Saturday, June 28, 2014

LEGACYouth: An Intro to Holy Fear

The fear of the Lord can be a tricky subject.

After all, the concept doesn't exactly strike the favorable first impression.

"Fear."

Ooooooo.

"Fear!"

OOOoooooooOOO!

"FEAR!!!"

OOOOOOOOOOO!!!

I mean, it's like saying, "Mufasa" over and over again...



Granted, it can be easy to write off an intimidating idea by way of a preliminary inkling.

But with the fear of the Lord, we're talkin' about a completely different animal (no pun intended).

Consider this: God's intent for fear is the exact opposite of man's idea of fear.

For while man attributes fear to insecurity and anxiety, God associates fear to a boldness rooted in knowing who He is. And when we drill down on what holy fear truly is, we find it to be an emphatic combination of the first commandment (i.e. reject all other gods, and serve the only true God with all your heart and soul) and the freedom we have in Christ.

Furthermore, when we take an aerial look at Scripture, we find holy fear not only a dramatic theme, but also a key trademark of the early church.

Take Acts 2 for instance:

"And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. ~ Acts 2:42

"Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles." ~ Acts 2:43

Note the order of these two verses. First came the choice of devotion, then came the fear of the Lord, and finally, signs and wonders. This is a significant observation, since the mention of "fear" indicates how early Christians understood the necessity and value of righteous attitude merging with obedience, as opposed to a bunch of religious motions and consequential fear. Thus, holy fear, as demonstrated by 1st century believers, can be seen as the "middle man" between holy action and holy outcome...a bridge between what we're called to do and what God ultimately accomplishes. Pretty cool, eh?

But wait...there's more!

When we proceed further into Acts, we find Luke closing out key chapters in similar fashion:

"And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all." ~ Acts 4:31-33 (ESV)


"Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers." ~ Acts 9:31 (ESV)

Coincidence? I think not! In fact, I believe Luke is intentionally applying a repetitive literary maneuver (i.e. lend a Peter, John and/or Paul update, then close up shop with an early church progress report) to drive home a major point...


...that point? Holy fear is the evidence of desiring God...and in turn, makes faith come alive!

With that said, we can come to understand holy fear more clearly when we examine the sum of its parts.

So in the spirit (no pun intended, again) of introduction, here are three of these parts as mentioned throughout the Bible...

 1) Fear of the Lord = reverence + awe + humility

"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ’God is a consuming fire.’” ~ Hebrews 12:28-29 (ESV)

"Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations." ~ Psalm 33:8-11 (ESV)

"Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God. Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God. Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." ~ Ecclesiastes 5:7, 8:12, 12:13 (NIV)


2) Fear of the Lord is more than just respect; it's loving what God loves and hating what God hates...it's the sum of wisdom + understanding (see Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 2:4-6, Proverbs 9:10, Job 28:28, Isaiah 11:2).

Thus, a fear of the Lord is marked not only by a sincere respect of God, but a desire to obey His commands, submit to His discipline (see Hebrews 12:5-11) and worship in reverence and awe (i.e. to "honor").

3) Fear of the Lord means we allow our reverence of God to shape and impact how we live our lives.

"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." ~ Romans 8:37-39 (ESV)

Bottom line: There's great reward for those who fear the Lord. The Word even says God remembers those who honor Him and considers them "treasured possessions" (Malachi 3:16-17). How cool is that?

Thus, there's something to behold...something to embrace about holy fear when we think about our walk with God. And as we unpack this topic in the coming months, we'll discuss the different levels of hatred toward sin and love towards God's desires, what it means to be fearlessly submissive and how we can gain and sustain an awe of God.

To be continued...

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Flash Weather: "El Niño Watch"

I know I gotta be careful talking winter weather in the middle of June, but in case you haven't heard, the probability of El Niño emerging and maintaining strength through the fall months has increased as of late. Earlier in the spring, the CPC (Climate Prediction Center) issued an 'El Niño Watch' (i.e. a 80% a weak to moderate El Niño solidifies before the end of 2014), with sea-surface temperature anomalies in the eastern Pacific signaling what could be our strongest El Niño event since 2009-10.

