01/21/2018 = I John 4:7-18 = “Here Comes the Love, Here Comes the Love”

Mark Wheeler

I John 4:7-18

“Here Comes the Love, Here Comes the Love”

01/21/2018

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

God our Father,
Creator of all things,
true source of light and wisdom,
origin of all that is:

Thank You for calling us to faith,
for planting Your Word in our hearts,
and for delivering us from our sin.

Thank You for calling us to Your service,
for giving us the ability to read Your Word
and share this good news with others. Through Christ, our Savior, Amen.

 

Let’s start today’s message with an informal and very unscientific survey. It’s just a one-question survey that everyone in this room is able to participate in – so I might call on you if answers don’t start flying at me. Are you ready?

Name something that causes you to fear: [tax audits, annual physicals, new lumps, getting laid-off, getting pregnant, when I see someone texting while they’re driving, etc, etc, etc.]

Those are all real fears, aren’t they? Fears that maybe we can all relate to. Thank you for your participation.

 

Y’wanna hear something this official surveyor noticed? We are in the middle of a sermon series on what it means to “fear God” – and no one in this room said, “God!”!

Frankly, I’m not surprised by that. I don’t think that’s what I woulda shouted out either. And if we took this survey out on the street, nobody out there would have answered that they were afraid of God either.

 

That’s a bit of a change over the last 500 years. Before Martin Luther and before the enlightenment and before Charles Darwin, someone would have boldly proclaimed their fear of the Lord. But that is not the world we live in anymore. This is not an entirely new phenomenon – (in the plagues sent to Egypt when Moses was called by God to deliver the Israelites, we read this passage: Exodus 9 20 He that dreaded the word of the Lord (He who feared the word of the Lord), made his servants and (his) work beasts (to) hide into (their) houses; 21 similarly he that despised the Lord’s word, left his servants and his work beasts in the fields – and they were killed by the plague of hail) – but what’s new is how prolific that lack of fear is.

After the Israelites escaped through the Red Sea, Exodus 14 31 and they saw the great hand, or power/or might, which the Lord had used against the Egyptians; and the people dreaded the Lord, and they believed to the Lord, and to Moses his servant.

 

We began this series reading Proverbs 1:7 which tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” Last week we read Psalm 112:1 which tells us, “Blessed are those who fear the Lord, those who find great delight in His Commandments.”  Fear the Lord? Be terrified of a loving God? What about “God is love”?

 

Listen to these words from I John. I John 4:7-18 …. —-

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (NIV)

 

Yesterday we held our annual Church Officer Training class, and while we were each giving our personal faith journeys and the stories that led to our becoming Christians, one of our members shared that she was brought up by a very strict Catholic mom, who raised her witha real fear of the Lord … so I was a good kid growing up…

Historically, cultivating a healthy fear of God was a prime means of restraining criminal activity in social networks. This seemed necessary because since the days of Adam and Eveeveryone does what is right in his own eyes”.

But in recent decades, even within the walls of Christendom, talk of “fear of the Lord” sounds archaic and old-fashioned. We, rather, emphasize the “love of the Lord”. We have an overarching theme that teaches that the love of God is such an overwhelming biblical thesis that “fearing God” is seen as a sign of immature faith, a faith that lacks security, even a faith that misses the point of the Cross. Who here hasn’t heard someone teach that God loves everyone so much that “all dogs go to heaven”; that it really doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you haven’t done any real evil, you’re good to go.

 

But is that what the Bible teaches? Is that what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount when He teaches that “even if you hold a grudge against someone you have committed murder in your heart even if you lust you have committed adultery in your heart; even if you don’t forgive someone their sins against you God will not forgive you your sins”?

Right? It seems like it really does matter! And that, yes, “God is love”, but that does not mean He hasn’t earned our dread! In fact, a healthy and properly understood fear of God is not only endorsed by Scripture, it is beautiful, and leads to a Christian life that is full of joyful obedience and service!

 

I hear some people argue that “fear of God” is an Old Testament thing, that the New Testament reveals a loving God. But a quick look at Jeremiah 32:40 (that’s an Old Testament prophet) shows us a New Testament promise about putting the “fear of [God] into the hearts of God’s people”. Did you catch that? In the New Testament, the fear of God will fill the hearts of God’s chosen people, not just God’s enemies, but His Church! The full quote contains both love and fear: “40 I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them (that’s the love), and I will inspire them to fear me (that’s the fear), so that they will never turn away from me (here comes the love, here comes the love).”

