Once, many years ago, I attended a United Methodist Men’s breakfast. Some of you may remember that, back in the Sixties and Seventies, we wore smooth leather shoes that needed polishing: today we wear sneakers. Modern sneakers are designed for all sorts of sports and casual wear. But back then sneakers were for the gym. Men wore leather shoes that needed to be polished. We wore them to work or school, shopping and, of course, to church. Now, in many grocery stores, shopping centers and other public places there was often a man who had a shoe shine stand. This was usually a Black man, especially in the South, which is where I lived. This shoe-shine man was in many ways a true ‘second class citizen’. If you could afford a servant, you would most certainly have him shine your shoes. If not, you did it yourself, or paid this shoe-shine man to shine them for you. Well, just outside the door to the room where the Men’s breakfast was being served was one of the men of our church, with a shoe shine kit. He was shining the shoes of every man who entered. When I saw this, I immediately understood the impact of Jesus’ washing the Disciples feet. I knew exactly why Peter did not want Jesus to wash his feet. I didn’t want this man to shine my shoes. And I had to humble myself to let him do this.
Some of the reading I have been doing lately mentions “The Fear Of The LORD” but never seems to be certain of exactly what it is to “fear the LORD”. I have an idea about it, but first, let’s take a look at a few verses from Scripture.
The NKJV has a number of Old Testament references to “The Fear of the LORD”, but only one New Testament verse. I used Bible Gateway to produce a list of 28 NKJV references with the exact words, “The Fear of the Lord”. A sample is reproduced here:
1 Samuel 11:7 So he took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hands of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to battle, so it shall be done to his oxen.” And the fear of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out with one consent. 2 Chronicles 14:14 Then they defeated all the cities around Gerar, for the fear of the Lord came upon them; and they plundered all the cities, for there was exceedingly much spoil in them. Psalm 34:11 Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Isaiah 11:3 His delight is in the fear of the Lord, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; Acts 9:31 Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.
Do you see a progression in Jewish/Christian understanding as we proceed from Samuel to Acts? We start with terror and end delighted and walking with this specific fear. One concept comes to my mind. The ideas C. S. Lewis put into hisNarnia series about the nature of Aslan. “He’s not tame, but He’s good” for example. The description of Lucy’s first approach to Aslan (in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe) is exactly what I would call “The Fear of the LORD”. How would you approach a talking Lion? I think the answer would be, “With great respect and extreme care.”
Look at Exodus 9:19-21:
19 Therefore send now and gather your livestock and all that you have in the field, for the hail shall come down on every man and every animal which is found in the field and is not brought home; and they shall die.” ’ ” 20 He who feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his livestock flee to the houses. 21 But he who did not regard the word of the Lord left his servants and his livestock in the field.
To me, this sounds like ‘respect’ is a synonym for ‘fear’. Just like approaching a Lion. One would probably be ‘trembling’. It seems that ‘respect’ and ‘fear’ both imply a certain understanding that the person who is respected/feared has power and can harm.
But there’s more to this than simple wariness. When we approach God, we should be wary; it is obvious that only a fool is not careful in approaching God. But we see something else in Lewis’ descriptions of Aslan: we can trust the Lion. The quote from Isaiah chapter 11 turns things upside down: this is the description of the reign of the Servant, Jesse’s Branch. We enjoy reading verses 6-9, the picture of a little child leading all the beasts, with the lion and the calf lying down together, eating straw.
So, in Acts 9, the churches walk in the Fear of the Lord and also in the Comfort of the Holy Spirit. Unlike the Roman Emperor Nero, we can trust our King. There’s no capricious justice with Our Lord. Instead, we know that He is one of us. He died on the Cross for us. That’s because He loves us. Only a King who truly loves his subjects will do that which is best for them.
True, God is like a great talking Lion, capable of destroying both the body and the soul. And so we do fear Him. We would be foolish not to fear such power. However, it seems to me that He likes it when we snuggle up to Him and play with His mane.
I have nothing to say.
