FEAR THE LORD

But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you. But if you continue to sin, you and your king will be swept away. [1 Samuel 12:24-25 (NLT)]

horicon WisconsinWhile I prefer thinking fear of the Lord means regarding him with reverential awe, when Samuel said “Fear the Lord,” he meant good old fashioned terror and dread. Rather than trust in God, the Israelites had asked for a king and gotten Saul. As long as they and their king walked with God, Samuel said that all would go well for them but, if they rebelled and disobeyed, there would be serious trouble. To make God’s message crystal clear, he prayed for thunder and rain. While a rain storm would seem a blessing to people in an arid land, it was harvest time and rain during harvest would damage the crops and cause them to rot. Not a boon but a disaster, this clear sign of God’s displeasure terrified the people and demonstrated God’s tremendous power over their lives. The same God who brought blessings to them when He parted the Red Sea, made the walls of Jericho fall, rained hailstones on the Amorites, and scattered the Philistines with a thunderstorm, could rain trouble upon them as well. The thunderstorm showed that they could be punished for disobedience as easily as they’d been blessed for obedience. The Israelites were given good reason to fear the Lord.

Unfortunately, Samuel’s warnings (and those of the many prophets who followed) were not heeded and, as prophesied, the kingdom was swept away less than 500 years later. One of God’s Biblical names is Elohay Mishpat, the God of Justice; the fall of Israel and Judah was His judgment against injustice, evil, disobedience, and sacrilege.

What does fear the Lord mean to us today? The Hebrew word for fear is yirah and it can be applied in many different ways. It conveys dread and terror: the sort of fear the Israelites had when God displayed his awesome power and authority with that rain storm. Yirah also expresses reverential awe, wonder, worship and respect. Fear of the Lord means regard for His might, trust in His limitless love, awe of His majesty and power, loving reverence for His being,  submission to His commands, and an overwhelming mindfulness of His existence in our lives. Let us never forget, however, that our God is fearfully powerful. As followers of Christ, we have no need to fear natural disaster, the strange or unfamiliar, the future, shame or embarrassment, speaking the gospel, enemies, persecution, judgment, or even death. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I beg to differ; the only thing we have to fear is the Lord!

Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. [Matthew 10:28 (NLT)]

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. [Hebrews 12:28 (NLT)]

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NO WORDS OF COMFORT

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. [John 14:1-3 (NLT)]

snowy egretTomorrow would have been Sally’s wedding anniversary but there will be no celebration because tomorrow is the six month anniversary of her husband’s death. Instead of flowers, dinner, and romance, there will be tears. This morning, Sally called her step-mother, Sue, to share her dread of tomorrow. When telling me this, the older woman admitted to being at a loss for words of consolation. This woman of faith, a pastor, had difficulty finding comforting words for a very simple reason: her step-daughter is Jewish. When Sue married Sally’s Jewish father, she respected her new family’s faith just as they respected hers. They know her beliefs and what she does for a living. Sue gladly answers their questions but she chooses her words carefully when speaking of God and, while tempted, never evangelizes. Although her words this morning were as reassuring as they could be without speaking of Jesus, Sue knew they were nowhere near as comforting as they could have been.

In the Hebrew Bible, Sheol is mentioned as the place of the dead and the idea of a resurrection appears in Daniel and Isaiah. The Talmud contains references to heaven (Gan Eden), hell (Gehinnom), and the World to Come. Unfortunately, the who, when, what, how and where details are missing and Judaism is ambiguous (and often contradictory) about what happens when one dies. Sue said she listened carefully during her son-in-law’s funeral and interment for words of comfort but heard none at all. After reading the funeral prayer El Maleh Rachamin and the Mourner’s Kaddish, I had to agree.

Had Sally been a believer, Sue might have told her daughter-in-law that she was not alone in distress and reminded her of the time Jesus walked on water and stilled the storm. We have a God who knows when we’re in trouble, is willing walk on water to reach us, and will bring us peace in the middle of the tempest! Sue would have told Sally how much God loves her—so much so that He gave His one and only son so that all who believe would not perish but have eternal life. She would have comforted her with the story of Lazarus and Jesus’s words to Martha that He was the resurrection and life and that anyone who believed in Him would live even after dying. Then again, maybe the widow would have found Revelation’s promise that He will wipe every tear and there will be no more tears, mourning or death comforting. Sadly, those words are of little cheer to a non-believer.

No words can take away the sorrow of a young woman suddenly losing her beloved husband, the father of her three small children, but there is much in our faith that can ease that pain. No Christian is left to face sorrow alone; we have a Savior, a Comforter, and the reassuring and powerful words of Scripture. Thank you, Jesus.

