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Blessings for Fear

July 28, 2011

Many Christians today are far too casual with God. We often treat Him like a celestial vending machine, popping in prayers when we need something and expecting Him to respond with just what we ordered. We must consider His holiness! He is the Almighty God, Creator of the universe who deserves our reverent fear.

But the proper fear of God is not an attitude that keeps us shaking in a corner or running away from Him as fast as our weak little legs can carry us. No, if we have trusted in Jesus as our Savior, then His blood has granted us access to the very throne room of God. We can draw near to our holy God “with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19-23).

Yes, we have access, but God is still holy. Malachi 1:6 reminds us that God is both our Father and Master, which makes us both child and slave. This dual role creates a tension that helps us better understand what it means to fear God A proper balance will keep us from either treating God too casually or remaining too distant.

We will obey God out of fear. In his book, Holiness, Henry Blackaby says, “Where there is no fear of God, there is no fear of sin.” When we do fear God as we should, then we will begin to obey Him. Our obedience will then foster a deeper intimacy and closeness with God than we have ever experienced. Jesus understood this connection:

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed the Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  John 15:10-11, NIV.

The Bible is full of passages showing the blessings associated with fearing God. Below are just a few from the Psalms. For space sake I will list the reference and the blessing. I encourage you to look them up and read them for yourself when you have time!

  • Psalm 25:14 – God confides in those who fear and makes His covenant known to them.
  • Psalm 31:19 – God bestows His goodness on them.
  • Psalm 33:18-19 – God’s eyes are on those who fear Him to deliver them from death.
  • Psalm 103:13 – God has compassion on those who fear Him.
  • Psalm 115:11 – God is their help and shield.
  • Psalm 145:19 – God fulfills their desires; He hears their cries and saves them.

These are just the beginning and they are all glorious! But my favorite passage about the blessings of fearing God is Malachi 3:16-17a:

Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name. “They will be mine,” says the LORD Almighty, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession.

We have only touched the surface of what it means to fear God. Here are a few resources that will help you better understand God’s holy nature and what it means to fear Him.

How has your understanding or view of fearing God changed this week?

God Deserves our Fear

July 27, 2011

Picture with me for a moment the scene in the desert of Sinai when God descended on the mountain top and revealed Himself to the children of Israel. (If you have time read Exodus 19.)

Before God’s visit, Moses warned the people not to touch or even approach the mountain or they would die. When God arrived, a dense cloud enveloped the peak. Fire and smoke billowed upward almost blocking the sun. The ground shook violently. Thunder pounded. Lightening streaked across the sky. God’s holy presence so frightened the Israelites they begged Moses to be their mediator with God. They promised to listen and obey everything Moses passed along. (See Deut 5:23-27.)

Obedience was the exact thing God wanted from them. He revealed Himself to them for that very purpose:

Never forget the day when you stood before the Lord your God at Mount Sinai,where he told me, ‘Summon the people before me, and I will personally instruct them. Then they will learn to fear me as long as they live, and they will teach their children to fear me also.’ Deut 4:10, NLT

Israel responded in fearful obedience to the holiness of God. In his book, The Holiness of God, the great theologian R.C. Sproul says the word “holy” can be used as a synonym for God’s divine nature. “When the word holy is applied to God, it does not signify one single attribute. On the contrary, God is called holy in a general sense… holy calls attention to all that God is.”

It was God’s holiness revealed (His glory) that caused the Israelites to fear Him. God’s very nature is the basis for godly fear. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament refers to the holiness of God as “totally good and entirely without evil… By definition, holiness is separate from all that is sinful and profane.” Because God is holy, He is “above the weaknesses and imperfections of mortals.” This truth is expressed in First John: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” 1 John 1:5b, NIV.

The holiness of God is the essence of His being. All the things we consider the attributes of God – like love, mercy, faithfulness, and righteousness – are expressions of His holy nature. God is good because He is holy. God is gracious because He is holy. And God is just because He is holy.

We should fear God because He is holy. Our holy God deserves our highest reference, awe, respect, honor, and obedience! God wants us to fear Him so we will obey Him. When we obey God we will be right in the center of His will for us. And the center of His will is always what’s best for us!

“Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” Deut 5:29, NIV

Tomorrow we will see how godly fear operates in the life of a believer who has gained access to our holy God through the blood of Christ.

How could contemplating God’s holiness expand your view of Him?

We are Commanded to Fear God

July 26, 2011

I came across a list on the internet of more than 500 phobias, indexed alphabetically. Some, like pteronophobia (the fear of being tickled by feathers) are rare and unusual. Then there are others, like atomosophobia (the fear of atomoic explosions), I think we should all have.

By definition, phobias are abnormal fears. But the Bible teaches it is normal for believers to fear God. In fact, God promises some incredible things to those who do. And when we do, we don’t have to fear anything else!

