Tag Archives: A Season of Mindfulness

Lent Week 4: Who among you fears, reveres, honors, respects?

given on Sunday, March 26, 2017 as the fourth sermon in the series, Lent:  A season of mindfulness. 

Scripture connections:

Revelation 19:5, NLT

“Praise our God,

all his servants,

all who fear him,

from the least to the greatest.”

Luke 1:48a-51, NLT

For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,

and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

For the Mighty One is holy,

and he has done great things for me.

He shows mercy from generation to generation

to all who fear him.

His mighty arm has done tremendous things!

He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.

Isaiah 50:10, NLT

         Who among you fears the Lord

and obeys his servant?

If you are walking in darkness,

without a ray of light,

trust in the Lord

and rely on your God.

Proverbs 2:1-5, NLT

My child,[a] listen to what I say,

and treasure my commands. 

Tune your ears to wisdom,

and concentrate on understanding.

Cry out for insight,

and ask for understanding.

Search for them as you would for silver;

seek them like hidden treasures.

Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord,

and you will gain knowledge of God.

Acts 2:40-43, NLT

Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper[a]), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.

Ephesians 5:21, NLT

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

 

Week’s memory verse:  Isaiah 50:10a

                  Who among you fears the Lord and obeys his servant?

Week’s challenge: Rewrite the verse into your own words and post around the house: bathroom mirror, refrigerator, above the screens—tv, computer, etc.

 

Reflection: Who among you fears, reveres, honors, respects?

Everybody knows that words trigger strong emotions, reactions and even actions. Words can soothe a crying child, trigger a riot, start a stream of tears, or elicit a belly laugh. The words we use in our lives provide first impressions either positive or negative, and have the power to establish lasting bonds of friendship or to permanently severe relationships. Words hold power.

Today’s memory verse causes me problems because of one word—fear. For as long as I can remember, I have heard this verse in church services and have struggled because of that one word! Fear. That word has sent me on a journey this week, one that went back to scriptures, to an entomological dictionary and even to a traditional dictionary. I had to understand that word, fear, and figure out how that verse has values for me in today’s world.

The memory verse is Isaiah 50:11:

Who among you fears the Lord

and obeys his servant?

If you are walking in darkness,

without a ray of light,

trust in the Lord

and rely on your God.

 

The key to memorizing the verse is that first line, Who among you fears the Lord. . . but that is only part of the full sentence. The second phrase hints at the prophecy of the Messiah, here referred to as “his servant.” The full verse is more applicable to Christians: Who among you fears the Lord and obeys his servant?

Yet even understanding the context of the verse does not help understanding the value of that verse when it hinges on that one word, fear.   Fear is not a positive word in our culture now: instead, fear is a word of alarm, caution, and pain. Fearing the Lord creates almost a complete opposite image than what Christians proclaim in phrases such as “God is love.”

Taking a reading journey through the Bible helps understand why the word fear continues to be used. In ancient language, the word fear held a different value than it does today. Using a Biblical dictionary, fear is only listed in a phrase, fear of the Lord, and is not listed as a simple one-word entry:

fear of the Lord, the awe that a person ought to have before God (Prov. 5:7; Eccles. 12:13). As such it can be said to constitute a “true religion” (Ps. 34:11). This “fear of the Lord” is represented by the “fear and trembling” with which Paul exhorts the Philippians to work out their salvation (Phil. 2:12). It describes the piety of the growing church in Acts 9:31. However it also carry overtones of judgment (2 Cor. 5:11; 1 Pet. 1:17) (Achtemeier 1996, 333)

 

Today’s Oxford On-Line dictionary lists the first verb definition as: Be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or harmful. The meaning of this one word has changed and we do not hear the scripture in the same mind set as it was written.

The challenge this week is to find the meaning in the scripture and make it a mental trigger for us today. Look back at the memory verses for the past three weeks:

  1. Did God really say that? (Genesis 3:1)
  2. Who am I (to do as you ask)? (Exodus 3:11)
  3. If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us (. . . who can be against us)? (Exodus 6:13)

 

And now add in today’s:

  1. Who among you fears the Lord? (Isaiah 50:13)

These memory verses continue developing the relationship God established with his creation. Even though human choice tests relationships with God, God continues to remain in hopes that the relationship with his faithful can be maintained.

