Fearing God vs. carrying a fearsome god-puppet who agrees with you

Those who have read this blog for a while will recall that about a year ago, God took me on a journey of exploring the Biblical concept of the fear of the Lord. The problem is that Christians conflate two different kinds of fear when talking about God: the Biblical sense of awe that compels our worship and the frightfulness which causes us to hide our sins and cling to idols. But I’ve also realized that fearing the Lord in a good sense is more than just awe; it also means that I hate the thought of dishonoring God with my sin, not because I’m worried about being punished, but because I love His truth, which I zealously seek and defend. This is very different than carrying around a fearsome god puppet who spews wrath on His enemies and happens to agree with me on who His enemies should be. Continue reading

Jonathan Martin’s Prototype: Salvation as the Restoration of Humanity

It’s a strange and beautiful thing to hear someone preaching your own thoughts in a sermon. That’s what happened for me last summer when I heard Pentecostal preacher Jonathan Martin‘s sermon series “The Songs of Ascent” about King David and the Psalms. My whole life, I have been on a journey of trying to understand the nature of worship. Growing up Baptist, I was instilled with a zeal for sincerity in worship. What is the difference between truly worshiping God and putting on a performance? In one sermon last summer, Jonathan said that King David’s worship was to delight in the discovery of God’s delight in him. This beautiful way of framing things is at the heart of Jonathan’s new book Prototype, which I would buy and ship to every Christian who has been wounded or disillusioned by the church if I had the money. Continue reading

Two opposite ways to “delight in the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11)

Those of you who have been following my journey know that I keep on stumbling into Biblical passages that talk about the “fear of the Lord.” It actually started this summer with a sermon I preached in the Dominican Republic on the fear of the Lord in Isaiah 6, even though the phrase didn’t actually appear in the text. Then, in the fall, I came across Acts 9:31: “Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, [the church] increased in numbers.” Then I encountered Psalm 19:2: “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever,” which prompted a longer meditation contrasting the fear that leads to wisdom with the fear that has to do with punishment. More recently I discovered in Psalm 25 the strange statement that God offers “friendship to those who fear Him.” My latest milestone in this journey came this past weekend preaching on Isaiah 11, in which verse 3 says that the messiah will “delight in the fear of the Lord.” I think there are two ways to understand this statement: one is perverse and the other beautiful.

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From fear and trembling to refuge (Psalm 2)

I have always had a particular attraction to Philippians 2:12, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” partly because it creates a crisis for evangelicals with a formulaic “decision for Christ” account of salvation. I do believe that justification by faith is a core part of our salvation, but I also think that δικάιοω (justify) means “make just” more than “declare just” in a way that the English language screws up with the word “justification.” Though we need to have Christ’s justification declared to us to wrest us free from self-justification, it is a means to the end of the Holy Spirit’s sanctification by which we are made just. And God doesn’t need to have the results of an act that He authored “declared” back to Him through some contrived performance of feigned ignorance. You can call the trust that God instills in us a “decision” if you need to, but it’s a decision that must be remade over and over again, and furthermore it’s a surrender, not the product of dispassionate rational deliberation (sorry Bill Bright!). In any case, I was reading Psalm 2 in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament this past Monday. It may have been what Paul had in his head in writing Philippians 2:12 because it talks about “fear” and “trembling” and how they relate to the refuge that God offers to humanity. Continue reading

Sinners, judgment, and fear in Psalms 25

I knew something was missing from my spiritual rhythm the last two weeks and this morning I realized what it was: Wednesday morning prayer, which a very small group of dedicated prayer warriors celebrates together each Wednesday at 8:30 am. In addition to liturgical and extemporaneous prayer, we always read a psalm responsively as part of our routine. Two months ago, this small prayer meeting got flat-out Pentecostal. For a month after that, the Spirit was breathing all over the place every time I opened the Bible. I went through a dry spell for a month and a half largely because of my lack of discipline but the breath of God came roaring back today as we read Psalm 25 and encountered sinners, judgment, and fear in a quite surprising form. Continue reading

Pleasantville Christianity vs. Kingdom Christianity

This weekend, I preached on the text of the parable of talents. My regular readers might recall that I’ve been contemplating this text a lot recently in thinking about the difference between the two kinds of Biblical fear: being afraid of God and being awestruck by God. Many American Christians want to know exactly what they need to do to get into heaven so they can do it and not add a penny more, just like the third servant who thought it was the safest option to give his master back exactly what he owed him. Many of us pursue “safety” throughout our lives and spend them riddled with anxiety rather than receive the authentic salvation that teaches us not to be afraid of God but to delight in His wonder instead. In my sermon, I decided to explore the contrast between this false sense of safety and real salvation, contrasting the kingdom of God with a metaphorical use of the 1998 film Pleasantville, which is about a stereotypical 1950’s sitcom in which everything is perfectly pleasant and predictable. I’m sharing my sermon slides below with some abbreviated reflection. You can listen to the audio here: From Pleasantville to the Kingdom. Continue reading

Theology of capitalism: entrepreneurs vs. money-changers

There are two different stories people tell about capitalism. Those who describe capitalism favorably say that it is the story of how the innovation and creativity of entrepreneurs are unleashed through a spontaneity of resources provided in a free market. Capitalism’s critics tell the story of how money-changers are constantly hunting for ways to make money without sweating a drop by leveraging workers and markets against each other and finding loopholes to be exploited. Both of these stories are true, though not always equally. At this particular juncture in our nation’s history, the money-changers are winning the day by masquerading as entrepreneurs. If it’s true that corporate profits are at record highs while unemployment remains high, then the money-changers have found a way to create wealth for themselves without creating jobs. I am not qualified to explain how this works, since I’m a pastor, not an economist, but Jesus had plenty to say about entrepreneurs and money-changers that is relevant to thinking through a Christian response to the competing economic visions that are being set before us this election year. Continue reading