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Fear of God in Exile
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This morning I want to be candid about the topic we are diving into and the struggle I, and many of you I am sure, have with this topic. The fear of God is something that many in the church have wrestled with for centuries. It was important to Israel throughout the OT. It was important to the early church. But what about today? What does “fearing God” mean for us living in the 21st century?
ILLUS: Much to the demise of Michelle, I like to take risks. I love, more than anything, disobeying rules when it comes to nature. If there is a sign that says don’t climb, don’t trespass, don’t go off trail… I am doing the opposite. Its how God wired me.
Well there is one experience where this almost got me killed. A few years back Michelle surprised me and sent me down to Hocking Hills by myself for a three day get away. I went for prayer, spiritual reading, and solitude. I also did a lot of hiking. It was amazing! But one day I came across a sign… SHOW PICTURE.
Obviously the adventurer kicked in and I went off trail and climbed the largest waterfall Hocking Hills has. It was early in the morning and no one was there. And there I was at the highest peak of the waterfall and I finally turned around to see how beautiful it was and I realized how serious this situation was. As I looked down I was filled with more fear than I’ve ever had. Like something horrible was about to happen to me. I couldn’t get down. The only way off where I was to climb further up and around. Not my brightest moment. But Ill never forget that pit in my stomach of fear seeing how high I was. That if I wasn’t careful surely one wrong move would be my death.
There is another experience I will never forget. 3 years ago our high mill team went to Colorado for a training and team building retreat. While there we went up Pikes Peak which is one of the highest mountains in North America at 14,000 ft. SEE PICTURE
This was thousands of more feet far above the waterfall. But up here I wasn’t filled as much with fear as I was with awe, majesty, and beauty. I could’ve stayed there all day. I knew it was dangerous. But it was so breath taking I didn’t want to leave. I still knew though that even up there if I went off path or went near the edge, it would have ended badly. I knew I couldn't do anything too foolish near the edge, but the same awesome beauty that caused me fear drew me toward it. But the feeling in the pit of my stomach was different than tip toeing on the edge of a tall waterfall.
The first experience was full of fear like “oh boy I’m going to die!” The second experience was me being paralyzed with a certain reverence because of how beautiful, how breathtaking and majestic the view was. Still could have been scary but I didn’t feel fear.
These two experiences are the best way I can think to understand what it means to fear God. On the one hand we are captivated by his beauty, his reverence, his power. We believe and trust in faith that he is everything the Word declares and so we stand in awe of him. On the other hand, we also have that emotion of fear and dread within us because he is God. He is Holy. He is Just. He hates sin, evil, and injustice. And in the end... he is the judge.
This topic and this tension between beauty and reverence with fear and dread is really hard for our current church culture. Many areas of Western Christianity have taken the route of pacifying God. Taming Him and making him more like a Jolly Santa so that he is more accepted. This is a move of desperation to appeal to non-believers. But one of the most dangerous things we can do is compromise the truth of Scripture in an effort to win people to Christ.
We must remember as followers of Jesus is that it is not the current trends in society or the church that dictate how we believe or what we should believe concerning God. It is not our preferences or desires. The criteria that forms our understanding and beliefs concerning how we respond to God are the Scriptures.
The early fathers understood this. Especially concerning the fear of God: READ QUOTES…EARLY FATHERS
Beginning at the earliest days of the church, fearing God was natural, normal, and understood. What about you? Do you fear God? Do you understand the balance of fearing God and falling in love with who He is as well?
Those quotes, and many others, are greatly influenced by what we read this morning from 1st Peter. Let’s be open to Gods Spirit and what he wants to teach us this morning and as we jump in we are going to ask Peter some specific questions so we hopefully get some clear answers.
- Does fearing God bring us closer to God?
In the Apostle Paul commands us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. He then explains that the Lord provides power and strength for us because as he says, “It is God who works in us both to will and to do for his good pleasure.”
Well wait a second, we should fear God but we should stay close enough to experience his power and strength to work in us? Usually when we fear something or someone we want nothing to do with that person. It is this paradox, something that doesn’t connect, that Peter speaks to as well.
Let’s get the big picture first. Peter reminds us that we are living here as strangers. We are simply passing through. As Christians our major citizenship is not the USA or any other nation of the world. That’s what Peter means when he says we are in exile. Our supreme desire is not to please our president or local officials, as important following the rules are. No; our supreme desire is to please, obey, and live our lives in alignment with the desires of the Father.
