gifts of His Spirit, including love—or, as 1 Peter 4: 10 states, we are stewards of the manifold grace of God.

Reverential Fear of God, Repentance, Forgiveness
Christ-followers demonstrate by their love for God and for one another that they have died to self, have submitted to the Word of God, and have yielded to the rule of Christ as Lord of their lives.  This submission begins a life of repentance, humble confession and rejection of sin and selfishness.  These spiritual disciplines are motivated by our reverential fear of God our Supreme Judge, and by our emersion (baptism) into His love.  [See LOVE: Part 2 – It’s “Out of this World.”]  In love and mercy, God responds to our repentance, cancels our “sin debt,” and withholds His harsh judgment of us as rebellious, undeserving sinners.

The psalmist understood the relationship among three elements: 
(a) God’s holiness and justice,
(b) His mercy and forgiveness, and
(c) our reverential fear of God.  In Psalm 130: 3-4, we read (emphasis mine),

LORD, if you kept a record of our sins,
who, O Lord, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
that we might learn to fear you

But, how is that?  How do Christ-followers "fear” a loving, forgiving God?  If this seems contradictory, see
LOVE: Part 5 - Is God-Fearing Love a Contradiction?

Our Motivation to Love:  God Has Canceled Our Debt.
Forgiven sinners, freed from the burden of their sin, in reverent fear and submission to God’s Spirit, offer the sweet aroma of God’s love (fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5: 22) back to God.  They also extend this love to their neighbor.  If we truly love God, then according to 1 John 4: 21, …he who loves God loves his brother also.  Christ-followers are empowered to love God and neighbor out of a spirit of thankfulness for all God has done and continues to do.  Their remembrance of God's forgiveness causes them to extend mercy and forgiveness toward others, even their "enemies." 

Love originates from God and transforms humans and
our relationships to God, neighbor, and creation.
Loving God and loving our neighbor falls short unless we love what God also loves.  God loves our neighbor, but also His creation (Genesis 1: 31).  As I have explained in Fundamentals of Conservation, Part 1, our stewardship of creation is an integral part of our obedience to God’s plan.  Thus, loving our neighbor should include adopting a lifestyle that rejects materialism, needless consumption, and waste that can adversely affect soil, groundwater, air, community health, and conservation of creature habitats.   That said, Christ-followers must be wise in evaluating current assessments of human impacts on the environment, or creation. Thankfully, God has lovingly commanded that we observe a weekly Sabbath rest to enjoy His provisions and to take stock of our purpose and place in His plan for us.  [See Creation Care– Doing It Our Way?]

God’s love calls us to remember the Cross on which Jesus died.  Our regular focus on the Cross of Christ serves to impact and so permanently mark His followers that we become forever grateful.  Juanita Byrum’s song, “Forever Grateful,” should express our response:

And I'm forever grateful, Lord, to You
And I'm forever grateful for the cross
And I'm forever grateful to You
That You came to seek and save the lost

Still, I’ve been asking myself how it is that God’s love can become more real to me each day. 
God’s Spirit answers my question through His inspired Word—Man shall not live by bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the  mouth of God (Matthew 4: 4).  We “feed” the life of Christ in us by “eating” (reading, studying, meditating, memorizing) God’s Word which reveals the Life of Christ and His teachings.  Through both His Life in us and His teachings, we learn how to love others.  For example, a parable of Jesus known as the “Parable of the Unforgiving Servant,” recorded in Matthew 18: 21-35, teaches me three things: 
(a) the infinite magnitude of my sin debt
(b) the infinite mercy shown when God cancelled my sin debt
(c) the proper response—my love shown by thankfulness and forgiveness of others

The parable tells of a servant who owed him the equivalent of several million dollars in today’s market (Matt. 18: 24).  Jesus wanted us to understand that this debt was larger than the servant could ever hope to pay off.  The master …commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made (v. 25).  The servant’s response was to fall down and beg his master for mercy, 'Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all (v. 26).'  He was so desperate and fearful of the consequences of not being able to pay that he promised more than he could ever do.  Jesus wants sinners to realize from this story of the unpayable debt that we are great debtors facing a similar fate. 

Our Motivation to Forgive:  Realizing the Magnitude of Our Debt
Psalm 49: 7-9 helps us realize the human impossibility of paying our “sin debt” to God: 

Yet they cannot redeem themselves from death
by paying a ransom to God.
Redemption does not come so easily,
for no one can ever pay enough
to live forever and never see the grave. 

Now, back to my question—“How can God’s love become more real to me each day?”  I must focus on the Cross of Christ where I realize the great love and mercy of a Holy God who made possible the cancellation of my sin debt, thus sparing me of eternal judgment.  In light of this realization, my love for God and my neighbor ought to flow freely—loving God in return, and loving others through patience, mercy, and forgiveness.  This is not a small task for me in day-to-day human relationships with spouse, family, friends, and frustrating world and national news—especially, because relationship challenges reveal my own lingering selfishness.

Beloved pastor-teacher, Timothy Keller, refers to a scene from his favorite novel, Lord of the Rings, to illustrate the habit of remembering the costly suffering and death of Christ for our salvation.  Keller asks us to picture Pippin, a Hobbit, standing at the gate of the city which is about to be attacked and destroyed by the demon king.  But then, there is the sound of horns from the Riders of Rohan who arrive in the nick of time to save the city.   But the cost was great. The King of Rohan gave his very life in the battle.   Pippin’s greatful reaction is a model for us:

Pippin remembered the sound of the horn.
“For the rest of his life, Pippin could never hear a horn off in the distance without bursting into tears. Why?  Because every time he heard a horn in the distance it reawakened the memory of his salvation and the memory of the one who died for him.”  Keller then asks his audience (and all Christ-followers): 

“How do you listen to a distant horn?   What are your distant horns?”  What music, people, places, activities, or Scriptures helps reawaken in you the memory of the victory that Christ purchased for you there on that rugged hill?

Back to Jesus’s parable, the unforgiving servant represents those who forget the King and the sound of His horn.  The unforgiving servant’s desperate plea melted the heart of his master who then forgave his multimillion-dollar debt—entirely!  Jesus does not describe the response of the servant to this life-changing show of mercy and forgiveness.  If the forgiven servant had any gratitude, it was shallow and soon forgotten because we read that the unforgiving servant immediately went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him [a few thousand dollars]: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.

Just that quick, the unforgiving servant had forgotten the love and mercy his master had shown him.  So, he suddenly became unforgiving and merciless to his fellowservant.  Jesus ends the parable, warning us
that we will not receive mercy and joy of forgiveness if we refuse to forgive our brothers and sisters from our heart (v. 35).  Genuine repentance and acceptance of God’s mercy ought to give us true joy and make us loving and forgiving of others.  Matthew Henry writes, “How justly will those be condemned, who, though they bear the Christian name, persist in unmerciful treatment of their brethren!  The humbled sinner relies only on free, abounding mercy, through the ransom of the death of Christ.  Let us seek more and more for the renewing grace of God, to teach us to forgive others as we hope for forgiveness from him.”

I am thankful for God’s provisions that help us remember what He has done for us:  His commands (really, loving invitations) to worship together on the first day of each week (Acts 20: 7; Hebrews 10: 25) and to regularly observe the sacrament of Lord’s Supper.  These are essential disciplines that bring us into communion with our Savior and with fellow blood-bought brothers and sisters in remembrance of the wonderful Cross.

Of course, Valentine’s Day provides an annual reminder to express love to God and to our friends (and enemies).  Since Valentine’s Day last year when I wrote about love and marriage, in
Valentines and a Better Love, I have been reading and thinking much about “true love,” hopefully from a Christian worldview.  As I conclude this sixth part in my series on LOVE, I confess that I haven’t even scratched the surface.  Nor has my stewardship of sharing God’s gift of love reached anything like the fragrant love that emanates from Jesus.  But, my prayer is that you and I, and all who come across these writings will be drawn closer to Jesus the Source of this Love and to the Cross where Love met God’s judgment of sin, and prevailed! 