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. [John 14:27 (NLT)]

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FLOWERS AND BIRDS

Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? [Matthew 6:26-30 (NLT)]

cardinal - narrow-leaved sunflower - Corkscrew SwampI’ve never seen a field of lilies in blossom but they couldn’t be any more beautiful than the field of narrow-leaved sunflowers that surrounded me at the bird sanctuary recently. Standing in wonder as their yellow faces smiled down on me, I was reminded of Jesus’s words about the lilies of the field. When I came upon a cardinal pecking away at a large ripe berry, I remembered His words regarding the birds. While watching the bird enjoy his breakfast, the story of Elijah and the ravens that fed him came to mind and I thought about God’s promise to provide.

Having more than enough clothes in my closet and a pantry full of food, I’m not worried about food or clothing. I do, however, tend to worry about God’s provision of words for these devotions. Trust in Him doesn’t come automatically—it is a learned response. Nevertheless, even though God has provided me with fodder for over 1,600 devotions, I’m a slow learner and I still have trouble trusting Him to continue with His provision.

Throughout Scripture, God promises over and over again to provide and, over and over again, people don’t trust Him. Consider the Israelites; after being told there would be manna enough every day, they tried to save it. Even though stored manna turned rotten and maggoty, I would venture a guess that some people continued trying to save it. If I’d been there, I probably would have tried different types of containers, hoping that I’d eventually find the right way to preserve manna (just in case God missed a day)! Later, when God promised to provide the power and strength to take Canaan, the Israelites didn’t believe that God’s provision would be enough and refused to enter. I’m afraid I wouldn’t have trusted God’s promise any more than did the rest of them.

You’re probably not worried about words and maybe not even food or clothing. Even so, we’re all worried about whether God will provide enough of something we need, be it money, health, time, comfort, friends, faith, strength, wisdom, peace or patience. Remember, God promises to provide for the birds and flowers and they’re not even made in His image! Jesus didn’t die on the cross for them and the Holy Spirit doesn’t dwell within them, yet God provides for them! God loves us—we’re created in His image, redeemed by His son, and given eternal life by Him. As His beloved children, we ought to trust Him enough to provide our necessities! When God brings us someplace, as He did with the Israelites and Elijah, He’ll provide us with a way to meet our needs, be it manna on the ground, ravens bringing us food, or wildflowers swaying in the breeze.

God looks at the anxious and says, I tore my Son to shreds for you, and you’re afraid I will not give you what you need? [Timothy Keller]

So don’t worry about these things, saying, “What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?” These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. [Matthew 6:31-34 (NLT)]

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ACORNS

The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time. [Psalm 34:19 (NLT)]

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. [John 16:33 (NLT)]

acornsOnce upon a time, when an acorn fell on Chicken Licken’s head, he thought the sky was falling. In a panic, he ran across the barnyard to tell Henny Penny. After the alarmed twosome told Turkey Lurkey the frightening news, the three sped off to warn the rest of the barnyard. Shocked at the scary news, Ducky Lucky and Goosey Loosey joined them in their panic. When the five distraught birds encountered Foxy Loxy, the sly fellow invited them into the safety of his den. Sadly, that was the end of Chicken Licken and the rest of the barnyard birds—all because they didn’t understand that acorns falling from oak trees are an inevitable part of life.

As Christians, we are tempted to think that faith in Jesus will protect us from the slings, arrows, and acorns of this life. We envision easy sailing, level paths, on-time delivery, clear skies, benign lumps, seamless transitions, successful endeavors, perfect fits, spot-on directions, and happy endings. Jesus, however, told us to expect trials and sorrow. The norm of life in our fallen world is that businesses close, jobs are eliminated, families disagree, people disappoint, bodies fail, lines are long, cars break down, cancer spreads, loved ones die, progress grinds to a halt, mistakes happen, grief is unavoidable and, sooner or later, we will step in a least one pile of doggy do!

While I take comfort in the promise of God’s continual presence and peace, I’m not so happy about knowing that Jesus will neither spare nor shield me from troubles. Yet, for even the most righteous believer, a trouble-free life is a myth. Consider the pain and loss experienced by the blameless and upright Job, the persecution and martyrdom of the disciples, and the trials suffered by the Apostle Paul.

