February 20, 2018 – Whatever We Fear (Do It Anyway!) 1 Peter 3:13-16, 1 Corinthians 2:13

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Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:13-16 (NIV)

Whatever I fear the most is whatever I see before me/ Whenever I let my guard down, whatever I was ignoring /Whatever I fear the most is whatever I see before me /Whatever I have been given, whatever I have been – “Whatever I Fear”- Toad the Wet Sprocket

Fear in and of itself is neither good nor evil, but there are healthy and unhealthy fears. “Fear of the Lord,” as in a reverent respect for God, is a healthy fear. Fear of touching a hot burner is a healthy fear. At times fear can prevent us from diving into an action or a behavior that will cause us harm.

However, it’s easy in this world to get mired down in unhealthy fears that are borne of either bad experiences in the past or irrational anxiety. To “err on the side of caution” is usually considered a prudent and wise course to take, but too much caution can lead us to stagnation and lead us away from the things that God has for us to experience and accomplish.

We should not hesitate to do what we know is good. We should be unafraid to tell others about Jesus and what He has done and is doing in and through us. The apostle Peter tells us to have an answer for those who ask us why we hope in Jesus- a kind and respectful and helpful answer.

Unhealthy or excessive fear can keep us from doing and saying the things we know we should.

Martin Luther is known for saying, “Sin boldly.” This doesn’t mean just randomly sin, but to feel the fear and live and do anyway. Since we are sinners, yes, some of the things we do along the way will be wrong and will fall short of God’s will, but nothing will get accomplished if we are too afraid to try. We are challenged to be bold even when we are shaking in our boots, if we know what we are doing, saying or standing for is necessary and right.

The Holy Spirit has answers when we don’t have them –

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 1 Corinthians 2:13 (NIV)

God is the only One we should fear- the same God who tells us to get out there to do good, and to tell others about Him.

How is fear holding us back from the discipline of service today?

Do we fear getting too involved, whether it is emotionally, physically, financially or in committing our time?

Do we hesitate to make a sacrifice for the sake of others?

The spiritual disciplines of sacrifice and service do require intentional effort on our part.  Like the disciplines of sports or music, for example, we get better at it through small steps, and practice.

How can we practice a small step today- an act of service for someone, or a sacrifice of our time and talents to serve God?

January 2, 2018 – The Pursuit of Wisdom- Proverbs 9:9-12, Matthew 6:33, Job 28:24-28

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Give instruction to the wise, and they will become wiser still; teach the righteous and they will gain in learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life.  If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it. Proverbs 9:9-12 (NRSV)

The phrase “fear of the Lord” is sort of an awkward translation into English.  When we use the word “fear,” it has a few different connotations.  “Fear of the Lord” correctly translated is fear defined as a reverent respect and awe. Jesus uses the parallel of a healthy father and son relationship, one of respect, dependency and love.

The story of the Fall, and of human nature and sin, is one of humanity getting too big for its britches in a figurative way. When we blindly trust in our own knowledge or ability and fail to acknowledge God, we are being unwise.  We are given many examples in Scripture of what not to do – the temptation in the Garden (Genesis 3 ) , the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11), and the lawlessness that prevailed in the days of the Judges (Judges 21:25) all tell us of the consequences of separating ourselves from God and not having a respect or reverence for Him.

All of the above are also examples of trusting in human logic instead of going to the Source of wisdom. We all do it, too. The good news is there is a better way, and God is patient with us, like a wise father guiding his children.

Solomon was said to be the wisest man who ever lived. God offered him any gift that he would want, and he asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3:3-14). God not only granted him wisdom, but also prosperity and long life.  When our first passion is seeking God and His kingdom, His plan for our life comes to life.

(Jesus said): But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33 (NRSV)

If we choose to find wisdom today, we still need to ask God and look to Him to find it. We will still find wisdom and the King of Kings present in the most unlikely and humble places- from the manger in Bethlehem to the needy, the lonely, the misunderstood, and the forgotten who are everywhere in the world today. We find wisdom when we seek God in the pages of Scripture. God reveals His wisdom to us in our times of meditation and prayer.

For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens. When he gave to the wind its weight, and apportioned out the waters by measure; when he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the thunderbolt; then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out.  And he said to humankind, ‘Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’” Job 28:24-28 (NRSV)

November 3, 2017- Fear the Lord, He IS our Refuge, Psalm 34:1-9, Romans 8:37-39

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I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.

This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.

O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want. Psalm 34:1-9 (NRSV)

 

On first glance, there is a paradox in the teaching of this Psalm. At one time we are being instructed to seek the Lord, and He delivered me from all my fears. Then we are told to fear the Lord.

We can be losing a bit of the meaning of this Psalm in the translation. The word that is translated as “fear” in English (as in “fear the Lord”) can be taken to mean the state of having a reverent respect and awe of the Lord.  If we read the Psalm in this way, that fears are those things that we dread, (such as a fear of pain or fear of poverty) and that the fear of the Lord is not that we dread the Lord, but that we hold Him in awe and respect, it takes on a powerful meaning.

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In much of Scripture (and all throughout the Psalms) God underscores that He is our refuge.  The tiny little word is means everything here.  God provides our food, our shelter, our clothing, even the air we breathe, but He is our refuge.  Our safe place, our shelter, is not just provided by God.  He is our safe place and our shelter.

If someone or something is going to destroy us, it has to get through God first. Think about that for a moment.

Of course our thoughts go to physical death or injury or illness- and those things can and do strike our bodies, but there is life beyond our bodies and beyond this world.

In this confidence, even knowing that there are powers that can cause us pain and/or take our mortal lives in this world, God is our refuge. We can stand knowing that we are in Him, that He is all around us, in us and through us.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 (NRSV)

July 19, 2017 – Do Not Fear, or Be Afraid- Isaiah 44:6-8, Matthew 10-28

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Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides Me there is no god. Who is like Me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before Me. Who has announced from of old the things to come?  Let them tell us what is yet to be. Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are My witnesses! Is there any god besides Me? There is no other rock; I know not one. Isaiah 44:6-8 (NRSV)

Fear is a word that can be taken in a few different ways in Scripture, but the only “fear” that we are told to hold onto is “fear of the Lord.”  The phrase “fear of the Lord” appears 134 times in the NRSV translation of the Bible, so it is an important theme.  However, the English translation, “fear of the Lord” can more accurately and completely be taken as meaning, “an obedient reverence and awe of the Lord.”

God doesn’t want us to be afraid of people or afraid of what people think they can do to us. As much power as some individuals may hold- even up to the power of physical life and death- all power ultimately comes from God.

Jesus tells us-

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 (NRSV)

The fear of hell never brought salvation to anyone, and that’s not what Jesus is emphasizing here.  He is underscoring the point that there is a limit to what power other people and earthly circumstances actually have over us.  Life in the physical body is only for a limited time.  The worst thing any human or any condition can do to us is to extinguish the life of our bodies.   That is eventually going to happen anyway. Bodies are temporary.  But our souls live on, and they belong to God.

So God’s the one we need to be concerned with. Not with the fear of other people’s wrath, or the pursuit of stuff, or the fear of scarcity, or the fear of pain, or the fear of anything else.

God isn’t a big fan of people being bullies, or of people living to be trendy, or of people striving to “have it all.” God is a big fan of people living according to His love- bringing mercy and kindness to others, standing up to injustice, and being His hands and feet here on earth.  It’s His opinion of us that matters, because it is life with Him that will last.

What are we afraid of? What (or who) is holding us back?