An Awesome God
Dr. Keith Wagner
One time Lin and I were visiting Columbus, Indiana. The city is known for its unique styles of architecture. While there we visited a new Lutheran Church that had just been constructed. The congregation had spent millions of dollars on the sanctuary which was simply beautiful. I truly felt the presence of God in that place. It was just awesome.
Since we were there alone at the time I wandered up to the chancel to see what the view was like from the front of the sanctuary. When I stepped into the pulpit I gazed around, wondering what it would be like to preach in such a magnificent structure. As I stood there in the pulpit I was overwhelmed. Everything smelled brand new. The colors in the stained glass were crystal clear. I thought to myself, “What a privilege to be in such an elegant church.”
I stood there for a few moments, totally captivated by the beauty of the place. Then something caught my eye. There was a piece of paper lying on the shelf under the pulpit. I noticed some notes, scribbled in pencil and my curiosity got the best of me. What I found was the minister’s sermon from the previous Sunday. It appeared to have been quickly thrown together. It wasn’t organized and it was obvious that very little thought had gone into it. I was surprised that a preacher who had the opportunity to preach in a multimillion dollar sanctuary had put such little effort into the Sunday message. It seemed like a half-hearted effort.
I wonder how many activities, hobbies, or organizations we belong to that we only give half an effort? When you hate going to meetings, spending money on dues, or you don’t like the people who are there, then it’s probably time to quit. On the other hand, perhaps you are no longer being fulfilled because you really aren’t giving your whole heart.
When a person of faith truly loves the Lord, they give their whole heart. As the psalmist said, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart in the company of the congregation.” God wants our whole-hearted devotion. God has given us everything and God expects us to reciprocate.
The psalmist goes on to say that, “The Lord can be trusted.” It’s difficult to trust God when things don’t appear to be going our way. It’s hard to trust God when the world seems out of control. Many are shaken these last few weeks because of the reoccurrence of hurricanes and the eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s. When you add to that the war in Iraq, the continued threats from Al Qaeda, the genocide in the Sudan and the unrest in Israel, one wonders where the world is headed.
Consequently people live in fear. They are afraid of what the future will bring. They are afraid for their children. Fear causes them to withdraw from the world, refrain from creating new relationships and many are fearful of taking risks. The psalmist, however encourages his listeners to yield to God. “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.”
When we trust God we yield to God. We turn from fear and believe in God who made the universe and continues to create new things each and every day. We have much to be thankful for and all God asks from us is our whole hearted devotion. Here in the Midwest the season of fall is returning as it always has before. Perhaps the recent hurricanes in Florida and the volcanic eruption at Mt. St. Helen’s are reminders of God’s power and the limitations of humankind. God wants to be praised and God wants our respect.
God also wants to be feared. “Fear the Lord,” the psalmist said. What does it mean to fear the Lord? It means just that; fear God, not evil. We like to think we are fairly smart creatures. But rather than fear the Lord, we follow the ways of the world. We buy into material prosperity and strive to make ourselves secure by building fences around our lives. We don’t like to be caught off guard. The tragedy of September 11th three years ago only reaffirms our need to guard against the evils of the world.
But again, the psalmist says to fear the Lord. He goes on to say that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” In other words, it is the practice of fearing the Lord that will truly make us secure. The smartest thing we can do is fear the Lord. Happiness and security come from fearing God, not from conforming to the ways of the world.
At 10:00A.M. on May 19, 1780, New Englanders noticed a strange haze spreading across the sky. Following the haze, a thick midnight darkness settled over the land. By noon, schools had been dismissed, candles lit, and torches set in the streets. By one in the afternoon fear had turned to panic. Thousands of people crowded into churches to hear ministers expound of the Day of Judgment.
In Hartford the Connecticut Legislature was ready to break up in panic, when one of the members, Mr. Davenport, arose and spoke up. “Mr. Speaker, this is either the Day of Judgment, or it is not. If it is not, there is no need for adjourning. If it is, I desire to be found doing my work. I move that the candles be brought in and that we proceed to business.”
By late afternoon it had become totally dark. John Greenleaf Whittier later described the scene as one where “men prayed and women wept, and all ears grew sharp to hear the doom-blast of the trumpet shatter the bleak sky.” A full moon was due to rise at 9:00PM but the darkness was not broken until 1:00AM the next morning when the moon appeared high in the sky and blood red. Finally at daybreak the sun rose as bright as it had twenty-four hours before. The Great Darkness, still unexplained, had ended.
The people of New England were afraid, yet God continued to be in control of the universe. The sun arose the following day as it had for centuries before. There was no reason to panic and no reason to be fearful of anything or anyone other than God.
God wants our whole heart. God wants us to fear him. God wants our praise because the “Lord is gracious and merciful.” The psalmist also wants us to remember that “God sent redemption to his people.” In this psalm the Israelites are reminded of their liberation from Egypt. We in the Christian Church are reminded of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ.
The theme and reality of forgiveness is gleaned from this great psalm. God is merciful. God is gracious. God redeems his people. God forgives us for being fearful of other things. It is our human nature to be afraid, especially when the darkness of life overcomes us. But God never changes. God is constant, “his righteousness endures forever.”
Copyright 2004, Keith Wagner. Used by permission.