As Paul explains this he is careful to remind these weary Christians who God is and who we are. Lest we forget, we must keep fresh who exactly it is we are calling upon as Father. We are calling upon One who is not only Abba, not only Father, but he is also the Judge. You see if we forget this we can drift into this place of Christian nominalism where we think we can get away with anything we want because we have God on such an impersonal level. But we keep in firm tension the reality of who he is, as both Abba Father and the almighty judge, we will take this relationship with more seriousness.
Later on in this powerful letter Peter mentions Jesus and how he “committed himself to Him who judges righteously (). And then a little later in Ch. 4 speaking about those who would disregard the desire of God for their life and live the way they desire, he says of them that “they will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”
Peter gets it. This is exactly why he says that we must conduct our time here in reverent fear. This kind of fear is not only the feeling of terror I felt at the top of the waterfall. It also isn’t just the feeling from being on top of Pikes Peak. Its both. It is a healthy fear that reminds you of the seriousness of the object while not too much to make you want to be distant. In fact it’s the opposite we are drawn in.
Moses understood this kind of fear and was intentional about helping the Israelites walk in it. In : “Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.’” In other words, fear him so that we might be close to him and not sin.
ILLUS: Ill never forget the time I first met Cody, a large Huskie German Shepherd mix dog. I was a young boy hanging out at a friend’s house. He told me about his dog Cody and how massive he was. He was right. I was probably in 6th grade and Ill never forget it. Well on the day I met him I was petting him and rubbing his belly. Playing with him and just having a blast. Well when I went to get up and walk away from him his demeanor suddenly changed. He began to get a serious face. He started to growl. And with each inch I moved away from him, his lips went higher and he would start moving away from me. This scared me to death and I just ran so fast and he ran after me and growled and he came after me and the chain caught him and he got in trouble.
We asked the question, “Can the fear of God bring us closer to God?” Yes. If I hugged Cody the dog he was warm, friendly, loving and would even lick my face. But if I would begin to walk away from Cody, he would growl and display his power which filled me with fear.
God power and holiness ought to kindle fear in us. Not to drive us from him, but to drive us to him. This is what Peter is talking about. Its living with a healthy tension… Fear then is best characterized by awe and reverence. We should be in awe or reverent fear in the way we live in the presence of God.
Peter continues this thought assuming a question will come, “Why Should I?”
- Why should we have this fear of God?
ILLUS: In honor of Mothers day its only right to speak not on the wrath of God but rather the wrath of Mom. Ill never forget one time in the hall way of our house watching my brother getting in trouble. He was getting yelled at by my mom. I forget what he did. I think I snitched on him. Back then I was the epitome of a tattle tail. But I am watching her lecture him and Micah is almost in the clear and my mom explains what he must do now because of what he had done. And Micah looks at her right in the face and with more guts than I could of ever imagined says, “Why should I?
You were close. He got a spanking. I was laughing. My mom caught me looking and laughing and said, “Are you next??” Immediately I was paralyzed with fear and said, “nope Im good.”
Often we see the desire of God in our lives, we see certain commands like this one to fear him as well as others like live lives of prayer, Scripture, and community and even though we may not say it, our disobedience, unwillingness, and apathy says to Him exactly what my brother said, “Why should I?”
Well, here is why: Listen again to what Peter says. [RE-READ 1:18-20… commenting on each]
Do we truly understand the magnitude the Father went to bring us redemption? Imagine parting with your child. Could you? Some of you have. You have felt the pain. The Father understands your pain like no one else. For Peter, the motivating factor for living a life of reverent fear is because of the tremendous cost he went through to secure our redemption!
The least we can do is to wrestle with that, comprehend it, and allow it to bring us to a place of complete gratefulness and love for our Father. A place of profound wonder and silence where all we can do is fall to our knees and say with complete astonishment, “Wow… thank you Father… I am yours…”
Peter rounds out this entire discussion on living as strangers here and having a reverent fear of God with a simple command. Does God desire us to just stay in a place of reverent fear? No. Does God expect his children to simply stay paralyzed by his beauty and awe? No. Well what does he want us to do?
– What does God desire from me now?
Love one another. Oh, that’s it? Yes.
It may seem disjointed and not part of this equation of fearing God but its exactly right. God desires one thing from us: to emulate his son Jesus. As we come closer and closer to the Father through prayer, worship, the Word; we begin to fear him more with that reverent fear. But remember, that healthy balance.