And this Old Testament promise is fulfilled in the New Testament person of Jesus Christ and the New Testament gift of the Holy Spirit!

 

So, take a look at today’s reading from The Apostle John’s First Epistle, written to people struggling to understand the Gospel Good News of Jesus Christ. In today’s paragraph the point the author is making is that without Christ we have no hope whatsoever! Without Christ, we should be afraid, very afraid! God’s judgment is righteous and final! But, he says,

There is no fear in love; perfect love casts out all fear.” That does not mean that there is no reason to fear God; but that when we belong to God He will see us through everything, every evil, every blight, every enemy we might face!

Listen to the context: “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment because as He is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (I John 4:17-18)

The fear John is talking about has to do with punishment on the day of judgment awaiting those who do not have the love of God in them! But for those who belong to Christ, in whom the love of God abides there is no fear of the day of judgment because Jesus, the Son of God, was sent to be the “propitiation for our sins” (4:10)

 

Did anyone here grow up with a “wait till your father gets homemantra? I don’t recall my mom ever using those words, but I have a deep-seated memory of that being the rhythm of my rearing. Did I fear my father’s punishment? Yes. The belt on my bare behind was nothing to be trifled with. Did that sense of fear mean that I thought Dad didn’t love me? Never was that my experience! I knew Dad loved us with everything he had!

 

My own children occasionally earned their just rewards – errr, their just punishments. But that never meant I, or Jennifer, didn’t love them with our whole hearts! Nor, I believe, did they ever question our love for them.

 

Love and fear, properly understood, are not antithetical ideals; they are complimentary. There is no true love of God without a proper fear of God; and our fear of God is only fulfilled when we know His love through His Son’s life, death, and resurrection, offered for us!

God is the perfect Fatherfull of love and full of justice. His justice does not overwhelm His love, it requires it. And His love does not suppress His justice, it fulfills it!

 

To love God as our heavenly Father includes a healthy fear of Him that keeps us humble (we are not God, only God is God) and encourages us to strive to live our lives worthy of His love (because as God, He can do as He wishes!).

 

Do you know this Almighty God who loves you?

Whom have you shared thistoo-good-to-keep-to-ourselves” news with this month? Whom will you share it with this week?

 

Living and gracious God,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
You have brought us out to a grace-filled place
where we are called to live as those redeemed.
Empower us by Your Holy Spirit to keep Your commandments,
that we may show forth Your love
with gentle word and reverent deed
always, everywhere. Amen.

 

Resources:

Watkins, Eric B.; “Putting the Fear of God into Practice”; TableTalk; January 2018; Pp. 24-29.

 

Advertisements

01/14/2018 = Psalm 112 = “Where’s the Bless?”

Click HERE to HEAR this MESSAGE.

Mark Wheeler

Psalm 112:1-10

“Where’s the Bless?”

01/14/2018

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

God our Father,
Creator of all things,
true source of light and wisdom,
origin of all that is:

Thank You for calling us to faith,
for planting Your Word in our hearts,
and for delivering us from our sin.

Thank You for calling us to Your service,
for giving us the ability to read Your Word
and share this good news with others. Through Christ, our Savior, Amen.

 

Last Thursday, I was stunned, by what I read on Social Media – and I couldn’t believe it. The President of the United States of America resorted to expletives to describe a whole continent of people.

Now, I’m not a complete idiot, I know that people in power might have a “dark” side, and a mouth that would be embarrassing if accidentally used in the wrong place. Right? Every father learns to watch his language when they hear their children cuss. Those who are old enough have heard the tapes kept by President Nixon 45 years ago have heard a man in Office say things that deserved a severe bar of soap!

But what our current president said on Thursday was shocking. And the Spokesman-Review, surprisingly, printed every word of it! And it wasn’t just the “filthy language”; it was the filthy opinion of the people!

I was forced, in wonder, to ask: Where’s the human dignity? Where’s the presidential poise? Where’s the self-respect? Where’s the respect for humanity?

 

I do not want that to be the topic of our worship experience … but neither can it simply be ignored. Sometimes we are caught off guard by the way things start … but we expect something by the end, right?

Remember that 1980s Wendy’s TV commercial with the three old ladies lifting the top bun of a hamburger, and the littlest old lady shouts, “Where’s the beef?”? It started with a big bun, and ended with a tiny burger. Wendy’s promised that that would never be the way their hamburger story ended!

 

Last week we read from Proverbs 1:7 which tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…Fear the Lord? Be terrified of a loving God? That is the start of the story: The fear of the Lord is the BEGINNING of knowledge.” But fear is not what we usually think of when we think of knowing God! So, today’s Sermon: “Where’s the Bless?

 

We just sang these wordsdo they not fill us with fear? We sang:

He knows my name. (yeah, but I just wanna be anonymous)

He knows my every thought. (even the thought I had this morning when I was cut off in traffic? Even the

thought I had when I read the transcript of President Trump’s undenied words? That scares me, a

little….)

But the song continues: He sees each tear that falls, and He hears me when I call! (There’s the Bless!)

 

Listen to these words from Psalm 112. Psalm 112:1-10 ….—-

Praise the Lord. Blessed are those who fear the Lord,     who find great delight in his commands.

Their children will be mighty in the land;     the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,          and their righteousness endures forever.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,         for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,    who conduct their affairs with justice.

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;     they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,    their righteousness endures forever;
their horn will be lifted high in honor.

10 The wicked will see and be vexed,    they will gnash their teeth and waste away;
the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.
(NIV)

 

Fear of the Lord is where we start! He is Almighty God, Creator of the universe! Fear is the only reasonable response to hearing His voice, to knowing His perfectly holy character, power, authority, and expectations of those who follow Him!

 

But fear is not where the story ends! The Psalmist here writes: Blessed are those who fear the Lord! And then, in a one phrase word-picture, he tells what it means to fear the Lord:those who find great delight in His commandments!

If I don’t fear the Lord, then I don’t even have the beginning of what I need to have to know God. And if I claim Christianity as my source of my strength, the hope of my faith, but I don’t delight in His commandments, then what right do I have to pray, what right do I have to expect God to hear me, to listen, what right do I have to hope for a blessing?

We are, therefore, forced to ask ourselves whether or not I fear the Lord, whether or not I delight in His Word, in His expectations, in His beatitudes of Matthew 5’s Sermon on the Mount. Do we? Do you?

 

The Psalmist says that we will be blessed. Those who fear God (who know Him, who acknowledge that He is all-powerful, holy, sovereign) and who also believe His promise to deliver them from God’s righteous wrath and judgment will be blessed. That is what God has promised!

 

After the promise comes a list of the blessings we might expect. But the promise of blessings is conditional on our “fearing God”. This is not the same as having to earn the blessings – the blessings are a free gift from God, to all who receive His Son and believe in His name. But the condition is that we do that!

It’s like when your best friend gives you a gift – it’s yours for free. You need do nothing to deserve it. Your friend loves you and wants you to have the gift. But … if you do not accept it, if you do not receive the gift, you can’t have it. God’s blessings are completely unearned, but they are not ours just because God gives them. Do we delight in His commandments? Do we fear the Lord? Have we received His Son, do we believe in His name?

Blessings are ours.

But look at those blessings:

  • Wealth and riches
  • Hope and joy
  • Goodness and confidence
  • And afraid of nothing this world might bring uspoverty, sickness, lonelinessafraid of nothing from this world!

 

Our lives of faith, of delighting in God’s commandments reveal themselves with our generosity for those around us who are in need – including people from countries like Haiti and “those countries from Africa! Including the homeless and downtrodden, including the drug-addicted and even the drug-dealers. Steadfast in trusting the Lord!

 

God’s commandments reflect His perfect intrinsic holiness; and our inability to keep them reminds us why this holy God is to be feared!  But perfect obedience is not what required! “Delight in His commandments” is what is required – and that simply means that we receive the gift of salvation through Christ’s work on the cross!

 

We fear God because of who He is! But we need never fear His presence or His power because His wrath and judgment has been turned aside at Calvary!

