He Creates. He Destroys.

Fear the Lord.

Proverbs 1

Saturday, July 16, 2022 

                “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,  but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)

                The Hebrew word yir-aw can be translated fear, terror, reverence, respect, piety.  We are to fear, be in terror of, reverence, respect, show piety to God.

            But God doesn’t really want us to fear Him, does he?  Isn’t God all about love and grace and mercy and forgiveness?  Why should we fear God?

            Jesus knew God, his heavenly father better than any human being has ever known God, and here is what Jesus had to say: “Never be afraid of those who can kill the body but are powerless to kill the soul! Far better to stand in awe of the one who has the power to destroy body and soul in the fires of destruction!” (Matthew 10:28 JB Phillips translation of New Testament).  That’s what Jesus said about his own Dad.  Ever heard of the, “My dad can beat up your dad” game?  Jesus says, “Wise up people, my Dad can throw you into the lake of fire where you will be completely destroyed forever.”

            Of course God want us to love him.  God longs to have a loving personal relationship with all of His children.  God loves us so much that he allowed his perfect and sinless son to endure the betrayal and beatings and crucifixion and agonizing death on the cross so that we might have salvation and not be cast into the lake of fire which consumes all those who reject God’s grace and mercy through Christ.  God’s love is 100.  If you need a reminder of this go back to Thursday’s reading “His love/mercy/faithfulness endures forever.”  That’s where God wants every single one of us to end up, fully surrendered to His divine love for us.

            But not everyone is there yet.  In order to fully love God we need to know God.  God is powerful beyond words.  God speaks the word and trillions of galaxies are birthed.  Stars with planets swirling about them.  God speaks the word and living things come into being, plants, birds, fish, mammals.  God scoops up a pile of mud and blows into it and a human person is created.  God rolls back a stone and sends forth his spirit and the dead Jesus comes to life everlasting.  That same powerful God speaks a word and a star explodes.  That same powerful God speaks a word and the earth shakes, volcanos erupt, powerful winds swirl and destroy all that is in their path.

            When God was leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt they were terrified to go near the mountain where God came down to speak to them.  After Moses was in God’s presence receiving the ten commandments his face was glowing and the people were afraid to come near Moses because he had been near God.

            To truly Love God we must know God, and to know God means to recognize his unimaginable power to both create and destroy.  In Jude 7 Jesus’ younger brother writes: “ Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”  Yes, our loving God, who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son (John 3:16) is the same God who completely destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sexual immorality and perversion.  I’m not making this stuff up, it’s there in the Bible.

            I love God, but it took some time to get there.  Before I could truly love God I had to know who God is and I had to understand that God, who is capable of such great love, is also capable of destroying those who rebel against him and his word.  Fear and Love are not mutually exclusive.

            A great old hymn by Isaac Watts begins:

“Before Jehovah’s aweful throne,

ye nations, bow with sacred joy;

know that the Lord is God alone:

he can create, and he destroy.”

To know God is to know that he can both create and destroy.  To know God is to know that he is capable of incredible acts of love and mercy, and the power to destroy those who reject his love.

I like a lot of modern worship music, and yet, I think too much modern worship focuses only on God’s love and mercy and grace, grace, grace.    Maybe some of the old hymns need to be dusted off and revisited.  We need to be reminded that “he can create and he can destroy” because the “fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” and God knows our world is running way short of wisdom these days.

Isaac Watts hymn started with God’s aweful throne and a reminder that he can create and destroy, but it ended with God’s love:

Wide as the world is thy command,

vast as eternity thy love;

firm as a rock thy truth must stand,

when rolling years shall cease to move.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but it ends with Love for those who embrace all of who God is.

-Jeff Fletcher

Reflection Questions:

1.        What is your favorite Love passage of the Bible?

2.       What passage in the Bible really scares you?

3.       How can you hold these two polarities in your mind?

Love that Endures Forever

Thursday July 14, 2022

Psalm 136

            “We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how about you?”

                        “We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how about you?”

            “We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how about you?”

                        “We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how about you?”

That takes me back over 40 years to my high school days.  The cheerleaders out on the sidelines leading the call and response cheer to help get the crowd involved and pumped up to keep the team motivated.

            Call and response is a part of the culture.  In music, particularly jazz and some rock and roll,  the call and response is a form of music with a long history.  One instrument plays a riff, and another answers back.

            Call and response is a big part of African worship.  I once preached a community service with several hundred in attendance including a sizeable contingent of black worshippers who really got into the call and response and kept me, the preacher, energized.

            The call and response is an old form of worship and Psalm 136 is a great example of how call and response was incorporated into the ancient Hebrew worship tradition.  As you look through this great Psalm of praise and worship it’s all about call and response.  One calls out,  “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good” and the other responds right back, “His love endures forever”.  The other calls back, “Give thanks to the God of gods.” And the other responds: “His love endures forever.” And so it goes, call and response, call and response.  It’s an interactive prayer in two voices and it tells a powerful story of Israel’s gratitude to God for his endless love and mercy and faithfulness to his people.

            With each successive call, this Psalm tells the story of God’s greatness.  God is greater than anything else that people worship.  God’s greatness is revealed by his acts of creation. He made the heavens, the lights, the sun and moon and stars, this part of the Psalm shows God’s universal greatness to all people.  Then, the Psalm shifts to how God reveals his greatness particularly to His people, Israel, by recalling the story of the Exodus and how God showed His faithfulness in delivering his people from slavery.

            With each call revealing God’s creative and saving acts there is a response proclaiming the permanence of God’s love.  The Hebrew word, “hesed” is a challenging one to translate.  If you look at various translations of Psalm 136 you will see it translated as love, mercy, steadfast love and faithfulness.  Hesed is a word so full of meaning that it takes a lot of words to try to capture the fullness of it’s meaning.  And that makes sense.  God’s love and mercy and faithfulness are so great and so dependable that it can’t be contained in one simple definition or translation.

            As you go about your day, pay attention to all of the ways that God reveals his love and mercy and faithfulness to you.  Be sure to give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, His love endures forever. 

            As an added bonus, listen to Michael W. Smith rock out on the song: Forever, which is based on this Psalm: https://youtu.be/3lPdtqgouCc

-Jeff Fletcher

Reflection Questions:

  1.  Choose one element of God’s power or character that is included in the Psalm and think about how God has revealed that to you in your life.
  2. Try writing your own Call and Response Psalm to God.  What parts of God’s story revealed in creation, the Bible and your own life experience would you include in the call?  Which element of God’s character would you magnify in the response?
  3. Do a word study on “Hesed” (Bible Gateway lets you compare multiple translations in parallel – for example, see Psalm 136:1 in various translations).  What would your definition of Hesed sound like?
%d bloggers like this: