Why live in the fear of God?

owl on book with Proverbs 1:7. Live in the fear of GodWhen we hear the phrase “put the fear of God into someone,” we know “someone” is, or will be very frightened. Yet the Bible commands fear of God. Does God want his people to be very frightened?

Of course not.

Jesus identified the most important commandment as “love your God.” How can we love what frightens us?

And yet the Bible commands the fear of God in many places and many ways. Why should we live in the fear of God?

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The blessing of spiritual poverty

Adam's skull on Calvary. spiritual poverty

Adam’s skull on Calvary / Fra Angelico, ca. 1435

Jesus had a way of saying offensive things. At least if you stop to think about them.

In Matthew’s gospel, the first words out of Jesus’ mouth as a preacher called people to repent (Matthew 4:17). Next, he began the Beatitudes by proclaiming blessings for spiritual poverty (Matthew 5:3).

What does “poor in spirit” mean? The Greek for “poor” is ptochos,  which means destitute of wealth, influence, position, or honor. Reduced to beggary. Now, he wasn’t making a virtue of being broke. He didn’t invite scorn for the rich. After all, he specified poor in spirit.… Read the rest

Ordinariness and wonder after Jesus’ birth

Adoration of the Shepherds / Murillo. Simeon and Anna see Jesus

Adoration of the Shepherds / Bartolomé-Esteban Murillo, ca. 1650

In a stable in Bethlehem, Mary had a baby. She was certainly neither the first or last woman to deliver a child under less than ideal conditions. But she had an ordinary childbirth experience after an ordinary pregnancy.

She delivered no ordinary child. Mary conceived Jesus while she was still a virgin, a miracle that has happened exactly once. Angels announced Jesus’ birth to shepherds, who rushed to Bethlehem to see him.

The ordinary and the extraordinary persisted side by side throughout Jesus’ life. Luke’s gospel records both a week following his birth.… Read the rest

At Christmas, God gives gifts. Will you receive?

Christmas tree with gifts. God's Christmas giftAt Christmas time, advertisers want us to concentrate on gift giving. But did you ever stop to think that it’s also the season of gift receiving? And that God gives the gifts that give the season its meaning?

People can very carefully choose gifts that reflect their understanding of the people they’re giving to. Or they can put minimal thought and effort into the task.

People can receive gifts with gratitude. Or with indifference, disappointment, or rejection.

If you have carefully chosen a gift and the person you give to doesn’t appreciate it, how do you feel? Have you ever thought about what God feels?… Read the rest

Hell, grace, and the secret things of God

hell by bosch

Hell. Right panel of Haywain Triptych / Hieronymous Bosch, ca. 1516

No one likes to talk about hell any more, although some people have an unhealthy confidence that they know who’s going there.

God reserves that judgment for himself. He deliberately hides all aspects of his plans. Some scriptures make it seem like nearly everyone will be saved. Others make it seem like hardly anyone will be saved.

The Bible speaks with crystal clarity on one point, though. People stand or fall before God as individuals. Not as members of a group. Not because of association with anyone else.

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Isaiah’s parables of the sower: when God threshes you

The sower / Tissot. Isaiah 28:23-29

The Sower / James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894

We’ve all heard sermons on Jesus’ parable of the sower, told in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. He told the crowd, “listen if you have ears.”

Then he quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10. He told his disciples essentially that he told parables so people without spiritual ears would not understand.

Isaiah himself provides two parables about farming. Like Jesus’ parable, they seem like obvious facts about what farmers do.

Those with ears to hear, those who belong to God’s kingdom, can find important spiritual truths in them. 

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Speaking God’s word to a rebellious church

Jesus with sword, rebellious church

Jesus with a sword. 14th-century fresco, Monastery of the Ascension, Kosovo

Does it require courage for a man of God to speak to the people of God?

It shouldn’t, but sometimes it does. God’s chosen people have consistently rebelled against God’s chosen leaders and messengers. They started against Moses. The rebellious church today continues in the same vein.

God called Ezekiel as prophet to the sons of Israel and told him not to be afraid of their looks or words.

And that’s after Ezekiel had seen four creatures that had four faces apiece. After it dawned on him that God himself appeared to him with them.… Read the rest

What is the most harmful sin?

It's all about me. sin of self-sufficiency

Or so we like to think!

Another blog I follow makes a good case that the most harmful sin is sexual immorality, the one sin that people commit against their own body.

No doubt it seriously threatens everything God ordained about human relationships.

But I’m leading a Bible study on Isaiah. It shows me something else even more harmful: the sin of self-sufficiency. After all, not everyone commits sexual sin, but no one is immune to the sin of self-sufficiency.

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Who wants to stone Jesus?

The Stoning of the Blasphemer / Charles Foster

The Stoning of the Blasphemer / Charles Foster: The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation (1873)

In John 8:59, a crowd wanted to stone Jesus. Today I’m going to start there and work backwards for a while. Why, you might ask, would I do that?

Careful writers often proofread from end to beginning. They have worked on their draft for so long they know what it’s supposed to say.

So they read the last paragraph, then the previous paragraph, and so on to the beginning. It shows what they otherwise might easily miss.

Reading familiar Bible passages from the end to the beginning can also show details we have probably read past before.… Read the rest

Living water: source and meaning

Dan River. living water

Dan River, Danville, North Carolina, a drinking water source

Jesus had started to lose his popularity by the time he shouted on the last day of a feast,

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:37-38, MEV).

Those who heard him contented themselves with debating who he was. But what did he mean?

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