Saturday, April 22, 2017

Trembling at the Word of God

This is a reflection on my Bible reading plan today. I write and send these reflections two or three times per week to those who have requested them. Send me an email here if you would like to receive them gene.cornett@bethanyplace.com

I’ve read today’s and tomorrow’ reading this morning from 2 Samuel 5-6 and other passages. It’s always hard for me to read on Sunday, but I often have more time than normal on Saturday. A portion of today’s reading has me thinking about these verses.

Psalm 111:10 (ESV)
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; 
all those who practice it have a good understanding. 
His praise endures forever!

Isaiah 66:2 (ESV)
2 All these things my hand has made, 
and so all these things came to be, 
declares the Lord. 
But this is the one to whom I will look: 
he who is humble and contrite in spirit 
and trembles at my word.

The fear of the Lord is the very beginning of wisdom. Apparently, we can’t even get started down the path of wisdom unless we are experiencing the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is not a cringing fear like an abused dog that cringes when you reach out to pet it. Rather, the fear of the Lord is a love based reverence and respect that increasingly recognizes the full character of God. God is both the God of love and he is all powerful. He is both eternal and intimately present. He created all things and he owns all things and yet he so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whosever believes in him would not perish but would have eternal life. Knowing God in all his character leads to this love based reverence. But we can’t strip out the “fear” in the fear of the Lord. Because our God is a consuming fire says the writer of Hebrews. And then there is this text that brings a couple of these ideas together. Isa 66:2. All these things my hand has made. God is the creator of everything that exists. He is the only reason anything that exists. 

In last night’s Secret Church presentation which we simulcast at our facility and which was tremendous, David Platt said early in the meeting that the most offensive verse in the Bible is not one that has to do with a hot button social issue of the day. Rather, its Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” If that’s true, and it is, then everything belongs to God, including every person, and we will each give an account to him for our lives and we ignore him and his word at our peril. Isaiah 66:2 speaks of both the greatness of God through creation and the personal relating of God to fragile human beings when he says, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” 

Bringing all these ideas together, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and God looks or God responds to those who possess humility, who are contrite in spirit and who tremble at my word. 

Perhaps we could say that all of these phrases are different ways of describing the same reality. But how do we get this character of spirit that loves and reverences God? The last phrase is a clue. Those who tremble at my word. But how do we learn to do that? 

All of this is an act of God’s grace to us; the ability to tremble at his word, to grow in humility and contriteness of spirit and the fear of the Lord, but I am confident of this. God works through his word and through his grace to create these characteristics in us when we read stories like is in today’s reading, the story of Uzzah. 

Uzzah died because as he was helping to transmit the ark from one place to another, at the instruction of King David, he reached out to touch it, because the oxen had stumbled and Uzzah was instantly struck dead. It’s only God’s patience and mercy toward me that I have not been struck dead by what seems like to me many more instances of a lack of reverence for God than Uzzah’s. That reality remind us of both God’s holiness and his grace. This of course, isn’t the only text we have to tell us about God. We have all of the N.T. and a full picture of the glory of the gospel. But the story of Uzzah is a part of that gospel. And it is a part of what God uses in us to generate the fear of the Lord. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Jesus, Continued Outline from the message series Making Eggs Fly

Jesus, Continued

John 20:19-23
Making Eggs Fly

Experiencing God’s peace enables you to fulfill God’s purpose

Connect the supernatural to your real life John 20:19-20a (ESV)

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.

Pursue joy and peace for the mission John 20:20–21 (ESV)

20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

It’s not what you know, it's who you know John 20:22–23 (ESV)

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Making Eggs Fly

The resurrection of Jesus is the core of our faith, yet it could be argued that we don’t talk that much about it. Each Easter we roll out some familiar songs and perhaps buy a new shirt or dress. Just one Sunday a year to celebrate the resurrection doesn’t seem sufficient. Paul said, “If Christ is not raised, then our faith is in vain.” We know this is critically important. You’ve heard the definition of insanity: Continuing to do the same thing but expecting a different result. Perhaps the level of transformation we see in ourselves and in those around us is not what we long for because we are not living daily the implications of the resurrection. 

In another place Paul said,
Philippians 3:8, 10–11 (ESV) Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord . . .  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Can you describe your daily experience as knowing the power of Jesus’ resurrection? I can’t;  not all the time. Our experience would look radically different if we knew Jesus in this way, in the midst of our real lives. We need more time, more than once a year, to think about the greater implications of the resurrection.

We need fresh thinking about the fundamentals. We need the Biblical equivalent of what Vince Lombardi is reported to have said at the beginning of camp each year for his professional players, “Men, this is a football.” For believers, that may be these words from the angels spoken to the terrified disciples at the tomb, “He is risen!” Or maybe Mary Magdalene’s announcement a little later, “I have seen the Lord!”

To help us grasp that what God seeks to do in us is a transformation requiring resurrection power, I’ve titled our Easter series from a quote by C.S. Lewis. He said,
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
What God is doing in us, and what we are seeking to encourage one another to do, will be impossible in our own strength, no more effective than teaching an egg to fly. Our Easter series is called, “Teaching Eggs to Fly: Why the Resurrection Must Change Us.” This Sunday’s message is a kind of preparation before we get into four views of the resurrection in the following Sundays. It’s called Foolishness vs. God’s Will from Ephesians 5:17-21. 
I’m starting the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus early this year. Will you join me?

This post first appeared at www.bethanyplace.com




Get a Grip

Get a Grip
John 20:11-18
from the series Making Eggs Fly

Get a grip on the right source for our future hope when trapped in grief, shame, or sin.

