Saturday, February 28, 2009

Is the Fear of the Lord for Christians?

The Fear of the Lord

Image by Will Humes via Flickr

Someone on a forum recently posted the question, “Isn’t the fear of the Lord only for unbelievers? Why would a believer fear the Lord?”

That’s an excellent question, and it prompted me to write a fairly in-depth response. I figured I might as well share it here, too.


Oh yes, the Fear of the Lord is for believers especially! There are such curses pronounced on those who have no fear of God, and conversely, such blessings given to those who DO fear Him, that there can be no question it's for those who believe. One of the main condemnations of the wicked is, "There is no fear of God before his eyes." (Ps. 36:1)

But there's a difference between the biblical "Fear of the Lord," and what most people think of as "fear." As I have taught my children, most things that we fear, we fear because they are bad or evil. But that's not the case with the fear of the Lord. We fear the Lord because He is good, and we are evil.

Also, with ungodly fear, the response is to run away. But with the godly fear of the Lord, the response is a humble repentance and the desire to draw closer to this mighty God. That’s because His perfect goodness is part of the perfection which so amazes and dismays our evil selves. "They shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days" (Hos. 3:5). His perfection makes us see our imperfection clearly. The unbeliever will cover his eyes in hatred of that which interferes with his self-worship, and he will turn his back and walk away. But the believer will ask to be cleansed of that sin so he can enjoy God's wonderful perfections for himself.

How do we know this? Because of one of the oddest-sounding verses in the Bible. "If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared" (Psa 130:3-4).

How does His forgiveness make us able to fear Him? By making us able to stand before His magnificent perfection without covering our eyes, turning our backs, running away, and either hating Him or pretending He doesn't exist!

I had a very personal encounter with God in which my spirit was opened to perceive something of His holiness. I felt the fear of the Lord, and knew that I deserved to be destroyed by Him. And yet, I felt calmed and quieted in the midst of that. It was as if I could see my filthy soul in His holy hands, and my thought was, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." I could perceive more than just His holiness. I perceived His omnipotence, and His mercy, and His love. And so, while I felt the fear of the Lord, I was drawn to Him. I did not wish to run away. My feeling was, "It's entirely up to You. I cannot save myself. If You destroyed me, I could not curse You for it, because You would be just in doing so. I await Your mercy, if You choose to give it."

And He gave it. He saved me, and it was an amazing thing. A humbling thing. That was the point at which everything in my life started to change.

First and foremost is the honor that I feel toward God. I am so grateful to know the fear of the Lord, even though I know it so imperfectly. It makes His mercy and grace so much richer and more meaningful...never something to be taken for granted (as so much of modern flippant Christianity does.)

It has been my experience that the fear of the Lord makes my love for Him richer and deeper.

Here is a quick study of some of the benefits and blessings promised to those who know the fear of the Lord, or that show how things like "rejoicing" and "intimacy with God" and the fear of the Lord go hand-in-hand (Just hover your mouse over the references to see the verses pop up):

Deut. 5:29

Deut. 6:24

Ps. 2:11

Ps. 25:12, Ps. 25:14

Ps. 31:19 (notice how fear and trust are combined in here!) Same with Ps. 115:11

Ps. 33:18 (fear and hope in mercy! Exactly what happened to me when I was converted!)

Ps. 34:7

Ps. 86:11 (fear of the Lord is something to desire and pray for!)

Ps. 103:11, Ps. 103:13, Ps. 103:17

Ps. 111:10

Ps. 112:1

Pr. 14:2, Pr. 14:26-27

Pr. 15:16, Pr. 15:33

Pr. 19:23

Pr. 22:4

Ec. 8:12

Ec. 12:13

Isa. 11:3 (delighting in the fear of the Lord! Wouldn't have made sense to me until I experienced it.)

Mal. 3:16-17

Mal. 4:2

Luke 1:50

Acts 9:31 (fear of the Lord goes along with peace, edification, and comfort!)

And here's some proof that the Fear of the Lord is still commanded in New Testament times:

2Co. 7:1

Eph. 5:21

Col. 3:22

Heb. 12:28

1 Pet. 1:17

1 Pet. 2:17

1 Pet. 3:15

I have a long way to grow in the fear of the Lord, but I'm grateful for what I do know of it, and I want more. It sounds counter-intuitive, but there really is joy and peace and comfort and strength in it. And just as a diamond shines best in front of a jeweller's black cloth, so God's mercy and grace shine more beautifully to those who fear Him.

For more insights into the wonderful complementary nature of the goodness and severity of God (Rom. 11:22), see “I Feel So Much Closer to God…”

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Friday, February 27, 2009

When Answers Aren’t Enough

Bilinska: "Joseph sold by his brothers"

Image via Wikipedia




I ended a recent post about my back problems with the following thought:



The fact is, being God-centered is the only way to have a good answer for the people who ask me, "Aren't you so angry with the people who failed you?  If people had recognized the seriousness of the situation sooner and gotten you help earlier, you could have been spared a lifetime of pain and disfigurement! And what about the people who said those cruel things? How could you not be bitter against them?"

On a personal note, I struggle a lot with bitterness.  The whole thing with my back doesn’t cause me any bitterness, and perhaps that’s why I feel safe talking about it here.  But please don’t read this entry with the idea that I’ve mastered the truths here.  I believe them with all my head, but they’re still working their way into my heart.  And sometimes that’s a dreadfully slow process.

How does God-centeredness help us avoid bitterness?

First, God-centeredness sinks its roots deeply into God’s sovereignty, or His total control.  When others injure us, either unintentionally (as with what happened with my back), or even intentionally, a God-centered faith accepts the trial as something lovingly appointed by God for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28).  The biblical patriarch Joseph understood this truth very well.  His brothers tricked him, betrayed him, sold him into slavery, and deceived his father into believing him dead, causing many years of anguish.  After being reunited with his family, and after their father’s death, Joseph’s brothers became terrified that he would seek revenge against them.  But Joseph had this to say to them:

Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?  You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.  Gen 50:19-20

We could avoid a great deal of inner turmoil if we clearly understood Who is in the place of God.  Human nature being what it is, we don’t naturally assign God’s place to Him.  We imagine ourselves there, and/or the idols we prefer.  And, when something happens to us that’s beyond our control, it’s easy to believe that the responsibility all lies with another human being (against whom we’ll now feel bitter).  It takes a transformed, God-centered heart to acknowledge and take comfort in Jehovah God’s sovereign control, and to be freed to forgive because of it.

Listen to Joseph’s faith.  God meant it for good, so I feel no need for revenge.  God’s goodness more than compensated for man’s evil.

Sounds like the Gospel, doesn’t it? 

We who claim the Gospel for our own salvation must always remember to apply its power in the way we forgive others.  Is God enough?  Does His forgiveness cover the sins of others who are willing to receive it, or does it just cover our own?  Do His justice and wrath sufficiently punish those who do not receive His forgiveness, or do we need to add our own?  Who is in God’s place?

And if we say we believe that God is in charge, then how can we refuse His command to forgive?

It’s a powerful perspective.  But somehow, though, it’s easier to apply the comforting balm of truth to past offenses than to ongoing ones.  Childhood tormenters who no longer hurt us are much easier to forgive than those who rub us the wrong way now.  When the pain is ongoing, and there’s no end in sight, the truth of God’s sovereignty can begin to feel like dry theology, more meaningful in a dusty tome than in the gristmill of our lives. 

The preciousness of God’s sovereignty never really deteriorates, but our ability to appreciate it certainly can.

Is there something more from God that can comfort us, that can keep us from gnawing ourselves alive with bitter thoughts?

We certainly think we know what we need.  First, relief…but if that’s not coming, then at the very least (we believe), God owes us an explanation.

Like Job, we begin to demand answers for our suffering...answers from the God we know could give us relief any time He wanted to. 

Heaven remains silent in the face of our cries.  No neon signs drop down from the clouds to explain it all.  No new chapters appear in the Bible just for our benefit.  Without answers, we begin to grow angry and dissatisfied, subtly or openly accusing God of doing wrong.

Surely if He actually had a good reason, He’d let me know what it was!

Our bitterness against God only compounds our bitterness against others, making forgiveness impossible.

If God won’t give us answers, then what’s left?  What can He possibly give us to soothe our pain?

Years ago there was a popular song on Christian radio called, “When Answers Aren’t Enough.”  I never really learned the lyrics, but one line stood out for me.

“When answers aren’t enough, there’s Jesus.”

I didn’t like that song very much.

What’s that supposed to mean, anyway

I wouldn’t have dared to put it into words, but in my heart of hearts I believed, “I don’t need Jesus, I need answers!”

We feeble humans get everything backwards, don’t we?

Perhaps God will bless you with an answer to your woes, but what if He doesn’t?  What if, instead of telling you anything, He shrouds your suffering in secrecy for the sole reason of bringing you closer to Himself, in a richer and more intimate way than a mere “answer” could ever do? 

The song had it right.  When answers aren’t enough, there is Jesus…and He really is all that we need!

Do you believe that?

If you have been pounding on the gates of Heaven demanding answers, please know that I empathize with your desire…but I also know that at worst you’ll only get bruised knuckles, and at best you’ll only get an answer.  Don’t settle for either of those.  Unclench those angry fists and hold your empty hands up in prayer, asking God to give you more of Himself, through His son Jesus, by His Holy Spirit.  Ask Him to help you hunger and thirst for Him.  Dig into His word.  Seek Him, suffering one. 

As one who knows suffering…and who, by God’s incredible grace, is coming to know my Lord Jesus more…I can promise you that there is more to Him than you know.  There is more to Him than I know.  And what little I know of Him is sweet, rich, deep, majestic, awe-inspiring, and holy.

What mere “answer” can be all of those things?

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Rom 5:3-5

Take a moment to relish the thought of how easily you and I can forgive one another, bear with one another, even love one another, if we allow God to use our sorrows to produce hopeful hearts that overflow with the love of God.

A truly God-centered heart finds all that it needs in Him.  It does not attach itself like a leech to other mere mortals, so it can’t be left hungry by their inadequate supply.  Feasting on the all-sufficient Savior, the heart does not detach itself from other humans.  Instead, it is free to forgive others for failing, free to love without demanding, free to give without fear of being drained dry.

Can I really be angry with you for failing to bring me a bucket of sand when I stand on the shore of the ocean?  Of course not!  In fact, I can gladly give you all the sand you lack.

In the same way, the God-centered Christian can forgive as he is forgiven, can love because of the endless supply given to him, can be at peace in the Savior even when others cause him real grief.

I don’t live on that ocean shore all the time.  In fact, I’ve spent most of my life in a self-centered wasteland.  But I’ve visited God’s abundant storehouse enough to know that I want to live there every moment.  I want to dig into its endless supplies so that I have an abundance to give to others.  Because underneath all of that “sand” is The Solid Rock, and He’s the one I’m learning to build my life upon.

How have you dealt with bitterness?  Have you considered the need for God-centeredness in the struggle to forgive?  How has He helped you?  I’d love to hear from you on this subject. 


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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love and Self-Denial

I haven't been able to write the follow-up for the previous post on fact, I haven't been able to write much of anything at all. Writer’s block happens. But I couldn’t let Valentine’s Day go by without posting something with a God-centered love theme. As usual, I found good stuff to chew on from G. H. Morrison this morning, and I wanted to share it with you. (All emphasis added by me. Some content edited out because of length.)


Bring an offering, and come into his courts. Ps. 96:8

Heart Cross by ba1969

During worship there are certain demands made of every worshipper. There are certain elements which must be present if the worship is to be in spirit and in truth. There is, for instance, the attitude of thanksgiving for the goodness of God to us from day to day. There is the sense of spiritual need and the knowledge that none but God can meet that need. There is the sense of indebtedness to Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us, in whose death is our only hope and in whose Spirit is our only strength. All these attitudes must meet and mingle if our worship is to be really worship. Without them, a man may come to church and go away no better than he came.

But there is another attitude, not less important yet which is very frequently ignored, and that is the attitude of self-sacrifice. We all know that worship calls for praise, but we must remember it also calls for self-denial.

Love Offerings

To begin with, that element of sacrifice is seen in the matter of the money offerings. "Bring an offering, and come into his courts." No Jew came to his worship empty-handed. To give of his means was part of his devotions. Of the thirteen boxes in the Temple treasury, four were for the free-will offerings of the people. And this fine spirit of ancient worship passed over into the worship of the Church and was enormously deepened and intensified by the new thought of the sacrifice of Christ. "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift"—that was the mainspring of Christian liberality. It was the glowing thought of all that Christ had given which motivated the poorest to be givers too.

Now while all such offerings were acceptable to God and while all brought a blessing to the giver, yet from earliest times it was felt by spiritual men that the true offertory must touch on self-denial. You remember the abhorrence of King David against offering to God that which had cost him nothing. And we have read of Jesus Christ and of His opinion of the widow's mite and of all the riches that He found in that because there was self-denial in her giving. Brethren, that is the mark of Christian giving. It reaches over into self-denial. I do not think we give in the spirit of Jesus until like Him we touch on self-denial, until His love constrains us to some sacrifice as it constrained Him to the sacrifice of all.

Let us then seriously ask ourselves—have we been giving to the point of sacrifice? Have we ever denied ourselves of anything that we might bring an offering and come into His courts? It is only thus that giving is a joy, only thus it brings us nearer Christ, only thus is it a means of grace as spiritual and as strengthening as prayer.

The Truest Offering Is in the Heart

Think in the first place of the case of David, a man who had been trained in ritual worship. You may be sure that from his earliest years he had never worshipped with that which cost him nothing. He had brought his offering, and he had paid for it, and he had denied himself that he might pay for it. The God whom he had found when he was shepherding was not a God to be worshipped cheaply. And then there came his kingship and his fall and the terrible havoc of his kingly character, and David found that all the blood of goats could not make him a true worshipper again. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit—a broken and a contrite heart. Let him give his kingdom for an offering, and he would not be an acceptable worshipper. He must give himself—he must deny his lusts—he must lay aside his pride and be repentant, or all his worship would be mockery and the sanctuary a barren place for him.

Christ's Teaching on Sacrifice

Now turn to David's greater Son, and listen to the words of Christ Himself. He is speaking in the Sermon on the Mount about bringing the offering to the altar: "Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way. First be reconciled to thy brother and then come and offer thy gift." Now note that Jesus is talking about worship. His theme is not the patching up of quarrels. He is teaching us what attitudes are needed if we are to worship God in spirit and in truth. And not only does He insist on giving—He takes that, we may say, for granted—but He insists that at the back of every gift there should be the self-denial of the heart. It is far easier to give up a coin than it is to give up a quarrel. It is easier to lay down a generous offering than to lay down a long-continued grudge. And Jesus Christ insists that if worship is to be acceptable to God, the worshipper must lay aside his pride and humble himself as a little child. That is not easy—it never can be easy. That is far from natural to man. It is hard to do and bitter and opposed to natural inclination. And it calls for patience and interior sacrifice and prayerful, if secret, self-denial; and only thus, according to the Master, can one hope to be an acceptable worshipper.

Who, then, is sufficient for these things? That is just what I want to impress upon you, that worship is not easy; it is hard. It is not just a comfortable hour on Sunday with beautiful music and a fluent preacher; it is an attitude of heart and soul that is impossible without self-denial. I thank God that in the purest worship there is little demand upon the intellect. The humblest saint who cannot write a word may experience all the blessings of the service. But there is a demand upon the soul; there is a call to sacrifice and cross-bearing, for the road to church is like the road to heaven—it lies past the shadow of the cross.

Worship and Fellowship

In public worship we are not simply hearers; we are a fellowship of Christian people. You may go to a lecture just to hear the lecturer or to the theater just to see a play. It doesn't matter who is there beside you. Not one of them would do a hand's turn for you or seek to help you if you were in difficulty or visit you if you were sick. At the theater there is an audience, but not so in the church. In any sanctuary that is blessed by the presence of the Lord, it is a fellowship of men and women bound together by their common faith and loving one another in Christ Jesus.

Now, in every fellowship must not there be a certain element of sacrifice? Isn't it so in the home, if home is to be more than a mockery? And it must also be so in the fellowship of worship… a constant willingness to forgo a little for the sake of others for whom Christ has died. The young have their rights, but they should not insist on them when they know it would vex and irritate the old. The old have their claims, but for the sake of the young, they will accept what may not appeal to them. And when a hymn is sung or the word is preached which seems to have no message for one worshipper, that worshipper will always bear in mind that for someone else that is the word in season. All that is of the essence of true worship and calls for a little sacrifice. A happy home is impossible without it, and so also a happy congregation. A tender regard for others by our side, with the denial that is involved in that, is an integral part of public worship.

Our Approach to God

The same truth is still more evident when we think of worship as our approach to God by the new and living way of Jesus Christ. Now it is true that we were made for God and that in Him we live and move and have our being. Yet such is the immersion in the world even of the most prayerful and most watchful that the approach to God with the whole heart demands a concentrated effort. Of course, we may come to church and be in church and never know the reality of worship. We may think our thoughts and dream our dreams and in spirit be a thousand miles away. But to quietly reject intruding thoughts and give ourselves to prayer and praise and reading is not always easy, and for some it is incredibly hard. If there were anything to rivet our attention, that would make all the difference in the world. In a theater we can forget ourselves, absorbed in the excitement of the play. But the church of the living God is not a theater, and in the day when it becomes theatrical, in that day its worship will be gone. If we want to wander, we can always wander. There is nothing here to rivet our attention. There are only a few hymns and a quiet prayer and the simple reading and expounding of Scripture. And it is for each one of us to make the needed effort and shut the gates and withdraw ourselves, and through that very effort comes the blessedness of the public worship of God in Jesus Christ. It is thus that worship becomes a heavenly feast—when we discipline our will to it. It is thus that worship becomes a means of grace in a hard-driven and hectic week. If it is to be a blessing, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross; we must bring an offering of sacrifice and come into His courts.

G.H. Morrison


On this day when we celebrate love, let’s remember to love our Lord as He deserves. Then love for others will naturally overflow.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

“She’ll Straighten Up When She Notices Boys.”

The vertebral column seen from the side

My back hurts.

That's nothing new. It began when I was quite young. I grew tall rather quickly compared to my peers, and my muscles had difficulty stretching enough to accommodate all of that bone growth (at least that was the theory back in those days. Now they're blaming abnormally tight ligaments). Whatever it was, it kept pulling downward against my spine's attempts to grow upwards. This forced my back to hunch forward, and my back became increasingly deformed with every passing year. (Spine image via Wikipedia)

An orthopedic specialist could have explained these things to us, but I didn’t see a specialist. My chiropractor told me to do extremely painful stretching exercises which made only a minute and temporary difference. My problem, in his view, was just a lazy habit. As for my pediatrician…his sage advice was just to wait because, “She’ll straighten up when she notices boys.”

The pain quickly became debilitating. I no longer chose to be as active as I once was.

Children began to tease me, calling me "hunchback." It didn't happen a lot, but when it happened, it hurt.

What hurt more was when well-meaning, worried adults would say things like:

"You need to stand straighter, or you'll never attract boys."

"You probably do that because you're shy. Just stand straight!"

"Is it because you're afraid to have boys look at you? Is that why you hunch forward, to try to hide your figure?" (Actually they wouldn't usually say that one to my face. They would just state their opinions to others when I was within earshot.)

I got the message loud and clear. My hunched back wasn't a physical problem, it was a character defect. There was something wrong with the inner "me," something flawed in the character of Betsy that made my shoulders round. My badness made me crooked, and my crookedness made me bad.

I tried not to complain about the physical pain. I knew I was supposed to be brave and cheerful in public. But as the years passed I felt more and more like I was on fire. Eventually I could find no comfort.

The closest thing I could find to relief was when I would sit cross-legged on the floor and lace my fingers behind my head. I would ask my mother to put her knee between my shoulder blades and pull backwards on my elbows. For those few blessed moments, the inferno would mellow.

Back problems were the norm in my family. We all had them to one degree or another.

Sometimes familiarity makes it hard to see just how serious things are.

Years passed. The pain did not.


Finally, when I was sixteen, I went to see an orthopedic specialist. He took X-rays, and the pictures he got were not pretty.

Wedge-shaped vertebrae.

Years of downward pulling had done more than create a habitual slouch. Jammed together in a forward curve, my vertebrae weren't free to grow in the front like they did in the back. So they stacked up like wedges, not square blocks. There's a name for it: Scheuermann's Kyphosis. kyphosis

Of course the person with "hunchback" still needs to look ahead of herself, not down at the floor. So her neck becomes misshapen in an attempt to compensate for what her back is doing. She develops what's called "Ewe Neck," a concave neck.

Whatever you call these conditions, they hurt.

The doctor didn't look very hopeful. "She's already been in puberty for two years, so her bones may not have much more growth left in them. But we still need to try the one option that might help her."

Before long I found myself encased in plaster from waist to hip. This plaster casting was turned into a plastic girdle, from which grew three metal buttresses (one in the front, and two in the back). These three all joined at a ring which went around my neck. It looked very much like the one in this picture, only less modern.

Photo from

I wore my "Milwaukee Brace" for a year. 23 hours a day. To school. To church. To bed. Out to play in the neighborhood.
Betsy, May 1979

Betsy, May 1979

While the brace forced my spine into a straighter position, the front of the bones had an opportunity to grow in. Unfortunately, nobody knew if my bones would actually grow because of my age.

At the end of the year the orthopedist took more X-Rays and determined that they had taken almost 20 degrees off of my spinal curvature. He also determined that my bones were now through growing, so there was no point in wearing the brace anymore. In fact, he told us that there had been no bone growth anywhere in my body except in those vertebrae. He said he couldn't explain why the vertebrae grew when nothing else did. We replied that people had been praying, and he very quickly left the room.

There was a definite improvement, but my back will never be right. I don't have many pictures of myself in profile view (I don't LIKE profile shots, for obvious reasons). But I did find this one from 1983.

The pain continues; sometimes mild, sometimes like a burning hot poker. And of course I don't "look right." The 25 years that have passed since that photo was taken haven't improved things a bit, I'm afraid.

Ok, so why am I focusing so much blog attention onto myself? This is supposed to be a "God-centered" blog, not a "me-centered" one, right?

The fact is, being God-centered is the only way to have a good answer for the people who ask me, "Aren't you so angry with the people who failed you? If people had recognized the seriousness of the situation sooner and gotten you help earlier, you could have been spared a lifetime of pain and disfigurement! And what about the people who said those cruel things? How could you not be bitter against them?"

I'll address that in the next entry (which will also be my contribution to the latest CafĂ© Chat meme), but now it's your turn. Leave a comment to talk about your struggles with bitterness, and/or your victories over it. (If you write something that’s too long for a comment, feel free to leave a short comment with a link to whatever you wrote.) I look forward to hearing from you!

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Friday, February 6, 2009

An Atypical Post

I’ve had several people “tag” me (as in saying, “Tag, you’re IT) to participate in a meme called “25 Random Things About Me.” 

I have mixed feelings about doing this, since it’s such a departure from what I normally write.  But this might be a good time to do it, because I just had to take care of some blog-related housekeeping which might affect my outgoing feeds (don’t worry if you don’t know what that means).  The point is, if there’s ever a good time for lighter fare, this might be it.  On the other hand, I don’t want to disappoint those of you who come here looking for something to really chew on.

