Tag Archives: Coping with Life

Fear Not!!!

 Text:   Matthew 10:24-39

There is a story about a young man who went off to college with great expectations of success.   After he had been there a month, he sent a note to his father, “Feather in my cap, elected class president”.   Two months later, he sent another note to his father, “Another feather in my cap; accepted into the best fraternity”.   One month later, a third note:   Still another feather in my cap, leading role in class play”.  

One semester later, he sent a note to his brother:  “Flunked out, prepare father.   Tell him to send money for me to get home!”       The brother sent a note back:   “Father prepared.  Prepare yourself.   Father says put those feathers on your shoulders and fly home!”

Obviously the young man was afraid and insecure and was trying to convince  both himself and his father that he was successful by these “feather in the cap” notes—-while, in reality, he was struggling and gripped by feelings of fear of failure.   I often wonder how the story might have been different if he had faced the fear, talked about it with his father, and askd for help and advice.  He might have discovered his father had struggled with the same issues and could have given him help and support.   BUT HE WAS AFRAID TO DO SO!! 

One of the greatest causes of human stupidity in action that leads to wars, and killing,  and chaos and suffering today is Fear.   We are afraid of others.   We are afraid of ourselves.  Being fearful seems to be a national characteristic in our current times in the U.S.    We are afraid of the horrific things happening in the middle east spreading to our country.  Fear was at the heart of the terrible thing that happened in Ferguson, MO recently—-fear the white policeman had of black people—-fear the black teenager had of the police.   And because of that a needless death and resulting chaos,  fed by fear on both sides.

We do live in a frightening world—frightening in many ways.   Pick up your morning paper and read:

Terrorists attack randomly and try to kill as many as possible—over thirty people die at a beach resort in Tunisia, victims of a terrorist.  Attacks and threats are a daily part of our news media reporting.

Mass shootings at schools and public places are increasing greatly—the most recent was the killing of 9 people in Charleston, S.C. at a black A.M.E. Church during a prayer meeting the gunman attended.

Murder—shootings in Wichita seem to happen on a daily basis. 

Drunken drivers that cause death to innocent people

Lying

Cheating

Storms such as tornadoes, floods, hurricanes that destroy homes and lives.

Earthquakes

Also we fear losing jobs,  losing our health insurance, being struck down by cancer or other catastrophic health problems.   We fear for our children’s safety as well as our own, and this fearfulness causes us to teach our kids not to trust anyone they don’t know.   Fear causes us to encase ourselves and our families in a protective shell that  shuts out the rest of society and the world.

Just what is this “Fear”  that we are talking about?   I like Barbara Taylor Brown’s description of it:  “Fear is a small cell with no air in it and no light.  It is suffocating inside and dark.   There is no room to turn around inside it.   You can only face in one direction, but it hardly matters since you cannot see anyhow.   There is no future in the dark.  Everything is over.  Everything is past.   When you are locked up like that, tomorrow is as far away as the moon.”   In other words you cannot open the door from this prison because your FEAR paralyzes you.     If you do anything it might make it worse.  You feel safer to stay where you are even if you cannot breathe and cannot move—-that is how fear feels!

Only faith in God can cancel this kind of fear.  And Brown describes FAITH as:   “More like a rope bridge over a scenic gorge, sturdy but swinging back and forth, with plenty of light and plenty of air but precious little to hold on to except the stories that you have heard that this is the best and the only way across and that it is possible that it will bear your weight.!! 

In other words, we have to have faith in the power of the bridge to deliver us safely more than we do in the power of the gorge to kill us, if we are to overcome our fear.  In our own lives, we need to trust in God’s love for us and God’s presence in our lives more than the things that threaten us,  if we are to overcome our fearfulness.   Only God is able to help us cancel our fearfulness.

There is a lot of fear in the world.   First of all,  we need to differentiate between “fear” and “being fearful.”        

Fear” is a reaction to a definite threat.   It causes our adrenal glands to shoot adrenalin into our body and prepare us by increasing heartbeat, respiration, etc. for either “flight” or “fight.” 

Being Fearful” is a general feeling of being afraid without any concrete reason to feel that way.    It is more an attitude—-the way we view things.    Being fearful is like being anxious—there may not be any concrete and specific reason for it.  