Here is the challenge today, figure out how the Old Testament understanding of fear of the Lord is a guiding axiom for us today. What is a better word for us to use than fear if we want to make sure that we are doing what God wants us to do? Remember how Jesus answered the Pharisees when asked what was the greatest law of Moses:

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. (Matthew 22:37-38, NLT)

 

In Jesus’ answer, the key word is love not fear. Personally, I believe that is a major key to figuring out what the Isaiah verse really means in today’s culture.

Reading through O.S. Hawkins’s explanation about this verse, set off the proverbial light bulb in my head—an enlightenment. In answering the questions “What does it mean to live in the fear of God?” Hawkins states:

Does fearing the Lord mean living in a constant state of fright or concern that if we say something or do something wrong, God will zap us with some big bolt of retribution? Nothing could be further from biblical trust. The most common biblical word for fear means to stand in awe before God with such reverence and respect that that reverence becomes the controlling motivation of our lives. (Hawkins 2015, 391)

 

Hawkins continues to share how in his teenage years his own pastor explained fear of God to him:

. . . walking in the fear of God meant living so that He will not take his hand of blessing off me. Fearing God is to live with the conscious awareness of His presence, and wanting to do nothing that might cause God to remove His hand of blessing and anointing from us. Living with that awareness makes an incredible difference in what we do, what we say, where we go, and how we live. (Hawkins 2015, 391)

 

Suddenly, I understood what fear of the Lord meant. I realized that I needed to make this verse real to me, in words that I understood. I need to live my life in such a disciplined manner that what I do, what I say, where I go, and how I live gives God no reason to doubt that I am in a lasting relationship with him.

The challenge for each of us then is to take this verse from Isaiah and make it a verse that sticks in our own minds much like the advertising slogans that bombard us through the media. We need the verse to be our own advertising slogan that even others around us can witness and follow.

The key to finding the right words appeared in the explanation from Hawkins. In that quote, I added the emphasis to the words ‘awe,’ ‘reverence,’ and ‘respect.’ These words all hold positive images in my mind. The contemporary use of them is almost opposite of the current use for fear. I need a word that calls me to follow God in a positive mindset. I want to grow in a loving relationship with God and not be afraid of God.

The memory verse is “Who among you fears the Lord. . . ” but that is just half of the verse. The remainder is “. . .and obeys his servant?” God promised the Israelites that he was sending someone to help us understand how to live in relationship with God. Jesus Christ is that servant and he has taught us how to live so we may remain in relationship with God. He even continued to answer the Pharisees with a second commandment:

A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:39-40, NLT)

 

Tracing the term “fear” through the Bible, the Israelite understanding continues to be used, but remember the first Christians were Jewish and that term was part of their understanding of the relationship they were to maintain with God.

  • Luke 1:50—Mary uses the term fear in her “Song of Praise”: He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear
  • Acts 2:40-43—Luke quotes Peter:

Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper[a]), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.

 

The scriptures do carry the theme of “fearing the Lord” throughout the old and the new testament, but in trying to clarify what that means today, the meaning of fear must be translated into words that have the same meaning as fear did when the scriptures were first preserved. The word revere is what I chose to use but I cannot separate it from respect.

To take that original verse from Isaiah and make it into a slogan, I must reword it: Revere God; respect Jesus. That is a billboard campaign for my life. Following those four words allows me to live in a life of challenges filled with awe of the power of God. I see God in all that is around me. I see the pain of those suffering. I see the joy of living. I see the faith of the farmers as the dormant seeds spring alive. God is in all of life. Jesus has shown us how to live so we know God in all that surrounds us.

Looking forward into the rest of Isaiah 50:10:

If you are walking in darkness,

without a ray of light,

trust in the Lord

and rely on your God.

 

The promise of life with God is awesome. For those walking in darkness, be a ray of light. Help them to see that trusting in the Lord makes life amazing. Help them to find ways to love God, to follow Jesus’ example; and you will discover that the ray of light you see, lights up others’ lives, too.

Each step you take is an opportunity to revere God. Whether you are living a life cleaning your house with no one around or whether you are part of a team serving food to the kiddos at school or at the movies, you are living the life of God’s servant. You are living a life that respects and reveres God and his son Jesus Christ.

For every fleeting thought that crosses your mind, you are revealing your fear of the Lord. He knows what you think, he knows what you do, and he knows what is in your deepest recesses of your heart. Living in reverence of God and respecting Jesus’ teachings determines the depth of your relationship with God. As Hawkins’s pastor told him:

Fearing God is to live with the conscious awareness of His presence, and wanting to do nothing that might cause God to remove His hand of blessing and anointing from us. (Hawkins 2015, 391)

 

Do you “want to do nothing” to take you out of a loving relationship with God? Life with God is awesome. Why risk anything that might severe that relationship or even severe someone else’s relationship with God? Be mindful of all that you do, in all that you say, in all the places you go, and in how you live so that you may maintain a loving and lasting relationship with God. Be mindful that God loved us so much that he joined us as the servant Jesus Christ, son of Mary and Joseph, so that we who believe in him might continue our awesome relationship with God throughout eternity.

