Beware of the God

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God is anything but tame, and following him is anything but safe! It is a risky adventure, this journey of faith. Of course, total surrender to God will lead to incomparable success, significance and satisfaction, both in this life and in the one to come, yet there is a dimension to God that the Israelites came to understand through their wilderness experience that we don’t fully understand in our day: God’s faithful love cannot be separated from his fierce holiness.

Beware of God

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 1:53

The Levites will camp around the Tabernacle of the Covenant to protect the community of Israel from the Lord’s anger. The Levites are responsible to stand guard around the Tabernacle.

God is anything but tame, and following him is anything but safe! Of course, following him in ruthless faith and loving obedience brings incomparable success, significance and satisfaction, both in this life and in the one to come. Total surrender to God will lead us to the pearl of great price—no doubt about it. Yet there is a dimension to God that the Israelites came to understand through their wilderness experience that we don’t fully understand in our experience: God’s faithful love cannot be separated from his fierce holiness.

Dorothy Sayers, a brilliant writer and Christian thinker, mournfully remarked of our dangerous tendency to downgrade the fierceness of God:

The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore—on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand. True, he was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before heaven; but he insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites. He referred to King Herod as “that fox”; he went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a “gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners”; he assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the temple; he drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; he cured diseases by any means that came handy with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people’s pigs and property; he showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, he displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and he retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb.”

Neither God the Father nor God the Son nor God the Holy Spirit can be de-clawed, tamed or even contained! No matter how people may try, he is still fierce in holiness, he is still the Lion of Judah, he is still the Spirit who convicts of judgment and calls to repentance.

As the Israelites broke camp in the wilderness to follow their leader Moses to the land of promise, what God had been instructing them about at the foot of Mt. Sinai now needed to be lived out in their daily journey of faith. They needed to be reminded that God’s fierce holiness was not just a theology; it was a reality. That is why the tents of the Levites, the keepers of the Presence of the Lord, were to be arranged in a way that encircled the tabernacle, the house of his holy presence, as a protective hedge.

But protection from what? The fierce holiness of the Lord is what. They had been sternly warned that treating the holy as common would lead to an outbreak of God’s wrath in the camp, so this camping arrangement was actually a measure of God’s preserving grace. The enduring lesson here is that the presence of God is both blessing and cursing in the camp of God’s people. It is a blessing for those who treat his holiness with a sense of awe; it is a cursing for those who do not cultivate respect for his glorious presence.

The last verse of this opening chapter, Numbers 1:54, says that in light of the gracious reminder provided in this camping arrangement, “the Israelites did everything just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” They obeyed—at least from the start. But in the later chapters, their initial respect for the Lord’s fierce presence turned to apathy, and they failed to maintain a sense of the utter holiness of God. And in Old Testament story after Old Testament story, we are reminded that the blessing of his presence can turn to a curse when his people disregard his fierce holiness.

Is there any positive take-away from this sobering devotional? Yes! God wants us to live in holy fear—fear that comes from a mature knowledge of God’s fierce holiness and a healthy respect for his right to lovingly rule our lives. This fear of the Lord is healthy, whether conscious or subconscious, because it promotes an attitude of belief in, love for and complete trust of God. It is that kind of fear that is the best motive for living in awareness of his fierce holiness, and it is the surest path to the blessings God longs to shower upon us.

So beware of the God, it will lead to unimaginable favor on the risky adventure of following after him!

Going Deeper With God: Do you reverence God in holy fear, or have you tried to “declaw” your Lion of Judah? If you are guilty of trying to tame the Lord, then bow before him now and offer him a repentant heart.

Whatever Became of the Fear of the Lord?

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Whatever became of the fear of the Lord? We have become so comfortable with sin that our fear of judgment has been lost. Punishment and consequences seem to have no governing effect. Cheap grace has made holy living a squishy concept, not the normal way of life for far too many believers. It is time we rediscover a holy fear of the Lord.

Sunset over grassy field

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 20:18-20

When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear. And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!” Moses answered them, “Don’t be afraid, for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning!”

I sometimes wish that God would show up like he did on Mount Sinai—peels of thunder, flashes of lightning, the whole nine yards—and just scare the bejeebers out of us. We have become so comfortable with sin that our fear of judgment have been lost. Punishment and consequences seem to have no governing effect. Cheap grace has made holy living a squishy concept, not the normal way of life for far too many believers. We have virtually no fear of the Lord and no fear of sin.

