The Fruit of Fear Properly Stewarded

By Merv Budd

In my previous post, I talked about how fear needs to be stewarded wisely, like any other limited resource. But how will one know if they are stewarding their fear towards the only One who is worthy and deserving of moving this deep of our hearts? I’m always a bit wary of lists that seem to systematize mysteries, yet there can be benefit in examining what Scripture says about the fruit of fear that is properly stewarded. Perhaps you can do a self-inspection and see if your fear is properly ordered:

1. Properly stewarded fear produces quietness:

From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet (Psalm 76:8).

The practice associated with godly fear is quietness and stillness. A busy culture, a busy schedule, a hurried pace and impatient heart are signs of the absence of the fear of the Lord. When we fear God aright we will be still and silent, waiting on Him, in awe of Him, acknowledging our creatureliness and letting our words be few.

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2. Properly stewarded fear strengthens faith:

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

Jesus says that the disciples fear of their circumstances was evidence of their lack of faith. It seems that where ungodly fear is present faith is weak. Great faith is evidenced by great courage. It seems that faith and disordered fear are unable to coexist. Where there is fear, there is room for more faith.

3. Properly stewarded fear has an undistracted focus:

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:30-31)

The story tells us that Peter, seeing the waves became afraid and then began to sink. Doubt and fear partner to undermine strong faith which has its eyes fixed upon Jesus. Where are your eyes focused? We will always watch what we fear most.

4. Properly stewarded fear increases in wisdom:

The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them (Psalm 25:14).

Quite simply: insight, wisdom, discernment of the times, knowledge—these come to those who fear God. Yet, godly fear is not simply a gateway into gaining more knowledge it is a gateway into intimacy with God. The knowledge He gives, is confided with us.

5. Properly stewarded results in obedience:

But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart (1 Samuel 12:24).

See also Deut. 6:13, 10:12, 20, Joshua 24:14, 1 Sam. 12:14. It is quite amazing how often the command to serve God is preceded by the command to fear him. It is an axiom of human nature that we will always bow our wills, and follow with our actions, before that which we fear most. Obedience towards the will of God, be it that will which we find in Scripture or that will impressed upon our hearts by His Spirit, will be evident in those who have rightly ordered their fear.

Of course, is much more that could be added to this list, but I hope that it quickly becomes evident that such things as quietness, faith, focus, wisdom and obedience are not tangential to engaging the mission of God and this requires that we start by more consciously and deliberately stewarding our heart’s fear aright.

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Stewarding Fear

By Merv Budd

Perhaps you’ve heard, as I have, that there are 365 “fear nots” in the Bible – one for every day of the year. The impression given is that fear is a bad thing, something we should resist, avoid and turn from. The problem is that we are also told in Scripture to fear God. So are we to fear or not fear?

Lightning. Michael Karrer

Some argue that the fear talked about when speaking about God is simply, or only, a deep respect. The problem is that when we read of encounters with God in the Bible, the people encountered appear to be more than simply respectful, they seem afraid.

When Daniel had a vision of the Lord he records this:

I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; those who were with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. (Dan. 10:7,8).

This seems to be a great deal more than simply respect. And in Isaiah we are told this:

The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread. (Isaiah 8:13)

Dread is not often a word one associates with respect.

I am not arguing that we are not to respect God but it seems that quaking, awe-struck fear in the presence of God is appropriate. And it is appropriate because it is a deeply visceral act of homage. Fear is an act of surrender, the giving of our hearts, to that which we fear. This is why the Bible so often tells people to “fear not”; giving to something other than God such power over our hearts is idolatrous. And that is why we never read of God telling people to “fear not” in His presence, but only to “fear not” those things that are created.

Leveraging our Emotional Resources

As with most resources like time and money, we only have a limited amount of emotional energy. Therefore, it is important that we steward those emotional resources appropriately. When we invest our emotional resources fearing what ought not to be feared we strengthen the power of it’s hold in our lives. As N.T. Wright so ably explains, “when humans worship part of creation or forces within creation, they give away their power to those aspects of the created order, which will then come to rule over them.” This helps to explain why the first listed of those being thrown in to the lake of fire are the cowardly (Rev. 21:8). The coward is the one who has given rule of his or her heart to another other than God.

So what does this have to do with the mission of God? It does not take a prophet to see that we are in the midst of great upheaval. Threats of nuclear attacks, violence on streets and greater polarization on views on many contentious topics are everywhere. It’s enough to drive people to live their life out of fear; either aggressive and violent or in retreat. But this is exactly what we cannot do. The pre-exilic advice given by the Lord to Isaiah just prior to the Assyrian invasion is appropriate for those seeking to live faithfully under His reign today:

Do not call conspiracy
 everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
 and do not dread it.
The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
 he is the one you are to fear,
 he is the one you are to dread. (Isaiah 8:12 – 13)

Our witness to God’s reign is observed by others by what we fear. To live missionally in the uncertainty of cultural upheaval, is not to live without fear, but with right ordered fear. To live in confident trust of a sovereign King who remains in control and who alone is worthy of our worship, even, and perhaps especially, the worship of our heart’s fear.

This is my third posting on fear. Check out previous articles here.

Measuring Church Health

By Cam Roxburgh

Defining the missional church as having “a renewed theological vision” means that we pay attention to assessing church health in some specific ways. Church health must be seen through the lens of scripture that reflects the nature and action of God.

Stethoscope CC SA Jasleen Kaur
Scripture uses metaphors of God planning for His people to bear witness to Him throughout all generations. It uses organic metaphors such as describing life on the vine (John 15). Fruitfulness is a possible sign of health. As we abide in Christ, He produces a yield of fruit from the vine. Sometimes there are bumper crops, and sometimes seasons of drought, but the sign of health for us is the abiding in the vine. Be ready for pruning, though, as He furthers the growth of the Kingdom of God.

Scripture also uses organizational metaphors such as a building constructed out of discarded stones (1 Peter 2). We, God’s chosen people, have been added to a beautiful building being constructed. Peter seems to be concerned here with our willingness to be used by God. Our Father does not always use the best and the most beautiful, but rather those who are willing to follow.

The Bible also uses relational metaphors such as the family. This is not just the nuclear family, but households. It is inclusive of those who are single. It is inclusive of those who are poor or disadvantaged. It is inclusive of all generations and all ethnicities. It is inclusive of the neighbour and reflects a measure of the practice of hospitality.

These metaphors paint a picture of purpose – that of joining God on mission. Health is not measured in terms of size or numbers, but witness and faithfulness. Healthy churches are measured on their faithfulness to God. They focus on making disciples, local missionaries who understand they are to be fishers of people. Healthy churches see an increase in witness, a growth in local missionaries and have developed a missional plan for multiplication at every level.

It’s time to get healthy.

Taking the Next Steps

By Cam Roxburgh

In my last post, I asked the question, might it be true that we as God’s people today, have drifted and also need “a renewed theological vision of the church on mission?” Perhaps our understanding of God is too narrow. Our box for Him too small.

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Lesslie Newbigin’s writings all began with a conviction that the church in the West was experiencing a cultural captivity that we were oblivious about. Or perhaps we were guilty of doing the very thing that J.B. Phillips warned against in his rendition of Romans 12: “Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold.”

Perhaps these three prepositions will give us a way to reflect on how we understand God:

In
John 1 and other passages indicate that Christ is in the world. We need to have a fresh look at the implications of God’s presence in the world. Jonah was astounded that God was in  Nineveh. The Israelites were amazed that God was in Babylon. We too need to learn to see  God in our neighbourhoods—active and at work.

The implication for us is that we as a church need to stop coming up with all of these plans for changing the world, and instead learn to discern where God is already at work and join in with Him. It may also mean that we need to pay careful attention to the way in which we learn to live in the world as witnesses to Him.

For
The book of Exodus (and other scriptures), indicate that God is for people. Often, we have  understood Him to be against this and opposed to that, but we need to be renewed in our    understanding that even His name carries with it the sense that He is for people. It does not mean that He approves of everything we do, or that He turns a blind eye to our sin, but rather that fundamentally God is for us…and for the world. Even God’s holiness means that this is true.

The implications for us must be that as we seek to be holy as He is holy, we too need to be known for what we are for and not so much for what we are against. This also has implications for how we learn to stand up for those who are disadvantaged and less privileged, learning to differentiate between the empire and the Kingdom of God.

