WHAT TAKES YOUR BREATH AWAY?

There are some things in this life that are just too beautiful, too incredible, too wonderful that we say: “it takes my breath away”.  What are some of those things for you?

For me, here are a few things that take my breath away.

  • The first look at my son and daughter.

The incredible reality that all their “pieces” were present and in the right place.  The reality that these little babies were born from me, that their lives were, at least in the beginning, in my hands. 

Jonathan 3 monrha
My son at 3 months of age.

 

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.”

 

Psalm 127:3

Elizabeth christening 6 weeks old Easter 1978
My daughter at 6 weeks of age with her grandmother.

These two little babies took my breath away, and I cried out to the Lord God in thanksgiving for their little lives, and in prayer for their future.  They took my breath away. 

Now, when I see them as adults with families of their own, I am so blessed.  This, too, takes my breath away.

  • The beauty of the sunset.
Sunset over Annandale VA 2
A Virginia Sunset

The day has been spent in doing many tasks, things that took time and energy, things that were encouraging and sometimes things that were incredibly hard.  But at the end of the day, I can look at the sunset and know that God is in control.

The Levites were commanded to recognize that God alone was responsible for providing the day to them.  David’s instructions included the following:

“And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the LORD, and likewise at evening,”

1 Chronicles 23:30

God’s watchful care results in praise to Him.  This, too, takes my breath away!

  • Places of worship, such as Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, England.
Canterbury cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

When we visited Canterbury Cathedral, the sign in the entrance way to the church and grounds advised that worship services were held in the Cathedral every day for over 1,400 years.  St. Augustine came to England in 597 A.D. as a missionary and he ultimately became the first Archbishop of Canterbury.  The building was magnificent; the stained-glass windows were beautiful; the soaring vaulted ceiling dwarfed the people inside.  While all that is true, what I found most humbling was the reality that God had met with the people worshiping in this place for more than 1,400 years. 

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

Matthew 18:20

I was overwhelmed.  This took my breath away!

  • God’s Word.
Holy Bible
The Holy Bible

When reading God’s Word, often there are passages that speak to me and bring joy to my heart.   His word brings a warmth to my soul, and its truths take my breath away.

Recently, we were studying Psalm 32 where David speaks of his relationship with God and of the damaging effect of his sin toward God. 

“A Maskil of David. Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

Psalm 32:1-2

Blessed, happy, is the one who, after coming to God in confession and repentance, is forgiven. 

“For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah”

Psalm 32:3-4

David understood the heavy weight of unconfessed sin.  His description is not only poetic, it is personal and profound.  

“I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.  Selah”

Psalm 32:5

David confessed his sin.  He did not try to hide it from God; he understood that God already knew of his sin and what he had to do was to confess and seek forgiveness.  David also expressed that God’s forgiveness meant that his sin was covered and would not be counted against him by God any longer. 

By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil.”

Proverbs 16:6

In our age, that of the New Testament covenant, we understand that through Jesus Christ’s atoning work on the cross, our sin is not only covered but that sin debt is erased, and our account is clean.  Across our ledger page is written the words “Paid in full and covered by Christ’s righteousness.” 

You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah”

Psalm 32:7

After David confessed and received forgiveness from his sin, he was secure in God and described this security in verse 7.  The forgiven person is surrounded “with shouts of deliverance.”  When we see pictures of people who were delivered from prison camps or from dangerous situations, such as a mine cave in, the rescued person is not shouting.  They are too stunned, and sometimes too weak from the ordeal, to do much of anything.  The rescuers are the ones who are shouting of deliverance and joy. 

Have you ever thought about heaven surrounding you with shouts of deliverance when you have come to God seeking forgiveness from your sin?

“Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORDBe glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”

Psalm 32:10-11

The conclusion of the psalm is resounding joy, gladness, shouting for joy. 

This, too, takes my breath away!

God’s love, His provision of the plan of salvation for you, His Son dying on the cross for our sin, not His.  These are all truths that take my breath away.  Why would God, the Almighty Creator, the Holy God who cannot look upon sin, the Righteous Judge of all, why would this God call me to Himself and adopt me as a child of His, clothing me with His Son’s righteousness and taking my filthy rags away. 

