Does Fear Get a Bad Rap

  • Does Fear Get a Bad Rap
  • Proverbs 2:1-10
  • Brian Brownlow
  • August 5, 2018
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8-5-18 sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

Good morning! It’s great to be back from vacation. Now, I’m not going to lie, I am missing the cool weather in Ruidoso. Did you notice how cool it was to start this week? Wasn’t Monday great? I’m taking credit for that. I’m telling everybody I just brought it back here with me. So if it gets too hot for you just send me back and maybe we can try this again. There was one negative. My vacation got cut just a little bit short. Just about this time last week, Debbie and I were watching LakeRidge worship on Facebook Live. You’ve probably heard about it but if you haven’t gotten a chance to check it out I want to tell you, it’s great! Now don’t skip church to watch it but if you’re out of town it’s a great way to stay connected. The entire worship service is streamed live on Facebook and it’s the next best thing to being here.

So, Debbie and I are watching the service – really enjoying it – and about halfway through a great sermon, Bryan Burk, our Director of Youth Ministries, who was preaching that day says to the 9:15 service, “Now I know I’m talking to a bunch of gray-hairs.” I looked at Debbie and said, “Did he just say gray-hairs?!!” She replied, “Uhh…I think he said ‘grace-filled.’” Shaking my head I said, “No – he definitely said gray hairs!” End of vacation. Thank you very much, Bryan Burk!

Let me say, yes I’m aware of the situation and I have dealt with. Stop emailing and calling me. I’ve met with Bryan and let me assure you, I have put the fear of God in him. It won’t happen again.

Seriously Bryan had some very good words for people of all ages. I encourage you to take a look at the sermon – I know you will be blessed. You can find it on Facebook and, of course you can find all sermons on our webpage.

This morning I want to talk about the phrase I just used, “The Fear of God.” Most of us have heard those words in a negative context. Perhaps your parents or a teacher uttered those words when you were caught doing something you shouldn’t have been. Maybe you said them to your own kids. In any event, it probably meant something bad had happened.

The Bible gives a different meaning to “The Fear of God.” Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” We usually hear just the first part of that verse being quoted. The second half of the verse gives us some depth, however. It seems to indicate that “the fear of the Lord” is something to be desired not something bad. It is a fool who does not fear the Lord.

The book of Proverbs is part of what we call the Wisdom Literature. Proverbs, along with Job, Psalms, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes form the five books of wisdom in the Bible. These five books, with Job being somewhat of an exception, are not so much a narrative – a story – but rather a series of practical teaching points. They give us instruction on how to live, how to interact with other people, how to make decisions, how to discern what is good and pleasing to God, and what is contrary to his nature and will.

When I teach confirmation class to sixth graders and when I was teaching my own children, I often say that the Bible has the answer to every question you could ever ask. Now, it’s not like a crystal ball that you ask questions and it spits back an answer. However, it gives you the information to answer all of the questions of life. Yes, I said ALL of the questions of life. One of those sixth graders may ask, “Okay, will it tell me who I’m going to marry.” The Bible does not say you will marry Sue Jones or Bob Smith, but the Bible will tell you exactly what to look for in a godly husband or a godly wife. What about jobs? Will the Bible tell me what I’m going to be when I grow up? The Bible will not tell you “Billy, you’re going to be a carpenter.” But the Bible will tell you exactly what the value of work is. It will tell you how you are to work with other people when you have a job. It will tell you about being punctual and honest. No, the Bible is not a crystal ball but it does have the answers to ALL of life’s questions and many of those answers are found in the wisdom literature.

If you will open your Bibles with me let’s look again at Proverbs – one of those wisdom books. Turn with me to Proverbs chapter 2 and will be looking at verses 1-10. This passage comes right after the one I quoted to you earlier – Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Let’s pick up in chapter 2 verse 1.