With
Immanuel. God is with us. We know this fact intellectually, but I wonder if we may need to actually realize it practically. God is in the world and for the world. And He sends us to go and be His hands and feet and mouth to practice and proclaim the reality of the Kingdom. But we need to understand that we are His kids and that He promises to be with us.

The implication for us is that we no longer rely on our own strength, but instead learn to trust in Him and rely on the power of the Spirit at work in us. It also means we need to learn to live as a covenant community, instead of collection of contracted individuals.

God is a missionary God, who is at work in the world, is for the world, and invites us to put our confidence in Him as He uses us to redeem all things.

A Renewed Theological Vision

By Cam Roxburgh

O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above
(Robert Robinson, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing)

One of the problems with sin, is that it leads us away from a relationship with the Lord both as individuals and as a community of His people. We wander, we drift, we do our own thing. But the Lord is gracious and slow to anger. He is faithful and calls His people to return to Him and to bear witness to the reality of the fact that He is about redeeming all things.

There are key moments in the Bible when God gave people “a renewed theological vision” in order that His people might be called out of captivity—either real or of their own doing—and returned to a right relationship with Him.

Moses
One of the most obvious was with Moses. We all recall the meeting at the burning bush. Moses, tending his Father-in-law’s flocks, having run away from Egypt and the trouble there, is mesmerized by the sight of the burning bush and approaches to determine what is happening. There he encounters God, who gives him “a renewed theological vision” of who He is.

In chapters 3 and 6 of Exodus, God explains to Moses that his forefathers had known God as El-Shaddai: the Almighty or All Powerful One. Now God invites Moses and his people to know Him as “I am that I am.” Or, YHWH. Throughout Exodus we come to see God as more than just the Almighty, but He is the One who redeems, the One who leads them to life, and the One who does this for the sake of the world. YHWH invites Moses to join Him on mission as He leads His people out of slavery, to a promised land, so that others may know that He is God. Sounds very prophetic to me.

Jonah
Jonah is another example of a time when God gives a renewed theological vision.

Jonah had done his duty—so he thought. Put to work by the king in previous years, he was perhaps in a state of retirement. Then God comes to Jonah and gives him another assignment. It certainly was not one he asked for, or one that he welcomed. In fact the complete opposite. It made no sense. God was sending him to a people other than the Jews (that was a first) and these were the worst people on the face of the earth. And then the message that he was to deliver—he must have heard that incorrectly as well! God wanted him to go and speak a message of mercy.

We know this whale tale. Whether through Sunday school or Veggie Tales we have heard of the fish and the failure of Jonah. But what is amazing in the midst of the story is that Jonah is a messenger not only to the Ninevites, but to the Jews and indeed to us. God is not only found among His people, but He is found present in the midst of those who seem to have rejected Him: the world. And He loves them. And shows mercy to them. And Jonah is not only surprised with who God is, but indeed angry, because this new revelation does not fit with the box he had put God comfortably in.

Peter
Peter and Cornelius would be a great example in the New Testament. Once again we see God pushing His people to realize that the gospel is to be preached to more than just the Jews. And that the religious laws were a means to an end and not the end itself.

Domenico Fetti's depiction of Peter's dream.

Domenico Fetti’s depiction of Peter’s dream.

So Peter dreams. He is called to the home of Cornelius and after consultation goes and learns that God is no longer to be found in the food laws of His people, but rather in a freedom that reflects an allegiance to who He is. He is no longer to call impure that which God has made pure. Food, or fellow human being. The gospel is to be preached in Jerusalem and Judea, but also in Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Peter has his renewed theological vision of who God is and how the church is to function.

Might it be true that we, as God’s people today, have drifted and also need a renewed theological vision of the church on mission?

Sabbath and Trust

By Cam Roxburgh

The Lake District in England is a “thin place” for me. The likes of Wordsworth and Coleridge and Southey were all inspired by the beauty and serenity of the place. I hear God speak every time I go.

On one particular occasion as I was walking up a hill (the British think it is a mountain), I heard God tell me to go and sit on a rather large boulder conveniently positioned to look out over the valley below. He proceeded to ask, “Do you trust me?” I responded quickly in the affirmative and got up to continue my trek up this hill. But He was not finished. I was told to sit and ponder this question a little longer. Needless to say, I became keenly aware that I do not fully trust God. I know there is a way to live in the Kingdom of God with a much deeper level of trust in Him.

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