God showed up on Mount Sinai as he gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, and from the camp around the base of the mountain, the Israelites watched the fireworks with fear and dread. So great and awesome was the divine display that when Moses returned, the people pleaded with him to be their go-between with the Almighty. They had witnessed God’s unsurpassed holiness from a distance and knew they could never stand before him because, at their best, they were fundamentally unholy.

In reply, Moses said something quite interesting: “Don’t be afraid, for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning!” What? Don’t fear, God is just showing you how to fear. And that fear will keep you safe.

To understand Moses’ confusing statement we need to distinguish between two types of fear:

  1. The first fear is that which comes from our sense of guilt, and the punishment it deserves. This type of fear may be a conscious awareness of unworthiness, but even if the fear is subconscious, it still has a tormenting result in our lives. This type of fear leads to all kinds of bondage, insecurity and harmful behavior to assuage it.
  2. The second kind of fear comes in the form of respect. It recognizes the complete authority of God over our lives, and his complete justification for holding people to account who violate his right to rule. This fear of the Lord is healthy, whether conscious or subconscious, and promotes an attitude of belief in, love for and complete trust of God.

Both fears can motivate righteous behavior: the first fear for a time; the second for a lifetime. The first type of fear is what the Israelites had, even though Moses had called them to the second type. Their fear at this point was short lived, for after Moses returned to the mountain for further instruction in the law, and lingered there for several days, the people’s fear abated and they did the very thing the law commanded them to eschew: they built an idol, a golden calf, and worshiped it, indulging in all kinds of wanton behavior as they did. (Exodus 32)

And as a result, the punishment they feared when Moses first came down came upon them. Their fears were justified.

So I guess wishing God would show up with peels of thunder and flashes of lightening wouldn’t be that effective after all. Apparently scaring the bejeebers out of us is short-lived, because it scares us into the wrong kind of fear.

God wants us to live in holy fear—the one that comes from a mature knowledge of his holiness and a respect for his right to lovingly rule our lives. It is that kind of fear that is the best motive for holy living—and the surest way to the blessings God longs to shower us with. That kind of fear comes not from peels of thunder and flashes of lightening, but from a surrendered heart.

Holy Spirit, lead us into a holy fear of the Lord.

Going Deeper With God: Ask the Spirit of God to reveal to you what holy fear is, and ask him to lead you into a mature, authentic experience of the fear of the Lord.

What Gift Do You Give Someone Who’s Got Everything

A Fully Surrendered and Gratefully Responsive Heart Is What God Wants

What can you give God today to make him smile? Simply offer him your heart—that means all of you, body, mind and spirit—perhaps for the first time or maybe for the fiftieth time. Nothing moves God like those he loves (see John 3:16) fully surrendering and gratefully responding to his love.

i-give-you-my-heart-1

Read: Psalm 147 // Focus: Psalm 147:11

“The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”

You and I have had the joy of being given something by another that just made our heart sing—a birthday present, a Christmas gift, a Valentine’s Day card or some other expression of love, appreciation or gratitude. But what can you give to God to move his heart? How do you make the Lord happy? He has everything he wants and can create what he doesn’t have.

God is all-powerful—after all, he created universe beyond universe beyond universe, and all the planets and stars within them, even calling all the stars by name: “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” (Psalm 147:4)

God knows everything there is to know—there is no limit to either his power or his understanding: “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” (Psalm 147:5)

God has fixed up this little globe called earth to run amazingly well, sustaining its ecological systems: “He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes. He hurls down his hail like pebbles. Who can withstand his icy blast? He sends his word and melts them; he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow. (Psalm 147:15-18)

God has even ordered provision for the daily needs of his earthly creatures: “He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call.” (Psalm 147:8-9)

So accurately, abundantly and consistently does God care for the earth’s higher inhabitants that their utter and ceaseless gratitude is only fitting: “Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make music to our God on the harp” (Psalm 147:7)

What, then, can you give to a God who has it all and does it all? Only your fear and your hope, that’s what! What satisfies God to the core of his being is the fear that arises not out of terror, but from the kind of reverence and respect that comes from knowing that he is the giver and sustainer of life itself, the rightful owner of Planet Earth and rightful ruler of your life.

What causes God pleasure is the hope that looks to him for protection, peace and provision: “For he strengthens the bars of your gates and blesses your people within you. He grants peace to your borders and satisfies you with the finest of wheat. (Psalm 147:13-14)

What causes God pleasure is the patience that waits for him to execute justice and fairness: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)

What causes God pleasure is the trust that expects him to fulfill his good purposes to all those who belong to him: “He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws.” (Psalm 147:19-20).

What gift can you offer to the one Being who truly has it all? Just your very life, that’s all.

