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?