The Fear of the Lord

Last week I wrote a blog post focused on the promise of Psalm 33:18: “Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him.” While the message last week centered on the concept of “God’s eye”, I want to focus today on the notion of the fear of the Lord. What does it really mean to fear God?

Proverbs 14:26 declares, “In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence.” At first glance, this is appears to be an oxymoron, a paradox. Since fear and confidence are opposites, it just doesn’t seem logical that fear can actually produce confidence. Or does it?

When I used to travel frequently for work, I spent a good bit of time on airplanes and in airports. I did my fair share of people watching and regularly observed people who were anxious in airports. Anxious as they tried to get upgraded to first class and got placed on the waiting list. Annoyed that their oversized bags (that they thought were approved carry-on size) had to be checked, and anxious that they’d lose their luggage in the process. Anxiously waiting in the slow-moving security line, fearing they’d miss their flight. Anxious about seat assignments, the temperature on the plane, babies crying in the row behind them. Anxiety in airports and airplanes is rampant!

But for the person who fears flying—the person with a true phobia of air travel—all of the aforementioned “problems” are not even on the radar!  The person with flight-phobia is only thinking one thing: somebody get me off this plane because we are about the crash and I’m gonna die! The primary fear of flight itself replaces any secondary fear or anxiety associated with air travel that might surface.

When God’s Word says that “In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence”, it means that when we fear God, nothing else or no one else can intimidate us! The primary fear (the fear of the Lord) has replaced secondary fears (our circumstances). 

To fear God doesn’t necessarily mean to be afraid of Him, either. A few years ago I got my motorcycle endorsement so I could ride my dad’s Harley. I’m not scared of motorcycles. If I was, I wouldn’t even get on one. But I do fear them. I have a healthy respect, fear, for the bike; I realize and respect the power it holds and the danger that is possible every time I mount it. And it’s the same way with the fear of the Lord. We reverence Him and respect Him as the all-powerful God in whom we live and move and have our being. When we recognize that we can’t take another breath without God and that we can’t take another step without His help, and that He alone is in charge of it all, then we can confidently face any trial that comes our way!

God's Eye

Theology—the study of God—is nothing more than man’s feeble attempt to wrap his mind around the infinite God of the universe. Two doctrinal concepts about God that continue to stump me are His omniscience and His omnipresence. The omniscience of God means that He is all-seeing; His omnipresence speaks to the fact that He is everywhere-present. There’s nowhere that God isn’t and there’s nothing that He doesn’t see.

Here’s a bewildering thought: multiplied thousands, maybe millions, of His children are calling out to Him in prayer at this very moment and God listens to and engages with each one like they have a private audience with Him! God is not limited to time or space; He exists apart from and outside of them.

The Psalmist says in Psalm 33:13, “the Lord looks from heaven; he sees all the sons of men.” God is aware of and attentive to every single person under the sun: what they’re wearing, what they’re doing, what they’re thinking, planning, dreaming. A few verses later, in the same psalm, David goes on to say, “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him” (33:18).

Something to think about: there’s a difference between merely seeing something and having your eye on something.  In high school, you saw everyone in the classroom, but your eye was on—stayed on— the person you had a crush on.

I was at Chick-fil-A a few weeks ago with my boys and we ate outside in the playground area. After the same old constant threatening that they won’t be able to play on the slides unless they eat their lunch first, they finally finished enough food for me to grant them access to the playground equipment. The place was packed with young children and parents; it seemed everyone was taking advantage of the unusually warm winter weather. 

While sitting at the picnic table that day, I physically saw all of the children. I heard all of them laughing and squealing and I was aware of their presence. But I had my eye on only two. Mine.  I had my ears perked for their voices alone. I wanted to make sure they were safe, secure, accounted for. Of course, if one of the other children had a crisis on the playground, I would do anything I could to help. But my primary focus was Levi and Jed.