So when you listen you won't hear
Your own thoughts.
But then, when I do speak,
Still feel like
You are just listening to
Your own thoughts.
When you finally do speak words
I feel them pushing and shoving
With deliberate force.
Woven from Pride and Desire,
Seemingly soft and consoling;
like Artillery they buffet me
Without warning I feel a barrage of needle sharp mental objects and
raise my Shield and take aim with my Artillery.
Logic and Reality have been blown apart and lost in the Chaos.
The clips are emptied and quiet prevails.
I have nothing to say.
Every year, as soon as the stores begin to display Christmas themed products, some people begin to whine about how Christmas has been commercialized. Why, they seem to be asking, can’t we just celebrate the birth of Jesus without all the ‘pagan nonsense’?
Like C. S. Lewis I used to think that the way we celebrate the birth of our Savior was pagan and wrong. If we search history, we can, I think, find some answers. In addition, I think we will also find some help from Holy Scripture. But I suspect, if you are one to moan and groan about how we’ve ‘destroyed Christmas’ then you won’t like what I’m about to tell you. Because, you see, I think the way we celebrate Christmas is God’s plan! Like many, I used to think we had let our sinful natures destroy this beautiful Holy Day. Now, I think otherwise.
My first encounter with this argument occurred many years ago when there was a huge outcry about people using “Xmas” or “X-Mass” instead of “Christmas”. I was amused to learn that the “X” was a traditional Christian way of writing “Christ”. That’s because the ‘X’ stands for the Cross. So, “X-mas” means more than just ‘Christmas’, it incorporates the concept of the Cross. This gave me much amusement, because I love to burst the balloons of people who issue much ‘hot air’ concerning topics of which they know very little. (I think Jesus did the same thing…if so, then He is a good role model…I just hope I’m not spouting ‘hot air’ when I know very little!)
Therefore, I was very interested to read somewhere about how the Reformation Protestants inadvertently set up the commercialization of X-mas. (I’m not sure where, because I did not record the reference.) It seemed to me that it was the descendants of the Reformation Protestants who were bellyaching about how Christmas was being destroyed by commercial enterprise. It would be fun, I thought, to pop their balloon. And, at the same time, I also thought I could propose a strategy to make Christmas a Christian holy day once again… But God popped my balloon!
The tale I read somewhere was that it was a longstanding tradition for Christians to exchange gifts on St. Nicholas’ Day. Then, when the Reformation came along, the reformers tossed out all that they deemed ‘Catholic’. This included saints’ days. The Roman Church celebrated St. Nicholas on the 6th of December by exchanging gifts, among other traditional activities. With the tossing out of the saints’ days the celebration (and the exchange of gifts) on St. Nicholas’ Day was no longer permissible for the Protestants.
Imagine telling your 8 year old this, “Well, last year we were Catholic, but this year we are Presbyterian and we no longer do Catholic things.” Therefore, according to the tale I read, the Protestant leaders agreed to move the gift giving to Christmas Day. And then the merchants and the media took over. So we have all the commercialization associated with Christ instead of St. Nicholas. Oh, yeah, we still have St. Nicholas. Only we know him by his mispronounced name “Santa Claus” (‘Saint’ becomes ‘Sant’, the ‘Ni’ becomes an ‘a’ and ‘cholas’ becomes ‘claus’.). And he got moved from Asia Minor to the North Pole…
Well, I’ve been doing some research. It is confusing. No one actually knows why we celebrate Jesus’ birthday on 25th of December. One reference will claim that it has something to do with Saturnalia. Another reference seems to think that it was a tradition in a few churches back in the first or second century AD. What’s important is that we do have some date, accurate or not, for Jesus’ birth.
As for Santa Claus, well, that seems to have been a result of New Yorkers trying to promote their city in the early 1800’s. They revived a Dutch tradition about St. Nicholas. That’s one story, anyway. Has to do with the Knickerbockers and even Washington Irving. But I didn’t record that because I wasn’t engaged in formal research. I just read it somewhere and vaguely remember it. What is important is that, over the centuries, many Christians began to exchange gifts on Jesus’ birthday and somehow St. Nicholas was incorporated in the festivities.