The fear of the Lord then remains a great blessing. Knowing that Jesus died for my sins, in my place, reminds me that God is, indeed to be feared (He takes sin seriously), and yet He is absolute love (of which the cross is our constant sign).

And now that my sins are washed away, I can actually obey God, knowing that He is pleased with my pitiful efforts because I am accepted in the person and work of His Son.

 

Living and gracious God,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
You have brought us out to a grace-filled place
where we are called to live as those redeemed.
Empower us by Your Holy Spirit to keep Your commandments,
that we may show forth Your love
with gentle word and reverent deed
always, everywhere. Amen.

 

Resources:

Riddlebarger, Kim; “The Blessings of Fearing God”; TableTalk; January 2018; Pp. 20-23.

 

01/07/2018 = Proverbs 1:1-7 = Why Be Afraid?

Click HERE to hear….

Mark Wheeler

Proverbs 1:1-7

“Why Be Afraid?”

01/07/2018

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

God our Father,
Creator of all things,
true source of light and wisdom,
origin of all that is:

Thank You for calling us to faith,
for planting Your Word in our hearts,
and for delivering us from our sin.

Thank You for calling us to Your service,
for giving us the ability to read Your Word
and share this good news with others. Through Christ, our Savior, Amen.

 

An elderly woman had just returned to her home from an evening of church services when she was startled by an intruder. She caught the man in the act of robbing her home of its valuables and yelled, “Stop! Acts 2:38!” (Repent and be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.)

The burglar stopped in his tracks. The woman calmly called the police and explained what she had done. As the officer cuffed the man to take him in, he asked the burglar, “Why did you just stand there? All the old lady did was yell a scripture to you.”

“Scripture?” replied the burglar. “She said she had an ax and two 38’s!”

 

This burglar was afraid of this “crazy old lady with guns”. Would he have been afraid of the Scripture quote? Probably not, right?

And why should he be? That’s the title of today’s sermon, “Why Be Afraid?” We’re going to invest the beginning of 2018 in an exploration of fear, proper fear and improper fear.

And we are starting with a look at what it means to “fear God”. (I thought about titling this sermon, “Whose Afraid of the Virgin’s Womb?” – and since today is Christmas Day for Eastern Orthodox Churches, that would seem appropriate – but I was afraid of how many of you would simply stop listening and start humming the “Whose afraid of Virginia Woolf?” song – Hmm-Hmm-Hmm-Hm-Hm-Hm-Hm-Hm, Hm-Hm-Hm-Hm, Hm-Hm-Hm-Hm….)

 

So … “fear God”? Why? What does that mean? I’m gonna guess that almost everyone in the room today, everyone who has been in the Church for more than a decade, has heard a preacher or a Bible teacher say something like, “When the Bible speaks of the fear of the Lord, it does not mean to be afraid of God, but to (what?) … respect Him.” Am I right? There might have been a follow-up with something like, “We must never be afraid of God, because He loves us!

And that teaching has a real point! It carries with it some real truth.

 

But it’s not the whole truth…. The most common Old Testament word for “fear”, and the word used in today’s Bible reading, the most well-known Old Testament declaration about fearing God, is the Hebrew word “yireh”, which means … are you ready? … “be afraid!”, “terrified, even”! The New Testament word is the Greek word “fobos” (phobiafear)!

 

So, with that as a back-story to the word “fear”, listen with me to these opening words of the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 1:1-7 ….—-

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:        for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;       for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,     knowledge and discretion to the young—
let the wise listen and add to their learning,                and let the discerning get guidance—
for understanding proverbs and parables,                   the sayings and riddles of the wise.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,      but fools despise wisdom and instruction.  (NIV)

 

Verse 1: an introduction of the authorSolomon, son of David, king of Israel.

Verses 2-4: the purpose of this collection of Proverbs (for becoming better at following God).

Verses 5-6: instruction for how to read this collection (be wise and just pay attention here).

Verse 7: the first, and probably most important, proverb (The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction).

 

So … let me ask again. “Why Be Afraid?Respect for God – that’s easy, right? He’s Almighty! Ya gotta respect that! He’s always everywhere! Ya gotta respect that! He knows everything about everyone! Ya gotta respect that! And maybe now, I’m a little afraid of what He knows…. Right?

