3/22/14

Wonder - What's Fear Got to Do with It?

As I've been considering the Wonder of God, it suddenly struck me that my fear of God (or lack thereof) might affect my "wonder" of Him. Was there a connection?

And then I found this scripture, Psalm 33:8 (ESV):

"Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!" 

Clearly, our fear of the Lord is somehow connected to our wonder of Him.

I have heard the term "fear of the Lord" described in terms of "reverential awe." To be honest, He is God; we are not! I thought that was sugar-coating the deeper meaning. When we think in terms of God's might and our puniness, this should evoke some real fear.

The word "fear" regarding God comes from the Hebrew and, according to Strong's lexicon, variations on the word in scripture can mean to tremble, dread, fear, stand in awe of, reverence, respect, be terrified, cause to tremble and to inspire reverence or godly fear or awe.

It is a healthy fear born out of our profound awe and respect for God, acknowledging who He is and desiring to submit to His authority (Luke 12:4-5) and power (Habakkuk 3:2), to obey Him (Deuteronomy 6:24; 10:12), and to please Him in all things (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Yes, God is a God of love, but we must never forget He is angered by sin (Psalm 76:7; Jeremiah 10:10).

We want a comfortable Christianity, not one that confronts us over our sin and God's holiness; and we get uneasy with God's expectations for us. God says, "be ye holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16; Leviticus 11:44a). He is holy and this is His expectation of us. He wants us to be a pure and holy people as we regard His holiness; and in that, to glorify Him (Leviticus 10:3). It's an impossible task without Christ.

I've found myself sinking into all sorts of attitudes that fail to honor and show reverence to God.
  • I go through the motions of "Christianity," rather than considering the implications of my life in Christ. 
  • I don't keep short "sin accounts" with God. (Do I think He doesn't notice?)
  • I spend relatively few minutes with God in my busy days. 
  • I suffer "eternity amnesia," as described by Paul D. Tripp in his book, Eternity: Why You Can't Live Without It; I forget that I was made to live forever with God. It's all too casual a faith. 

I was meant for so much more. I was meant to live beyond this world. I was meant to glorify, adore and worship the Creator God.

"For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?" (Psalm 89:6-7, ESV)

"Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is none like you" (Jeremiah 10:7, ESV).

I've also found that I cannot have a proper fear of God that leads to awe or wonder unless He is my Teacher. My heart is deceitful, and I sometimes think I am honoring Him when nothing could be further from the truth. I'm living for my puny kingdom instead of my God's majestic Kingdom (Hebrews 12:28-29). My agenda is different from His.

My focus is so scattered. Oh how I, like David, need a single focus. I need to honor God in all I do. I need an "undivided" heart (united/unhypocritical).

So my prayer is, "Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name" (Psalm 86:11).

When I fear God best, I can love and praise Him most. When I fear God properly, I am amazed by His works and ways, and I glorify His name. He deserves our reverence and praise, for He is "wonder-full!"

My prayer today is the song of Moses - and the song of the Lamb of God as recorded in Revelation 15:3-4:


“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!  
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy. 
All nations will come and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Does this resonate with you? How does a proper fear of God motivate you to stand in awe of God and desire to live a pure life before Him?

- Dawn Wilson

2/15/14

Journey into the Wonder of God: What Is 'Wonder'?


I mentioned to a friend, "I'm on a journey to experience more of the wonder of God." She looked at me with a different kind of wonder ... wondering whether I'd fallen off the deep end, spiritually. As I explained what "wonder" means, she understood. Taking this journey is something every Christian should consider.


We respond with jaw-dropping wonder when we survey the Grand Canyon, but are just as likely to
express “Wow!” over a powerful skyline full of skyscrapers or a piece of new technology with bells and whistles. I remember my boys’ wide-eyed wonder the first time they saw fireworks. But what is the "wonder of God"?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “wonder” as: “something or someone that is very surprising, beautiful, amazing, etc.; a feeling caused by seeing something that is very surprising, beautiful, amazing, etc.; something that is surprising or hard to believe.” 

To wonder is to be astonished, to admire something that amazes us. The wonder of God is our amazement and admiration of Him.