Perhaps, with some diligent research, combined with accurate reference notes, I could make a definitive statement. But I think I’ll look to the Bible for the answer. And I find it in Philippians, chapter one. St. Paul is discussing how some are preaching the Gospel in an attempt to make things more difficult for him. His response to this is that he is happy for Christ to be preached.
Now, suppose that we did exchange gifts on St. Nicholas’ Day? The commercialization of that day would really promote ‘Santa Claus’ and there would be little cultural recognition of Christmas. It would probably be a Christian Holy Day on par with Pentecost. As a culture, we would celebrate “Santa Claus Day” and not “Christmas”. No one could say, “The reason for the season” and mean Jesus. No one would put on fancy light displays with a Nativity Scene and a Santa Claus with reindeer. It would be the Santa Claus, the reindeer, maybe Frosty the Snowman, and the “Grinch”–only he would have kidnapped Santa or Rudolph. We would sing about a ‘White Santa Day’. No manger, no shepherds, no Magi, no Christmas.
I think God wanted us to have Scrooge and the Grinch. He wanted us to have Clement Moore’s poem and Rudolph. He wanted us to have Charlie Brown’s tree and Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”. They help to spread the Joy. Because it will always be called “Christmas” and the story of God becoming one of us will always be told. I think St. Paul was right in his assessment. So, as a Christian I am grateful to any and all who assisted in making Christmas what it is today. I think it is proof that God really and truly does know what He is doing.
Looks like we have a choice: we can be modern-day Pharisees and denounce people for not obeying our laws…or…we can decorate a tree and hang up colored lights and wrap presents and do our very best to celebrate the birth of our Savior.
Because it is not in denouncing the sins of others that we proclaim Christ; it is the way we live our lives as a reflection of His Love.
October 5th. Our son, Andrew, was born on this day. Unfortunately, he lived only 11 days. Perhaps I will tell that story sometime. Today I tell him a story.
took a deep breath and stepped into the stone circle. His
grandparents had told him about stone circles. It was his Aunt
Bridget who had told him about this one. She had said some other
things, too. At any rate, this would be an adventure. He looked
around and saw that nothing out of the ordinary had happened. He
walked around, touching the standing stones. They were, as most
stones are, cool to the touch. And a bit rough, like heavy sandpaper.
He made a final circle, touching each of the stones. Disappointed, he
took off his backpack and sat down next to one of the stones. It cast
enough of a shadow so that he did not have the hot sun beating down
on him. He took a drink from his water bladder and then pulled out
his lunch: a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich, some cheese
flavored tortilla chips and some apple slices.
was rather disapointed. It would have been wonderful to experience
the power of a stone circle. But not everyone got to do that. The
peanut butter sandwich was quite tasty. And the apples were better
than he had remembered. The crunch of the chips was louder and
crispier than he had noticed before. Even his water tasted sharper,
clearer than water usually tasted. He noticed that it seemed to get a
bit darker. Clouds were forming. Low clouds that looked like rain. He
could see that they were some distance away, but rolling in from all
sides. And he could see them so very clearly. The air felt heavy and
damp. This might be a very strong storm. Quickly finishing his lunch,
he started to stand up. But he could not. His legs seemed to be
asleep. They were not tingling. They did not feel funny. He just
could not move them.
splashed his face. He was quickly soaked. Except it wasn’t rain. He
was floating in a lake. Looking around, he was quite close to shore.
