WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FEAR GOD?

The Bible has a lot to say about fear. It tells us not to fear a variety of things as well what we are to fear. The most repeated instruction and discussion about fear is that as his children and followers of Jesus we are to fear the Lord. I have often been confused about this specific admonition because a surface and casual reading of “fear the Lord” seems contradictory to what the Bible teaches about our relationship with God.

A few years ago I came up with an acrostic that I thought was helpful in getting a handle on what it means to fear the Lord. (For those who may be interested, here is the link to that blog post from December, 2017: https://bobmmink.com/2017/12/06/fear-the-lord/).

I just finished a book published earlier this year that gave me significant additional insight into the challenge to Fear God. The title of the book is REJOICE & TREMBLE: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord and was written by Michael Reeves.

I especially like Reeves clarification that the fear of God “really does not mean being afraid of God” (p. 16). Reeves quotes Exodus 20:18-20 and explains, “Moses here sets out a contrast between being afraid of God and fearing God: those who have the fear of him will not be afraid of him” (p. 30).

In the 168 pages of the book Reeves says far more about this matter than I can include in this post. He suggests that properly understood our fear of the Lord “not only defines our love for God and our joy in God. It also prompts us to trust in God” (p. 66, emphasis added). On the next page he rang the bell for me when he notes “the fear which pleases him is not a groveling, shrinking, fear. He is no tyrant. It is an ecstasy of love and joy that senses how overwhelmingly kind and magnificent, good and true God is, and that therefore leans on him in staggered praise and faith” (p. 67).

Reeves highlights three aspects of our relationship with God as the foundation of our fear of God. “The first sort of right fear is the weak-kneed and trembling response to the fact that God is the Creator” (p. 70). Second, “Our wonder at the Creator’s magnificence—and our enjoyment of it—increases when we know it as the perfect magnificence of the kindest Savior” (p.75). And the third aspect is grasping God as our Heavenly Father. The fear of the Lord “leads us from knowing God as the Creator to knowing him as our Redeemer and our Father” (p.95).

I was especially comforted by Reeves discussion of God as our Father, what he calls our “filial fear.” He defines filial fear: “It is not the dread of sinners before a holy Judge. It is not the awe of creatures before their tremendous Creator. It is the overwhelmed devotion of children marveling at the kindness and righteousness and glory and complete magnificence of the Father” (p.101).

Hopefully these selections from Michael Reeves about the fear of the Lord will give you something to think about. Keep in mind the well-known wisdom from Solomon in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

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HAVE YOU EVER BEEN DISAPPOINTED?

I’m confident everyone who would answer the question in the title of this post would say “yes.” And if the yes answers were explained, there would be a variety of things that have disappointed all of us.

Reading a sermon entitled The Giant of Disappointment by Pastor Joel Sutton a few days ago got me thinking about disappointment. I reread the written sermon and was surprised to read that “Author John Cheever writes that the main emotion the average American feels is disappointment.” Yes, we all experience disappointment, but I have to question that it is the main emotion of the average American.

Everyone deals with disappointment; some disappointments are smaller than others and some are larger than others. Sometimes others disappoint us and often we disappoint ourselves. A brief definition of disappointment explains that it is sadness or displeasure resulting from nonfulfillment of our hopes and expectations. When things don’t go according to our plans, we often feel disappointment.

Pastor Sutton reminds us, “Sometimes promising opportunities are not as appealing as they looked when we first decided to step through the door.” In other words, dreams can turn into nightmares. We may wish it were different, but Pastor Sutton is right when he tells us, “Just because you are a Christian doesn’t mean you are immune to disappointments.

Two paragraphs above I noted that sometimes others disappoint us and that we sometimes disappoint ourselves, but we should also keep in mind that we disappoint others. Think of some of the people we sometimes disappoint: our parents, our friends, our teachers, and many others.

In thinking about all of this, it occurred to me that we also disappoint God. I don’t think it surprises Him, and He certainly doesn’t quit loving us, but knowing we have disappointed Him may be helpful to us. During our Easter celebration I could not help but wonder if both Peter and Thomas had disappointed Jesus to some degree by their actions: denial and unbelief.

After I reviewed Sutton’s sermon a few times I found two articles with the same title: Dealing with Disappointment by two different authors: Tara Wells and Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries.