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights 'til I'm found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn't earn it, and I don't deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, yeah
-- From Reckless Love, by Cory Asbury

How About You…and I?
This Valentine’s Day, I am asking myself:  Do I truly love God, my Creator and Savior, even though at times He seems distant?  Do I love my wife as God’s gift for nearly 50 years, even when one of us is grumpy?  Do I love my family, my friends, many of whom pray for us and encourage us every day?  Do I love and pray for our leaders and for Christians living under very hard, dangerous conditions; and for the millions who are homeless, both locally and internationally?  The answer rests not on me alone but on Christ alone, by faith alone, in His Word alone, by His grace alone.  For it is not that we loved Him but that He loved us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5: 8).  Christ demonstrated His love through His death, resurrection, and promises of His return.  Until that time or until He takes me home, I want to be a good steward of His love.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

LOVE: Part 5 - Is God-Fearing Love a Contradiction?

Christianity is unique among all religions of the world.  According to the Bible, God is a living and personal God who created all things and seeks relationship with us through the Gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. This relationship will last for eternity in a real place called Heaven where Christ-followers in new bodies will personally recognize and enjoy relationship with each other for all eternity.   Christianity is also unique in its encouragement of virtues such as unconditional love. 

According to 1 John 4: 16, God is love.  Love (agapeo and phileo) originates from God and is expressed most fully by Christ-followers through a spirit of thankfulness and forgiveness.  I am planning to discuss these elements of love in PART 6 of our series of articles on LOVE.  But first, I want to address an often confusing question; namely, “How can a God of love be a Holy Judge who requires that we approach Him with reverent fear?”  A correct answer to this question is important.  The Bible teaches that we cannot acquire a spirit of thankfulness or express forgiveness to others unless we first learn to approach a holy God with reverent fear and respect.

What Does It Mean to “Fear God?”
The Bible commands us to “fear God.”  This teaching of Judaism and Christianity may be an immediate “turn-off” for you unless you understand what the Scriptures really say about the fear of God.  Moses used the following words, recorded in Deuteronomy 10: 12 (NIV), to underscore the importance of fearing God (emphasis mine):

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul

Notice the sequence Moses uses:  fear --> obey --> love --> serve He means that our love for God is made real to God only when we obey His commands in His Word.  In turn, obeying God as willing servants or stewards is grounded in reverent fear of God.  Fear of God allows God’s Spirit to empower Christ-followers to love and serve Him.

One of the purposes of the Old Testament biblical revelations of God was to teach fallen mankind to fear or show reverent respect toward Him.  For example, Moses reacted in great fear of God when he interceded for the people of Israel after they had sinned by worshiping the golden calf.  Moses wrote to Israel and to us, I was afraid of the LORD's fierce anger, because he was furious enough to destroy you; but once again the LORD listened to me(Deuteronomy 9: 19, GNT).  The author of the Book of Hebrews writes that when Israel gathered at the base of Mt. Sinai near the presence of God, The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear (Heb. 12: 21).

Love God…and Fear Him?
But how can a God whose anger and wrath incites great fear be called a God of love.  One explanation is that the word “fear” does not mean that God incites unhealthy fear or terror.  But, try explaining that to Moses!  Based on the writings of Moses, there should be no question that he had learned to “fear God.”

 I have often wondered how a fearsome God can expect us to believe He is a God of love whose commands are worthy of our obedience.
  I received my best answer to this question recently when I was checking the electrical circuit breakers in our basement.  Like most “breaker boxes,” ours contains two thick cables that connect electrical power to our home from outside utility lines.  The exposed wire within each cable is anchored to a contact within the breaker box by large screws.  From these contacts, electricity flows to and from individual circuit breakers, each wired into a separate circuit or path of electricity that serves to power individual appliances within our home—e.g. kitchen lights, furnace, etc.  Each circuit is protected by a circuit breaker which can be “thrown” in order to interrupt current flow in the event of an overload.

Knowing what I have just explained about electrical power, you can understand why I “fear” the inside of our breaker box.  I believe my fear is justified.  Touching the bear wires without insulated gloves could prove fatal.