Nothing that I have done or ever could do would merit such grace and mercy.  I am a sinner saved by grace.   This reality is overwhelming.  This takes my breath away!  

What about you? 

What takes your breath away?

Father, I pray that these words would resonate with their readers and that You would be glorified.  I pray that I would praise You for Your wonderous love and kindness, Your grace and mercy, Your goodness and righteousness that has covered my sin and canceled my debt, restoring my relationship with You through Your Son, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – HOLINESS

When you think of holiness, or of being holy, what image do you conjure up in your mind?  Someone who is a “goodie-two-shoes” or a person who speaks and acts as if he is “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good”?  Or do you not have any idea of what holiness is, so you don’t have any image to ponder?

I realize that holiness is not something that we think about on a daily, moment-by-moment basis but, if we want to know God, we should consider it because holiness is fundamental to God’s character. 

Holiness is synonymous with God’s total purity and separation from the rest of creation.  Consider Adam and Eve’s reaction after they ate the forbidden fruit and God came to visit with them in the Garden of Eden.

“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”

Genesis 3:8

Up until this time, Adam and Eve had enjoyed God’s presence with them, but when He came to them that day, they hid.  They instinctively knew that God was holy and they were not, they had disobeyed, they had sinned and God could not look upon sin.  They hid among the trees.

Consider when God called to Moses from the burning bush, after Moses walked closer to see it, God said:

“”Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Exodus 3:5-6

Moses surely was not afraid of a burning bush … it was a distance away from him and the flock, no threat.  He went over to investigate because it appeared that the bush was not being consumed by the fire. 

Why was the place Moses approached “holy” ground?  It was not because the sand was any different than the sand that was all around Moses in the wilderness.  It was not because the bush was different than all the others in the area.  It was because God was there, so Moses was in the presence of the Holy God.     

It was at that point that God spoke to him, and notice Moses’ response — he hid his face, he was afraid!  Why?  Because then Moses knew that he had encountered the holy God

“Holy” is the English translation of the Hebrew word “qodesh”, and it means “apartness”, “sacredness”, and “separateness.”  This set-apartness is evident in the Old Testament in texts such as Leviticus 20:7.

Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God.”

Here God is telling the people to consecrate themselves, in other words to sanctify, to dedicate, to separate themselves for a special purpose or use. 

In the Book of Acts we read:

“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.””

Acts 13:2

Setting apart for a specific task from God is one way we acknowledge that God is holy and that even people who are doing His work should be separated from that which is worldly or ungodly.

God’s holiness can be understood as moral purity, although it is much more than that.  His holiness, His purity, is eternal and incorruptible, there is no time or likelihood that God will, at some point, no longer be holy or pure.  This total purity, total separation from anything that is sinful, explains why God gave detailed commands in the Old Testament about the way mankind could approach God. 

USED Canterbury cathedral view of the altar area
Looking toward the altar in Canterbury Cathedral,
Canterbury, England, if man can build such a glorious place, imagine what Isaiah saw!

One of my favorite passages in scripture is Isaiah 6. The prophet Isaiah had a vision of God and he described it as follows:

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.  And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.””

Isaiah 6:1-8

Forgive me for quoting so much from the passage but I want you to get the full impact of Isaiah’s vision.  Just a look at the description of the LORD.  Listen to the angels, the host of heaven, calling “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.” 

What is Isaiah’s reaction in this vision?  Essentially the same as Moses’ reaction to God’s presence.  Isaiah said “WOE IS ME!”  “I AM LOST!”  “I AM … UNCLEAN!”  In his vision, Isaiah was afraid because he instantly recognized that God is holy, and he was not.

Centuries after Isaiah wrote of his vision, John was on the island of Patmos and wrote the Book of Revelation, citing the same words as Isaiah heard.

“At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. … And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!””

Revelation 4:2,8

God’s holiness is one of the primary reasons why the advent of Christ is so amazing.  Because of Jesus’ coming to this earth and dying on the cross, men, who were once unable to come before God, now can kneel before the throne of God and worship Him forever and ever. 

Because of the cross and His resurrection, because of our faith in Him as Lord and Savior, we no longer must hide our face or be afraid of God.  We now can join the heavenly chorus and shout “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty!”  We can face God clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and, rather than hiding our face, we can come to the throne of God and call Him “Abba, Father.” Praise His Holy Name!

Listen now to the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” s on the album  “Hymns for all the Saints: Adoration, Praise, Comfort” from Concordia Publishing House.

Father, I pray that I would never lose sight of the wonder and glory of Your holiness.  I praise Your name that Jesus Christ died so that His righteousness would cloth my sinfulness, so that I could join with the heavenly chorus and praise Your Holy Name.

WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM? – Part Two

In Part One of this post, we considered the question Jesus posited to His disciples disciples: “Who do YOU say that I am?” 

In ruminating on this question, we pointed to, and quoted from, C. H. Spurgeon’s sermon, preached on January 7th, 1872, entitled “The Glorious Master and the Swooning Disciple.”  In the earlier post we looked at what happens when we have a low opinion of our Lord and Savior.  Now, we continue with the text of the sermon and consider the flip side of the question’s answer – if we have a high opinion of the Lord:

If our conceptions of the Lord Jesus are very enlarged, they will only be His due. We cannot exaggerate here. He deserves higher praise than we can ever render to Him. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high is He above our loftiest conceptions. Even when the angels strike their loudest notes, and chant His praises most exultingly on their highest festal days, the music falls far short of His excellence. He is higher than a seraph’s most soaring thought! Rise then, my brethren, as on eagle’s wings, and let your adoring souls magnify and extol the Lord your Savior.

Canterbury cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

So, what does Scripture say about Jesus Christ?  How high is our Lord and Savior?

The Prophet Isaiah testified as follows:

“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.'”

Isaiah 45:22-23 ESV

Paul, in the New Testament letter to the Philippians, elaborates on what Isaiah prophesied centuries before.  Paul, speaking of Jesus Christ, said:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him [Jesus Christ] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:9-11 ESV.   See also Romans 14:11-12.

We may know this intellectually, but sometimes we fail to see Jesus in the proper light.  We see him as the Babe on Christmas, or as a Hollywood actor who walks through crowds with slow and steady gait, dressed in the browns and grays.  We see the poor itinerant teacher, without a place to lay His head.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV

But do we recognize Him for Who He is?  Do we think of Him as He really is?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John 1:1-4, 14 ESV

Did you comprehend that statement of John?  The Word, Jesus Christ, was with God before the world was created and through Him were all things created.  For the believer, we should do as Spurgeon urged: “let your adoring souls magnify and extol the Lord your Savior.”

A further description of the Word is found in Revelation as follows:

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.  He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.”

Revelation 19:11-13 ESV

Who is Jesus Christ?  John’s Revelation answers:

“And he said unto me, ‘It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.’”

Revelation 21:6 KJV.  Remember Jesus’ statement to the Samaritan woman at the well?  

“’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’”

Revelation 1:8 ESV.  See also Revelation 22:13. 

May we have a high opinion of our Lord and follow Spurgeon’s urging to let our adoring souls magnify and extol the Lord our Savior!

 

Father, I pray that these words would be edifying and encouraging to those who read them.  I pray that You would use Your Word to strengthen those who are struggling today and I pray that You would send Your Spirit to convict us of our sin so that we may rejoice in the strength and majesty of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

THE FEAR OF GOD

When we were in England, we visited a number of cathedrals and were amazed at the exquisite details in the construction and decoration of each of them.

bath-cathedral-c
Bath Cathedral, Bath, England

The exteriors of the cathedrals had a focal point, upward to the sky as if the very building was praising God in prayer and thanksgiving.

canterbury-side-view
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

 

Even the walls of the cathedrals evidenced exquisite workmanship and beautiful detail.

canterbury-wood-carvings-adorning-the-walls
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England.  Carved woodwork adorning the walls of the Cathedral.

 

The church in Canterbury was established when Saint Augustine was sent as a missionary in 597 A.D.  In the town of Canterbury, there has been daily worship of God for over 1,400 years.  Just think about that for a moment! 

The original cathedral was rebuilt completely by the Normans in 1070 following a major fire. Although there have been many additions to the building over the last nine hundred years, parts of the Quire or Choir, which is the area between the nave and sanctuary in a cathedral, and some of the windows and their stained glass date from the 12th century.

canterbury-stained-glass-windows
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England.  Stained glass windows. They were removed and sequestered for safety during World War II and reinstalled when the war ended.

