Zephaniah 1:1-4; 14-18

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            How many of you still watch the evening news?  How many prefer CBS?  How many NBC?  How many ABC?  How many Fox?

            Back in 1976, when the majority of Americans still watched the evening news, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released a satirical film titled Network about a fictional television network, Union Broadcasting System, UBS for short, a network that struggled with poor ratings. The film was written by Paddy Chayefsky, and starred Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch and Robert Duvall.  The film won four Academy Awards in the categories Best Actor (Peter Finch), Best Actress (Faye Dunaway), Best Supporting Actress(Beatrice Straight), and Best Original Screenplay (Paddy Chayefsky).

            The movie Network has continued to receive recognition decades after its initial release. In 2000, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".  In 2002 it was inducted into the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame as a film that has "set an enduring standard for U.S. American entertainment."  In 2006, Chayefsky's script was voted one of the top-ten screenplays of all time by the Writers Guild of America.  In 2007, the film was 64th among the Top 100 Greatest American Films by the American Film Institute.

            And for me, the quintessential moment involves the longtime anchor of the UBS Evening News played by Peter Finch.  His character, Howard Beale, after learning that he is going to be fired due to poor ratings becomes a loose cannon on air.  He begins saying outlandish things on air, things he had wanted to say for years, and low and behold the ratings go up, because people start to tune in to see what Finch’s character will say next.  And the Finch character galvanizes the nation when he persuades Americans to lean out their windows and shout out, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”      

            There was no doubt in Zephaniah's mind that God was not going to take it anymore.  God’s people were bowing down to other gods and no longer turned to the Lord in prayer, nor did they seek God’s help.  They blindly walked their own selfish and greedy path and in their arrogance thought God would sit quietly by and do nothing. They were wrong!  Judgment day was on the horizon.

            Christians are frequently shocked when they come across biblical passages which suggest that God has had enough.  We prefer to remember that we are blessed of God and forgiven of our sins.  We remind ourselves that we have been given the fruit of the Spirit -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  Judgment is not a popular notion today - especially the thought of God’s judgment.  We prefer to imagine a deity who happily lets bygones be bygones, who winks at failure and pats us on the back to build our self-esteem.

            Then we read the words at the beginning of Zephaniah’s prophecy about God’s utterly sweeping away everything!  It eerily sounds a little like the days preceding Noah’s flood.  And we read about the great day of judgment coming, a day of wrath and a day of distress and anguish, a day of clouds and thick darkness. 

            And then we read what was happening in Jerusalem in Zephaniah’s day, and it sounds as if it could be written today.  It could be written about other cities, not just Jerusalem, even cities in the Good ‘Ol USA.  Listen to how shocked God is by Jerusalem’s seeming indifference to all that is happening around them and in them.  Chapter 3:1 ...


            Ah, soiled, defiled, oppressing city!

            It has listened to no voice; it has accepted no correction.

            It has not trusted in the Lord; it has not drawn near to its God.

            The officials within it are roaring lions; it’s judges are evening wolves that leave nothing until the morning.

            It’s prophets are reckless, faithless persons; it’s priests have profaned what is sacred, they have done violence to the law.

            The Lord within it is righteous; he does no wrong.

            Every morning he renders his judgment, each dawn without fail;  But the unjust knows no shame.

            I have cut off nations; their battlements in ruins; I have laid waste streets so that no one walks in them; their cities have been made desolate, without people, without inhabitants.

            I said, “Surely the city will fear me, it will accept correction; it will not lose sight of all that I have brought upon it.”

            But they were more eager to make all their deeds corrupt.


            Look with me at verse once again at verse seven.  “Surely the city will fear me and accept my correction; it will not lose sight of all that I have brought upon it.”  What if we were to substitute cities like Bellevue, Papillion or Omaha for Jerusalem?  Could the same be said for us?  “Surely those cities will fear me and accept my correction.”

            I went to the internet this week and looked up what America fears most.  I consolidated what I found because the “top ten” lists vary.  Here are America’s top three fears:  Number one - going to a party where we will be surrounded by strangers.  Number two -  having to speak before a crowd.  Number three - being asked a personal question in public.  Where was the fear of God on our list of top ten fears?  Well, it wasn’t. God did not make one of the top ten lists that I could find.  Fear of financial ruin was on the list.  Dogs were on the list.  Spiders were on the list.  Losing internet connectivity was on the list.  Fearing what other people think of us was on the list.  God wasn’t on any top ten list.