A short swim and he was standing on a mound of tiny shells. Some of
the snail-like creatures that had made the shells began to climb onto
his sneakers. He tried to flick them off without hurting them, but
they seemed to adhere to the leather. A big wave splashed his
sneakers and some of the snails washed off. So he stepped back into
the water and the remainder of the snails quickly floated away. He
stepped out into deeper water. He had enjoyed his swim and thought
another good swim might be fun.
large splash attracted his attention. Then he had a weird shock: the
creature that made the splash was like nothing he had ever seen
before. It looked like a pony with the head of a duck and the
flippers of a dolphin. It was splashing and jumping and frolicking—if
one can frolic in a lake. It seemed to be laughing. Aidan stared at
it for an extra long minute.
creature moved toward him. It seemed to be smiling; offering
friendship. Then it began to splash the lake surface with its
flippers, splashing him with water. Aidan suddenly realized that this
creature was not a happy, friendly animal. It was terrified of him.
That was not a smile, but a grimace. It was not frolicking, it was
started to turn away from the creature, then thought better of that.
So, he backed up, slowly. A quick glance and he saw that he could
safely back up; no mounds of snails were behind him. As he backed
onto the shore, the creature seemed to calm down. It began moving
back toward the center of the lake.
the creature was no longer facing him, he took a long look around.
The lake was maybe a couple of miles wide. However it stretched from
horizon to horizon. Across the lake he could see cliffs rising up
above the lake and something green that extended beyond his sight.
Behind him, rising up over a hundred feet, was a wall of rock. He
could see something on top of the cliff, but he did not recognize it.
The shore beneath the cliff was an expanse of sand, dried brownish
seaweed, an occasional piece of driftwood and billions of tiny
noticed something odd in one place on the rock wall. Moving closer,
he realized that it was a stair: someone had carved steps into the
wall of rock. About halfway up the side of the cliff he noticed a
rather large platform. Climbing the stairs took much less effort than
he thought it would. At the top of the stairs was a large platform
built of inlaid stone of various colors. The inlaid stone formed a
rather beautiful pattern. Standing on the edge of the platform, he
looked out at the lake.
While he could see the objects in front of him very clearly and in sharp focus, he had difficulty recognizing exactly what he was observing. His impression that there was a cliff on the other side was apparently correct. He could see no sign of any buildings, only what now appeared to be a vast forest. There was a disturbance on the surface of the lake, maybe two or three hundred yards out. When he finally understood what he was observing, he was astounded. It was a whole herd or flock of the creatures. Some were babies. Others were much bigger than the one that chased him out of the lake. These creatures really were frolicking. He could see that their movements were now much different.
his attention to the pattern of stones in the platform floor, he was
surprised that he recognized the pattern. It was a very ancient
design, familiar to him because his grandparents had a rug with the
design hanging on the wall in their hallway. While he had always
wanted to take the rug down, lay it on the floor and walk around the
pattern, he never had. Today, with the pattern on the platform before
him, he would walk the design.
he took the last step he felt the floor give way. He was dropping
through space and time, it would seem. He quickly lost consciousness.
woke up in the stone circle, sitting up against the standing stone.
The sun had moved and was now beating down on him. He could move his
legs and so he stood up. That’s when he realized that he had been
wet. The sun had dried the front of his shirt and jeans, but his back
was still damp. And his sneakers were still wet. He must have slept
through the rain.
couple of steps and he felt something in his shoes. Sitting down, he
took them off. In his shoes, stuck to his socks, were a few of the
tiny shells from the lake
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I’ve known God for a long time, but after the turn of the century I really got to know Him. I can tell you that there’s nothing about me that’s anywhere near as interesting as He is. But since you asked, I am married to a lady who is more beautiful today than she was when we married. I live in the mountains, but I’m Eastern Carolina by birth and Clan Gordon by marriage. So I put vinegar on my BBQ and drink Scotch and dark ale. I am extremely prejudiced about BBQ, Scotch and dark ale. Otherwise, I’m friendly and agreeable. My favorite authors are C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Stephen Lawhead and Ayn Rand. Three Christians and an Atheist. We have one cat and one dog. Oh,yeah, ‘Uisdean’ means ‘always stone’ or ‘forever stone’ & it is pronounced to rhyme with ‘ocean’…so “ewisjun” (the D has a J sound).