The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. (Ps. 111:10)
The theme for RYS this year was difficult to unpack; the phrase “the fear of the Lord” is a phrase deeply misunderstood by many Christians today. Both of our main speakers, Rev. Paul Murphy and Rev. Rip Pratt, expressed their dismay at the general understanding of the fear of Lord that defines fear as a “reverential awe.” While both reasoned that this is definitely part of what we understand as the fear of the Lord, we are taught about a greater meaning. Rev. Paul Murphy characterized the fear of the Lord in two different categories. He explained that the first kind of fear is abject terror at the presence or consideration of God, absent of love for God and devoid of trust in God. It is foolishness, he contended, that apart from the blood of Christ it is impossible not to be afraid of God. The second kind of fear, however, is characterized not by condemnation but by reverence and awe as one contemplates the majesty of God: adoration, love, honor, worship, confidence, gratitude, and fear. Using the account in Isaiah 6, when Isaiah has a vision of the Lord’s throne room, both Rev. Murphy and Rev. Pratt pointed out that Isaiah has actual fear. Isaiah has this fear because he sees the glory of God and is filled with awe for God. At the same time, he realizes his own uncleanliness, which causes him to cry out, “Woe is me!” However, when Isaiah is told his sin is atoned for, his fear causes him to respond to the call of God to bring His Word to the people. Likewise, because our sins have been atoned for, the fear we have should cause us to live lives holy and pleasing to God.
Rev. Murphy immediately made the connection to wisdom when he explained that the fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom, within a relationship with Christ. However, our generation, for all the knowledge we have living in this present age, is unwise. Evidence of this can be seen by looking at the world around us. Our world sees the wisdom of God as foolishness. Rev. Murphy’s definition of wisdom (which we all had memorized by the end of the week ) was this: “Wisdom is to live in the fear of God, according to the Word of God, to the glory of God.” He then charged us to be fools for Christ; fools not like the ones of the world but fools living in the wisdom of God, different and not conformed to the pattern of the world.
All the workshops we attended at RYS further explored this theme by dealing with the issue of how we are to live before the face of God (coram Deo), in the fear of the Lord, and in specific areas of life. (Unfortunately, each of us had time to attend only five of these wonderful workshops.)
One eye-opening workshop, titled “Got Time?” was led by Rev. Marcusse, who used Ephesians 5:15–16 to explain how Christians should use their time. He began with the startling statistic of the average time Americans spend on social media on their smart phones each day: 3.8 hours. Multiplied by 365 days, the yearly amount of time equals roughly two months per year! In respect to the knowledge of who ultimately controls our time, Rev. Marcusse admonished us to walk circumspectly, or carefully, before the Lord in the knowledge of what He has done for us. With respect to time, Rev. Marcusse recommended that we redeem the time by looking at this concept from a general viewpoint that says we should walk in all goodness, righteousness, and truth, finding out what is acceptable to the Lord and living as children of the light. We also talked about applying this to each of our personal lives, where redeeming the time may mean taking a different approach than those around us by recognizing each of our strengths and weaknesses.
In Rev. Lubbers’s workshop on biblical knowledge of one’s self, he began by reading a statistic on the high suicide rates among those who are considered to be in the prime of their lives. As Rev. Lubbers pointed out, this could be explained by how the world looks for its explanation of self apart from the Bible in worldviews such as evolution, secularism, and humanism. In contrast, Christians are to find their identity in the Bible, which affects how we think and live. However, he explained, this is not to say that we should be narcissistic but to remember who we are according to the Bible: fallen creatures because of Adam but redeemed by the blood of Christ. Our value is that we are not our own but belong body and soul to Jesus Christ. We are to fear God and keep His commandments, because that is the purpose of man.
Rev. Mark Stewart led us through seven principles of discernment in his workshop entitled “Got Discernment?” Rev. Stewart began with our understanding of the biblical perspective on the issues presented in the media and how we are to ask ourselves if we are coming away with God’s attitude toward these issues. We were reminded that we need to ask for discernment and the ability to aim for excellence in our choices for what we will spend our time on. Rev. Stewart encouraged us to prepare our hearts to receive the Word on Sunday and to know our own weaknesses when it comes to media and the messages and images it blasts at us, and to pray that we develop a healthy appetite for excellent things when spending our time. Rev. Stewart further gave us a reminder some of us may have been reluctant to hear: to listen to our parents! They have wisdom in these areas and have our best interests at heart. Rev. Stewart also recommended that we encourage each other to engage in excellent activities. He cautioned us that if we are to properly use our senses in discernment, these senses need training and practice; otherwise they will not become sharp. We were reminded once again of our mandate to be in the world but not of it; we were admonished to be careful in our choices as it is also testimony to others! As Christians, we have the best story to tell, His story, and we are advertisements for that story.
Rev. Matt Nuiver spoke about the approach Christians should take when it comes to education in his workshop “Got Education?” He explained how we as Christians are to educate ourselves from a biblical standpoint, and how education is a life-long calling. Using the acronym E.D.U.C.A.T.E, he gave us Bible passages and practical ways to engage, dig, understand, collate, apply, teach and train others, and how to gain experience. He finished with an instruction to work hard in our education now, because we are learning how to live a life where we never stop learning, a life in which our goal is to glorify God!
Rev. Tuinstra’s workshop, “Got Problems?,” encouraged us to live as a community of believers, sharing and helping each other in each with our problems instead of letting those problems isolate us from one another. He reminded us that many of our problems are manufactured but also admitted that many of them are real. Those that are real are either a result of circumstance or a result of sin. Together, we studied Mark 4:35–41, when Jesus calms the storm, and compared the disciples’ perspectives with our own. We had to admit that we, like the disciples, accuse others of not caring about us and the struggles we face because we are only focusing on ourselves. Rev. Tuinstra reminded us that God loves us, sympathizes with us, and gives us the strength to endure the storm because His grace is sufficient. We also realized that sometimes God creates the storm; that He allows problems in our lives so that we will learn to really trust that God will use evil for our good.
The chief encouragement that we gleaned from each session and workshop, however, was the reminder of the hope we have in Christ. Although it is nigh impossible to live in the fear of the Lord according to His Word, Christ has already taken upon Himself our imperfection and imputed to us His righteousness, and made the ultimate sacrifice. The song our annual convention choir sang was especially appropriate this year as it reminded us of this great exchange:
His robes for mine: O wonderful exchange! Clothed in my sin, Christ suffered ’neath God’s rage. Draped in His righteousness, I’m justified. In Christ I live, for in my place He died.
Chorus: I cling to Christ, and marvel at the cost: Jesus forsaken, God estranged from God. Bought by such love, my life is not my own. My praise—my all—shall be for Christ alone. His robes for mine: what cause have I for dread? God’s daunting Law Christ mastered in my stead. Faultless I stand with righteous works not mine, Saved by my Lord’s vicarious death and life. His robes for mine: God’s justice is appeased. Jesus is crushed, and thus the Father’s pleased. Christ drank God’s wrath on sin, then cried “’Tis done!” Sin’s wage is paid; propitiation won. His robes for mine: such anguish none can know. Christ, God’s beloved, condemned as though His foe. He, as though I, accursed and left alone; I, as though He, embraced and welcomed home!
“His Robes for Mine” (text by Chris Anderson) Copyright 2008 ChurchWorksMedia.com. All rights reserved.
Rachel Vroom is a member of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB. She is a student at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA.