I have a friend who is a funny writer, a good writer but a funny one. He does a periodic “blog” of sorts that is always down-homey (is that a thing?), honest, and wise about recovery and sobriety. He wrote me this email yesterday in response to the devotion on Deuteronomy 10; (I edited it a little to protect the innocent. ?)
“Ah Dr Courtney. My friend. Have I ever been on a rant the last few days with some knuckleheads as ourselves about this fear God business. Dangnation if only YOUR generation had gotten it right!! Wait. You’re 50 right? Maybe the other generation then…
Kid conflict: Fear God – wooooo. God is big and bad and will get you if you… Holy smokes!
Self conflict as a kid and adult until age 38: Fear God – woooo… same stuff… Why should I be afraid of God when he’s offering eternal life, peace, serenity, heaven, protection, roadmap for living, Jesus? Why didn’t I just pick up a dictionary?
Maybe, you, with your grandsons, can reverse the curse. The third of Webster’s definitions of Fear is In reverence to; in awe of… Those little ones should know this. My little ones have heard this and hopefully believe it. I made up the word Dangnation so if you use it, please acknowledge.
The whole “fear God” idea has always been a bother for us. There is a huge segment in the church (maybe those of us in the “older” generation) that have taken that word and used it as a club to beat the young folks into submission. We make following Christ all about rules and regulations. We used phrases like, “there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun.” We made movies like Left Behind and scared the living daylights out of everybody. Being eternally lost was and is our primary motivator. And we probably did more harm than good to the generations that followed.
However, there is one small tidbit to consider, ALL THAT STUFF IS TRUE. Deuteronomy 11 begins with, “You MUST love the Lord your God and obey all of His requirements, decrees, regulations, and commands.” Fear God IS an important declaration of Scripture. There IS a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. We ARE called to obedience, holy living, righteousness. We aren’t making that up. It is right there in the Book.
On the other hand, in our zeal to “preach the truth,” we have driven another huge segment of the church over the edge of grace. God has become a cosmic grandfather, smiling affectionately at our messes and mistakes. He is like Santa Clause. He SAYS He is making a list and checking it twice but in the end, we all get presents. The recoil from “fear God and obey Him” has turned us to “God is our buddy and sin is no big deal.” To borrow my friends word, dangnation. How to we reconcile the two absolute truths of justice and mercy, righteousness and grace, fear God and love God?
The History Lesson in Deuteronomy 11 is, by now, a familiar one. Moses has called the Children of Israel together. They are STILL getting ready to cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land. The whole book of Deuteronomy is a recap for them of all that God has done and said during their Exodus journey in the wilderness. In fact, he reminds them in verse 2 that there is a “huge segment of the church” that did not witness the things that the generation before them did.
Maybe that’s part of the problem. I grew up with way too much talk about hell and the wrath of God and judgement and the like. But I also grew up with great, old saints who could “pray the glory down, (ever hear that phrase?), with testimony services about God’s healing and miracles. I grew up with two-week long revivals where every night we would go and the evangelist would sweat and spit and walk the church aisles looking for some kid to drag to the altar. I am not suggesting we go back to the old ways, especially the two-week long revivals. I am saying that it has been far too long since we saw the power and presence of God really break out, not only in our church services, but in our lives.
So, Moses says, “Obey God.” Live right. Stay humble. Seek mercy and justice. Follow His commands. Since these young whippersnappers were not there at the crossing of the Red Sea and didn’t eat the manna from heaven, it is important for us to be an example before them of living as people who truly honor God. We should be an “awe-some” people who, by our daily walk, reflect the very nature of this wonderful God we serve. Thomas Merton said, “Man is the image of God, and his inner self is a kind of mirror in which God not only sees Himself, but reveals Himself to the “mirror” in which He is reflected.” By living in obedience, faithfulness, Godliness, we demonstrate to those around us (maybe, especially our kids and grandkids) that God really deserves to be considered. In other words, if we live like God matter in our lives, He WILL matter, not only to us but also to those who are watching. And we, and those around us will be blessed because of that.
Moses says, “Look, today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse.” (verse 26) That’s the good news here. We get to pick. The choice is ours. Are we going to choose the loving, grace filled, compassionate God who “loves us with an everlasting love,” (Jeremiah 31:3) and promises to “never leave us or forsake us?” (Hebrews 13:5) And by choosing Him, live lives that reflect that side of God to others? When we choose THAT God, the One who is for us, and in us, and with us, the One who still works miracles and meets needs and salvages our mess-ups, we are under a blessing that is unimaginable. Every place we turn it seems God has gone before us and prepared for us to know His goodness and grace. We live lives of continued blessing when we choose to give THAT God the reverence and respect that He deserves.
Or are we going to choose the “curse” of going our own way, doing our own thing, ignoring the goodness AND awesomeness of God? When we fail to honor God, to follow His instruction, to live like we are in charge, we do two things. We fall under a “curse.” Not necessarily some horrible punishment or attack by a vengeful God, but just the natural outcome of living, unprotected, in a fallen world. And we only contribute to another generation that has failed to see and believe the AWESOMENESS of God. We raise up another huge segment that does not know what it means to fear God.
We get to choose. Not between FEAR and GRACE, but between obedience, that produces blessing, or ignoring God, with the resulting curse of missing out on all that He has for us. I don’t know if any of this makes sense. (It’s been a busy morning all ready.) But dangnation, I do know that I want to choose blessing. And I want those around me to SEE me choose that.
See you tomorrow.