Tag Archives: fear of God

Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 28A

Track 1: Go, Take Your Position

Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

There were many great female leaders in the Bible along with the men. Today, let us look at the ministry of the prophetess Deborah who was Judge of all Israel. She served at a time when Israel was disobedient to God. As a result, God had delivered the Israelites into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan.

From Judges we read:

At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”   (Judges 4:4-7)

The the commander of King Jabin’s army was Sisera. Sisera was formidable. He had he hundred chariots of iron. His strength would have been far too great for Israel to face alone. The assignment that Deborah was giving Barak son of Abinnam would be difficult at best, if not impossible. Why would he want to accept it?

Why would we accept a difficult assignment? For Barak, the answer lies in the fact that Deborah’s charge was also God’s charge. Not only that, but he had the assurance from God that God would be with him and bring him the victory. Of course, he still had to trust God and carry out what God was asking.

What about us? We are living in difficult times today. God is still giving out difficult assignments. He is still saying: Go, Take Your Position. God has a position for each of us. That  position is important, not only to us, but to the people who are counting on us. In fact, God is counting on us. Will we take up our position?

If the answer is yes, then it will still take great faith and trust on our part, because we will always face formidable opposition from the enemy. We will first want to hear from God clearly about our assignment. We cannot go off on our own, even for a cause that we believe is right. God determines the right cause for each of us.

Further more, we cannot claim any victory on our own, The Apostle Paul wrote:

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved,[a] be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.   (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)

Israel needed the mercy of God Deborah’s time. We need the mercy of God today. Our country needs his mercy. There are enemies afoot, both within and without. To overcome our enemies we must seek the will of God each day in our lives. The psalmist wrote:

To you I lift up my eyes,
to you enthroned in the heavens.

As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters,
and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,

So our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until he show us his mercy.   (Psalm 123:1-3)

Are we looking to the Lord our God? Are we listening to him? If so, then he has an assignment for us. And he is saying: Go, Take Your Position.

 

 

Track 2: I Knew That You Were a Harsh Man

Zephaniah 1:7,12-18
Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

Many of us are familiar with the parable of the talents. In the parable, the master gave certain talents to his servants to invest while he was away. (A talent represented a rather large sum of money) Some servants received more talents than their fellow servants. Nonetheless, when the master returned it appears that he though each one of his servants had invested wisely

There was exception – the foolish servant who buried what he had been given by the master. From Matthew we read:

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.   (Matthew 25:24-27)

Why did this man bury his talents? He stated his reason in the parable: “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.”

Is that the way we see God? Maybe we had parents who were very demanding, or a boss, or a teacher. In the parable, the master was fair. Even though his servants did not receive the same amount, he reward them according to how well they used the talents they were given, not by any absolute universal standard. The expectation of the master was that each servant would do their best to add to what they had been given, regardless of the amount of money they were asked to invest. The foolish servant had misread the character of the master. If we are not careful, we can misread the character of God. God’s true character may be seen in his Word and by his deeds.

The foolish servant was afraid of the master. Did he think he was all alone and could not ask for help? Have we ever felt that way? The  Prophet Jeremiah wrote:

Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it—the Lord is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.   (Jeremiah 33:2-3)

We are not alone. We are not asked to prove ourselves before God by our own wisdom and strength. The foolish servant was in a state of paralysis, but the foolish servant did not understand the character and nature of the master.

Of course, there is accountability with God. He cannot overlook sin. The Prophet Zephaniah warned of the coming day of the Lord:

Be silent before the Lord God!
For the day of the Lord is at hand;

the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,
he has consecrated his guests.

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
and I will punish the people

who rest complacently on their dregs,
those who say in their hearts,

“The Lord will not do good,
nor will he do harm.”

Their wealth shall be plundered,
and their houses laid waste.

Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them;

though they plant vineyards,
they shall not drink wine from them.

The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;

the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,
the warrior cries aloud there.

  (Zephaniah 1:7,12-14)

For Christians, the day of the Lord has already come. The prophet wrote that God had prepared a sacrifice. That sacrifice was his son Jesus hanging from a cruel cross. It was a time of darkness. It was the day in which God punished all sin. We are participants of that day, provided that we have placed our sins upon Jesus.