So here’s a compromise.  I’ll start out by posting links that might be of interest to those who haven’t been with my blog from the beginning.  You know…links to earlier posts you might not have seen.  That way I’ll sort-of get some of the weightier stuff in there, and then I’ll plunge into the lighthearted stuff.  How’s that?

If you’re interested in the topic of false assurance versus the true faith that brings salvation, please check out the series that begins with “Hard Words for Hard Times.”  That introductory entry doesn’t give the full picture of all that the series entails, so if it doesn’t sound like it’s going to be on the topic of false assurance, go ahead and read on anyway.

If you struggle with any difficult or unclear passages in the Bible, you might enjoy seeing some entries that try to work through troublesome texts.  If you click on that link, you will go to a page with all entries on that topic in reverse chronological order, with more than one entry on the page.  Just keep scrolling down.

Click on the following link If you wonder what the Bible really has to say about self-esteem (Part 1 of a series).

If you enjoy fiction, you might like Friday Fiction entries, and if you enjoy poetry/free verse, you can find some of that here.  These two links will also give you access to multiple entries on a single page, requiring you to scroll down to see them all.

There.  Now I feel better.  On to:

25 random things about me.

(I won’t repeat anything that was mentioned in my autobiographical entry.)

  1. I love American Sign Language.  Sometimes I talk to myself in it, since I don’t know many people that I can converse with in that most beautiful language.
  2. I wrote a Christian novel, a suspenseful crime drama called, “Dying for Answers.”
  3. Unfortunately, “Dying for Answers” is out of print, because its publisher turned out to be a less-than-scrupulous operation.  So I’m not exactly a published novelist.  Sigh.
  4. I had a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day, 2004.  It was less than a month after my 40th birthday.  No, I’m not overweight, and I’ve never smoked anything in my life.  But I DO have a family history of heart trouble (and a fair amount of stress…)
  5. I have Scheuermann’s Kyphosis, which caused me to develop a bad “hunchback” while quite young.  I actually do plan to post something about that sometime.
  6. “Betsy” is just my nickname.  My real name is Elizabeth.
  7. I like to make faces in convex mirrors.
  8. I hardly watch TV at all anymore.
  9. I’m really into Bible Prophecy.  One of my favorite websites is Fulfilled Prophecy.
  10. My musical tastes pretty much stalled in the 1980’s.
  11. I named my cat “Duma” because he’s a rather exotic-looking spotted cat (an Ocicat), and I thought he should have an exotic name.  “Duma” is Swahili for “Cheetah.” Duma August 04
  12. If God were to give me a miraculous talent, I’d like it to be the ability to converse fluently in every language on earth.
  13. I believe that there’s a good reason why “math” is a 4-letter word.
  14. I have absolutely no talent for decorating.
  15. I love to listen to a good, thick Scottish accent.
  16. I love “Pride and Prejudice” (The Colin Firth version)
    Pride and Prejudice

    Image by elycefeliz via Flickr

    and “Emma” (the Gwyneth Paltrow version).

    Cover of Emma (1996)

    Cover of
  17. I take a rather guilty pleasure in enjoying “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
  18. I have very poor visuo-spatial skills.  I can’t remember where things are in town, even though I’ve lived here for years (except for places that I visit a lot, like church and Wal-Mart).  I’m terrible at remembering what things look like, even things that I see every day.  My sense of direction is so poor that I could get lost inside of a paper bag.
  19. I can’t stand seafood.  The sight of a dead fish is more sickening to me than just about anything.  Seriously.  I’ve had the privilege of standing right next to a surgeon and observing surgical procedures (one hemi-laryngectomy and one total laryngectomy with radical neck dissection) without feeling sickened at all, but please don’t show me a dead fish.
  20. I was on the TV show “Romper Room” in 1970.  I’m the second from the left.  (Unlike the way “Romper Room” is described in the above link, the WLCY program only kept the same children for a week, so my TV career was quite short.)Betsy on Romper Room
  21. When I was a child I loved the original “Batman,” the original “Star Trek,” “Adam-12” (the police show), “Lost in Space,” and many more. 
  22. I’m a recovering Diet Mountain Dew–aholic.
  23. I love my Buxton Organizer purse.
  24. I like to put sweet pickle relish in my grilled cheese sandwiches.
  25. This last one isn’t really about me, exactly, but looking at old family photos made me think about this.  My mother was once photographed by the famous Tana Hoban, for an advertisement which appeared in Time Magazine, December 5th, 1949.  Such a pretty girl!Christie English Time Magazine resized

And so ends my list.  I enjoyed making this more than I thought I would, and it took a lot longer than I imagined.  I hope you enjoyed it as well.

I know I’m supposed to “tag” specific people to carry on the game, but I don’t want to put anyone on the spot.  So this is a general tagging of anyone out there who’d like to do this.  Why not make your own list of 25 things about yourself?  It’s fun!