Do you want to bring a smile to God’s face today? I think you know what to do!

Making Life Work: What can you give God today to make him smile? Simply offer him your heart—that means all of you, body, mind and spirit—perhaps for the first time or maybe for the fiftieth time. Nothing moves God like those he loves (see John 3:16) fully surrendering and gratefully responding to his love.

Fear God – Fear Nothing

God Fearing Leads To God Blessing

When you fear God, you have nothing to fear. When you don’t fear God, you have everything to fear. To be consumed with love, fueled by faith, and characterized by obedience in a moment-by-moment walk with the Lord—that’s what it means to be God fearing, and that’s what it means to be God blessed. For sure, fear the Lord—and watch your step with those who don’t.

fearoflord1

Read: Psalm 128 // Focus: Psalm 128:1-2

“Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.”

King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, began his most famous book by writing, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 1:7) What followed was a collection of wise sayings that were intended to lead the God-fearing person into a life that was blessed by the Lord.

King David, Solomon’s father, and Israel’s most beloved king, began his most famous book by writing, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” What followed was a collection of worship songs that expressed the blessed condition of one who feared the Lord.

Blessed fear—almost seems oxymoronic, doesn’t it? Fearfully blessed—same with that. Yet for the person who fears God, blessings are guaranteed. And for the person who lives a truly God-blessed life, there you will find fear of the Lord at the critical core of their existence.

To fear God, is one of the first and greatest duties of his rational Creatures. (Charles Inglis)

What does it mean to fear the Lord? This is by no means a theological definition, but for all intents and purposes, to fear the Lord means to make him and his purposes both the center and the circumference of your life. It is to be consumed with love, fueled by faith, and characterized by obedience in a moment-by-moment walk with God. That is what it means to fear the Lord, and that is what it means to be blessed by the Lord.

You see, blessing in the purest sense is to be consumed by your love for God, to be fueled by your faith in God, and to be characterized by your obedience to God. A person who lives that kind of life knows pure and unassailable joy at the deepest level. Earthly success, material wealth, personal popularity, and all of the other accouterments the world says are needed for the blessed life simply pale in comparison to a life that is characterized by blessed fear.

When you fear God, you fear nothing else, but if you do not fear God, you fear everything else. (Oswald Chambers)

When you fear the Lord, you are truly blessed. When you are truly blessed by God, you fear the Lord.

May God grant you holy fear, and may God richly bless you.

Making Life Work: If you sense that your “holy fear” metric is off, pray about it. Ask God to reveal his holiness to you. But be serious when you ask, you may just get a revelation that will rattle you to the core. And if you do, believe you me, that will be a holy moment.

Fear That Is Blessed

Make God’s Purposes Both the Center and the Circumference of Your Life

There’s an old Hasidic proverb that says, “Fear only two: God, and the man who has no fear of God.” To be consumed with love, fueled by faith, and characterized by obedience in a moment-by-moment walk with the Lord—that’s what it means to be God fearing, and that’s what it means to be God blessed. For sure, fear the Lord—and watch your step with those who don’t.

God Fearing

Read: Psalm 128 // Focus: Psalm 128:1-2

“Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.”

King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, began his most famous book by writing, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 1:7) What followed was a collection of wise sayings that were intended to lead the God-fearing person into a life that was blessed by the Lord.

King David, Solomon’s father, and Israel’s most beloved king, began his most famous book by writing, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” What followed was a collection of worship songs that expressed the blessed condition of one who feared the Lord.

Blessed fear—almost seems oxymoronic, doesn’t it? Fearfully blessed—same with that. Yet for the person who fears God, blessings are guaranteed. And for the person who lives a truly God-blessed life, there you will find fear of the Lord at the critical core of their existence.

What does it mean to fear the Lord? This is by no means a theological definition, but for all intents and purposes, to fear the Lord means to make him and his purposes both the center and the circumference of your life. It is to be consumed with love, fueled by faith, and characterized by obedience in a moment-by-moment walk with God. That is what it means to fear the Lord, and that is what it means to be blessed by the Lord.

You see, blessing in the purest sense is to be consumed by your love for God, to be fueled by your faith in God, and to be characterized by your obedience to God. A person who lives that kind of life knows pure and unassailable joy at the deepest level. Earthly success, material wealth, personal popularity, and all of the other accouterments the world says are needed for the blessed life simply pale in comparison to a life that is characterized by blessed fear.

When you fear the Lord, you are truly blessed. When you are truly blessed by God, you fear the Lord.

May God grant you holy fear, and may God richly bless you.

