Fear of God
February 6, 2000
Today, I am going to share something that I have never talked about publicly before. I communicate this to you because a friend of mine encouraged me to do so. I deal with a lot of fear. I would call fear my greatest motivator. It ebbs and flows in my life weekly. On Monday I feel a little chop on the surface. By midweek the seas often swell from five to seven feet. By the weekend it is as though I am being hit with a tidal wave. The fear of saying something on God’s behalf, the fear of being a conduit for His truth—that’s why I get nervous, extremely nervous every time I talk. I understand that the stakes are sky high. Over any given weekend, there is a marriage here teetering on disaster, a family checking out Fellowship for the first time, a far-away-from-God-type giving Christianity one last shot, a business person trying to process a life-changing decision, some loved ones dealing with the loss of a family member. All those things are bouncing around in my head.
It is fear that drives me to spend on average 25 to 30 hours a week in message preparation. I know that every six days I have got to research, write, edit, memorize, and verbalize a term paper to a wide range of humanity. I know it must be Biblical, relevant, insightful, poignant, and interesting. It is not an ego deal for me. Other things stroke my ego, but not this one. To boil it down, the fear I deal with is the fear of God.
I know by virtue of sharing that story with you about my life, I understand the fact that some of you know where I am coming from. Yet others of you don’t quite get it. Others of you might be saying, “What’s up with this fear of God stuff?” The fear of God is one of the most misunderstood concepts in all of the Bible. So many of us are foggy and muddy on this one. But I truly believe after today’s session, after this time together, that the fog will be lifted and the mud will be washed away. We must understand and have a healthy fear of God if we are going to have true success in this one and only life.
Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” In other words, the fear of the Lord is the starting point, the launching pad for knowledge. I think most of us want knowledge, most of us desire wisdom. It is all tethered to the fear of the Lord. Now one of the reasons why many of us are foggy and muddy concerning this concept is because we get our views of our Heavenly Father from the views and the cues we received from our earthly fathers. Some of us here grew up in a red light household. You saw your father as a red light dad. It was always halt, stop. If you run the red light, the hammer will fall. You will be handcuffed. And “bad boy, bad boy, what ya gonna do?” If your family of origin was like that, chances are you see God in the same way, unapproachable, always saying halt, stop, if you run the red light, “bad boy, bad boy what ya gonna do?” And a lot of red light people say to themselves, I don’t want any part of a God like my father.
Others grew up in a green light household. Your father didn’t have any guardrails or guidelines for you. It was more or less Autobahn living. “Just go for it,” he would say, “no problem, it doesn’t matter if you get in a wreck or mess up. Everything is cool. Just do it.” Chances are if you grew up in a green light household, you see God like that. You don’t really have a fear of Him. You think that God is a green light God. Just go for it. Autobahn living with no guidelines or guardrails. Just do life. Follow your feelings.
I talked to a man several years ago who was involved in a church, yet he was living a green light lifestyle. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why. Then one day he shared with me his relationship with his father, and as he was doing that I understood. He had a green light dad.
Others here grew up in a yellow light household. I would say that the yellow light describes my family, especially my father. He was not perfect. Sometimes he turned on the red light too much. But for the most part, he gave me slack at the right time and pulled in the rope at the right time. And I have, I think, a pretty healthy fear of God. And many of you here would check off on this yellow light thing and say, “Ed, I am with you. I am the same way.”
Some here, and this number is increasing every day, grew up in a black light household. You didn’t have a father or if you had one he was rarely around. And for you, your concept of God is up for grabs. You could have an unhealthy fear of Him or no fear of Him. You are kind of out there in never-never land.
Today we are going to go on a fear finding mission. We need to recover a healthy fear of God. The Bible says that perfect love casts out fear. In other words, we should not fear the future. We should not fear commitment. We should not fear failure. We should not fear loneliness. We should only fear God. If we fear God, we should not fear anything else. He is the only thing worthy of our fear.
Fear, if you haven’t noticed, is the most basic instinct of every creature. That is why I call the fear of God “Christianity in the raw.” Christianity in the raw. The fear of God is not cowering. It is not wigging. It is not doing the Barney Fife thing. It is not tucking our tail between our legs and running away. That is not the fear of God. God doesn’t want us to do that. He wants us to fear Him but it is fear in the raw. Recognition. Recognition is an aspect of fearing God, a healthy one at that.
Last weekend it was hilarious. I was shaking hands at one of the doors and people were filing through. I meet a lot of people. I enjoy talking to all of you. A gentleman walked up to me with his wife and said, “Ed, tell me who I am. Tell me my name.” I knew I had met the guy before, but I just couldn’t bring up his name. Finally I looked at his wife and said, “Tell him his name.”
We recognize somebody and we single them out, don’t we. We tell them who they are. We tell them their name. We must do that with God. We must recognize who God is. Regularly, we must tell God who He is. Does God need it? Does God say, “Well, I didn’t realize I was God. I didn’t realize that I made the heavens and the earth. I didn’t realize that I sent Jesus to die on the cross for your sins. I didn’t realize that. Wow. Thank you.” No. God doesn’t need that but we do. But I do. Because when I regularly recognize who God is my pride takes a ride somewhere else. My ego melts. I realize that He is God and I am not.
But I am here to tell you something. I am a sinner and if left unchecked, I will go south. And if I don’t regularly recognize who God is, if I don’t give Him that significant slot in my life, suddenly I think I am God. I think I am God ruling over a universe called me. And a lot of people I meet these days think they are God. They don’t say it but they don’t regularly recognize who God is. “I call the shots. I pull myself up by my bootstraps. I’ve made the money. I am in charge. I will determine my own destiny. I will forge my own future. I am God.”
We must recognize who God is. Then and only then will we begin to have a healthy fear. And once we recognize who God is, we will discern and recognize the healthy balance between love and fear. Between love and fear.
Certain things are inseparably linked in life today. Money and Bill Gates. Texas and big hair. Chips and queso. Body piercing and Dennis Rodman. Those things are inseparably linked. So is love and fear. Psalm 33:18, “The eyes of the LORD are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in His unfailing love. Let those who fear the LORD say His love endures forever.” Fear and love. Fear and love are balanced.
Question: When was the last time you jumped on a seesaw? Awhile back I got on a seesaw. One of our twins was sitting on one side, she weighs about 45 pounds. I was on the other, and I weigh 185. If I wanted to I could have sat down hard on the seesaw and launched her out of the confines of the playground. A lot of us have an out-of-balance seesaw. We don’t recognize who God is and we don’t recognize the critical balance between fear and love. If we fall too far on the fear side, we become legalistic. “Can’t smoke, can’t cuss, can’t chew, can’t run around with girls who do. Christianity is a bunch of rituals and regulations. I’ve got to jump through this hoop, I have got to do this and do that. God might hit me with a heavenly hammer. Bad boy, bad boy, what’s ya gonna do?” A lot of people are on this legalistic trip. Christianity is not a legalistic trip, it is a relationship.
On the other hand we can get the seesaw going so far on the love side that we mess up. We think that God just loves us unconditionally. It doesn’t matter how we live. Yes, God does love us unconditionally, but it is fear tethered to love. Fear connected to love. “Well, I can just have sex with this person and that person. I can get wasted on the weekends. God just loves me.” And if we fall too far on the love side, we get all lackadaisical and just cruise in our Christianity. That is not it. It is the perfect balance between fear and love. While growing up, I loved my father. But I also had a healthy fear of my father, too.
At 2:30 am, Lisa and I were jolted out of bed by the earth shaking bark of one of our Mastiff dogs. It kept going and going and going. Lisa said, “Ed, something is wrong.” So I put on my bathrobe, slippers and walked outside. Sure enough, big ole Brute had gotten out of the fence somehow. “Oh, no. I am going to put the fear of God in him.” So I marched down that driveway and grabbed him up by the collar. He was still barking. “Brute, shut up. Be quiet.” I kind of lost it a little bit. Don’t write me letters about being cruel to animals. I love animals. I watch The Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. The Crocodile Hunter and I are tight. I was putting fear in this bucket-headed dog’s mind.
So then I began to try to drag this huge dog, who weighs about as much as I do, up the driveway. My bathrobe almost comes off and there I am in my boxer shorts. I am thinking to myself, “Oh boy, what if the neighbors are thinking, ‘There is Pastor Young in his boxer shorts fighting his dog.’” I finally got Brute up the driveway. Well, Brute kind of lumbering along is still loving me. When I put the fear of God in him, it didn’t make him run away from me. He was jumping up on me, drooling on me, happy to see me again. Fear and love, see the balance there. When I recognize who God is, I understand that God is God and I am not. I understand the delicate balance between fear and love.
There is something else about Christianity in the raw. Not only is it about recognition, it is also about accountability. Tax time. That date we love to hate, April 15. We have to come clean before our government. We have got to give an account of our finances. And April 15 messes with us, doesn’t it? We could file extensions, go through a number of gymnastics and a lot of rigmarole, but at the end of the day we are going to have to face the music. God, in His economy, has an April 15. He has a day of accountability. April 15 financially really influences how I will spend, save, and invest my money. God’s April 15, the day of accountability, has a big influence on how I will spend and invest my one and only life. The Bible says that one day I will stand before Him and I will have to give an account of every word spoken, every thought processed, every deed done.
If you are a Christ-follower, you will have to give an account before God. I am not referring to any punishment. Our punishment was taken on the shoulders of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago. Our sins were forgiven and forgotten, past, present, and future. I am talking about, though, a healthy accountability. The writer of Hebrews put this spin on it inspired by the Holy Spirit. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.” We must give an account. And this healthy accountability motivates me to live a pure and holy and sin free life. I still mess up. I strike out. I fumble and stumble. I am always thinking, though, about that accountability.
In Hebrews 12:6 it says, “The LORD disciplines those He loves.” I love my four children like words cannot describe. I love them enough, though, to discipline them. God disciplines those of us who are in His family. The moment we become Christ-followers we are adopted into the family of God. We are born again into His family. And God is our father. He is the perfect heavenly parent, has the perfect balance of fear and love. He will discipline you and he will discipline me when we get out of His will. Once again, I am not talking about punishment. Discipline is correction driven by love.
But if I have a skill set given to me by God which I know I have and you have a skill set given to you by God which you know you have, and I don’t use mine and you don’t use yours, and I miss opportunity after opportunity and so do you, we will get disciplined. I try to live a life reflective of God’s character because I don’t want to disappoint Him. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and look at God on April 15 and say, “You know, I tried. But I was involved in this and that….” And I don’t want God to look at me and feel that my life has been riddled with regret. I want the best for me.
Do you want the best for your marriage? I have never met a person who has said, “no.” Do you want the best for your children? Do you want the best for your life? Do you want the best for your blessings? Do you want the best for your finances? Do you want the best for your career? Do you want the best for your future? Do you want the best recreationally? Do you want the best relationally? Do you want the best? Do you? Recognize who God is and understand accountability.
My man, Moses, was at the base of Mount Sinai after receiving the Ten Commandments. Here is what he communicated to the children of Israel in Exodus 20:20, “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.” Moses said, don’t be afraid, don’t freak out over phobias. Allow the fear of God, Christianity in the raw, to keep you from sinning. It is about love. It is about recognition. It is about accountability.
Christianity in the raw is also about something else. It is about a willingness to go by God’s game plan. It is a willingness to obey, to do what He says. The most powerful man financially to ever live was a man talked about in the Old Testament, Solomon. I call Solomon “Solo Man” because he tried to do it his way. For forty years, Solomon tasted power and pleasures and possessions like we never, ever will. Bill Gates, Michael Dell couldn’t even carry his wallet. If Solomon constructed his house again today it would cost 200 billion. Men, he had 700 concubines. He memorized 2,005 Proverbs. He was the man of the hour, the toast of the town. Seemingly, he had it all. But after burning up four decades of his life, being an older man, he looked back in the rear view mirror and he penned these words which are so relevant. Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Now all has been heard…”—and believe me, with Solomon, you just read it as “he did it all”—“here is the conclusion [the net effect] of the matter: Fear God…” recognition, accountability “…and keep His commandments…” a willingness to go by His game plan, “…for this is the whole duty of man.” God preserved the words and the thoughts and the journeys of Solomon so that we wouldn’t have to go there. Isn’t that great? What a wonderful God we have.