See the Canterbury Cathedral’s website for more detailed information on this glorious church.  https://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/heritage/history/cathedral-history-in-a-nutshell/

We came to the entrance of the cathedral property and walked through this gate.  At first I thought this was the church … then I realized it was “just” the gate to the property.  Even this aspect of the cathedral was designed and constructed with an emphasis on the heavens.

canterbury-the-archway-into-the-church-property
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England.  Arched gate into the Cathedral property.

 

Why go to all this trouble in creating such glorious buildings in which to worship God?  Why do all this incredible craftsmanship during a period of time when people were living in far less sturdy structures?  Why do this at all?

I suggest that these folks had a right understanding of the “fear of the Lord”. 

Scripture has much to say about learning and fearing God.   See for example the following passages in the Old Testament:

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,…”

Deuteronomy 10:12 ESV

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”

Psalm 111:10 ESV

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV

So, what does it mean to fear God?  One definition of “fear” is, of course, to be afraid, to be in terror when we face God.

The struggle we have with a holy God is rooted in the conflict between God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness.  He is just and we are unjust.  This tension creates fear, hostility, and anger within us toward God.  The unjust person does not desire the company of a just judge.  We become fugitives, fleeing from the presence of One whose glory can blind us and whose justice can condemn us.  We are at war with Him unless and until we are justified.  Only the justified person can be comfortable in the presence of a holy God.

Dr. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 147

The justified person, the believer in Jesus Christ, is not afraid of God, rather God is his Father and fear is washed away.  Paul wrote this to his spiritual son, Timothy:

“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

2 Timothy 1:7 ESV

But we are still admonished to “fear the Lord”, so if we are justified by Christ, what does it mean?

“Fear” when used in this context references our actions of “reverence” and “worship”.  We are to “be in awe of” Him and we are to “honor” Him.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Proverbs 1:7 ESV

The note on Proverbs 1:7 in the Reformation Study Bible says, in part:

The fear of the Lord is the only basis of true knowledge.  This fear is not distrustful terror of God but rather the reverent awe and worshipful response of faith to the God who reveals Himself as the Creator, the Savior and the Judge.   

Have you ever been in awe of our God when looking at His expression through the majesty of His creation?

yosemite-2011-wrm-126-waterfalls-and-river-c
Yosemite National Park, waterfall and river.

Have you ever been in awe of our God when looking at His expression through the detail of the small baby, a child created in the image of God?

baby-girl-1-month-old
One month old baby girl.

Has your spirit ever soared when entering a place of worship as you anticipate spending time with your Savior and God in worship?

canterbury-cathedral-view-of-the-altar-area
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England.  Interior of Cathedral looking at the altar area of the church.

Have you considered our Savior God who sent His only Son to die for your sins?  Have you thanked Him today, even this moment, for such love, grace and mercy?

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. 

Unfortunately, our culture has forgotten this precept.  We have instead turned to human philosophy and social engineers.  We have created a generation of children who have turned to Hollywood or the Internet for their heroes and role models.  The fantasy world of television and movies, with computer generated special effects, has become the reality that our youth crave.  Young and old alike seek thrills and/or escape by turning to drugs and alcohol.   We kill children without batting an eye, while we worry about the spotted owl or the snail darter fish.  

Scripture does not change – its teachings are true and they are timeless.  Thousands of years ago, God stated that the fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom.   It was true then, and it is true today. 

I believe that those building the cathedrals were honoring God and creating a place of worship that was a physical representation of the glory and magnificence due Him in worship. 

Note that I am not saying that all churches need to be this elaborate.  Nor am I ignoring the role that the Popes or other “leaders” likely played in desiring a place of magnificence for his own benefit. 

What I am saying is that we, even in our “modern” age, need to have a holy fear of our God.  It is a heart issue, not an architectural one.  We should give God the reverence, awe and honor to which He is due.  In short, He is not the “Big Guy in the Sky”.  He is our Creator, Sustainer and Savior … He is our Father and our God.

 

Father, forgive me when I have not given You the reverence that You deserve.  Let my heart sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” throughout the day and let my praise to You be last on my lips as sleep overcomes me.  May I love You and glorify You in all things.