By analogy, my question becomes, “How can I ‘love’ something like electricity that causes fear of death?”  The answer is found in the same sequence as the commands God gave to Moses:  
 fear --> obey --> love --> serve.  When I base my attitude and behavior on my fear (healthy respect) for electricity and don’t touch the wires, then I have nothing to fear.  As part of God’s creation, electricity “obeys” the laws of His creation.  Therefore, as long as I respectfully follow God’s unchanging laws governing electricity, I am safe from harm.  There are no unwanted surprises and I am free to enjoy, even “love” the benefits of having electricity flowing in and around me in our home.  Likewise, as Moses teaches us in the Scripture cited above, Jehovah God loves us and desires that we learn to love Him in return.  But we can only learn to love God when we first become aware of His awesome power and discipline, and then respond by offering Him our reverent fear and respect.

Fear Those in Authority Over Us
My illustration of a healthy fear and respect for electricity also applies to relationships with human authorities.  The basketball player who has a reverent respect for his or her coach has learned to be respectful because he or she knows the consequences of being disrespectful or lazy.  Athletes who willingly submit to well intended demands of their coaches will often develop a greater love and devotion to them, resulting in a more excellent performance in competition.

When we learn to fear God, we can expect that we will experience God’s love and the benefits of His love and mercy.  Wise King Solomon gave us a major principle at the beginning of the Book of Proverbs:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge:
but fools despise wisdom and instruction
. – Proverbs 1:7

Notice that Solomon’s teaching is very much in line with that of Moses.  The progression is: fear --> knowledge --> wisdom --> obedience (implied).   When we submit in reverent respect for God and His Word, our heart and mind are open to receive both knowledge and necessary wisdom to help apply that knowledge in God-honoring obedience.  And, God interprets our obedience as a language of love for Him.  In return, according to the psalmist, God grants us peace of mind.  Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them (Psalm 119: 165).

In recent years, we have been struggling as a culture to render necessary fear and respect for those in authority.  News reports frequently report incidences of disrespect and threats of violence toward authority figures including the President of the United States, high court justices, law enforcement officials, and school teachers.  But we should have no reason to be terrified of those in authority unless they we have broken the law.  Law-abiding citizens should know “great peace,” being free from the fear of being arrested.  If we want to live quiet and peacable lives, we ought to obey the law; then, love and pray for law-enforcers who risk their lives daily to protect homes and communities.

No Fear of God Brings a Fateful Future
We should not be surprised by the behavior of those who choose not to fear God and who refuse give Him the reverent respect He deserves.  For example, in Romans 3: 9-18, the Apostle Paul describes the traits of the unrighteous human race as unprofitable with mouths full of cursing, bitterness, and deceit; their feet are quick to shed blood, and the way of peace they have not known.  In 2 Timothy 3: 1-5, Paul elaborates the behavior that will characterize “the last days:”

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

It is clear that those who refuse to submit to God in fear and reverent respect according to the progression of  fear --> knowledge --> wisdom --> obedience (implied), are instead destined to a progression that we might outline as follows:  no fear of God --> rebellion --> foolishness, ignorance of truth --> dysfunctional life (as described above).  Eventually, a godless approach to life leads to hopelessness, despair, and fear. 

In summary, we have explained that fear, or reverent respect, is essential to obeying God and God-ordained authority figures; and also, to obeying laws of nature regarding its potentially harmful aspects like electricity.  Likewise, fear of God motivates respectful obedience to His special revelation (His Word) and His general revelation (e.g. laws of creation regarding electricity).  Our obedience in turn demonstrates our love for God and opens our hearts to His love and peace.  Read 1 John 4: 13-18 which underscores the security that is assured to Christ-followers through God’s Word and the inner voice of His Holy Spirit.

The child of God who is secure in God’s love is empowered to express unconditional love through two actions that uniquely authenticate his or her Christian faith in daily practice; namely, thankfulness and forgiveness.  These virtues will be the subject of my next article, “LOVE: Part 6 - Humbly Received, Graciously Given."