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, 2 turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding – 3 indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4 and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and its find the knowledge of God. 6 For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. 7 He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, 8 for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. 9 Then you will understand what is right and just and fair – every good path. 10 For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.    Proverbs 2:1-10 NIV (2011)

The first verse tells us that this is conditional. We have a choice. It says if you accept my words. God’s word is true whether we accept it or not – but we do have a choice. Remember the second part of Proverbs 1:7? Fools despise wisdom and instruction. We do have a choice. Now, the passage goes on in the next three verses (2–4) to say that we must seek this wisdom vigorously. Look at how it is worded: turn your ear, apply your heart, call out, cry aloud, look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure. God hides his wisdom – but he hides it in plain sight. God’s wisdom, his very heart, is there for all to see – but we have to seek it. Bill Johnson says that it is to God’s glory to hide things. It’s a part of this thing called faith. We have to seek Him in faith, but He’s hiding in plain sight. In Jeremiah 29:13 God says to his wayward people, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

When you have an Easter egg hunt, you hide the eggs but you hide them so the kids can find them. Have you ever been mowing the yard or cleaning out some weeds in the flower bed and found an egg that the kids missed from last Easter? Did you rejoice? Yay, they missed one! Of course not. You hid that egg with the hope that the kids would find it. Part of the fun was having to hunt the eggs. Perhaps you had a prize egg. You would make that one a little harder to find. But make no mistake, you want the kids to find the prize egg.

What we are vigorously seeking is not an egg on Easter Sunday. What we are seeking is a Savior who was raised from the dead on Easter so that we might live. Verses 6-8 tells us that it is God himself that we are seeking. It’s not wisdom or knowledge or understanding that we seek – it is God. When we know Him, we’ll have all the knowledge we need. He is the source of wisdom. He dispenses and gives all of that to us when we know Him. We don’t seek it as a separate entity. We don’t read the Bible…the wisdom literature…Proverbs to learn something. We engage it to know God. Last two verses sum it all up: then you will understand what is right and just and fair – every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. When we know God, we will know the answers to life’s questions and challenges. We won’t have to look it up, we won’t have to have it memorized, we won’t have to have some store house of knowledge in our brain. Our hearts will be turned towards doing right. We don’t seek to know all the right answers. We seek to know the One who has all the answers.

This pursuit is a lifelong endeavor. King Solomon should be a cautionary tale for every one of us. When we talk about wisdom the first person that often comes to mind is Solomon. The wisest man who ever lived. Did you know that he was also one of the dumbest? For whatever reason, Solomon is a Bible character who usually only has the best parts of his story told. As a young man, God asked Solomon what he would like to receive. Because Solomon chose wisdom and insight, God was very pleased. He told Solomon that because he asked for what was good rather than for riches and fame that He would give him both wisdom, and great riches and fame. However, during his lifetime, Solomon relied on the gift that God had given him rather than on God Himself. He began to amass riches and land but his greatest mistake was turning to foreign gods. The wisest man who ever lived made some of the dumbest decisions. He built temples for and worshiped false gods and because of that, God took the kingdom from him. Because of the promise God had made to Solomon’s father, David, He waited until after Solomon’s death but Solomon was the last king to rule over all of the territory that God had promised to his people all the way back to Abraham. It’s not the gifts or the talents that we have – even if God gave them to us – that matter. It’s knowing God that makes us wise and gives us understanding.

You see, God has hidden Himself in plain sight. We know God as Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. God sent a part of Himself in the form of Jesus Christ so that we might truly know Him. God wants to know you and to be known by you. He wants a relationship with you. The fear of the Lord is not about a mean God sitting up on high, holding thunderbolts, ready to throw them at you just for the fun of it. God has hidden a piece of Himself – Jesus Christ – in plain sight because He wants you to find Him. He wants you to find the Prize. God is not mean…God is not angry…God does not want to punish you.

I need to pause here and address something so that I don’t fail to give you the whole story. The Hebrew word for fear that we see in Proverbs does include the meaning of terror. The God we serve, and the one we find in the pages of this Bible, is an awesome God. He is powerful, He is holy, and he will not be mocked. One of the things that our culture has done is to attempt to water down who God is to make him seem nice. I believe that the whole of Scripture describes a God who loves you and is merciful and wants you to know Him. He is a good, good father who wants you to be a part of His family. He is gentle, kind, and slow to anger but he is also holy and He is just. I’ve already shared with you the caution that is Solomon’s life – a life that turned from knowing God and relied on stuff. Do not be deceived by the popular notion that God doesn’t care about sin and we can do whatever we want to because He is so nice.