I think that’s the message here in Psalm 33. God made all of humanity in His image. He’s aware and concerned about every living soul on earth. He loves each and every one of us so much that He sent Jesus to die for us so that we would have the opportunity to be with Him forever in heaven, adopted into His family. But His eye is on His children that fear Him. His special gaze rests on those that respect and revere Him and aim to please Him above all. His affection and attention is locked in on those who realize their utter helplessness without Him.

Our salvation isn’t tied to anything we do; it’s all in what Jesus has done for us. But the blessing and favor of God—the eye of the Lord resting on us—is inextricably linked to our fear of the Lord.  I don’t know about you but I don’t want God to just see me, I want His eye on me today.

 

Don't Talk About It

No matter how dramatic your own personal faith story may be, it’s probably not as impressive as the Apostle Paul’s. A Pharisee, on his way to persecute Christians, knocked off his horse, blinded by a light from heaven, the Lord Jesus physically appearing to him, scales falling off of his eyes three days later, a mandate to be the pioneer apostle to the Gentiles…. Pretty hard to top! 


In the first chapter of Galatians, Paul says something pretty interesting about what he did right after this larger-than-life conversion experience and calling to the ministry:  “Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood” (Gal 1:16). The New Living Translation puts it this way, “Immediately I didn’t consult with any human being.” 


Many Christians would actually look at this decision as downright irresponsible! Many “mature, seasoned believers” would caution someone with such a sensational testimony and spiritual experience to “run it by some people”. Or to get some “godly counsel”. Or to get some balanced advice from trusted spiritual leaders. But Paul knew that his mandate from God was so real and so personal, that he just couldn’t risk telling anyone else right away. 


I wonder how many God-given dreams and visions have died because we were so quick to rush out and get other people’s opinions about them.  I wonder how many God-anointed ambitions were squelched because we listened to faithless, pessimistic input from others. God’s Word indeed says, “in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14), but before we run to others for suggestions or advice, we’d be so much better to run to God for confirmation, first. 


Our natural tendency is to seek out our friends and family members for suggestions when we find ourselves in a dilemma. Before we know it, we’ve asked ten different people and we’ve gotten ten different answers and we’re more confused than we were before we asked anyone’s opinion! Why not, instead, go to the only One who can do anything about it? The only One who knows all about it? 


Years ago my pastor said something that’s stuck with me ever since,  “when trouble strikes, instead of running to the phone, run to the throne.” 


Paul eventually went up to Jerusalem to get counsel from Peter and the other Apostles (1:18), but not before first going to the Arabian desert to get alone with God. Let’s never forget the importance of making time each day to get alone with God. Praise God for spiritual friends and wise counsel. But let’s not start there. Instead of “conferring with flesh and blood”, let’s make prayer our first option rather than our last resort!


“I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27).
 

Unplugged


Sometime within the past year or so (I can’t even remember when or where) I saw an object from antiquity: a pay phone! My son Levi who was with me at the time had never seen anything like it and looked perplexed as I tried to explain to him that this gargantuan device in a glass booth was actually a phone. In his short seven years on earth he’s never seen a phone other than an iphone or android; possibly an old flip phone when he was a toddler. 


Smart phones are an unbelievable blessing. They’re such an incredible tool and resource. In our pockets and purses we carry around compact, handheld devices that can connect us to anyone or anything on the planet in a moment. Anyone can reach us at any time. Any information we need can be accessed in a matter of seconds through the internet on our phones. Long gone are the days when we were billed by the minute and cell phones were used for emergencies—ten minutes rarely go by when we’re not emailing or texting or scrolling facebook.


Modern technology is a wonderful instrument; but it can also be a ball-and-chain that shackles you to the illusion that “staying connected” is obligatory or even necessary. 


Jesus says to His disciples in Mark 6:31, “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’”(NIV). 


Jesus and the disciples, constantly in the spotlight and consistently being approached for healing and help and handouts, found themselves on many occasions not even having a chance to enjoy something as basic as having a quiet meal. Although Jesus and the twelve disciples inexhaustibly poured themselves into the lives of others, the Lord knows that—for our sanity—there is a time when we have to unplug from the clamor of the crowd.


