Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Healthy Fear

Today is the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Pastor Brad introduced today's service by reminding us that Lent is a time for taking a good, hard look at the cross and what it cost Jesus to bring us back to God.

After a time of worship, today's Scripture readings were from Psalm 23 and Ephesians 5:8-14.

The sermon this morning was taken from ideas conveyed by Psalm 103. After reading the psalm, Pastor Brad shared with us details about the CN Tower in Toronto. The 1815 foot structure is the world's tallest building. To get to the top visitors ride a glass elevator that is on the external part of the building so they can see the city as it drops below them. Upon arriving at the top, visitors are greeted by a glass floor so that you feel a quick rush, sweaty palms and a moment of fear, all the while utterly safe.

By way of contrast, consider the Grand Canyon. A six thousand foot drop at some points, with no glass floors, there is real danger here. Park officials acknowledge that four or five people die every year from falling over the edge. There really are good reasons to have fear when standing near the edge.

What is God like? A lot of people say he is more like the CN Tower than the Grand Canyon. He is impressive, but not really dangerous. "Then I made the mistake of reading my Bible," Pastor Brad said.

Right from the beginning we see fear of God in the story of Adam. In Exodus, the people of Israel were well terrified of God when He appeared on the mountain. Job, too, declared, "I am terrified of His presence." In Isaiah 6, the prophet records his vision of the high and holy one, and writes, "Woe is me, I am undone."

Some say God is good, therefore he would not want us to feel afraid of Him like that. Or they might note that the New Testament shows a different face of God in Jesus. Jesus, they notes, reveals that God is full of Grace.

But consider these words from Jesus: "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him." ~ Luke 12:4-5

Many more examples can be cited. The fear of God is not just a matter of reverence and awe.

A. W. Tozer noted that in the old days people of faith served God with fear, terror and dismay, sinfulness and guilt. The self assurance of modern Christians is "evidence of a deep blindness of heart."

At the Grand Canyon, people who fool around near the edge can literally die. God, too, is dangerous.

Why does the Bible say that the fear of God is good?

Exodus 20:20 offers an answer to this question. "Moses said to the people, 'Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.'"

When you fear authority, your better self comes out. The fear of God is a healthy, restraining force for good. People who fear God do what is right.

Of course all these passages lead to another question. If God is so fear inspiring, why would I want to get close to Him?

This question brings us back to the text, Psalm 103.

1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-
3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
6 The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him...

When you come to God humbly, He showers you with benefits.

Have you ever taken the Jumbotron Test? The Jumbotron at the Target Center in Minneapolis is a giant live action screen. Now imagine the Target Center is filled with people and across the screen is playing all of your thoughts, words and deeds of the past week. How long before that Jumbotron has displayed something you are ashamed of?

This isn't an imaginary exercise. God sees your Jumbotron. He knows your whole life. But the Pslamist understands that God is like a waterfall of mercy. His mercy cascades over us.

Those things in your soul that you wish weren't there, that are holding you back... give them up to God. Let His mercy roll over you like a waterfall and you, too, will declare, "Bless the Lord, oh my soul."

The service ended with a very special time of communion.

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