Most of us are “being fearful” most of the time  because of something I call “the Human Condition”.    The human condition is something we all have to live with.  It can be summarized this way:

Some things will budge for us and some won’t.

We cannot live forever, no matter how desperately we try

We cannot control everything that happens to us.

 

That is the “human condition” and it can be frightening for us  because what it means is that we cannot choose all of the circumstances of our lives.  We cannot control everything that happens to us. 

Our lives can be comfortable one minute and spin completely out of our control in the next minute.

We can be a happily married couple one minute and a widow or widower the next minute—all in a heartbeat or the failure of a heartbeat

We can plan our future retirement and wake up in the morning and find that much of what we have worked so hard for and saved has been wiped out by a stock market over which we have no control. 

We can build a dream home and the next day huddle in its basement as a tornado destroys it!

What all of the above witnesses to us is that we are not in control. 

All we can really control is how we respond to what happens to us.

And just because we believe in God doesn’t shield us from any of the results of the human condition!    Our only assurance is that God loves us and will be with us to give us the strength and resources we need to cope with our human condition.    God’s resources are many,  God’s constant presence  and love are all around us.   God even sends his people, his servants to minister to us in times of need and to help us through any of the storms of life that we face  

We are not alone.   We need not fear.   As Paul writes in  Romans 8:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?   Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …..No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who love us.    For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  

It takes a lot of courage to be a human being!!!  And it takes a lot of trust in God!!!  That’s why Jesus’s words are so important—-“Fear Not”!!

Jesus spoke to the problem of the human condition in our text today.  If we put the reading in context, Jesus was preparing his disciples to go on a mission to preach to the towns and villages in Galilee.  and was warning them that the things that people say and do about him will also be said and done to his disciples.   His disciples would be the recipients of the same hostility and rejection Jesus had already experienced.   They must  have shown signs of fear to go on the assignment as Jesus told them a total of 3 times to “Fear Not”.    He said:   “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves;….Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me….(10:16-18).    Because of our own experiences with fear, we can imagine something of the dread the disciples must have felt as Jesus sent them on their mission, especially because he went on to speak of the threats and dangers they could expect to encounter:  arrests, floggings, hatred, betrayal, and other forms of persecution.   I’m sure Peter must have said to himself—“Hey Jesus!  I didn’t sign up for this when I left my fishing boat to follow you!!”

But then Jesus told his disciples to not fear any of these things he had just listed.   He said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”

Jesus also told his disciples:   “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.   What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.    ….

And:  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?   Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.   And even the hairs of your head are all counted.   So do not be afraid, you are of more value than many sparrows.” 

In the final analysis, Jesus said in these passages,  only two events could  befall his followers—life and death—–and both are in the hands of God.  So trust in God because tjat cancels out fear!   Therefore, do not be afraid.   God is God of the past, God is the God of the present, and God is God of the future.   You are in God’s hands and there is nothing to be afraid of if you trust in God.    GOD’S LOVE CANCELS OUT FEAR!!  Trust in God’s love and care for you!!

It’s always been that way.   Long before Jesus spoke, God had spoken to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, saying:

Thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel.  Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;  I have called you by name, you are mine.    When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;  when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you…..because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you!” (Isaiah 43: 1-4)

Some time ago, I read this story and it has stayed in my mind.   It so perfectly gives meaning to the text of this sermon that I’d like to close with it:

A man was traveling across the country on an airliner.   Somewhere over Texas, the plane hit a storm and the pilot came on and said,  “We are not going to be able to go around this storm or over it so we’ll be going through it.   Please fasten your seatbelts as there will be a lot of turbulence.

            Not too long after the announcement the storm struck.   There was thunder and lightening and the plane was tossed around like a child’s toy in the turbulence as the pilot fought to keep control of the plane.   Everyone was frightened—some were praying others were hugging loved ones—-except for one little girl the traveler observed.    She was about six years old and was sitting quietly in her seat,  seemingly not frightened at all by the fear and turbulence that was all around her.  

            After the plane safely landed, the traveler approached the little girl, still in her seat, and said:   I am surprised that you weren’t afraid of all that storm and what happened like the rest of us were.   Can you tell me why?   

            The small girl answered:   “My Daddy is the captain and he was taking me home.” 

 

GOD IS THE CAPTAIN OF OUR LIVES—-GOD WILL TAKE US HOME SAFELY—-DO NOT FEAR!!!   Amen

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

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Being Both Here and There

It’s hard to be two places at the same time—-we would probably agree that it is impossible!!  It’s a paradox!   And paradoxes aren’t rational.  We have to be one place or the other according to our dualistic minds!     Sometimes we are here and sometimes we are there.   If you are sitting in church  you  can’t be at the golf-course!   If you have something pressing to attend to elsewhere, you must leave “here” and go “there”.   When you do go “there”, what was once “there” becomes“here.” for you.   Everybody knows that you can’t be in two places at the same time.

Now we can fantasize about what it would be like if we could do so.  For example, I often dreamed that I could be in my dorm room sleeping while also sitting in my 8 a.m. class at college.   While I tried to master the art of sleeping in class with my eyes open, I must admit that it didn’t work well for me!   I think everyone here would agree that it would be nice to be at work and also lounging on the beach at Malibu.   However,  we know it’s not going to happen!

But according to the Book of Revelation that was what happened to John, the writer of Revelation—-he was in two places at the same time.

John wrote that he was on the island of Patmos.   That is a tiny island in the Aegean Sea.   It’s a beautiful little place now, it is said, but in the time that John lived it was a Roman prison colony—similar to the place we call Alcatraz.    When you went to Patmos during  John’s time you only needed a one-way ticket—-you hardly ever came back from Patmos!!   And that was where John was—on Patmos, and yet he was not only there, he was also in God’s Kingdom as  he wrote:   “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.  And he wrote of seeing God’s throne and a vision of Jesus  “on the clouds” and of the coming completion of God’ Kingdom  as he was  “caught up” and transported to another place  He was at two places at the same time!!

            Although John is in a difficult place on Patmos and probably awaiting a sad fate—he was also in a blessed place in his life—in the Kingdom of God.   

I would suggest to you this morning that Patmos is not only a place, a geographical location, but a frame of mind.  We all can be on our Patmos islands because Patmos is wherever and whenever we find  ourselves trapped and imprisoned by our actions and  our life.   There are many people who feel they are trapped on their  islands of Patmos.   Somehow life has given us a one-way ticket  and we feel as though we are trapped in a prison of our own making or someone else’s making—-but nevertheless  we are “trapped.”

            The reasons for our being on Patmos are as many and as unique as each of us are unique and individual human beings.   We may be there because of bad decisions that we made.   Or we may be there because of bad decisions others made that have affected us.

We may be imprisoned by a disease that is slowly taking our energy and eventually our life.   We may be imprisoned by habits that dominate and ruin our lives and that we have not been able to overcome.  We may feel life has “done us dirty” and that we shouldn’t be on Patmos—-but all of us spend some time on our  “islands of Patmos”.

            The great psychotherapist, Victor Frankl, writes of his “Patmos” in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”.    Frankl was arrested by the Nazis in W.W. II Germany and sent to a Nazi prison camp.   It was a horrible prison camp and most of his fellow prisoners soon died under the terrible conditions, the brutality, the starvation and the resulting hopelessness.   But Frankl survived.   How?    He describes how he survived by recounting that on his way out to the work site every morning, he would be composing a book, all in his mind.   He would go over the book, chapter by chapter.   He would form each page in his brain, imagining in great detail the grand book that he was going to write once he got out of the Nazi prison.   And that kept him going.   In his body he was a slave in a horrible prison camp—-his Patmos—but in his soul he was free .   He was in two places at the same time!!

Part of the human condition is that we don’t have control over everything that affects our lives.   The one thing we have control of is how we cope with the things affecting our lives—-such as was the case with Victor Frankl.

John on the island of Patmos, was in the same circumstances as Frankl.   He had been imprisoned by the emperor—-probably because he was a Christian.   There he was languishing on the island of Patmos, right?   Wrong!   That is not what John says about himself.   Rather he wrote that he “was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day”.   John was in prison, in exile, far from home and loved ones, but he managed to “be in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.   In other words, he was in a quite different place and a long way from the island of Patmost.   He was with God through the Holy Spirit on the Lord’s Day and God was showing him about wonderful things to come in God’s Kingdom.

 John was in two different places at the same time—-and so can you be.   You can always be with God, no matter what your life’s circumstances may be.  

  Think about it!