As I wrote in the last post, I was overwhelmed with wonder as I stood beneath the stars on a clear winter night. I believed the heavens were declaring the handiwork of God just for me that night (Psalm 19:1). It was the beginning of a journey to know my Creator in a more intimate way.

Margaret Feinberg, in her book Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God, says she was “wonderstruck” as she stood beneath the beauty of the aurora borealis in Alaska. I lived in Iceland as a teenager, and I understand the beauty of the northern lights.

Feinberg defines the wonder of God: 

“The wonder of God is that moment of spiritual awakening that makes us curious to know God more.”

I’ve had glimpses of the wonder all though my life, pointing me to the Father. 

Once, driving to a speaking engagement, I glanced back and forth along the highway. Suddenly, I realized all the lovely shades of green in the trees and on hillsides. God could have made everything the same green, but He didn’t. He artfully painted our world with fern green, forest green, moss green, chartreuse, and numerous other shades. It’s not just "green."

Another time, while struggling with early stages of arthritis, I
exercised my fingers before a typing project. Bending and unbending the fingers, and considering how hands work, I prayed, “Thank you, God, for my fingersthese hands.” 

Some may consider that moment a little thing; but studying my hand pointed me back to the Creator. In a similar way, God used a colored graphic of the human eye in Gil Killam's life as he sat in the examination room of his eye specialist.

In "The Wonder of It All," Killam wrote, "I studied it for a moment and was astounded at the intricacy of the creation of the eye. I wondered how anyone could deny the existence of a Master Mind that made this amazing organ ...."

Killam's observation caused him to "marvel" at God's great power. He wrote, "We read in Colossians, 'For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth ... all things have been created through him and for him' (Colossians 1:16, NIV). The human body is a fantastic work of the Creator."

Likewise, Dr. David A. Steen, a professional biologist, is repeatedly moved to praise God and declare
His wonderful acts as he explores the breathtaking wonders of creation. He wrote the devotional, God of Wonders, to encourage others to discover this “overwhelming sense of awe.”

Steen’s purpose in pointing us to the God of wonders is that we will praise Him. In his opening notes, he quotes a number of scriptures—Daniel 4:2-3, Psalm 136:3-4, and the scripture I am memorizing, Psalm40:5.

He concludes his introduction with 1 Chronicles16:8-36. Let me share a portion of that passage:

“…give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done … tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name … Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles … great is the Lord and most worthy of praise… all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place … Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness … Praise be to the Lord … Then all the people said, ‘Amen’ and ‘Praise the Lord.’” 

Truly, the wonder of God causes us to marvel. There is a sense of His holy presence, and a hunger to dwell there. There's a deep desire in our hearts to know God's character. My "wonder desire" is to have a fresh glimpse of His kingdom, and to lay aside any lesser kingdoms to praise and serve my King.

Do you see the wonders of this world? Do they point you back to the Designer, our Creator God? Take a moment to praise Him for His wondrous handiwork.

1/18/14

Wonder and Awe - Where Is It?

Awestruck by the brilliance of a myriad of stars, I wept in profound silence. I stood on my back patio

in the hills 40 miles from downtown San Diego, studying the clear night sky.

But it was more than a stunning December night. I sensed the presence of God whispering to my soul. "I made this ... for you." 

It was one of those moments when wonder broke through. The wonder of the stars, the wonder of all creation, handcrafted for man to enjoy, but also to point us to God. The scriptures explain - the heavens declare His glory (Psalm 19:1).

All of nature was designed that our hearts might be stirred, that we might remember our Creator and praise Him"Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you," the Psalmist prayed. "Were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare" (Psalm 40:5, NIV).

God planned these wonderful gifts long before we were born, but it didn't take long for man to lose his wonder over God or His gifts. Today I look around and ask, "Where is the wonder? Why is it missing?"

I believe there are three reasons we lose the wonder of God, and they are all found in Ephesians 2:2-3. (We know them today as the world, the flesh and the devil.)

(1) The world steals the wonder. Before Christ, we walked according to "the course of this world" (Ephesians 2:2). We didn't care one bit about God and His wondrous works. Even believers, if they allow the world to influence them, will (intentionally or without thinking) shove Him aside.