At the first sign of trouble, Chicken Licken and his pals panicked and decided the world was coming to an end. Unlike them, we must never let the harsh realities of this fallen world shake our faith. The good news is that we will never walk through our trials alone. God is at our side—encouraging, strengthening, comforting, and guiding us as we mature in our faith. Although it’s a given that we won’t have a trouble-free existence here on earth, we can be confident that we do have one waiting for us in eternity. Jesus has already delivered us from sin, evil, judgment and death. Until then, the next time the sky starts falling, consider it par for the course. Don’t panic or lose faith; make the best of it by putting on a hard hat and gathering acorns with a thankful heart. Be wary of easy solutions offered by the enemy and know that God will see you through your trials.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline. [2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)]

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. [Matthew 28:20b (NLT)]

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SENIOR MOMENTS

plumaria - frangiapaniBut that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. [Deuteronomy 8:11 (NLT)]

But the people soon forgot about the Lord their God, so he handed them over to Sisera, the commander of Hazor’s army, and also to the Philistines and to the king of Moab, who fought against them. [1 Samuel 12:9 (NT)]

“Are you looking for something?” asked Earl in Brian Crane’s Pickles comic strip. When his wife, Opal, replied, “My glasses,” he suggested looking in her purse. “No,” she said, “I can’t find it. That’s why I’m looking for my glasses, so I can find my purse. I’m hoping that’s where I left my car keys.” Looking down at his grandson, Earl explained, “That’s why it’s a good thing women Gramma’s age don’t have babies.”

Being around Opal’s age, and having had more than my share of “senior moments,” I understand perfectly. Forgetting the Lord, however, is not like misplacing keys, forgetting where the car is parked, or failing to remember the grocery list. It’s way more than absentmindedness, an appointment slipping one’s mind, or drawing a blank at someone’s name.

Forgetting the Lord is a conscious choice to turn our backs to Him and overlook His presence in all things. It is failing to remember His past mercies and how much He loves each and every one of us. It is disregarding His commands and ignoring our responsibilities both to Him and to our fellow man. When we forget God, we rebel, grow impatient, act rashly or imprudently, or begin to think we are self-sufficient and all-powerful. As the Israelites discovered, forgetting God can have serious, even tragic, consequences. Throughout Deuteronomy, Moses warned them not to forget the Lord and yet, from Joshua through Malachi, we continually read of their unfaithfulness, God’s anger, and the consequences of their deliberate amnesia.

As happened with the Israelites, it’s easy to let challenges overwhelm us, wealth and power deceive us, busyness distract us, temptation mislead us, disappointment frustrate us, grief blind us, impatience goad us, and complaint to harden us. Before we know it, we’ve forgotten the Lord. Moses’s many warnings to the Israelites apply to us today. God accepts senior moments—but He will never tolerate our forgetting Him. God never forgot the Israelites and He will never forget us. Why do we find it so easy to forget Him?

God is mindful of man, and it grieves Him that man is not mindful of Him. [Charles Spurgeon]

Pay attention, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I, the Lord, made you, and I will not forget you. [Isaiah 44:21 (NLT)]

Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. [Psalm 103:2 (NLT)]

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NO INNOCENT BYSTANDERS

Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me. [Matthew 12:30 (NLT)]

white tail deerOur family business recently had their annual summer picnic. As part of the festivities, the employees participated in several team-building activities. Various entertaining games, relay races, and obstacle courses required the team members to collaborate and cooperate in order to complete each task and the afternoon ended with an all-out water balloon battle. Although my husband enjoyed the barbecue, at 75, he no longer participates in the games. He stood on the sidelines with those employees who, because of physical limitations, could only observe the day’s antics. Safe from the water balloons, they each were provided with a tee-shirt identifying them as an “Innocent Bystander.”

Matthew 12 and Luke 11 both tell of the scribes and Pharisees confronting Jesus: questioning, disputing and doubting His good work. When they accused him of being a demon, Jesus explained the absurdity of their claim. After pointing out that Satan would hardly give someone the power to destroy any of his kingdom, Jesus demonstrated the inconsistency of their argument by reminding them that even the Pharisees had engaged in exorcisms. Telling them that His work of casting out demons announced the coming of the Kingdom of God, Jesus explained there is no middle ground. Anyone who wasn’t for Him opposed Him and anyone who didn’t work with Him was actually working against Him.

The war between good and evil continues today and, unlike Switzerland and my husband during the games, we are not allowed to be impartial spectators. We are either on God’s side with Jesus or on the side of Satan. If we are not actively gathering souls for God’s kingdom, we are working against Him by scattering them. Either we are friends or foes, followers or opponents, soldiers or deserters, loyal subjects or traitors, supporters or saboteurs, allies or adversaries, builders or destroyers, sheep or goats. There are only two possibilities: believe in and follow Jesus or reject Him. While we can be innocent bystanders at a corporate picnic and stand safely on the sidelines without joining a team, Jesus made it clear that there are no innocent bystanders watching from neutral territory when it comes to Him.

 You not only choose between two ways of life but you choose between two masters. [Billy Graham]

God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. … And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment. [John 3:17-18,36 (NLT)]

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