How much greater the noise of “the crowd” in 2017?  The crowd on our social media pages? Or round- the- clock emails from work? Or texts that expect an immediate response? How much more do we need to hear those words of Jesus, “come away by yourself to a quiet place and rest for a while.” 


I’m learning that it’s not a sin to not return a text message right away. I’m learning that I’m more addicted to social media scrolling than I want to admit. I’m learning that it’s OK to let the phone go to voicemail. And I’m learning that it’s entirely up to me whether my iphone is a blessing or a curse.


I’m also realizing that when I live with the self-imposed pressure to stay connected to other people, I, by default, disconnect with God. God designed us to be in relationships, yes. But He also wired us for rest and for solitude. When we don’t regularly step back from the noise, our spiritual equilibrium gets thrown off.


As counter-cultural as it is and as much as it goes against our natural proclivity, let’s try to unplug every now and then. If it means scheduling days away from social media or setting boundaries and times when we’re unavailable to pick up the phone, let’s do whatever it takes to prioritize seasons of silence and solace! 


There remaineth therefore a rest for the people of God..” (Hebrews 4:9) 

 

Whatever Seems Good and Convenient

Often God calls us to tasks that are challenging and leads us in directions that are painstakingly difficult. Jesus doesn’t guarantee His children a life of convenience and ease—He actually promises us that we will have trouble in this life (John 16:33). God consistently drives us to do things that are beyond our ability to do, so that when the victory comes we will know that it was only because of His power at work in us and not due to anything that we could have achieved on our own.


A few months ago I was really struggling with a decision I needed to make. I was having a hard time getting any direction from God and so out of exasperation I opened up my Bible and muttered a prayer under my breath, asking the Holy Spirit to speak to me through whatever verse I landed on (not always a great idea, I’ve learned).  The verse I “randomly” turned to was Jeremiah 40:4, “See, all the land is before you; wherever it seems good and convenient for you to go, go there.” 


I think I sometimes assume that if I’m given two options, God would have me choose the one that will require the most faith—the hardest, most challenging. After all, God never promises me that life will be convenient or easy. The convenient choice can’t possibly be spiritual, right? It’s almost like I’ve equated convenience with compromise. 


But, shockingly (to me), here in Jeremiah 40, the prophet was told explicitly to do whatever seemed good and convenient! 


A bit of context: it wasn’t the Lord Himself who spoke these words to Jeremiah, it was actually the captain of the Babylonian guard, serving King Nebuchadnezzar. And yet the Babylonian king freed Jeremiah from captivity and God prophetically spoke through his unbelieving military leader about the options that Jeremiah now had at this point. He could go on to Babylon or he could remain in Israel. He could choose to do whatever seemed good and convenient to do. And that’s exactly what Jeremiah did.


Yes, this life of faith is all about risks and challenges. It has its fair share of valleys and trials and tribulations. But every once in a while you will find yourself at a crossroads where the Holy Spirit says, in essence, “don’t make this too spiritual. Don’t overly think it. Don’t stress and fret and worry you’re going to make the wrong move. The whole land is before you. Move in any direction you want to.”


If your back is up against the wall today…


If you feel pressured to make a choice and you don’t know which one to choose..


If you don’t know which way to turn.


Maybe God is saying to you right now that you just need to do whatever seems good and convenient. Just keep moving forward. Even if it turns out to be the wrong choice we serve a God who can—and will—turn it around for His glory and our good! 

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow

Tomorrow. It’s one of my three year old son’s favorite words. When he asks for a toy, a piece of candy—anything special—and I respond with “no”, he’ll often ask “well can I have it tomorrow, Dad?” As I tuck them into bed at night, both of my boys regularly talk about the anticipated adventures that tomorrow will hold. As adults, sadly, we often view the concept of tomorrow much differently than children do. Thoughts of tomorrow, next month and next year frequently induce worry instead of wonder.


About a week and a half ago my hometown of Charlotte, NC, was bracing for a large winter snowstorm. During the week leading up to the arrival of the system the local meteorologists kept upping the excepted amount of snowfall. Early in the week they were talking 1-2 inches. By Friday afternoon we were all but guaranteed to see eight inches or more. My children were beyond ecstatic! I put them to bed that that night, anticipating a deep blanket of white by dawn. 


Although the northern parts of the Charlotte area got a good, heavy snow that night, south Charlotte (where we live) got gypped! The rain was supposed to turn to snow by 7:00 PM. I stayed up late, midnight or better, waiting for the freezing rain to turn into snowflakes. I finally, anxiously, went to bed. I woke up at 2 AM, no snow. At 4 AM, still nothing. At 6 AM, my seven year old son Levi came bounding into my room, whirled back my curtains, and screamed, “IT SNOWED DAD!”  I peered out the window with him at a pitifully thin layer of sleet with a light dusting of snow on top. And I responded, “AWESOME!”


Later that morning it actually did start to snow; we ended up with maybe a half an inch. I was bummed, but my southern-born-and-bred little boys were thrilled about any amount of snow…they don’t know any better. They legitimately made the most out of a little. We broke out the sleds, did some (pathetic) snow angels and even had a snow ball fight. The lackluster snow storm in south Charlotte turned out to be everything my kids dreamed it would be and more.


Now back to this concept of “tomorrow”. Jesus says in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” The night before the “snowstorm that wasn’t”, I was worried about tomorrow. The longer I waited for the freezing rain to turn into snow, the more anxious I got. Each time I woke up in the night to look out the window, the more frustrated I became. I was worried that my kids would be disappointed by the small traces of sleet and snow; worried they would be disappointed with tomorrow. Turns out I was wrong. Levi and Jed had an absolute blast and all my worrying had been in vain.


Most of the time, our worries about tomorrow never even materialize. But the amazing thing with God is that even if they do (like waking up to seven tenths of an inch of snow instead of seven inches) God has an uncanny way of helping us make the most out of it—and see beauty in it. His grace is sufficient. His presence is enough. His Word is our anchor. His Spirit is our guide. He turn messes into miracles and tragedies into triumphs. With the Holy Spirit’s help, let’s make a daily decision not waste another minute worrying about the future. God is already in the future, and He’s already made a way! 


Oh, and here’s another great verse (right in front of Matthew 6:34) to help us when we’re prone to anxiety about tomorrow:


“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and everything else will fall into place...” (Matthew 6:33, paraphrased)

 

 

 

Who Are You Running With?

In several of his New Testament letters, the Apostle Paul compares the walk of faith to organized sports. For example, when writing to the church in Corinth, the host city for the ancient Olympics (Isthmian Games), he parallels spiritual warfare to boxing (1 Cor. 9:26). Throughout his epistles there are references to other athletic competitions. But repeatedly, Paul comes back to the analogy between our faith walk and running a race. Towards the end of his life, he says to his young son-in-the-faith Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).  


I used to be a runner way back when I was on my high school cross country team.  Although I was one of the slower guys of the bunch, I still managed to run a 5k in under twenty minutes. During some of our practices, we did some fairly long runs—ten miles or so. I remember often wanting to stop to take a break on some of those lengthy runs, but because I was running with better, more disciplined runners than myself, I was motivated (just to save face) to keep up with them and press onward.


Subsequently, after high school, I remember going on runs with friends that were slower and even more unmotivated than I was. Unlike in my cross country practice days, the reverse effect was true on these runs. The people that I ran with didn’t encourage me to keep going, but rather, to slow down, or even stop running; their presence hindered me instead of helping me.

Who you run with has a great deal to do with how well you run. 


Paul makes an interesting observation to the church in Galatia and then asks them a very thought-provoking question, “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (Gal. 5:7). 