Our culture distracts us, corrupts us, suggests different priorities. Godless worldlings want to define who we are, and they try to redefine who God is. While we are entertained, the popular culture sidetracks us from the truth. It paints a corrupt, diluted picture of God's character and purposes in the world.

Where the culture once accomplished this in subtle ways, now its attacks are more open and vicious. "There is no God," the culture says. "These wonders you see either evolved or are a result of man's intelligence and ingenuity." Or worse, the culture promotes self-worship: "You are your own god. Accomplish your own wonders."

Our circumstances can wear us out too. When we forget to practice gratitude to our Maker, we can lose the wonder of who He is and what He does. But I remember Job. In the midst of his suffering, he still praised God. He grasped for the wonder of God in the midst of his pain.

(2) Our hearts fight the wonder. Again, before we came to know Christ, we all "lived in the passions of our flesh" (Ephesians 2:3). It was natural to us. But even after we trust in the Lord and become a Child of Light, when we do not submit to the Holy Spirit's control and walk in the Light, we can live an ungodly lifestyle that fights against the wonder of God. Our sins may blind us to the true nature of what God is doing.

Our flesh deceives us. Our busyness distracts us. The idols we embrace or tolerate replace the wonder of God.

We are prone to compare. How does this stack up against God? We might not vocalize that thought, but we live it. We say we don't have time for God, but we have time for lesser things. We don't have time to be still and know He is in control. We don't take time to seek Him, know Him, praise Him. We don't take time to wonder. We're consumed with our own thoughts and goals, and when we achieve great things, we forget who gave us the strength and wisdom.

(3) Satan conspires against the wonder. The "prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2) desires to defeat or destroy our wonder. He wants us to forget our "great salvation" (Hebrews 2:3a). He intimidates us and causes us to second guess God: Did He really do these wondrous works? Is God as great as the scriptures portray Him?

Satan hates it when we stand in awe of God, when we fear Him as the Bible instructs us to do. He hates it when we worship God. In pride, long ago, our enemy - known then as Lucifer - lifted up his heart against the Lord (Isaiah 14:12-13), and he is diligent to encourage our own arrogance today. He wants us to dwell on the negative, how God has "failed" us. 

He casts doubt on God's Word - "Hath God said?" He lies and tells us God doesn't care. "God isn't great or good," he says. Satan wants us to dwell in the pits instead of praising God. He knows God inhabits the praise of His people; so he conspires to draw us away from the wonder. We must remember Satan is a defeated foe. We do not have to fall prey to his evil strategies.

The pull of the culture, the selfish wanderings of my own heart, and the influence of the evil one; these are all factors that work against the wonder of God. They work in the midst of my struggle for sanctification. But I want a revival of wonder that leads to joy (Psalm 85:6), so I must be more alert, prayerful and careful to guard my heart.


How about you? Have you lost the wonder of God? Why do you think this has happened? Do one or all of these three reasons resonate with you?
- Dawn

12/21/13

Three Choices for Christmas

Three Choices for Christmas? What could they be?

Those are the questions I asked when I saw the title of a post by Monica Bass at Ministry 127. Heart Choices Today (HCT) is all about the choices we make - how we want to make choices that align with the heart of God and the Word of God. After I read Monica's post I thought, "I want to reprint this, because it so blessed my own heart and I think it will encourage and challenge others too."

Monica's post is titled, "When Christmas Becomes More Than a Story: 3 Choices for Christmas," and I share it below, with her permission.

Monica wrote ...

To the actors in the original Christmas drama, Christmas was something far larger than a story.
When Gabriel first saluted Mary with the glad tidings that she was selected to give birth to the Messiah, it was not only a dream come true; it was a complete life change. This wasn’t something Mary read once a year before ripping into the presents stacked under the tree—this was reality.

Christmas was more than a story to Mary. It was her life.

Yet somehow, through the grace of God, Mary made three timely choices as her life spun out of her control into the sovereign prophecies of Scripture.

The choices Mary made are within the reach of every child of God. In fact, they are vital.

Trust

Mary was shocked by Gabriel’s visit; I’m shocked by Mary’s response. It seems to me that in the rawness of the moment, she might have questioned, “But what will Joseph think?” or “What will my family say? Can you go explain to them, too?”

But her first question was one of surprised wonder: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” Her next response was one of mature faith: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

Mary chose to trust
  • when she didn’t know the answers,
  • when she was numb with shock,
  • when every aspect of her future had just been rewritten, and
  • when her world had been shaken beyond her ability to wrap her mind around or sort out.
Her trust demonstrates a key principle:

Submission in an expression of trust.
In that moment, trust was not a reaction; it was a choice. Trust is never passive; it is active—a choice, a decision, an act of faith.

What in your life seems impossible right now? What is it that you know God wants you to do, that He has directed you to do…but all you can say is, “How shall this be, seeing [fill in the blank with visible evidence]”?

Listen carefully to Gabriel’s answer, “With God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). It’s true; but we have to make the choice to believe it.

Rejoice

Like you, I’ve heard many lessons and sermons that remind us of Mary’s difficulties—an unwed pregnancy, change of life plans, ridicule, fear, etc.

Think about it, though. You only find these difficulties in the narrative of the Christmas story—never from Mary’s mouth.

Mary had every reason to complain…but she didn’t. Instead, she chose to rejoice. Her first words to Elisabeth were a song of praise: “And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46–47).

In my most spiritual moments, my greeting to Elisabeth would have been something more like, “I
want to trust God, but I’m so broken and torn inside. Help comfort me, Elisabeth.” I might not have said it quite like that, but I definitely would have made sure Elisabeth knew all of my reasons to fear.

But just as Mary had every reason to complain, she also had every reason to rejoice! Although the news came in an unexpected way and with unexpected repercussions, she had just learned that she—Mary—would be the mother of the Messiah!

Mary could have justifiably complained or rejoiced…and she chose to rejoice.

To rejoice is a choice.

And it’s a choice God commands us to make: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

I can always find reasons—good, solid reasons—to complain. (And I often do!) But if I take Philippians 4:9 for the command that it is, I can also always find ample reasons to rejoice in the person of Christ.

The choice is ours: We can complain about the very real difficulties of life, or we can choose to rejoice in the very real favor and kindness of God.

Mary’s choice, while not the most natural, seems wisest.

Ponder

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get mechanical about the things I do often. Take singing in church, for example. Sometimes I sing with a heart full of worship. Sometimes I repeat words I know well while I prepare mentally for my next responsibility of the day. December itself has enough responsibility that it is easy for the entire month to turn into something like a grueling marathon of activity and exhaustion.

But Mary engaged in a way that allowed her to experience Christmas with awe and wonder: “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Remember, Christmas wasn’t just a story to Mary. And she refused to let it be just an unusual set of circumstances that she experienced, only to move on to the next and less extraordinary events of life.

To Mary, Christmas was marvelous—because she took time to ponder the mysterious workings of God in her life.

But you and I rarely give ourselves the time, space, or quiet to ponder—to think. No wonder Christmas is mechanical! Exhausting. Distracting.

Mary’s stable wasn’t nearly as idyllic as we imagine. There were more than enough distractions in the surrounding hay. And, because she was as human as you and me, I’m sure there were plenty of inner distractions that threatened to hijack the attention of her heart and mind. Yet Mary chose to ponder.

Focus is a choice of the heart.

We must choose to carve out time in which we determine to focus our hearts on worshiping God. The distractions without and the cares within will never voluntarily subside to make room for meditation. We have to choose to shut out the noise and worship Jesus.

Three Choices of Christmas

Mary’s decisions began with the simple choice to trust God, which she expressed through submission to His will.

She continued the path of trust by choosing to rejoice, remembering God’s goodness and favor instead of complaining about the pain.

And her choices were stabilized in her heart as she quietly made room to ponder, meditating on the wondrous events that were unfolding before her eyes.

We, too, will make these choices when we allow Christmas to become more than a story.

Which of these choices is the hardest for you to make? What can you do to change that this year?

Monica Bass is the editor for Striving Together Publications. She is a graduate of West Coast Baptist College and is involved in the student and college ministries of Lancaster Baptist Church. You can follow Monica at her blog,  Stepping in the Light.


Paintings: (1) "Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst
(2) "The Visitation" by Sebastiano del Piombo, at the Musée du Louvre, Paris