Making Life Work: If you sense that your “holy fear” metric is a bit low, pray about it. Ask God to reveal his holiness to you. But be serious when you ask, you may just get a revelation that will rattle you to the core. And if you do, believe you me, that will be a holy moment.

Fruitful Fear

Reflect:
Psalm 128:1-2

“Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.”

Fear! The word doesn’t conjure up very positive images does it? These days in our cultural context, parents don’t usually teach their kids to live in fear of anything and teachers don’t instruct their students to be afraid. So why should preachers stand in pulpits and preach the “fear of the Lord” to their congregations? That seems a bit incongruent with our image of a loving and gracious God.

The problem is that we misunderstand what the Bible means when it talks about this kind of fear. A better way to think of it is the old term used a generation or two ago: God fearing. That simply meant to have a deep reverence for God and a healthy respect for his laws. It did not mean to cower in terror because a capricious and vengeful Deity was fixing to squash you like a bug if you displeased him in the least. Rather, while acknowledging that disobeying God’s law would bring painful consequences (just try ignoring his universal law of gravity and see how that works for you), it recognized that obeying that very same law would bring life-giving benefits.

To live with a healthy and holy fear of God provided the foundation for a prosperous journey through this life as well as preparation for entering into the joy of the eternal kingdom in the life to come. The fear of the Lord was what enabled people to navigate daily challenges with good judgment and grace. And the icing on the cake for a fear-of-the-Lord approach to living was the promise that God would add fruit, blessings and prosperity to our lives. That’s not a bad exchange: Fear of the Lord for fruitfulness in life.

Too many people today are trying to live a God-blessed life without a God-fearing life. It can’t be done! Living without deep reverence for God and healthy respect for his laws, including awareness of the consequences of breaking them—will only produce the other kind of fear: fear that our past will catch up to us, high anxiety because of what we’re going through today, and terror of what might happen tomorrow.

But those who fear the Lord have nothing to fear! In fact, they have every good and perfect thing to gain. If you can wrap your life around what it means to be God-fearing, this gracious God himself will give you the life you’ve only dreamed of—and even beyond that.

“Shame arises from the fear of man, conscience from the fear of God.” ~Samuel Johnson

Reflect & Apply: What kind of fear is your fear of the Lord? A healthy and holy fear, or one that is unhealthy and unholy? Spend some time today thinking about what it means to be a God-fearing person—and what changes you may need to make to be one.

Fruitful Fear

Project 52—Memorize:
Psalm 128:1-2

“Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.”

Fear!  The word doesn’t conjure up very positive images does it? These days in our cultural context, parents don’t usually teach their kids to live in fear of anything and teachers don’t instruct their students to be afraid.  So why should preachers stand in pulpits and preach the “fear of the Lord” to their congregations? That seems a bit incongruent with our image of a loving and gracious God.

The problem is that we misunderstand what the Bible means when it talks about this kind of fear. A better way to think of it is the old term used a generation or two ago: God fearing. That simply meant to have a deep reverence for God and a healthy respect for his laws. It did not mean to cower in terror because a capricious and vengeful Deity was fixing to squash you like a bug if you displeased him in the least. Rather, while acknowledging that disobeying God’s law would bring painful consequences (just try ignoring his universal law of gravity and see how that works for you), it recognized that obeying that very same law would bring life-giving benefits.

To live with a healthy and holy fear of God provided the foundation for a prosperous journey through this life as well as preparation for entering into the joy of the eternal kingdom in the life to come. The fear of the Lord was what enabled people to navigate daily challenges with good judgment and grace. And the icing on the cake for a fear-of-the-Lord approach to living was the promise that God would add fruit, blessings and prosperity to our lives.  That’s not a bad exchange:  Fear of the Lord for fruitfulness in life.

Too many people today are trying to live a God-blessed life without a God-fearing life. It can’t be done! Living without deep reverence for God and healthy respect for his laws, including awareness of the consequences of breaking them—will only produce the other kind of fear: fear that our past will catch up to us, high anxiety because of what we’re going through today, and terror of what might happen tomorrow.

But those who fear the Lord have nothing to fear! In fact, they have every good and perfect thing to gain.  If you can wrap your life around what it means to be God-fearing, this gracious God himself will give you the life you’ve only dreamed of—and even beyond that.

“Shame arises from the fear of man, conscience from the fear of God.” ~Samuel Johnson

Reflect & Apply: What kind of fear is your fear of the Lord? A healthy and holy fear, or one that is unhealthy and unholy? Spend some time today thinking about what it means to be a God-fearing person—and what changes you may need to make to be one.