Look at me and be astonished; clap your hand over your mouth. Job 21:5

We love to be amazed. Ordinary doesn’t cut it for this generation. Average barely gets a mention. But when something really wows us, we can’t help sharing what we witnessed.  Phone lines, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts start buzzing, and news of the astonishing spreads like wildfire.

Unfortunately, most of what we’re compelled to share has nothing to do with Jesus. Somehow the One who brought us the ultimate “wow factor” has been reduced to short, encouraging Scripture quotes to help remind us that He even exists. Amazing is left to great football plays, astounding special effects, or even the ridiculously stupid. These days, we don’t really expect to be astonished by Jesus.

Perhaps we’re missing something. According to Hebrews 13:8,

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Have you been astonished by Jesus? Have you encountered Him in a way that so filled you with awe that you couldn’t help but share it? He means to astound you, dear one. Jesus specializes in the extraordinary.

When was the last time the glory of Christ’s presence ignited you to share what you experienced?  What happens when you meet with other believers? Do your church services and gatherings reveal the unexplainable in a way that even non-believers can’t help but talk about it?

That’s the legacy of the church handed down to us through Scripture. Church didn’t start out as orderly programming that followed a workable schedule and met expectations each week. Church began as groups of believers encountering the presence of the God they worshiped and becoming empowered beyond their abilities to reveal His glory.

Consider these reactions of unbelievers as they witnessed what was happening in the early church.

  • Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Acts 2:7-8
  • When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13

God’s presence among His people caught the attention of the lost. They couldn’t help but take notice. What they witnessed defied what they could logically explain.

Perhaps the most astonishing miracle occurred among the believers themselves.

Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Acts 2:43-46

Thousands of Christians from different backgrounds, with different personalities and unique desires, united as one. With hearts full of joyous praise, they shared all they had. Selfless love permeated the church,

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:47

Come to think of it, it sounds like the early church fulfilled what Jesus claimed to be the greatest commandment in all of Scripture.

“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Luke 10:27

Scripture teaches that when believers fight among themselves, we act like “mere men” (1 Corinthians 3:3).  Quarreling indicates a quenching of the Spirit; it reveals that we’ve chosen to exalt our own desires instead of submitting to His. Unity expressed through love, however, reveals Christ’s presence in our midst.

You may be wondering, is such unity even possible? Scripture confirms that it is. In fact, it’s not only possible, it’s God’s declared will for His church. And remember, dear one, God’s will always comes to pass.

One lingering question remains: will ours be the generation in which He fulfills it? That depends on each one of us. Will we choose to yield our personal desires to the leadership of His Spirit and allow Him to once again astonish the world through us?

Jesus knocks at the door of His church. Perhaps it’s time we let Him back in.

The Proper Response

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Proverbs 1:7

Last week we learned that our path to salvation begins when we possess a proper fear of God. That can only occur when we hold a proper view.

Too many of us have such a small view of God that we can’t recognize our need to fear Him. We don’t revere Him; instead we place Him on almost equal ground with ourselves. We offer Him a nod on Sunday mornings, then spend much of the rest of our time ignoring Him.

Yet when we visited God’s throne room with Isaiah, we witnessed his profound response to seeing God’s glory revealed. He was terrified.

We often describe the fear of the Lord with words like reverence, respect, and awe. I’ll admit I’ve used those words myself to explain its meaning. But while those are all elements of fearing God, I don’t believe they encompass it entirely. Strong’s concordance adds these definitions for the word translated “fear” in our Bibles:   

“to be afraid, be frightened; to revere, respect; to be awesome, be dreadful, be feared” (Strong’s, 3772, p. 1512).

What Isaiah experienced reflects the rest of the definition. He witnessed something awesome, dreadful, utterly frightening, and he became completely undone.

Isaiah isn’t alone in his response. The apostle John, beloved disciple of Jesus and New Testament recipient of Christ’s saving grace, received a visit from his risen Lord while in exile on the island of Patmos.

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me . . . When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”  Revelation 1:12, 17-18

God’s grace doesn’t make Him a cuddly teddy bear. When you finally see His Glory unleashed, you will tremble. Perhaps, like John, you will fall at his feet as though dead. But the beauty of grace is evident in Jesus’ response to John. To those who recognize God as wholly other and worthy of honor, to those who in reverent fear choose to submit their earthly lives to Him in repentance and receive by faith the sacrifice that Jesus made for them, to those Jesus lovingly responds, “Do not be afraid.” And we needn’t be.