 

The word “fear” appears frequently in the Old Testament and it’s often connected to “wisdom” as its source. Wisdom, in turn, is found in knowing who God iswitnessing His awesome power, coming to grips with His holy and righteous judgment.

So, Solomon writes, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”, (that’s not quite the same as “wisdom” – what’s the difference? Knowledge is cognizant, wisdom involves behaviorI know that ice is slippery [knowledge], but I decide to try my motorcycle on an icy day anyway [wisdom?]! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge – it’s about knowing God! It’s about understanding who God is!

So, Solomon continues with something like, “Fools, on the other hand, just ignore the God who reveals Himself as the ‘consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).”

If knowledge, which has the potential of leading to wisdom, arises from fear of the Lord, then the height of foolishness is to pretend that God, who is all-powerful, holy, and sovereign, does not exist, or that what His written Word says does not matter.

 

In the Bible, fear of God is not simply an abstract theological speculation resulting from our observation of natural phenomena, like earthquakes and lightning (although Paul suggests that these observations ought to point us in that direction in Romans 2:14-16). In the Bible, Adam and Eve hid from God (terrified) because of what they had done; from Abraham through Moses, God’s people repeatedly witnessed God’s supernatural power over nature – look at the Red Sea story as an example, not just the parting of the Sea for the Israelites’ escape, but the judgment of the Sea which engulfed and drowned the Egyptian armies; look at the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night that led the Israelites through the wilderness; once Joshua took over after Moses’ death, the people of Jericho were “terrified once they realized it was the Lord” who led these people in their direction (Joshua 2:10-11).

What the Bible teaches is that God is to be feared simply because of who He is!

 

But, what we’ve all learned over the years is also correct. I John 4:8 tells us that “God is love”! How do we reconcile this apparent discrepancy between the God who is to be feared and the God who is love? Are “fear of God” and “love of Godmutually exclusive ideas?

Let me interject the answer: no they are not. Friday night Jennifer took me out to see the movie “Wonder (a movie, by the way, which I highly recommend). In one scene, the father of a boy with some pretty major facial deformities whispers a plan to his children, and when they ask him why he is whispering he whispers back, “Because I’m afraid of Mom.” But he also deeply loves his wife, their mom.

With God, it goes back to some of what we looked at when we studied Reformation stuff last Fall.

God is to be feared because we have all rebelled against Him. Paul reminds us that “all have sinned and all fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Because of that sin, what we deserve, of course, is His wrath, His judgment. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they were terrified when they heard the Lord approach thembecause God is perfectly holy, and Adam and Eve are definitely not – and so they were cast out of paradise. Therefore, “fear of God” is always the right response.

Yet, the Bible also teaches that God also leftparadise and never left His people! God stayed with Adam and Eve. God called Abram and Sarai. God led Moses and Joshua, and David and Solomon. God, at Christmas, became incarnate, born in Bethlehem as a baby, lived to lead all of us back to God, and died to be our redemption! Paul continues his Romans 3:23 line about our sin and deserved sentence by adding, “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (love).  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith (love). He did this to demonstrate his righteousness (fear), because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished (love) he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just (fear) and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (love).” (Romans 3:24-26)

 

Last week we looked at the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12), and we saw that it’s really all about knowing and trusting God as our Savior through His Son Jesus Christ. Next week we will continue this exploration of “fear of God” in Psalm 112 and see how even the Old Testament teaches us that God loves us because He is holy, and how that holy love deserves more than mere respect.

 

So, as we move into 2018, and perhaps more fear of the unknown, let’s continue to lift our eyes from our physical and material circumstances (good or bad), and gauge our blessings by taking a spiritual measure of our soul: Are you in Christ? Does the Holy Spirit of the living God live in your heart, in your faith, in your every day life?

Fear God? Yes, because of Who He is! And know that you are loved by this fearful God more than words can ever say. Amen.

 

Living and gracious God,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
You have brought us out to a grace-filled place
where we are called to live as those redeemed.
Empower us by Your Holy Spirit to keep Your commandments,
that we may show forth Your love
with gentle word and reverent deed
always, everywhere. Amen.

 

Resources:

Riddlebarger, Kim; “The Blessings of Fearing God”; TableTalk; January 2018; Pp. 20-23.