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Why A Sabbath?

Moses with the Tablets, 1659, by Rembrandt.

Image via Wikipedia

Why did God command the keeping of the Sabbath?

Now, before you protest that this question doesn’t matter because we’re no longer under the law, let me assure you that I have no intention of preaching legalism here. But remember also that the commandment to “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy” is part of God’s Moral Law, part of the Ten Commandments, and not part of the specifically Jewish Ceremonial Law. If “Thou shalt not murder” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery” apply to everyone, then isn’t there at least a sense in which “Remember the Sabbath” applies to everyone as well?

No legalism, please. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. God came up with the Sabbath for a reason.

What was it?

Of course the Sabbath teaches that man should rest regularly from his labors. That’s a given. And the writer of Hebrews speaks eloquently of the symbolism of the Sabbath, and how it relates to the rest that remains for the people of God. That’s a wonderful truth.

But what reason did God give when he commanded us to “keep it holy”?

For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
Exo 20:11

Keep it holy, rest on that day…because that’s what God did.

Now, if you’re like me, your mind will balk. “But God didn’t get tired, so He didn’t need to rest. Clearly He rested to set us an example, right? But why did He have to do that? People will naturally rest, after all. Why should it be commanded? And why would God go through the show of resting Himself, when He didn’t need to?”

Take a look, if you will, at Exodus 20:2-17, and see if anything special about the Sabbath commandment jumps out at you. Do you see it?

It’s the only commandment for which God explains His reasoning. And He doesn’t just do it here. It’s reiterated throughout the Old Testament. Clearly, the reason is very important.

Rest, because God rested.

The Ten Commandments begin with God introducing Himself (Exo. 20:2). Then comes the commandment that tells us He is supreme. There are to be no other gods before Him (Exo. 20:3). Then He tells us that we are also to have no “lesser gods,” nor are we to make any idols to represent Him (Exo. 20:4-5). Then He tells us that even His Name is to be treated as holy (Exo. 20:7). And then, before all the commandments about how we’re to treat our parents and our neighbor, He inserts this commandment with its explanation.

Work six days, and rest the seventh, because that’s what I, your God, did.

The law is not arbitrary. As Del Tackett so clearly points out in The Truth Project, God didn’t flip a coin to decide whether stealing, murder, or adultery should be considered right or wrong. Things are right or wrong based on their conformity with God’s own nature, with His character. Lying, stealing, etc are wrong because they are opposed to the very character of God. That’s why Jesus could say, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). If you love Me, you’ll want to be like Me. You’ll take your cues from Me. You’ll want to do what I do.

I believe that this is at the heart of the Sabbath commandment.

Rest, because I rested. Have that kind of heart…the kind that looks for life in Me, that yearns to imitate Me. Have a heart that longs to beat with a rhythm that matches My own. Do that because you love Me (Eph. 5:1).

Every human understands that murder, stealing, lying, and adultery are wrong…at least if they are the victims of those wrongs. It would be easy to take this moral law, which God has written on every human heart, and redefine it as primarily a man-centered thing. The most important thing is to do right by your neighbor.

And Jesus affirmed the importance of doing right by your neighbor as the fulfillment of the law (Matt. 22:37-40). But loving your neighbor, as important as it is, was only the second most important thing He listed in this passage. He said that the law and the prophets hung on two commandments. What was the first?

Jesus said to him, 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the first and great commandment.
Mat 22:37-38

Do you see the connection?

  • Love God with everything you are.
  • Rest because He rested.
  • In other words, love Him and do like He does.

The meaning fairly screams from the pages if we have eyes to see it. If you love Me, you’ll want to be like Me! That’s what the law of the Sabbath tells us. This is what makes God’s moral law different from any other legal codes made by man. It does good for its neighbor’s sake, and it does good, first and foremost, because of love for God, and to bring glory to God.

So why don’t Christians observe the Sabbath any more?

Well, the fact is that some do…and I’m not referring to legalists. There are those who find joy in expressing love to God in the formal observation of a Sabbath day. They’re not putting themselves back under the law. They just enjoy the beauty of devoting one whole day per week to the worship and service of God. Far be it from any of us to protest against that, even though we would rightly protest against a legalistic Sabbath observance.

Students of the Bible will expect me to refer to Romans 14 next. And they would be right. Paul deals with such things as Sabbath observances for Christians in this chapter, and one of the most misused verses in that chapter is this one.

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.
Rom 14:5

Many Christians look at that verse and say, “See, we don’t have to observe the Sabbath any more,” and they leave it at that. But to stop there is to ignore the very reason why we no longer have to have a special day set aside. It’s found in the very next verse.

