Luke: “Let Him go. Bam. Bam.”
Dragline: “Knock it off, Luke. You can’t talk about the Lord that way.”
Luke: “Are you still believing in that big bearded Boss up there? You think He’s watchin’ us?”
A rumble of thunder.
Dragline: “Get in here. Ain’t ya scared? Ain’t ya scared of dyin’?” (“Cool Hand Luke,” Warner Brothers Studios, 1967)
I saw the movie “Cool Hand Luke” in my senior year at the University of Illinois. Paul Newman’s acting and his piercing blue eyes brought to life one of the anti-establishment heroes of the 1960s: Luke Jackson. The story took place in a Florida prison camp where Luke was sentenced to a highway chain gang for getting drunk and cutting off parking meter heads with a pipe cutter. Like most people, I enjoyed the film.
Afterward, my fraternity friends and I often repeated Dragline’s lines whenever a tough situation faced us.
“Ain’t you scared? Ain’t ya scared of dyin’?”
A little over 25 years later, Dragline’s lines failed to roll out of my memory banks when death seemed to be knocking on my door. Even if I would have remembered the words, I would have been too frightened to speak them.
It happened on a weekday afternoon at my apartment in 1995 while I was talking to the Lord. I was upset with the way He was handling my life and felt He should move a little faster on delivering me out of my troubles. I ended my rant by saying, “Maybe You aren’t powerful enough to do this for me!”
I sat down in my chair and began reading a biography on John Lake’s life.
Then, all of a sudden, the Holy Spirit filled the room with His holiness.
The book dropped from my hands as my knees hit the floor. Tears streamed from my eyes and I cried, “Don’t kill me, Lord! Don’t kill me! Please don’t kill me!”
I knew in that instant God was powerful enough to deliver me if He wanted to, but also, I knew He was more than powerful enough to kill me and send me to hell if He chose to do that instead. He was the Lord God Almighty filled with fiery holiness, while I was little Larry, wallowing in my stinking flesh. When I arose from my knees that day, I feared the Lord.
And yet, He was still my best friend whom I loved with all of my heart.
A quote from C.S. Lewis’ book “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” perfectly describes the irony of my feelings at the time:
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course Aslan isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
In 1982, John Wimber, the head of Vineyard Fellowships, founded Vineyard Music. This new music became the template for today’s contemporary worship music. Unlike hymns or other historical Christian music before that time, Vineyard’s worship music emphasized building a personal relationship with Jesus.
Along with the new worship music and its emphasis on personal relationships with Jesus, an even bigger revelation dawned on people: God loves us. Maybe this revelation sounds simplistic now, but it was a big deal for many of us to learn that God’s love was not predicated on our efforts to please Him nor upon our religious rituals. It flowed out of His heart because that’s who He is. God is love.
As with all revelations from heaven, the waters got muddied over the years concerning the “God loves us” enlightenment. The boundaries of the early revelations expanded wider and wider so that people began believing that if God loved us no matter what we did, then there would be no consequences for our actions. Because after all, God loves us!
Today, there are numerous gay believers saying, “God loves me. He knows my heart and wants me to be happy. Therefore, why should I change my gay lifestyle to please a bunch of religious folks who quote Bible verses at me?”
Other believers might be saying the same sort thing about their fornication or adultery or abortions or drunkenness or drug addictions or gambling or greed or pornography or gluttony or whatever. Hey, God loves us, right?
Yet, how can we view God as a big Teddy Bear who loves us, but forget that He is the God who killed Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, in the early church of Acts? Didn’t God love that couple? If He did love them, why did He kill them?
If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 15:10)
Ananias and Sapphira lied and deliberately rebelled against God’s commandments. So God chose to use the couple as examples to stir up the fear of the Lord in His church. And it worked!
OK, what if God decided to kill a few of us for our deliberate rebellion against His commandments – would the fear of the Lord return to His church?
Would we quickly learn that the God of love is still dangerous?