Paralyzed by pain John 20:11–13 (ESV) 
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

Setting our sights too low John 20:14–15 (ESV)
Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Shockingly repurposed John 20:16–18 (ESV)

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Foolishness vs. God’s Will Message Outline

Foolishness vs. God’s Will
Ephesians 5:15–21 (ESV)

We must be filled with the Spirit to influence the world, especially those we care about the most.

Understand what God wants
Ephesians 5:15–17 (ESV) 15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Be controlled by the Spirit
Ephesians 5:18 (ESV) And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

Look for these results

Ephesians 5:19–21 (ESV) 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Bird Watching and Learning to Trust

John Stott is one of my heroes of the faith. He died just a few years ago. He was a pastor in London for many years and a brilliant author and preacher. One of the things he was known for was bird watching and he had this to say about this text in his commentary on the passage I preached from in Sunday’s sermon at Bethany Place from Matthew 6:19-34.


Next, Jesus turns to the subhuman world and argues the other way round. He uses birds as an illustration of God’s supply of food (26) and flowers to illustrate his supply of clothing (28–30). In both cases he tells us to ‘look at’ or ‘consider’ them, that is, to think about the facts of God’s providential care in their case. Some readers may know that I happen myself to have been since boyhood an enthusiastic bird-watcher. I know, of course, that bird-watching is regarded by some as a rather eccentric pastime; they view the likes of me with quizzical and patronizing amusement. But I claim biblical warrant for this activity. ‘Consider the fowls of the air,’ said Jesus according to the AV, and this in basic English could be translated ‘watch birds’! Indeed, I am quite serious, for the Greek verb in his command (emblepsate eis) means ‘fix your eyes on, so as to take a good look at’.17 If we do take an interest in birds and flowers (and we should surely, like our Master, be gratefully aware of the natural world around us), then we will know that although birds neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet our heavenly Father feeds them, and that although the lilies of the field (anemones, poppies, irises and gladioli have all been suggested as alternatives to lilies, although the reference may be general to all the beautiful spring flowers of Galilee) … neither toil nor spin, yet our heavenly Father clothes them, indeed more gorgeously than Solomon in all his glory. This being so, can we not trust him to feed and clothe us who are of much more value than birds and flowers? Why, he even clothes the common grass which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven!

‘You see,’ writes Martin Luther with great charm, ‘he is making the birds our schoolmasters and teachers. It is a great and abiding disgrace to us that in the Gospel a helpless sparrow should become a theologian and a preacher to the wisest of men Whenever you listen to a nightingale, therefore, you are listening to an excellent preacher It is as if he were saying “I prefer to be in the Lord’s kitchen. He has made heaven and earth, and he himself is the cook and the host. Every day he feeds and nourishes innumerable little birds out of his hand.”

Stott, John. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (The Bible Speaks Today Series) (p. 164). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Legalists, Rebels, and Worshippers

(As always, I got permission to use this story)


I remember well arguments with our daughter Hannah, now 27, when she was in her early teens. She often didn’t fight fairly. It was not unusual for her to take the literal words I used and throw them back at me or exaggerate them in a manner that hindered the conversation. For instance, if I said to her, “I don’t want you hanging out with so-and-so any longer. I don’t like the attitude I see in you after you have been with her for a while.” Then she might say, “You don’t want me to have any friends at all!” or, “You just want me to hang out with people who think like you!” It was a way of listening, but not listening, that blocked her from hearing what I actually meant and left us both frustrated. I’m fully aware that I also didn’t handle such conversations well on many occasions.


This behavior is serious enough in relationships, but is even more dangerous when we interpret the Bible in a way that causes us to miss its real purpose. For instance, when someone asks me, “Do you believe the Bible is literally true?” My answer to that is “yes”, depending on what you mean by ‘literal’.” What I don't mean is believing the sun revolves around the earth or that mountains literally skip like lambs. To read the Bible that way is to deliberately seek to avoid hearing the truth.


Obviously differences exist in the interpretation of many passages of scripture. Oddly, one of the most famous passages of all produces some of the most divergent opinions on how to interpret and apply it. The passage is the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. Some streams of theology largely dismiss the text as not relevant for today, but rather for a future kingdom age. Others dismiss the specifics of the Sermon by thinking the instructions are not realistic. They think Instructions about lust, anger, retaliation, and praying for enemies in the Sermon, seem so outlandish that they are not realistic for most people. They think, perhaps, that maybe God has made some people who are just good at being good and able to obey such commands, but that He certainly didn’t make themselves that way.


Others can miss the point of the Sermon by treating it like a huge goal to achieve, like preparing to run a marathon. In a sense, they are saying to themselves that they need to get super disciplined and try to work these practices into their life. That’s closer to the truth, and maybe an even more dangerous distortion, because it can lead to a legalistic heart believing one has to achieve a level of goodness to be acceptable to God.


Both dismissing the Sermon. and seeking to achieve its standards, miss the point. Rather, this grand vision is meant to drive us to surrender to Jesus.  We need to recognize that His standards of holiness are beyond our ability so that we repent of rebelling by ignoring God’s instructions, or rebell by trying to manipulate God through obedience. Instead, we bow in worship before Him.


I don’t think the need for us to deeply immerse ourselves in Jesus’ words has ever been greater. Perhaps it will be just the tool the Holy Spirit will use to help us to see our need for a lifestyle of repentance. Our greatest spiritual danger is pride. Not the good kind of pride that leads us to do our best, but the arrogant flavor of pride that blocks us from allowing God’s word to challenge our values, attitudes, and lifestyles.


I can’t think of a greater need for us as individuals, as a church, a community and even a nation. So much of the political turmoil coming from all sides in this past year was fueled by arrogance. We can get caught up in that and dress it up in religious disguise that looks good, but is repulsive to people who are far from God and worse, repulsive to God himself. I need the medicine of Jesus’ Sermon. Don’t you?