There is a time of judgment coming. It is hastening towards us. But this time of judgment is not for us. The Apostle Paul wrote:

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.   (1 Thessalonians 5:8-11)

Let us not misunderstand the character of God. Now is the time for us to encourage one another. It is not time to hide our gifts. Jesus Christ is our hope of glory. Let us shine for all the world to see. Amen.

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 22A

MTZION-1Track 1: The Fear of the Lord

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

God calls us out of this fallen world. He wants us to come apart and be separate os that we may have fellowship with him. The story fo the children of Israel is our story.

When God came down on Mount Sinai to speak with the children of Israel it was a frightening experience for them. From Exodus we read:

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”   (Exodus 20:18-20)

Fear, however, kept the Israelites from wanting to come close to God. God is a holy God who cannot tolerate sin. Anyone who is in the near presence of God becomes manifestly aware of their sin. Though the Israelites told Moses they would listen to whatever God said through Moses, they did not want to hear from him directly.

History proved them wrong. They did not listen actually listen to God because they wanted to hold on to their sins. Moses told them that the fear they experienced in God’s presence was designed to keep them from sinning.

A Holy God must judge sin. People fear God because they fear his judgement. He read in Hebrews:

For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.   (Hebrews 10:30-31)

Is this fear bad? The psalmist tells us that fear of the Lord is a good thing:

The fear of the Lord is clean
and endures for ever;
the judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.   (Psalm 19:9)

The Hebrew word translated as “clean” means “purifying.” Without a fear of God their is little desire to be purified. Obviously many people living in this world today have little fear of God.

In Proverbs we read:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.   (Proverbs 9:10)

Fear is not the end of wisdom, however. Fear has to do with punishment. The Apostle John places fear in the perspective of the Gospel.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so 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 reached perfection in love.   (1 John 4:16-18)

God is still calling us to come into his presence. Where do we stand today? Do we desire to get closer to him or do we stand back? The Apostle Paul did not stand back. In today’s Epistle we read:

I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 3:8-14)

Paul understood that he was not going to be able to fulfill the righteous requirements of God’s law on his own. He needed to press in to God by growing in knowledge of Christ. Paul rejected himself and what he could accomplish on his own. Rather, his building block became Jesus Christ.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, speaks about himself as the cornerstone:

“Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?   (Matthew 21:42)

Do we know Jesus as our cornerstone? He alone can satisfy the righteous requirements of the law. He alone can present us spotless before the Father in heaven. He alone can perfect us in love. He took our punishment on the cross so that we may boldly approach him by faith. Is he calling us today to come closer? If so, why would we stand back?

 

 

Track 2: The Unfruitful Vineyard

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:7-14
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

From today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah we have the Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard:

Let me sing for my beloved

    my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
    on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
    and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
    and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
    but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
    and people of Judah,
judge between me
    and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard
    that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
    why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you
    what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
    and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
    and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
    it shall not be pruned or hoed,
    and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
    that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
    is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
    are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
    but saw bloodshed;
righteousness,
    but heard a cry!.   (Isaiah 5:1-7)

The house of Israel is the vineyard. God had great expectations for Israel. Of all the nations on earth God took great care to protect and nature Israel. He looked for Israel to produce fruit. They were to provide fruit upon which the whole world would feast. But this did not happen which brought judgement from God.

The psalmist asked:

Why have you broken down its wall,
so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes?

The wild boar of the forest has ravaged it,
and the beasts of the field have grazed upon it.

Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven;
behold and tend this vine;
preserve what your right hand has planted.   (Psalm 80:12-14)

God tends his vineyard. He provides the sunshine of his love. He waters the vineyard with his Word and Spirit. God expects fruit in return. The plants must simply drink in God’s nourishment.

Jesus tells a parable:

Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”   (Matthew 21:33-41)

How could anyone act so atrociously? How could they be so selfish? What could have possibly prompted the tenants in the parable to behave in such a bizarre way? Perhaps they wanted to prove they could tend the vineyard on their own, without the landowner’s help? Perhaps they decided that they should take ownership of the vineyard and eliminate the Landowners participation altogether? How could they be so evil? And how could we crucify the Lord of Glory?

Israel is still the planting of the Lord. God has not abandoned them. We are the ingrafted branches of Israel. We, therefore, are also the planting of the Lord, provided that we have accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Do we see in our selves any of the characteristics that were in the tenants in the parable? Another way of asking this question: Are we producing fruit in our lives – fruit that remains. In John’s Gospel we read:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes[a] to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.   (John 15:1-5)

The tenants in the parable thought they could produce fruit on there own. But they could not. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees through this parable. Is he speaking to us today?