Revere God. Respect Jesus. Life with God is awesome.

Closing prayer:

Dear Awesome God,

Today we hear the words of scripture

Seeking full understanding.

Use those words and words of others

Encouraging us to put words into actions.

 

As we daily live in relationship

With family, friends, and others,

Keep Jesus’ teachings forever

In our thoughts and actions.

 

May we reflect the awesomeness

Of a relationship with you

That attracts others to Your Light.

May us respect and revere you,

God, the Father,

The Son, Jesus Christ,

And the Holy Spirit. –Amen

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Lent 2017: f God is for us, who can be against us?

given on Sunday, March 19, 2017:  Week 3 of Lent 2017:  A Season of Mindfulness

Scripture Connections:

Judges 6:6-16, NLT

So Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.

When they cried out to the Lord because of Midian, the Lord sent a prophet to the Israelites. He said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of slavery in Egypt. I rescued you from the Egyptians and from all who oppressed you. I drove out your enemies and gave you their land. 10 I told you, ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you now live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

11 Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”

13 “Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”

14 Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”

15 “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”

16 The Lord said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”

 

2 Corinthians 1:3-11. NLT

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters,[b] about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10 And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. 11 And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.

 

Romans 5:6-11, NLT

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

 

Week’s memory verse:  . . . “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?

Week’s challenge: Remember. Record. Reorder. Spend time writing down the tough times in your life that you felt discouraged. Then write down what God did in your life as a result of the tough times.

 

Reflection: If God is for us, who can be against us?

Glory be! Two days ago we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day and now we are just two days away from the first day of Spring—so much green, and it truly is green. A few days ago a deep freeze attacked the spring flowers, the Bradford pear blossoms and the tender green wheat, but that cold snap was just a momentary lapse in an extraordinarily mild winter.

A cold snap like that easily discourages gardeners and farmers watching the young plants they so carefully planted and nourish. Once the wheat or any seed/seedling is planted, human control is relinquished and God, through the forces of nature, assumes control. Trusting God is tough.

In Judges 6, Gideon is doing his best to harvest the wheat. Even the harvest has to be done as secretively as possible, but the Midianites along with other tribes keep attacking and taking all the harvest. The Israelites become discouraged and turn away from God returning to idol worship. For seven years, the Israelites battle to survive under these difficult conditions, and God’s angel shows up and talks to Gideon:

11 Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”

 

Imagine the surprise Gideon experienced. Here is inside a winepress, a hole in the earth, trying to clean his wheat in hiding. The conditions were not good and the task extremely difficult in that setting. He hardly felt like a hero much less that the Lord was with him at that moment. He had to be discouraged, frustrated, and exhausted after seven years of failure.

Undoubtedly we can all think of similar experiences. I know that Dad used to say that a drought year would occur about every seven years. Living on a small farm during the 1960s and 1970s, the challenges left my parents discouraged over and over. But farming was their life. The land, the cattle, and the crops provided the structure of life itself. Those years of drought were tough, but I never saw their faith in God fail, either.

The stories in the Old Testament and the New Testament are filled with examples of how the faithful are tested over and over with challenges. The problems cover the very basic needs of humans—food, clothing and shelter, first; but also the next level of human needs as identified by Maslow Hierarchy of Human Needs, that includes security and safety. (McLeod 2016) Gideon and the Israelites were struggling with all these human needs when the angel showed up. Certainly, Gideon doubted what the angel was saying so he replied:

 

13 . . . “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”

 

Three weeks ago the first memory verse was introduced from Genesis 3:1—“Did God really say that?” The challenge then was to consider the 5 Ds that the Devil can use to tempt us into following him rather than God: doubt, discouragement, divisiveness, defeat, and delay. Gideon and the Israelites were being tempted by the Devil just as we are tempted when life challenges bombard us over and over again.

How many times in your own lives have you become discouraged because life kept knocking you down over and over again? No where in the Bible does God promise an easy life, rather he gives us the laws or commandments and the people to guide us in our life so we can manage the Devil’s temptations along with the simple challenges of managing to meet the basic needs in our life of food, clothing, shelter, security and safety. And still we become discouraged.