I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Psalm 34:4-7, NIV

Isn’t it ironic that the one fear the Bible consistently encourages us to have is one we sorely lack?

Here are just a few of the passages in the Bible that command us to fear God and depict godly fear as the correct, positive attitude towards God.

  • The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. Ps 25:14, NIV
  • The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Ps 110:10a, NIV
  • Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands. Ps 112:1, NIV
  • He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge. Prov 14:26, NIV
  • Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28
  • Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 1 Peter 1:17, NIV

I could list many more, but these few show that God does indeed expect His children to fear Him. And if you missed the promises in these verses, go back and look again!

Here is the definition (from the Online Bible Greek and Hebrew Lexicon) for the Hebrew word, yare’, that is translated as “fear” in these passages:

To fear, be afraid; to stand in awe of, be awed; to fear, reverence, honor, respect

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words elaborates on the meaning of yare’. “Used of a person in an exalted position, [yare’] connotes ‘standing in awe.’ This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect.”

The Bible often equates the fear of God with living rightly and obediently before Him. (See Deut 4:9-14, 5:22-29, 10:12-13 for examples.) In fact, as you read through the Bible you will see that the fear of God and obeying Him are almost synonymous ideas.

In his book, The Joy of Fearing God, Jerry Bridges states that people who continue to live in sin and stubbornly refuse to obey God apparently have no fear of God or His discipline. “Anytime we sin with the thought lurking in the back of our minds that God will forgive us, we aren’t living in the fear of God.” I know I have been guilty of trying to take advantage of God’s grace in this way.

The proper fear of God is based on who He is. Based on my study and observation, I believe the primary reason we fail to fear God as we should is because our view of God is limited. Tomorrow, we will take a closer look at God’s holy nature and expand our view of God!

Have you ever been guilty of “taking advantage of God’s grace?”

Do You Fear God?

July 25, 2011

Do you fear God? That’s not an easy question to answer for most Christians. If you’ve spent any time reading the Bible you know that it is full of passages that tells us we should “fear God.” But you’ve also read about God’s love, kindness, mercy, and grace. So why should believers fear the One who has forgiven our sins, indwells us with His Spirit, and daily pours His grace into our lives? And what should godly fear look like in our lives?

Today through Thursday we will explore the answers to those questions. We will define “godly fear” and see how that attitude should affect our relationship with God. Here are a few of the misguided understandings of godly fear I’ve seen:

  • Some Christians don’t believe we should fear God. Because the word “fear” has a negative connotation for many of us, we focus primarily on the truth that God is loving, merciful, and gracious. We take 1 John 4:18 out of context and argue against the need to fear God by quoting “perfect love drives out fear.” (In context, this passage is talking about the fear of God’s judgment.)
  • Others of us agree that God should be feared, but we have a watered-down understanding of what “fear” means. We rely on that old explanation I heard numerous times as a girl: “To fear God means that we should respect Him and be in awe of Him.” While that is partly true, in our contemporary society our “respect” and “awe” is usually far less than God expects or deserves.
  • Then there are others who have kept their distance from God because of His “fearsome” characteristics. They recognize His holiness, righteousness, and justice and are afraid to draw near. Some don’t understand His grace and others refuse to repent and receive it.

I began to study what it means to fear God about ten years ago. I was teaching new believers who had been told that “God is love.” When they began to read the Bible they saw passage after passage depicting the fear of God as a positive attitude believers should have. They asked me what it meant. I gave them the answer I had always been given, but the Holy Spirit kept whispering to me that there was more to it than that! My 9-week Bible study “Before His Throne: Discovering the Wonder of Intimacy with a Holy God,” was the result of my study.

I know we haven’t really answered any questions today. I simply wanted to set the stage! But here are a few truths about godly fear to whet your appetite for the rest of the week:

  • When we fear God we don’t have to fear anything else!
  • Proper godly fear will draw us closer to God, not push us away.
  • When we fear God, we will find joy and intimacy in our relationship with Him.

Tomorrow we will look at some Bible passages that teach us that the fear of God is not only the right attitude towards Him, but is also a positive, life-changing attitude. Wednesday, we will see why God deserves our fear. Thursday, we will discover a few of the blessings of a “fearful” life.

What are some of the things you’ve heard about what it means to “fear God?” Does your church teach that you should “fear God?”

Friday Favorites: Devotional Books

July 22, 2011

Tried and true, the daily devotional book is generally a staple in most everyone’s home.  From classics like My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers to newer examples such as Don’t Make Me Come Up There by Kristen Welch, these are wonderful tools for beginning your day and refocusing yourself on God’s Word and His plan.   What’s Your Goal? gives a detailed description of the differences between devotional reading and Bible study, as well explaining other ways of interacting with God’s Word.

image from microsoft clip art

Teri Lynne:   I tried to have only one, I really did!  But I couldn’t choose between Jesus Calling and Streams in the Desert.  They are both different in tone and style, but both have proven instrumental in helping me understand and grow in my knowledge of the character of God, especially in times of difficulty.