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is amazing in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”   (Matthew :42-44)

If we are to produce fruit then we cannot reject Jesus, his teachings, and his gift of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. He is the vinedresser and we are the branches.

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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11A

Track 1: The Gate of Heaven

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23
or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Today we reflect upon Jacob’s well known dream of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven:

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”   (Genesis 28:10-17)

Jacob had an encounter with God. God blessed him and made great promises to him. Jacob celebrated the moment and the place where he heard from God, Nonetheless, one of his reactions to all of this was fear. Why was Jacob afraid? We can only speculate. Perhaps it was because Jacob, though a grandson of the great Abraham, was a conniver and a trickster. His character was less than stellar. Often times we may want to hide from God because of our feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

The psalmist wrote:

Where can I go then from your Spirit?
where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there your hand will lead me
and your right hand hold me fast.   (Psalm 139:6-9)

The psalmist understood his own frailty, but he also understood that God was faithful to lead and guide him.

We remember that old hymn about our climbing Jacob’s ladder, but in Jacob’s dream only the angels of God were climbing up and down the ladder. I believe the ladder signifies that God has chosen to minister to us, regardless of who we are and what we might have done. We do not merit his favor nor do we have to climb a ladder to reach God.

In order to fully experience God we must allow his love to wash over us. The Apostle John wrote in his first epistle:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.   (1 John 4:18)

We need to focus on the love of God rather than our shortcomings. We do not want to miss his visitation to us because of our feelings of unworthiness. Jesus has paid the price for our sins, provided that we have acknowledged our debt to him. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ– if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.   (Romans 8:12-?)

Have we experienced an encounter with God? Have we experienced the gate of heaven? God has opened that gate for by the blood of his Son. When Jesus died on the cross the curtain in the Temple in Jerusalem, which separated the most holy place from the holy place, was torn from top to bottom. What is keeping us from entering into his presence. Even now he is calling us. Even now he is ministering to us. Amen.

 

 

iuTrack 2: The Wheat and the Tares

Isaiah 44:6-8
Psalm 86:11-17
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Jesus told a parable about the wheat and the tares found in the same field. The essence of the parable is that the wheat and the tares are found mixed together. When the workers ask if they should attempt to pull out the tares, the owner tells them to let the wheat and tares grow up together. He knows that it is often difficult to tell them apart in the beginning.  If the workers pull out any of the tares prematurely then they might also damage the wheat. At the time of harvest the tares can then be removed safely and burned.

Later, Jesus explains the meaning of the parable to his disciples:

“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”   (Matthew 13:36-43)

We live in very confusing times. How are we to know the truth when both the good and the bad exist side by side? To compound the problem, the good is often presented as evil and evil is called good. Isaiah prophesied that this would occur:

Ah, you who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter!   (Isaiah 5:20)

Are we not living in such a time? Even in today’s Church in America there seems to be confusion about fundamental things. That which God has called abominations we are now told are within the orthodoxy of the Church.

Jesus gave us this criteria for determining false prophets and false teachers:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.   (Matthew 7:15-20)

We need spiritual discernment which comes from reading and studying the Bible, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Unless we are Spirit filled and have a daily walk with God through prayer and meditation upon his word, we will not understand the times we are in nor what the Lord requires of us.

We do need to avoid the temptation of identifying specifically who are the wheat and who are the tares. This is a trap that the enemy sets for us. Only God can distinguish between the two. Only God can know the heart of each individual person. Jesus said:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.   (Matthew 7:1-2)

God alone is judge. The psalmist wrote:

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:

I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.

Is there any god besides me?
There is no other rock; I know not one.   (Isaiah 44:6-?)

The parable of the wheat and the tares serves as a warning to us. Those of us who consider ourselves wheat may actually be part of the tares. Only God can say. Worldly appearances and worldly approval count for nothing. The enemy is constantly reassuring us that the broad way of the world is OK.

In his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said:

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.   (Matthew 7:13-14)

God has given us guidelines in his holy word which we should follow, ignoring the cultural standards of the media, entertainment industry, and fallen institutions of education and government.

At the end of the age it will be clearly revealed who are the wheat and who are the tares. Let us hold fast to our Lord Jesus Christ and his teachings until the end.

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