We know he is Judge and commands his followers to live out their lives like Christ – . And also, we are so taken back by the love, mercy, and grace he has shown us, , that we are compelled to live for his purposes and his desires.
ILLUS: Yesterday, Dream Center Canton, the non-profit ministry that was birthed out of here and recently launched by Michelle and Kelli, held its second “Adopt a Block” At these events we show up at the block we have adopted. We bring food, drinks, groceries. We connect, meet, hear stories of the people, pray with one another, make contacts to hook up at other times during the week, and we come together along side. Not as projects or “needy people” but as fellow friends, brothers, and sisters.
Our volunteers and team leaders do not do this for a paycheck. They do it because of two things. Their hearts have been captivated by the love of Jesus and the joy of serving others and secondly, they take very seriously the commands of God to look after the vulnerable and forgotten. To feed the hungry and clothe the sick. They hold God in reverent fear and recognize that if they are not faithful in his desires for these beautiful and forgotten people, they will be in disobedience to what God desires. These leaders are not perfect by any means but this is why they do what they do. The same should go for all of us in the spheres of ministry God has placed us in. We are compelled by both natures of God. Judge and Abba.
Conclusion:
The beauty of a series like this is that we allow the focused area of Scripture, in our case 1st Peter, we allow that area to speak freely to us. We allow its grooves, contours, bumps, and texture to stand as is and we submit to it. Peters focus this morning is not pleasant, funny, or easy. It is a challenge that we are confronted with. It is however, a good challenge. One that when we accept, when we embrace, we will see our pursuit of holiness climb to new heights.
We will see our radical love for others come much easier. Because we know he is the Father who gave his all so that we can give our all to others. But we also know that he is the Judge who is aware of our example of Christ or lack there of.
Therefore, as we leave here and carry on with our day and week, let us remember that beautiful tension we are called to live with. That tension between Hocking Hills and Pikes Peak. He is a terrible storm full of power and life shaking winds while also being the most mesmerizing and beautiful sunset ever imagined.
He is Abba, Father. He is the Judge almighty. He wants you near so that you can be transformed by him and begin to love and serve others the way he has loved and served humanity. Lest we drift from his desire for our lives, let us remember we are not talking about someone who is to be taken lightly. He is God almighty, creator of heaven and earth, as the Ancient Apostle’s creed states. Lets Pray this morning…
Response:
Eucharist:
Quotes on the Fear of God from the Early Church
1. For this reason righteousness and peace are now far departed from you, inasmuch as every one abandons the fear of God, they become blind in the faith and do not walk according to the desire of God Clement of Rome (A.D. 96)
2. Let us fear the Lord Jesus [Christ], whose blood was given for us and the fear of Him is good and great and saves all of us that walk a pure mind with holiness. For He is the searcher of intents and desires; whose breath is in us, and when He wills, He shall take it away. Clement of Rome (A.D. 96)
3. Read from Shepherd of Hermas…
Beyond the surface of mothering
Forgive us when we assume that what we see on the surface is all there is to your story. We know in our midst there are women and mothers who:
Like Eve, have children with serious rivalry.
Like Hagar, have been discarded for a new family and are mothering alone.
Like Naomi, have tasted the bitterness of a child’s death.
Like the mother of Leah and Rachel, knows what it’s like to have one child favored over another by society.
Like Hannah, have been separated from your child at a young age.
Like Mary, have a complicated pregnancy story or
Like Tamar, have tried multiple ways to become a mother or
Like Rachel, have counted the months and years while other women in your family and circle of friends become pregnant.
Who like Rebekah, are drawn to one of your children more than the others.
Like David’s mother, is raising children after God’s heart and though you rejoice in watching them, don’t want to rub it in friends’ faces.
Like Ham’s mother have children whose substance abuse can cause problems.
Like Bathsheba, have sick children who may die.
Like Joseph and Benjamin, experienced the death of their mother.
Like Mary, have children with public legal situations and all you can do is watch.
Like the Shunammite woman when told by Elisha she would become pregnant, replied, “No, please do not mislead your servant!” Like her, not wanting to open doors to hope, only to have them slammed in your face.
Like Hannah, have known the provoking of a family member.
Like many, watched their mothers age and waste before their eyes.
Like Moses’ mother, reluctantly gave up her child because it wasn’t safe for you to bring her child up herself.
No word or gift can rightly explain the need and power you hold within you as a mother. We thank you, we salute you, and more than anything we learn from you.
Happy Mothers day.
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