He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.
Rom 14:6

Paul makes a hugely important point here. We are not released from the Sabbath because God no longer wants our devotion. We are released from having a Sabbath Day because our whole life is to be a Sabbath! We are free to “not observe the day,” only if we are doing so “to the Lord.” When verse 5 says “another esteems every day alike,” Paul wasn’t saying, “It’s ok to think of every day as secular and godless.” Heaven forbid! He’s saying that we should consider every day “Holy to the Lord,” whether it’s a working day or a resting day. Every day should be marked by the restfulness of trusting souls which have ceased from legalism, from worldly fretting, from the materialistic rat race, and from all forms of self-focus. Every day should find God-centered Christians resting in Him and seeking to conform their lives to Him; Christians who long to be like Him and do what He does because they love Him.

For thus says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel: "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength."
Isa 30:15

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Monday, February 2, 2009

The God Who Weeps

Monday Manna

Asian Autumn 3 by Mart1n, cropped

Jesus wept.

This is holy ground.

My analytical mind doesn’t dare to tread here. I could ruin the whole subject. Doctrine is great, and it has its vital place, but not here. Not now.

Jesus wept.

Don’t over-analyze. Just look. Listen. Drink it in.

There were others there outside of town, where Martha first met up with Jesus. He hadn’t yet gone to the tomb.

There were people milling about on their daily errands; people who knew Lazarus, and perhaps people who did not. People with thoughts and opinions, with doubts and questions which they did not keep to themselves. There was the normal babble of life, and there was the mourning of death.

And yet, when I picture the scene, a holy hush falls on my imagination.

Jesus wept.

I’ve been to funerals and tried very hard not to cry. Trying to maintain dignity? Unwilling to get emotionally involved to that degree? I don’t know.

Jesus wept.

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve often belittled other people’s tears because, in my mind, their sorrows can’t compare with mine. Or else I fear that their pain, coupled with my own, would be too overwhelming to risk. So I keep my distance.

Shame on me. Oh, shame on me!

Jesus wept.

He knew how soon He would bring joy to replace their sorrows. Yet their sorrows still touched Him.

He knew that all of those around Him would finish their vaporous lives in no time, rendering today’s relief cruelly temporary.

He knew that his upcoming miracle would cause the Pharisees to plot against Him, and would cause Caiaphas to prophecy His sacrificial death.

He knew that His crucifixion would be more agonizing than anything Lazarus had suffered. And He knew that His physical pain would be eclipsed by a spiritual torture that no human could ever fathom.

He could easily have thrown His head back and shouted for all the world to hear, “What are you making all of this fuss about? Don’t you know how little any of this matters in the light of eternity? You wanna know what suffering is? Just listen to what I’m about to go through!”

I might have done that. At least, I would have thought it.

Jesus wept.

The Lord of Eternity felt the pain of the moment. It distilled in his eyes and spilled onto his cheeks…cheeks that would soon be slapped and plucked by cruel hands.

And this same Lord, through the Apostle Paul, tells me to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15).

Oh Lord, please forgive my dry cheeks!

For most of my life I hid my tears, even from my family, because I saw them as weakness. And I feared letting them fall even when I was alone, because I was afraid that opening the well of my sorrows might cause an outpouring that could never stop. If the dam broke, there would be no putting me back together again.

God has healed me of that fear, but old habits die hard. Dry cheeks still feel safer somehow.

Perhaps I could more easily let those tears spill if I remembered that I never weep alone. For surely, the One who wept for Mary and for Martha also weeps for me, and for those I encounter whose hearts are breaking.

Yes, He knows how happily it all is going to end. He rejoices in that knowledge, and nothing can take that joy from Him.

But nothing can take our pain from Him, either. He won’t allow anything to take it. He would not dream of missing an opportunity to weep with us, even though, in His divine fullness, He rejoices for us at the same time.

I’ve never dared to think of it that way before. I, who distance myself from other people’s pain, tend to imagine a God who distances Himself. Before I truly met Him, I would have accused Him of coldness. After meeting Him, I would have ruled out His tears because of the eternal optimism of His sovereignty.

But He was no less sovereignly optimistic on that day outside of Bethany…and still He wept.

His tears came from something other than fear, or hopelessness, or any of the dreadful things that Mary and Martha felt.

They came from love.

Oh Lord, give us the kind of love for others which weeps with them. Grant us the kind of love for You, and faith in You, that allows us to risk feeling other people’s pain in addition to our own, knowing that You will not allow us to be destroyed. Allow us to share our tears with those who would be helped by them, and more importantly…

Help us to show them the God who weeps for them, and yet rejoices for them too. May our tears, though genuinely sorrowful, still glisten with Your love, Your hope, Your peace, Your goodness. In the name of the One who wept that day,



This week's Monday Manna is being hosted by Joann over at An Open Book. Be sure to drop by there for her insights on this passage, and to find links for even more!

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