Are you going by God’s game plan? God simply wants willing warriors. He wants people who say, “God, I want to do it your way. I’m not going to be a little God sovereignly ruling over a universe called me. You are God. I am not. You have the game plan for me that is the best. I will hit on all cylinders when I do it. I want to do what you want me to do.” We don’t know what to do unless we know God’s game plan. And God’s game plans are revealed to us in the Bible. That is why it is so thrilling to know that on Tuesdays, we have over 800 adults showing up right here just for Bible Study. That is why it thrills my heart to know that twice a month, we have adults meeting together in small groups throughout the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex. That is why it excites me to know we have children between birth and the 5th grade in interactive Bible Study and Preschool and Children’s Church. That’s why it just astonishes me that nearly 11,000 show up every weekend right here at Fellowship Church just to hear what God has to say. We want to know God’s game plan. And that is a good thing. Christianity works. Christianity cracks the code on our messed up culture.
But, some of us here are not in the game. Some of us here have no idea about a game plan. We think we are in the game but we are in the parking lot. We are saying to ourselves, “Well, I thought I was in the game, but I guess I am not in the game.” Christianity is a decision followed by a process. You don’t just join the process. In other words, you don’t just wake up one day and say, “Oh, I’m married. Wow, I’m married. It just happened.” It is not that easy is it, singles? I have to come to a point where I say “I do” in marriage and then I understand the implications of the process after I say “I do.” The same is true in the Christian life.
To become a Christian we have to know four things. First of all we have to understand that God unconditionally loves us. We matter to God. We don’t deserve it, but God loves us. Also, God has a great game plan for every life here. Number two: we have blown it. We have struck out at the moral batting plate. We have sinned and our sin separates us from God. It causes a chasm between us and God’s game plan. It puts us out in the parking lot. Number three: God took the initiative. He sent Christ to die on the cross for all of our transgressions and to rise again. Number four: it is our call. We either walk through the turnstile and get into the game or we don’t. It is your call. We are not robots. We are not puppets. We are creatures made in the image of God, thus we have a freedom of choice.
But some of you today need to make that call. What is it going to be? Yea or nay? You can sign on the dotted line or walk away. It is the way life was meant to be lived. Are you willing, totally willing to follow the Lord? Christianity is not a complicated thing. People have tried to make it complicated. It is not. Is being in good shape complex? No. It is simple. You want to know how to be in great shape? I will tell you right here. Eat healthy. Do some aerobic exercise three to five times a week. Pump iron. That’s all it takes. Easy to explain. Easy to implement? No. No. It is one of the most difficult things I have tried to do. I have got a long way to go.
Christianity is the same thing. Is this stuff ethereal, out there, complex? No. It is simple, not shallow or superficial. It is simple but it takes everything you have. But the great news is, we have someone in our lives once we step over the line to give us the strength and the power to do this stuff.
Some of you are thinking right now, “Christianity in the raw. Hmm. Recognition. Accountability. A willingness to obey. What is in it for me? What will happen to me if I do this? What’s in it for me?” I want to share with you five fringe benefits of a healthy fear of God.
Would you like to have direction, compassion, blessings, contentment and maturity? I would. I would sign up for some of that. Psalm 25:12, “Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose.” Psalm 103:13, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.” Proverbs 22:4, “The reward of humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, honor and life.” Psalm 34:9-10, “Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints; For to those who fear Him there is no want. The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; But they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing.” Psalm 25:14, “The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him. And He will make them know His covenant.”
The most basic instinct of all creatures is the instinct of fear. The only thing we should fear, friends, is God. That is Christianity in the raw.