The fear of the Lord leads to life:  Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.  Proverbs 19:23

Through repentance and faith in Jesus, fear of the Lord propels us into His safe embrace. He becomes our Rock. Our Strong Tower. Our Shelter in the storm. Our Rest. We become His, but the question remains: What next? How does one respond to such a great gift of grace?

Abraham, father of our faith, provides our example. Acts 7:2-4 tells us,

The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’

So he left . . .”

At the beckoning of God, Abraham left his people and his home to go to a land he’d never seen. Why would he do that? How could he so easily and completely abandon everything to follow this God? 

In the midst of a polytheistic culture that offered its worship to many gods, Abraham met the God of glory. Wisdom was born in him as Truth penetrated his heart, and he knew this was the One True God. Imagine the magnitude of such an encounter that would convince him that all he had ever been taught to believe was wrong. Like Isaiah, Abraham beheld something awesome that conceived in Him the fear of the Lord. 

Yet this fear did not send him running to the hills. It sent him chasing after this God he realized he simply could not live without.  Abraham’s fear of remaining distant from God surpassed his fear of approaching Him. He was compelled to follow, and the path led him smack dab into the blessing of God.

Abraham shares this experience with every great hero of faith recorded for us in Scripture.

  • Moses met God through the flames of a burning bush, and his encounter led him to abandon the safety of his desert life and challenge Egypt’s Pharaoh on behalf of God’s people.
  • Paul, guardian of Jewish law and zealous persecutor of the early church, came face to face with the glory of Christ on the road to Damascus. Blinded by the Light of Truth, he dropped to his knees in repentance and emerged from the encounter willing to follow Jesus to his death, suffering for the cause of the very One he had persecuted. 
  • Even the first Disciples shared this experience. They had been fishing on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called to them, “Come, follow me.” How did they respond?  At once they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:18

They each responded to the revelation of God in their lives with the same reaction: they left behind all that they had known to follow. Beloved, what has changed, that God would seek any less of a response from us?

How have you responded to the revelation of God’s glory, dear one? Have you surrendered everything to follow your Lord and King? If not, He’s waiting.

It Starts With Fear

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10

Whether we like the idea or not, Scripture tells us to fear God. The Bible repeatedly links our receipt of His blessings and promises with whether or not we have a heart that fears Him. According to Proverbs 14:27, fearing God propels us toward life:

“The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death.”

The word “fear” unsettles most of us. When we associate it with how we ought to feel about God, we often want to run from Him, not toward Him. The thought conjures images of an angry tyrant perched on a fiery throne looking to see where He can dole out judgment and wrath.

Yet we also discover in Scripture that God is love (1 John 4:16), and in that love, He offers mercy. Most of us can easily embrace those attributes; those aspects of God’s character hold a bit more appeal.  In light of that, we often choose to disregard Scripture’s warning to fear God altogether, tossing it out in favor of friendship with a very approachable and forgiving God.

Unfortunately, if we don’t begin by acknowledging that God is worthy of our fear, we can’t enter the safety of His love.

 “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; . . . But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him.”  Psalm 103:13, 17

Fear marks the beginning of our journey toward redemption. Do you fear Him?

I confess that for a long time, I didn’t. I heard so much about God’s mercy and grace that I couldn’t wrap my brain around the thought that I should fear Him. It didn’t compute with the image I had been given. I was told God was my friend.

As a result, I had a carefree attitude toward sin. I didn’t think it mattered much. After all, grace covers it, right?

Perhaps this is one reason why much of Christ’s church looks so little like Him today. Salvation doesn’t begin with grace; it ends there. Salvation begins with fear.

Let’s consider an example from Scripture that reveals a biblical response to God. The prophet Isaiah experienced the remarkable privilege of seeing God’s glory revealed.

“ . . .I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Isaiah 6:1

Verse 5 records his reaction to what he saw.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Isaiah reflexively offered one singular response to His glimpse of God’s glory: sheer terror. He cowered in God’s presence, acutely aware of his own depravity for the very first time. God’s perfect holiness laid bare his own impurity, washing it in righteous light. He realized this Supreme Being had every right to smite him, and he declared himself ruined.

Praise God the story doesn’t end there. In response to Isaiah’s mournful cry, a seraph circling the Lord in worship took a coal from the altar and approached him.