            In light of that I want to say something that may not be politically correct.  Here it is: I am convinced the greatest problem we face in America today is the loss of the fear of God.  The fear of God is the glue that holds a civil, moral society together.  It is the safety net that keeps a nation from falling into chaos, anarchy, and moral destruction.  I believe, like Jerusalem, we have lost the fear of God and we are losing it more everyday. 

            I read about a public school teacher who was retiring early. When they why, she answered, "The problem is really fear.  The teachers are now afraid of the principals.  The principals are afraid of the superintendents.  The superintendents are afraid of the school boards.  The boards are afraid of the parents and the parents are afraid of the children.  But the children?  They are not afraid of anybody."

            In many ways, the attitude of the late actress, Kathryn Hepburn, sums up the basic sentiment found in our society.  Several years before she died, she made this statement:  “I look forward to oblivion. I am what is known as gradually disintegrating. I don't fear the next world or anything. I don't fear hell and I don't look forward to heaven.”        As I thought about that quote, I thought about another quote I read by a Persian poet. "I fear God and next to God I chiefly fear the one who does not fear God."

            A healthy fear of God is one fear we want to have and hold every day of our lives.  In that regard, I want to close with two statements.

            Statement #1:  We need to envision more positively the fear of God.

            The very term "fear of god" could very easily conjure up the wrong image in your mind and make you think something about God that neither God nor I would want you to think.

            God is not some bogeyman hiding behind every door waiting to catch you doing something wrong, so He can shoot fire out of His mouth and burn you until you sizzle. When I talk about the fear of god, I am not talking about the fear that a young boy feels toward a neighborhood bully. I am not talking about the type of fear that a superstitious person has of the number thirteen.

            I am talking more about the type of awe and respect that one has for a firm and fair parent.  I knew my parents loved me.  I also knew there would be a price to pay if I crossed them, if I did something that displeased them.  I knew I was loved by them, but I also feared them, especially when I knew I did something wrong.  That’s the kind of fear I mean. 

            And we need to remember the tremendous benefits that come from possessing a healthy fear of God.

            For example, do we want protection from our enemies?   Well the Psalmist proclaims "The angel of the Lord stays close around those who fear Him, and he takes them out of trouble: (Psalm 34:7, NLV).

            Do we need God's direction in making a decision we are facing?  The Psalmist also states, "Who are those who fear the Lord? He will show them the path they should choose” (Psalm 25:12, NLT).

            Do we want to stay away from temptation and have victory over sin?  According to the Book of Proverbs, "The Fear of the Lord keeps one away from sin. (Proverbs 16:6, NLV).

            Do we want to save on medical bills?  The author of Proverbs states,, "The Fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short" (Proverbs 10:27, NIV).

            By the way, modern research has proven this to be true.  I don’t want to sound sexist, but men, and I’m sure something similar could be said about women, men who profess fearing God and who attend church regularly have a 40% less risk of dying from heart disease compared to non-religious men.  The death rates of men who profess a fear in God and attend church are similarly lower for other diseases as well, particularly for diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver.  “The fear of the Lord adds length to life.”

            The point is we need to envision what fearing God can do for us and why fearing God is not a bad thing - it is a good thing.

            Statement #2:  We need live into that fear. 

            Let me offer what I consider to be a definition for the fear of God.  A healthy ferar of God is the continual awareness that we are in the presence of a holy, just, and almighty God and that every thought, word, action, and deed is open before God and is being judged by God.

            Think about it. If we were continuously aware that all of our thoughts, words, and actions would be displayed publicly so that everyone could hear them, watch them, and see them, it would make an unbelievable difference in the way we live because what other people think of us is very important to us.  Apparently, a lot of us worry a great deal about what other people think of us.  Well, God knows all those things, and if we have this kind of fear of what other people think of us, how much more should we have of the fear of God?

            There is a man in the book of Acts named, Cornelius, who was a Roman soldier. Do you know what the community said about him?  We read this in Acts 10:22, "And they said, 'Cornelius is a just man, one who fears God'" (Acts 10:22, NKJV).

            Would people call you, would people call me, a "God fearing person?"  That’s what people called Cornelius.  Apparently, he was more fearful of what God thought of him than what other people thought of him.

            If we really lived our lives in a healthy fear of God, balancing a knowledge of God’s judgment and God’s love, if we understood in daily reality that God, hates sin, and God judges sins and sinners, and that God is watching and evaluating everything we do, every thought, word, action, and deed is open before God and is being judged by God,  then...

            What thoughts would change?

            What words would not be spoken?

            What actions would cease?

            What attitudes would be corrected?

            What motives would be purified?


            I venture to say a lot of thoughts, a lot of words, a lot of actions, a lot of attitudes, and a lot of motives would change.