Over the last two-hundreed years we have moved in a very dangerous direction in theology. Many have embraced the idea that the Bible is just a collection of stories written by men and not inspired by God. The idea that religion is making oneself better and stories of virgin births and one true God that we see represented by Jesus are just myths. The idea that we can be a Christian and not believe that Jesus was truly raised from the dead. The idea that God is simply a spiritual experience rather than a person we can know.

In 1937 – nearly one-hundred years ago – a theologian named H. Richard Niebuhr said that we now preach “a God without wrath who brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” In other words, we stripped the gospel of all of its power. H. Richard Niebuhr was a really smart guy. I’m nowhere near his level. In my lowbrow country way of thinking I’ve described it this way: we have created a God in our own image who is simply a blind, deaf, senile old man who just wants to spoil his grandchildren.

Make no mistake we serve an awesome God. He is the creator of heaven and earth. He does hold the thunderbolts in his hand. He holds the whole world in his hand and there will come a day – Scripture is very clear on this – where he will return and judge the world. But until that day, in His mercy and His kindness, He has hidden a part of Himself in the form of Jesus Christ in plain sight. His greatest desire is for all of us to find the greatest prize of all.

I want to leave you this morning with some very practical things you can do to put the fear of God into yourself. Our passage from Proverbs this morning told us that we have to seek God vigorously. The first thing you can do to seek Him vigorously is to read His word. Let’s be real this morning, the Bible’s intimidating for a lot of people. Don’t be embarrassed by that. I think everyone feels that way at one time or another. You remember I said that God has hidden things? He’s hid them so that we can find them but we still have to search in faith. Satan tries to counterfeit that by telling you it’s hidden because God doesn’t want you to know it. You’re not good enough to know it. You’re not smart enough to know it. You’ll never live up to any of that even if you did know it. Lies – those are all lies. Specific strategies would take more time than we have here today, but I want to tell you that if you want to get started reading the Bible give me a call or send me an email I’ll be happy to help you get started with that. You may know someone else here on our staff or a close friend that you can go to. It doesn’t have to be me I don’t have all the answers but I want you to know, I’m not just standing up here with the microphone. I’d be glad to help you get started any way that I can. Call the church and they will put you in contact with me. I’ll be more than happy for them to give you my cell phone number. You can call anytime.

God’s word is the most faithful and true way that you can begin to know Him. You can’t just read books or do studies where other people tell you about the Bible. Let me pause to be clear. Those are wonderful activities, they can be very helpful and you can grow tremendously through reading and doing studies that other people have put together. There is nothing wrong with that. However, to find the prize you’ve got to seek Him vigorously and I’m going to tell you this morning, you have to read the Bible for yourself.

The next thing you want to do is to start communicating directly with the one that you are seeking. Reading the Bible is direct communication with God – I’m not saying that it’s not, but I would encourage you to start talking to God throughout the day. Begin to speak to Him as if he’s right there in the room with you even if you don’t feel it. Again, let’s be real. I know that often you don’t feel like God is right there with you. I’m right there with you. Sometimes I don’t “feel” the presence of God. My act of faith is to pray like it anyway.

When you pray, ask God to speak back to you and tell Him that you believe He is going to do just that. Ask Him to speak to you in dreams and visions. I believe God speaks to each of us in various ways. Some of you may experience dreams more than others. Some of you may get pictures or detailed visions. There is no cookie cutter experience. But, hear me on this, God wants to speak to you. Directly to you. Not just through a Bible study or sermon. He absolutely wants to speak to you through those. I’m not diminishing those experiences. But He wants you to know Him personally – not just know about Him intellectually.

The last thing is to communicate with him through other believers. Start conversations with other Christians about your faith. Find someone you can trust and tell them where you struggle. Get in a Bible study during the week. Read what other people are saying. Hopefully God is speaking through the sermons you hear on Sunday mornings! Those are excellent ways to communicate with – to seek vigorously – a God who wants to know you and to be known by you. The fear of the Lord is a wonderful thing.