With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”  Isaiah 6:7

Pardon purchased through the altar of sacrifice has a way of changing things. Isaiah no longer cowered, distraught over his condition. Instead, full of gratitude, he offered to stand boldly for the Lord.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”  Isaiah 6:8

A beautiful transformation took place within Isaiah’s heart, all brought on by his proximity to God’s presence. He saw God as He truly is and responded with:

  • Fear – He recognized his depraved state and saw that he deserved punishment.
  • Faith – He believed God’s promise that he had been pardoned, not by anything he had done to earn it, but by the grace extended to him by God through the altar of sacrifice.
  • Repentance – Gratitude gripped him and he no longer wanted to live for himself, but rather for the Almighty God who had chosen to extend His mercy and save him.

All three responses ushered Isaiah into God’s grace. Jesus extends the same grace to us by His sacrifice on the cross. Like Isaiah, we must believe in its power to receive it, but we can’t fully apprehend God’s grace without first possessing a proper, reverent fear.

Did the fear of the Lord mark the start of your journey? Do you hold an accurate view of God's greatness? Of His holiness? I hope so. Without it, you won’t truly repent, and without repentance, you miss salvation.

Yet the beauty of fearing God is found within this truth: Once we have a proper view of God and receive His grace by faith in sincere repentance, we need never fear anything else. We become His, sealed and tucked under the shelter of His wing. And all His awesome, terrible might no longer stands opposed to us. He exerts it for us.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of . . . Well, everything.

God Shows Himself Strong

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. 2 Chronicles 16:9 NIV 1984

I was at my wit’s end.

Of course, in those days, it didn’t take much to get me there. I had two little boys under the age of three and a husband who was rarely home.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you know you just can’t take one more minute? Your circumstances have spun out of control and your emotions are spinning right along with them. In that moment you realize you’re capable of just about anything. Desperation has a way of blurring once clear lines between right and wrong.

This particular night, the boys and I had made it to the end of a very long day. The baby finally slept upstairs, settled in for his last nap of the day before his final feeding and, God-willing, a decent stretch of sleep through the night.  All that remained was to tuck in my two-year-old, and I would have about 20 minutes of peaceful time to myself before my husband came home and wanted my attention.

My son decided he didn’t agree with the plan.

Instead of joining Mommy for sweet stories and prayers in idyllic bedtime ritual, my oldest decided he would pitch a fit—a LOUD fit, complete with kicking and screaming.

Trying to avoid my own angry outburst, I proceeded to reason with my two-year-old. Oddly, he wouldn’t see reason.

My patience waning, my stern voice threatened him with spankings and various other punishments. On he screamed, defiantly pushing me away with flailing wails.

Then suddenly another sound erupted above my head. The baby’s cries now pierced the silence upstairs, competing with his brother to be heard and satisfied.

Anger erupted out of me in a violent wave. I screamed at my son and grabbed him, ready to punish him. I looked at the little boy in front of me, not seeing my beloved firstborn. Instead I saw the cause of all the chaos, and something rose within me that wanted him to pay.  

Anger has a way of bringing out the worst in us.

Thank heaven something else rose up that was even more powerful.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 1 John 4:4

Stopping mid-stride, I set my screaming child down in a chair and collapsed to my knees, sobbing. I buried my face in my arms on the edge of the chair and began to cry out to my God. It was the first time I had ever stopped to pray right in the middle of a difficult situation.

I cried out desperately for His help, begging for His intervention. I confessed how tired I was and acknowledged I was at the end of my rope. I thanked Him for my children and told Him I didn’t want to hurt either one of them. I had glimpsed the depravity of my flesh and knew I needed something greater than me.

I don’t know how long I prayed. Eventually the words ceased but the sobs remained.

Finally, I began to pull myself together, my motherly instinct reminding me I still had two little boys to care for. As I lifted my head to face my son, realization dawned. The atmosphere in the room had changed. Silence greeted me.

My eyes met my son’s. He sat perfectly still, staring at me with wide eyes. I listened upstairs. Nothing.

My God had quieted the screams of both my babies without a single touch from their mother.

I lifted my son off the chair and hugged him to me. He slipped his little arms around my neck, and I carried him upstairs to bed. After sweet prayers and bedtime kisses, I tucked him in and checked on the baby. I found him sleeping peacefully.

I returned downstairs, dumbfounded. It shocked me to see such evidence of God’s mighty hand in something that seemed trivial in the scheme of things. Crying babies?

But God delights to show Himself strong to those who give Him the opportunity.

For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. 2 Chronicles 16:9 NKJV

I’ve learned to expect God to move on my behalf. You see, Scripture reveals God on the edge of His seat, combing the earth, searching out vessels for whom He can demonstrate His strength.

Dear one, will you turn your heart toward Him and allow His eyes to rest on you?