It’s fascinating to me that Paul doesn’t ask what hindered them from running well and obeying the truth but who hindered them. As we run this race called the Christian life, it’s so common that someone, not something, gets us off track. We wake up one day and realize that our fellowship with Jesus is so strained and we feel so far from God and usually, we can look back and point to a person who hindered, side tracked, us along the way.


Maybe it’s someone with a critical, negative spirit that we constantly allow to speak into our lives. Without realizing it, the association with this type of person and their influence over us stifles and stymies our faith and the call of God we've been given.


Or maybe it’s a friend or family member that maintains values and ideals completely contrary to yours. Instead of standing firm in your convictions, your alliance with them has actually sidetracked you from God’s best for you and has compromised your integrity.


Maybe you’re just jealous of what your friends or neighbors have. Their possessions, relationships, status. You're not able to focus on your own race because you're so busy looking over your shoulder at their stamina, their progress. The classic “coveting your neighbor” dilemma (Exodus 20:17).


The bottom line is that people can hinder us from “running the race” well. Along the way we must consistently re-evaluate who we’re running with. Who’s encouraging us and who’s dragging us down? As painstakingly difficult as it may be, there are times in life where relationships must be altered or even severed so that we can run our race with excellence. And we can only do this as we keep our eyes focused on Jesus:


“Let us strip off everything that slows us down, especially the sin that trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT).

 

Pushing Back The Shadows

On the morning of New Year’s Eve I randomly opened my Bible to Isaiah 38 and stumbled upon a passage of Scripture that I found strikingly appropriate for the new year. 


In a nutshell, King Hezekiah, a righteous king, gets really sick one day. The prophet Isaiah stops by to visit Hezekiah with a less-than-encouraging prophetic word, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.’” The king pleads with God for his life and God answers his prayer, promising him that he will live another fifteen years. Immediately, King Hezekiah is given a new lease on life, a fresh start—a concept that we all tend to think about every time December rolls into January.


What particularly struck me as I read through the narrative was the sign that God gave Hezekiah to prove that He was going to heal him: God miraculously caused the shadow on the sundial to back up ten notches. Sundials are all but obsolete today, but this would be the something akin to watching the hands of a clock spiral backwards on their own. This must have been a pretty mystical, supernatural moment, to say the least. As the king of Israel breathlessly watched God push back the shadow on the sundial, the Holy Spirit healed his body and repositioned him for the greatest, most prosperous years of his life.


Jed, my three year old, went through a stage about six months ago where he was scared of shadows on his ceiling and walls at bed time. I would turn the lights off and on, trying to explain the concept of a shadow, that they weren’t real. It’s awfully tough to discuss shadows with small children who are scared of the dark. I discovered what did help was going up to the shadows on the wall and punching them, hitting them, kicking them. We both thought it was pretty funny and for a few weeks beating up Jed’s shadows became part of my nightly routine!


In the same way that little children are afraid of shadows in the dark, we too allow shadows, illusions, to induce fear, which drives out faith. Shadows of past failures can keep us from stepping out in faith this year. Shadows of past disappointments can keep us from the hope of better days this year. The shadows we allow to linger in our minds are much scarier than the physical shadows cast on dark bedroom walls from furniture or drapes. Shadows from the past can so easily rob us of experiencing the joy and miracle of the present. 


As we wrestle with a plethora of our own “shadows” and struggles, let’s remember that, as believers, even death itself is nothing but a shadow. It’s not real! That’s why the Bible describes it as the “valley of the shadow of death.” Death is a mere illusion. Because of what Jesus Christ did through His death and resurrection, death is simply a vehicle from this life to the next. If death is but a shadow, how much smaller—more insignificant—are the other shadows that keep us from walking fully in the light.


At the beginning of a new year, I’m so glad that we serve a God who is able to push back the shadows!  When God pushed back the shadow on the sundial for Hezekiah, he stepped into a new season of life, filled with the blessing and favor of God. I pray that we will position ourselves for God to push back any shadow that would keep us from walking in in the fullness of His plan and purpose for our lives in 2017. Happy New Year!