Julie:  Part of the One Year Book series, the One Year Book of Hymns offers a historical explanation of what inspired great hymns to flow from the lives of the authors. Scripture accompanies each day’s devotion, along with the lyrics of a great hymn of our faith. Many have long been forgotten, but their timeless truths challenge my thoughts and prayers to go deeper.

Sandra:  I have to admit, if it’s popular I tend to think it’s not good. Or at least not deep. So when I saw Jesus Calling by Sarah Young was the #1 best-selling Christian book in 2010, I assumed it was “easy reading.” But Teri Lynne shared quotes from it and I thought I’d check it out. I put it on the Kindle app on my phone and can read it when I’m waiting to pick up my son from school or while dinner is cooking. It’s good for quick encouragement!

Kathy:  I rarely use a devotional book for my time with God. Instead I use a Bible reading plan so I can hear what God has to say to me directly. However, I do love Oswald Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest because it is spiritually meaty and not fluffy.

Stephanie: My Utmost for His Highest. During my 24 years as a Christian, I’ve probably read through it more than 10 times and it always seems to speak to me in the midst of my circumstances every time. I also love to use Oswald Chambers’ quotes.

Kristi: If I read a devotional, I enjoy My Utmost for His Highest , too. I also enjoy C.H. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, revised and updated by Alistair Begg – you can receive these free in daily emails by subscribing here.

For Further Reading:  

Each of the Scripture Dig writers as well as other guests have shared what their morning quiet times {personal Bible study times} look like.  You can see a list of all the different posts by under the category My Time to Dig.

The Older Brother & The Father’s Love

July 21, 2011

We saw that the older brother didn’t see himself as a sinner, wanted to dispense justice rather than forgiveness, and felt entitled based on his good works. But the last words in the parable are from the father–an invitation. We don’t know what the older brother decided, but we can look at the real life of another Pharisee and see how he accepted the invitation from the Father.

Paul wrote, “…though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless” (Phil. 3:4-6).

Look at all the reasons he had to boast, feel proud, and even feel entitled. How did Paul keep from sinning after looking at his impressive resume?

He wrote, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his suffering, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:7-11).

Paul combated the sins of pride and entitlement with the power of the cross. He goes on to say in Philippians that he is not perfect and forgets what had already happened, focusing on what was to come. Like Paul, my list of accomplishments pales in comparison to the life of Christ. When I compare all my good deeds to His death on the cross, I am reminded of what a sinner I am. I’m also reminded of His grace and love. I must continue to preach the gospel to myself.

At the end of the story of the prodigal son, we know the younger brother returned home, repented, and was forgiven by his father. We don’t know if the older brother repented and joined the party. But when I see myself in this story, I can make the choice to stay in my sin or be restored to a right relationship with God.

The Older Brother: The Sin of Entitlement

July 20, 2011

The sin of the older brother that hits me most personally is that of entitlement. The older brother felt he was entitled to more from his father. He saw the party in his brother’s honor and felt he deserved a party with his friends too. He was so angry and resentful, he stood outside the celebration and refused to go in (Luke 15:28). I struggle with this too, friends. I look at the lives of others and think I deserve what they have. Entitlement in my life sounds like, “This isn’t fair,” “You owe me more,” and “I deserve better.”

Entitlement has its roots in pride. You look at something in your life that God says is a  “good and perfect gift” (James 1:17) and tell Him it’s not good enough. God has really brought me through sanctification in this area. When our youngest son was diagnosed with autism my pride and entitlement rose to the top. I told God, “I have a special needs sister. I’ve been a Christ-follower since I was a child. I went to seminary. I’m married to a pastor. I’ve done everything right and this is how you repay me–with pain, struggling, and a son who will likely live with me forever (in addition to a sister who will live with me forever when my parents are no longer able to care for her).” And I haven’t totally overcome this sin. It creeps up when I see a typical three year old doing typical three year old things that my son cannot do.

“Elder brothers’ inability to handle suffering arises from the fact that their moral observance is results-oriented. The good life is lived not for delight in good deeds themselves, but as calculated ways to control their environment.” –Tim Keller. The Prodigal God

Like the older brother, our Father comes to us in the middle of our pity parties. He hears our complaints and lovingly reminds us, “You are always with me and everything I have is yours” (Luke 15:31). Trust those words today. Repent with me if you’ve felt entitled based on your spiritual resume. Find God’s grace through repentance and the freedom that comes with not having a performance-based relationship with Him.