Meeting with a few friends recently, I heard testimony that reminded me how difficult seeing God at work in our lives really becomes. I cannot imagine any single person hearing this today not having a life filled with challenges, but my friend spoke through tears as she testified how God had worked in her life. This woman lost a son during his elementary years. Then her husband was diagnosed with cancer and died while she still had twin sons living at home. All the time she was a teacher, working full time.

As she spoke, she reminded us that at the time she was angry and scared; but as she continued getting up each morning and going to work, she could see God working in her life in unexpected ways. She added in pieces about professional decisions and her sense of discouragement. Yet, she remained faithful and today she can see how God worked even in her most painful days.

  1. S. Hawkins shares in The Jesus Code an interesting explanation of how God reaches out using a comparison to professional lifeguards:

When [professional lifeguards] spotted someone in trouble in the ocean, the guards swam out to them but did not immediately lay hold of them. Instead the guards would tread water just beyond arm’s length. Why? The drowning swimmer’s kicking and thrashing and struggling could well take them both down and under. But when the struggling swimmers neared the end of their strength—when, in essence, they said, “I give out. . .I give in . . . I give up;” when they realized they were unable to save themselves—then the rescue began, and they were pulled safely to shore. (Hawkins 2015, 307)

 

The logic of the lifesaving technique seems to go against everything we might think, but only when the fight is gone can the lifeguards succeed.

God is our lifeguard. We must not ever forget that he is always just an arm’s length away waiting for us. He waits for us to “give out, to give in, and to give up” as Hawkins explains. Only when we have given up and turned our lives over to God, can God move in and save us.

My friend learned this. My mom learned this. And from knowing you, you have learned this. Today’s memory verse may be from the Old Testament, but it is a theme carried throughout the Bible. Jesus himself had to experience life challenges throughout his ministry, even dying on the cross in order to save us today. Paul, too, had to go through blindness in order to see God working to save him.

In Gideon’s question to God, “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” sounds familiar, then so should God’s answer: “I will be with you.” God never abandons us. God reached out to us through the arms of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ saves us because he died on the cross for us.

How do we demonstrate our faith so we can serve as God’s arms? The answer is provided in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

 

Look back over the words in today’s reading and notice how many times Paul repeats that idea: He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. By my count, I see it listed five times in the verses 4-7.

My friend said almost the same thing. She did not know that losing a husband would push her to work with other widows trying to deal with their grief. She did not know that losing a son would open doors to comfort others who lost their child as an instructor taught her in her grief. In her reflection on God’s work in her life, she realizes that when life shuts a door one way, God opens the door in great and wonderful new ways.

Living in today’s culture, the temptation (or the Devil) can cloud our vision. When we are handed one more life challenge that seems overwhelming and we feel like we are drowning, God is only an arm’s length away. That arm may be a friend who understands the struggle from a personal experience. The arm may be a stranger waiting in line behind you offering you a simple smile or more. The arm may be a song’s lyrics that you hear on the radio. The arm may be a lifeguard waiting for you to give out, to give in or to give up so they can safely bring you to shore.

Life is one challenge after another, and no one is exempt from the challenges. Stop, listen to the life stories of others, and examine the quality of their lives. The life challenges come in so many forms—death, disability, health issues, financial problems, abuse, divorce, fire, natural disasters, job crisis, and so much more.

This week memorize Gideon’s question and remember God’s answer: “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? . . .I will be with you.” Then I challenge you to review your own list of life’s challenges, even record them in a journal (and continue on with the practice), and then reorder your thinking to know that God is with you always. Life wears us out, but only when you give out, give in, and give up to God are you saved.

Paul explained it to the Romans:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

Take courage, do not be discouraged, but rely on God to be there for you at even the most trying of times. Once you discover you are not drowning, you will then become God’s arms in the lives of others seeking to find answers.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, our heavenly lifeguard,

 

Day after day, I feel the weight of the world

Pushing down on my shoulders.

I struggle to look up for the Son’s light

And find your arms waiting for me.

 

Day after day, I battle temptations

Making my life seem so discouraging.

Keep my eyes looking up to you

And find your arms holding me up.

 

Day after day, I feel like I am giving out

Or giving in or giving up.

Speak to me the life-saving words of grace

Through the mouths of your faithful.

 

Then, Lord, open my heart to others

Feeling discouraged and drowning

So I can share your grace and your love

To comfort and encourage them.

 

In the your name,

the Father,

the Son,

and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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