“Daddy, a bear!”
Those are the words I hear before me and my 30 month old little girl go tearing down the hall, make an abrupt left turn into her bedroom, jump on her bed, and cover our heads with her blankets and ladybug pillow pet. I know the rules. I keep my head safely tucked under those covers until I hear these words: “It’s ok daddy, it wasn’t a bear.” Whew.
Thus far, the bear mentioned in the above scenario has manifested itself in three different forms (my girl is already thinking theologically). A bear, a crocodile, and a pirate. Our reaction is the same for all three. We run and hide.
I will transition to this quote from John Frame in his book “Worship in Spirit and Truth.”
“One sometimes hear Christians express the wish that they could speak with God personally, as he appeared to people during the biblical period. But meetings with God in the Bible are awesome and terrible. Perhaps we should be satisfied, even thankful, that our meetings with God today are less direct (yet just as real. . .)”
Those manifestations Frame talks about come both in the appearing of angels as the messengers of God (which I would argue are sometimes Christ himself) and direct encounters with God Himself.
Last Thursday was the National Day of Prayer. Here in our little community of Evergreen, CO, we enjoyed a gathering of folks from all denominations who came with a unified purpose of praying for our country. Sitting in a small area next to me was a Messianic Jew. I was moved by his act of prayer. I couldn’t hear him, I didn’t know what he was saying, but I could tell that he was a man who was deeply thankful for his intimate relationship with Jesus Christ while maintaining a holy reverence for the awesome nature of God. He was an Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4 Christian; a person longing to worship at the feet of Jesus, eagerly awaiting His return, and yet covering his eyes and feet from the presence of God – he remains a man well beneath the holiness of the Almighty. And so are we all.
It seems that for the most part, the contemporary Christian is bombarded with messages strengthening their understanding of an intimate friendship with God while being equally bombarded with silence concerning the “unapproachable light” in which God lives. That we are “a friend of God” is a theological marvel and masterpiece, one that should rightly be continually expressed with thanksgiving. We can now approach the throne of God with confidence and with boldness because of the work Jesus has done on the cross. God is our loving father and desires a passionate relationship with his children. The Church does right to not only acknowledge this biblical truth, but to teach it as central to who we are in Christ Jesus. But what does being a “friend of God” really mean? What should this intimate, passionate relationship with our loving Father be all about? Far be it for me to address those questions in this simple blog article. Yet, I can at least say this: God is still God.
Yes, as I view the attitudes of many Christians, especially our younger generation, I see a wonderful embrace of the “friend of God” aspect to their faith and a woeful absence of God’s might and holiness. Surely our intimacy with God should not manifest itself in ways that create a mere buddy system with the creator of the universe. Instead, our intimacy should create in us an even greater appreciation and understanding of just how massive God is and just how puny we are. With the space and time I have available here, let me address two simple ways this is showing up in our Christian lives.
1. Fear of the Lord is becoming strangely foreign in our churches and in our behavior as Christ followers. When we only want to talk about grace and love as the two attributes of God that, for some reason, we can be certain, what is there to fear? I listen with great trembling to conversations around some of my Christian brothers and sisters and I read with unbelief the things being presented in blogs and Facebook status updates that not only dismiss the truthfulness of God’s holiness, justice, and judgment, but almost seem to tempt God to do something about it. Gone are the days where Christians live day in and day out in holy, reverent fear of the Lord who has and who will bring about consequences to actions in accordance with his character. When unpleasant circumstances do arrive on our doorsteps, they will be chalked up to chance or “natural law” – the last thing on our minds is that God is acting to accomplish his purposes. Now, a rightful fear of the Lord does not mean that we walk around biting our fingernails, expecting wrathful actions to plague us at any moment. But the teenagers I work with, for the most part, are not just simply ignoring the concept of fear, but rather have no idea what it is. From how I read Scripture, if you do not fear the Lord, wisdom will elude you.
2. Whether for good or for ill, the way we approach worship, especially in our dress, is tied in with our “friendship” emphasis on the Lord. I spent 4 years touring the country with a Christian rock band. I got to meet a lot of incredible people who really have a heart for God. I also got to meet a lot of young “rebels” who preached to the masses a “I’ve got it all figured out” message that carried with it a “and the church is always wrong” presupposition. One of the things I constantly heard and hear is that what we wear to worship is irrelevant – God doesn’t care. Listen, maybe God doesn’t care and the last thing I want to do is fall into legalism, but this is a clear example of how our “buddy-buddy” teaching has skewed something that was once a given. Put simply (and perhaps a bit too direct) our young people (and some old folks) look like slobs when they enter into worship. Cut off shorts, jeans that are completely torn to shreds, muscle t-shirts, and on and on. And I don’t care if you live in the west or in the south; more often than not I don’t buy the “culture” argument as it pertains to the United States. It is really this simple: Parents, if you were told that Jesus Christ in bodily form was going to be present in a Sunday School classroom this coming Sunday and that your family was one of a few invited to open the door to the classroom and literally embrace Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, how would you dress your child? You would make darn sure they were in their “Sunday best.” And if you say that it wouldn’t matter, I just don’t believe you. It would matter. You would want your children to be presentable and honoring to Jesus Christ with their appearance. Well, guess what – Jesus is present every time we walk through the sanctuary doors. I believe our appearance is important and says something about what we understand is getting ready to happen. But our students just don’t get it – they are not being taught the balance between intimacy and freedom with fear of the Lord and reverence. We are hitting a home run with the former. We are coming up short on the latter.
Am I nitpicking? Probably. I am certainly speaking here of Christians who should be maturing in their faith, not folks who are entering the church doors for the first time or are new to Christianity. If they will come and hear the gospel, then by all means, come as you are – the old hymn says it best, “just as I am.” No, my words are meant to help those of us who make a defense for sloppiness. Who proudly dismiss a fear of the Lord for being best buds with Jesus. For those of us who are prone to forget that the majestic glory of the Lord fills the heavens and the earth and causes the mountains to tremble. That is our God. That is our friend.
I don’t want my baby girl running away from Jesus to hide under the covers. But I do want her to grow up fearing God in ways that are healthy and honoring to Him. I cannot be more thankful that I am a friend of God. It should drive me to my knees. And you to yours.