Wells explains that “when we believe that there’s something we must have to be happy and fulfilled, we can set ourselves up for disappointment.” She notes that when we believe something is going to make us happy, and when it doesn’t, we’re disappointed.

Some people avoid disappointment by lowering their expectations. They have decided that the best strategy is to exchange high expectations for realistic expectations. The problem for these people, however, is that there is no guarantee that their realistic expectations can or will be met.

Disappointments are not pleasant, but they can teach and strengthen us if we are open to it. Kets de Vries points out that “Many people successfully work through their disappointments. Somehow they have the strength to take stock of what has happened to them, learn from the incident, and move on. They come out of such disappointments stronger.” He makes it sound easier that it is for most of us, but he does give us some help for moving forward. He suggests that “constructively dealing with disappointment can contribute to personal growth and make for greater resilience.” He points out that many people, when faced with disappointment, wrongly tend to blame themselves.

I want to wrap this post up with what I think are four vital truths from Kets de Vries for dealing with disappointment from:

  1. To manage disappointment, we need to differentiate between situations that fall within our control and factors that are beyond it.
  2. We also need to check whether our expectations are reasonable. Are we setting our goals too low or setting our expectations too high?
  3. In spite of whatever disappointing experiences come our way, our challenge will be to not let bitterness take root.
  4. Disappointment is not meant to destroy us. If taken in stride, it can strengthen us and make us better.

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By the way, I hope this post has not disappointed anyone!

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What Did Jesus mean “It is Finished”?

The four Gospels tell us of seven sayings of Jesus from the cross when he was crucified on what we call Good Friday. Each of Jesus’ seven sayings are important, but my favorite is the sixth one, “It is Finished.” The question we ask ourselves in considering this saying is, “What was Jesus referring to with the “It” in his saying “It is Finished?”

I’m confident it’s not what at least a couple of authors suggest. One observer suggests “some may hear in Jesus’ words disappointment.” But as we’ll affirm later, even in the face of pain and pending death on the cross, Jesus certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Was Jesus referring to the reason for his coming? Are things coming to a sad ending in terms of his purpose? Do the words “It is Finished” mean that Jesus had failed or that his mission wasn’t accomplished?

Please note that Jesus did not say, “I am finished,” but rather “It is Finished.” Nor did anyone else who was there declare while Jesus was dying on the cross, or after he died, “He is finished.”

New Testament scholar Leon Morris explains, “It could mean that Jesus’ earthly life was over, he was about to die. But, while that was true, the more important truth is that the death of Jesus meant the completion of the work of salvation for which he had come to earth.”

The “it” in Jesus’ words “It is finished” refers to the reason for and purpose in his coming. The “it” in Jesus’ words “It is finished” points to the perfect plan of God the Father and the mission for which Jesus came. “It is finished” underscored the fulfillment of the Father’s will. It was a clear announcement that in dying on the cross Jesus completed what he came to do. In his book The Cross of Christ John Stott tells us the verb finished is in the perfect sense and it means “it has been and will for ever remain finished” (p.82).

The saying reminds us of what Jesus said early in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” It’s as if Jesus was saying, “I have done the task the Father asked me to do.” Jesus accomplished what he came into the world to do.

The words from the cross “It is finished” is a statement of triumph. His death finished the ransom payment for the sins of those – including us today – who accept him as our Savior. But Jesus’ statement “It is finished” cannot mean there is nothing else that he would do. The primary purpose of his coming was complete.

After Jesus died they took his body from the cross and buried it in an unused grave. But even though Jesus had finished what he came to do, on Easter Sunday morning he rose from the dead. According to the Apostle Paul in Romans 1, “Jesus was proved and attested to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection.”

Forty days after his resurrection Jesus returned to His Father, and multiple times the New Testament reminds us that Jesus was exalted and sits at the right hand of God. Not only that, we know that someday Jesus will come again to welcome and receive us to return with him to the Father and live forever in heaven. And we will do that because in his first coming he finished what he came to do.

On this Good Friday we are reminded and remember again that it was a Friday, and just before he died on the cross he declared, “It is finished.” And for that we thank and praise him who is both our Savior and our Lord.

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