Tag Archives: God’s faithfulness

Fearfulness and Faithfulness

 

Text:  Matthew 10:24-39

Theme:   Faith in God cancels our fears.

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 ourselvesBeing 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 about terrorists who attack randomly and try to kill as many as possible; mass shootings at schools and public places regularly; murders, drunken drivers that kill innocent and unsuspecting people; lying, cheating; storms such as tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes.

We are afraid of losing jobs and afraid  of cancer, 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 in a protective shell that triest to shut 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 CAN’T OPEN THE DOOR OUT OF 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.  We need to trust in God’s love for us and God’s presence in our lives at all times, 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.   And we need to differentiate a little here.   There is a difference 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 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.

So—WHAT IS OUR FEARFULNESS THAT IS CONSTANTLY OUR COMPANION ALL ABOUT?    WHY ARE MOST OF US “BEING FEARFUL MOST OF THE TIME?  I THINK IT IS BECAUSE OF SOMETHING I CALL “THE HUMAN CONDITION” THAT LEADS US TO “BEING FEARFUL.”

The human condition is something we all have to live with It can be summarized this way:   Firstsome things will budge for us and some won’t.  Second, We cannot live forever no matter how desperately we try.   And third, We cannot control everything that happens to us.

THAT IS THE HUMAN CONDITION AND IT CAN BE FRIGHTENING 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 control the next.

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

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

We can build our dream home and the week we move in huddle in its basement as a tornado destroys it.

WHAT ALL OF THE ABOVE WITNESS TO US IS THAT WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL!!.

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

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 this passage,  only two events could  befall his followers—life and death—–and both are in the hands of God.  Trust in God cancels out fear!   THEREFORE, DO NOT BE AFRAID.   God is God of the past,  is God of the present, and 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 GRACE CANCELS OUT FEAR!!  Trust in God’s Grace!!

It’s always been that way.   Long before Jesus spoke, God had spoken to 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 share it with you.

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.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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God Never Gives Up On Us

Fear of Abandonment!  Perhaps this is the greatest fear that human beings have.  It stalks us from the time we are born until the time we die!   We see evidence of that fear in many different circumstances:

  • In babies and young children who feel abandoned when they cannot see their parents  Research has shown that babies who are abandoned in hospitals by their mothers and fathers, if not regularly held by nurses or other aides at the hospital may well die for no physical reason.   Those who survive will be likely to have permanent psychotic problems for the rest of their lives.   All of us who have been parents recognize the cry of fear when a baby thinks its mother has left it—-all who teach school or who are parents remember kindergarten children who are away from their mothers for the first time—-clinging to their mothers or fathers and crying—-afraid that the parent won’t come back for them—-fear of abandonment!
  • Adults have the same fears.  Many are the number of men and women in our society who put up with both verbal and physical abuse and violence from their mates rather than face the fact that their mates might abandon them.   As a pastor I have heard this many times from both men and women who are in the midst of divorce—-“I feel lost and rejected and abandoned!”
  • One of my saddest experiences as a pastor was walking into a hospital room or nursing home room and seeing a patient in the midst of great suffering or even actively dying—AND THE PERSON WAS ALONE!   At the same time, it was always amazing to watch that person’s countenance change the minute myself or a loved one or friend walked into the room.   Those who suffer are less anxious, and even have less pain we are told, when someone they love or care for deeply is willing to walk with them through the valley of the shadow.
  • As a hospice chaplain, I learned that one of the seven greatest fears that dying persons have is DYING ALONE.   Abandonment!   Terminal patients often feel abandoned by doctors who don’t see them as often;  by friends who don’t know what to say and so stay away; and even by family that doesn’t visit as much because they are uncomfortable with the realization that the person is dying.   FEAR OF ABANDONMENT IS A REAL FEAR FOR MANY AT THE END OF LIFE AS WELL AS AT THE BEGINNING.
  • One other fear is FEAR OF ABANDONMENT BY GOD.   In hospice we referred to it as “Spiritual Pain.”   It is a feeling by the patient that God has abandoned them because of their worthlessness or sinfulness.   Spiritual pain can result in great anger, or great sorrow, and is difficult for the patient to overcome.  Spiritual pain can be the cause of death of hospice patients before the terminal disease overcomes them.

The Bible speaks often to this fear of abandonment.    One of the places it speaks is in the book of Genesis.

God said (to Noah),  “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you for all future generations.   I have set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.   When I bring clouds over the earth  and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.”   (Genesis 9:12-15

The Hebrew word for “bow” here is keshet—and it may be used to refer both to a weapon or a natural phenomenon—-to a “bow” (as in bow and arrow) or to a “bow” (as in rainbow).

Some scholars think that the context of this passage tells us that God is placing his “unstrung bow” in the clouds as a reminder of the covenant God has made, not just with Israel but with all creation, to never again use God’s power to destroy humankind, no matter how terrible the aggravation we may give God.

Regardless of how “bow” is translated, the message is the same—-the “bow in the clouds” is a constant reminder that God will never give up on us.   This is the heart of the gospel that Jesus is at the center of.   This is the heart of the gospel that the Apostle Paul proclaimed.   God loves his creation and that love is not something we earn but are freely given.

Jesus tells his disciples shortly before his death:   I will not leave you orphaned.   I am coming to you.   In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.   (John 14:18-19)

Jesus’ final words to his disciples at the close of Matthew’s Gospel are:  “And remember I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”

Paul reassured the Corinthian Christians with these words:   “He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.   God is faithful, by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

And Paul’s writes the ultimate words of assurance of God’s love in his letter to the Romans:   “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 loved 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.”   (Romans 8:35-39)

God is with you.    You cannot change that.    God will never abandon you.   As the prophet  Isaiah writes:   “But now 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.    For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.   I give Egypt as your ransom.   Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.   Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.   (Isaiah 43:1-4)

The Psalmist sings:   “The Lord is my shepherd.   I shall not want.   He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters, he restores my soul.   He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake.   Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he is with me; his rod and his staff comfort me.   He prepares me a table in the midst of my enemies; he anoints my head with oil; my cup overflows.   Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”   (Psalm 23)

God loves us as God’s children!   He will not abandon us—ever.   In our joys and in our sorrows; in our triumphs and our failures,  when life is beautiful and when it is stormy, God is there.   Despite anything you or I do—-God loves us and will never abandon us.