Now, some of us may remember how that winter panned out for middle Tennessee. In this case, I'll let the following videos do the talking...



WARNING: These recordings are highly amateur.

At any rate, I am quite stoked about the prospect of another weak to moderate El Niño winter. Why the cheery disposition, you might say? Well, after doing some middle Tennessee climate research, and sprinkling it with some Excel magic, I discovered a striking correlation between ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) type and middle Tennessee snowfall totals.

If we take the 20 winters since 1950 (when ENSO records begun) that featured 10+" of snow and compare this data to a projected SST anomaly chart, we find 20% occurred during La Niña winters, 35% occurred during neutral winters and 45% occurred during El Niño winters (if you don't understand the difference between El Niño and La Niña, please visit NOAA's ENSO FAQ page).

By now, you may be wondering why El Niño winters are so kind to the hopeless, snow-lovers of the midsouth. Well, for starters, a typical El Niño, regardless of its magnitude, is going to feature strong storm systems riding an active, extended subtropical jet stream track along the southern third of the US. For middle Tennessee, however, the primary wild card is the northern arctic oscillation (NAO). Since a standard El Niño involves a ridge over the northern plains helping to block off arctic air mass intrusions, a negative phased NAO can act as a saving grace to help merge colder air with storm systems riding along the subtropical jet stream. Under a -NAO regime, domes of high heights are displaced towards the Pacific coast and/or off the coast of Greenland, allowing arctic air to surge southward. As seen by the 2010-11 winter, the state of the NAO can overpower the ENSO to produce unexpected, forecast-busting surprises. Unfortunately, the exact phrase of the NAO cannot be determined months in advance; however, it's worth noting early long-range model guidance suggests a snowy east coast similar to 2009-10.

Granted, as we found out this past winter, anything can happen, especially in this part of the country where cold and moist air masses seem to repel each other; however, like any good forecaster, the idea this far out is to note patterns and make inferences based from those patterns. Thus, while I'm not going to dare make a snowfall prediction six months before the start of the next winter, it's still worth noting where the ENSO is going and what it could mean as far as next winter for middle Tennessee.

Moving forward, it will be fun to watch how the other atmospheric telecoms starts to line up with respect to the ENSO, but at least as of now, we have one significant piece of the puzzle shining hope into a cold, snowy pattern for middle Tennessee.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

The Case of Sovereign Choice

Last Wednesday during a recent LEGACYouth discipleship gathering, one of our youth brought up the issue of sovereign choice, based out of Romans 9. The main question asked was: does God predetermine "vessels of destruction" to resist His will and be destroyed for the greater good (a classic point on the predestination debate)?

The quick answer is "Yes and no." (i.e. 'Yes' to the notion of determinism, but 'no' to the idea God is conditionally select in the execution).

Here's why...

When we drill down on this passage, we find the answer centered on unconditional mercy, as opposed to wrath or justice. For when God tells Moses, "I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion" (v. 15), He is not implying exclusivity, as this would contradict the unconditional nature of His grace. Conversely, Paul is emphasizing the fact God knows exactly what will happen in the future, and because of this, we can rest secure in both the gift of free will and the pathway He's called us to walk.

So when we apply these realities to the following verses (primarily v. 16-23*), we find:

a) God most certainly uses opposition to make His eternal power and divine nature known (see Romans 1)

b) When God's wrath does manifest, it's designed to ultimately direct man towards the wonder of who He is!

As the case with Pharaoh, though God may have temporarily hardened his heart for the sake of the Israelites' freedom, God also gave him multiple opportunities to turn away from his stubbornness. Thus, it's not accurate to say Pharaoh was mired in a hopeless situation, predestined for eternal separation from God, since we see evidence of God relentlessly working on his heart.

Truth is: God longs to extend His redeeming love to every man, not just the elect elite. After all, why would God want to limit hope to a case by case basis? Wouldn't such action go against His very nature?

Also, since God truly was, is and is to come, then we can realize:

a) God works through the good, bad and ugly of humanity and history so His plans and purposes come to pass

b) Free will and predestination co-exist.

Bottom line: No matter who we are, we were raised up so God's power may be displayed in and through us. And in the case of sovereign choice, we can know God's power in our lives through the perfect blend of wrath and justice within His mercy. And true, while God is omniscient, it doesn't mean His selection is exclusive. For even people who temporarily find themselves on the wrong end of God's victorious plan can find the eternal hope predestined for Him.


           
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*"So then it does not depend on human will or effort but on God who shows mercy. For the Scripture tells Pharaoh:


I raised you up for this reason so that I may display My power in you and that My name may be claimed in all the earth.

So then, He shows mercy to those He wants to, and He hardens those He wants to harden. You will say to me, therefore, “Why then does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?” But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” Or has the potter no right over the clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor? And what if God, desiring to display His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction? And what if He did this to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory." ~ Romans 9:16-23 (HCSB)

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Grand Ex-ception

I’ve read my fair share about broken love.

From mental health forums to psychiatric advice columns…
…I’ve heard it all.
 
And while I’m not a reincarnation of Hitch or a New York Times best-selling author on relationships, I am a humble wordsmith undaunted by subject matter in proximity to my ex-weaknesses.

Not to sound like an obsessive reminiscer seeking reassurance, as if I need to feed off any cliché insecurity.
However, like any normal person, looking to replace past justification with present advancement, there’s a hunger for validation…a desire to occasionally place a specific emotion or experience on the altar to gauge its normality. Thus, I have no problem diving into a stranger’s testimony in hope to glean some illuminating awareness, especially if its content carries the potential for spiritual application. Why? Because hidden within the bunk of a broken world full of broken people are powerful truths ready to be discovered and employed.

So whether I’m reading a story from the lens of a venting ex-girlfriend, a clueless ex-boyfriend (#beenthere), a confused newly-wed or an indecisive commitment-phobe, I can’t help but vicariously root for the author to find breakthrough. Consider it the “fate” of any hopeless empathizer who first and foremost connects to a story’s pathos when stumbling upon a tale of “bad romance”*.

But biases aside, it’s pretty remarkable what can be learned from an outsider’s perspective.

For instance, have you ever noticed how the majority of breakup testimonies are voiced from sentimental hopefuls who either miss their ex, are fond of their ex or both? Or have you ever wondered why so many exes place notable emphasis on the positive aspects of a roller coaster relationship?

Granted, as said before, I’m not an expert on the matter. But I would vouch these people might be on to something…
 
…for there’s a beauty in vulnerability worthy of admiration…of courage seeking to encourage…and hearing people letting the words fall out… inspired by what they’ve gone through for the sake of maturing, educating and growing in gratitude.
 
And perhaps it’s here where I draw inspiration…from people pursuing the joy of what’s to come, yet understanding and accepting the process that lead them to that point.

‘Cause regardless of what the world says, at some point, we have to accept the road untaken and move on from the glory days lost in the wonderful unknown.

And who knows? Maybe for some, it takes a bout or two of “bad romance”** to fully understand God’s grand inception (i.e. a moment when God takes our mistakes and out of His grace, plants a transformational seed within the tender soil of our achy-breaky hearts). After all, some people have to learn the hard way.

However, this doesn’t mean we have to be inactive spectators on the sidelines.

Rather, we can help the dejected recapture the dream they feel they've lost. We can stand up and cheer when we see them getting on their knees, crying out for help. And we can dare them to ditch their shadows to show the world how big their brave is. ***

I mean, heck. Why not?

Then again, perhaps you struggle with sharing your testimony and frown down upon transparency, writing it off as a superficial means to affirmation.

My advice? If you want to let your life speak, sometimes you have to open up and get loud. Trust me, I know how hard it can be to expose a bittersweet episode. But it’s important to remember the spark you have to give far outweighs the risk of concealing it.

Besides, with God on your side, what do you have to lose?
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Footnotes
* And by “bad”, I mean fizzled, given not all stories are tragedies or horror shows). So perhaps “relational breakdown” is more appropriate.
**Technically, I prefer the phrase “almost true love
*** Closing inspired by the Sara Bareilles song, “Brave
 
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