1603) Being Afraid of That For Which You Were Made

By Randy Alcorn at:

http://www.epm.org

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     You may have seen the “otter video” that’s gotten a lot of traction on Facebook.  There’s a spiritual lesson here, I think.  If you haven’t seen it, here’s this four-month-old pet otter who (for some reason) is being introduced to water for the first time.  Please don’t get caught up in speculation about why someone has a pet otter and why the otter has never before been around water— maybe the otter was rescued and there were problems we don’t know about.

     So laying aside speculationslook at the video.  Despite all the TLC from the owner, the otter is terrified at the sight of the water.  Yes, terrified of the very thing he was made to enjoy and thrive in!

(If video is not shown, go to: http://www.viewpure.com/VQZD2BKiiug?start=0&end=0  )

     Since a friend sent it to me a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about how sometimes we shriek at some of the very things God calls us to.  Being baptized?  Giving?  Bible study?  Praying?  Church membership?  Sharing our faith?  Opening our homes?  Mission trips?  SHRIEK!!!  And then we actually do them, and we realize, like the otter, THIS IS WHAT WE WERE MADE FOR!

     So, sometimes we need to just get our shrieks out of the way as God lowers us toward the water, finally just jump in that water, and discover the wonderful things God has for us.

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Proverbs 3:5-6  —  Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight.

Joshua 1:9  —  (Joshua said), “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous?  Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Psalm 20:7  —  Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Matthew 14:27  —  Jesus said to them, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”

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When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you, God, whose word I praise.  In you, Lord, I will trust and not be afraid.  For you have delivered me from death, and kept my feet from stumbling, so that I may walk before you in the light of life.

–Psalm 56:3-4a…13

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1365) Harmless Superstitions?

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From The Continuing Story of Manuel, by Hugh Steven, 1987, Credo Publishing Corporation, (pages 40-44).

Manuel Arenas (1932-1992) was born into the Totonac tribe of Indians in eastern Mexico.  He worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators translating the Bible into his language.  He spent his life working to provide educational opportunities for the Totonacs and other tribal peoples in Mexico.   He traveled throughout the world speaking in colleges, universities, Bible schools and churches about the work of Wycliffe.  This story took place after a speech in Switzerland.

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     In attendance on the evening Manuel spoke to the youth club was a young man who had come to the rally at his fiancé’s invitation.  When the meeting ended, he and his fiancé introduced themselves: The young woman expressed her happiness that the Totonacs had the New Testament in their own language.  “How wonderful there are so many believers in Jesus Christ,” she said.

     But when her fiancé spoke to Manuel, he expressed no such appreciation.  Instead, he asked, “In your talk you said you were glad this Bible translator had come to your village, and that if he hadn’t come, you probably would never have heard about Jesus Christ.”

     “Yes, that’s true,” said Manuel. “The man’s name is Mr. Aschmann and—”

     “That’s very nice,” interrupted the young man, “but what I would like to know is why you gave up your religion in favor of this Western religion.  Why is it so important for the Totonac people to know about Jesus Christ and Christianity?  It’s my opinion that if Western man wants to believe this sort of thing, it’s okay.  But the Totonac people have their own religion. It’s just as good as Christianity; maybe even better.  Why do you want your Totonac friends to believe like you?  I’m sorry, but I just can’t believe Christianity is better than your Totonac religion.”

     “Tell me,” said Manuel, “do you know what Totonacs believe?  Have you lived in a Totonac house to see how our household gods are worshiped?”

     “Well, no, not exactly. But I have read some books—”

     “And I have also read books,” said Manuel. “Books that describe what our people look like and what they wear, how we build our houses, and how weddings and funerals are conducted.  These books also tell others what we believe.  But what these books can never tell is how we feel down deep inside.  We may look happy on the outside and we may laugh, but inside we are a people who have deep churnings, and nervousness, and mistrust of others.  And we have a great fear of the gods and spirits that live in special trees and rocks and streams.”

     “But that’s just harmless superstition,” said the young man.

     “Let me give you an example of what it is like to live with what you call ‘harmless superstition,”‘ said Manuel.  “When you are thirsty, you take a drink of water whenever you want.  But in my village, if you are thirsty at high noon, you must wait.  You must wait because the people believe the lords of the water and the nearby stream take away the spirit of the person who drinks water at high noon.  If they do happen to take a drink of water at that time, the person becomes sick.  The witch doctors are called, candles are lit, and special flowers and spices are spread around the sick person.  A chicken is sacrificed and the blood poured out on the ground.  Maybe the witch doctor will come four or five times, and after about a week, he will tell the sick person that his spirit has returned and he is better.  All this is paid for by the sick person’s family.

     “I grew up fearing the many evil spirits of the forest, the stream, the earth, and the trees.  We believed evil spirits were everywhere.  I saw how strong they were and how they bullied those who sacrificed to them.  But when the New Testament Scriptures were translated into our language and Totonacs began to believe and accept Jesus Christ into their lives, I saw those fears gradually disappear.  This is why I want all Totonacs and everyone to become true believers in Jesus Christ.  Only He can take away fear and give hope and peace, for this life and for the true life to come.”

     And so Manuel and the young man talked.  Manuel carefully and enthusiastically explained the personal benefits he had received since accepting Jesus Christ into his life.  Manuel emphasized that authentic Christianity had little to do with religion, traditions, or moralizing.  Rather, he stressed that Christianity had to do with truth, compassion and love; the love of God and his Son, Jesus Christ; a love so strong and full of integrity that it allows the true Christian to treat his neighbor as he himself would like to be treated.  

     That very night, after several hours of hearing Manuel describe what it means to be a Christian, the young man came to faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

Image result for manuel arenas images

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Revelation 5:9  —  They sang a new song, saying:  “You (the Lamb of God, Jesus) are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

Psalm 34:4  —  I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Luke 2:10  —  And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

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 Just as I am, though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

745) Something To Be Afraid Of

From “Another Chance to Be Afraid– and Trust God,” By Rachel Pieh Jones, April 13, 2015, at:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2015/april/another-chance-to-be-afraid-and-trust-god.html

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Another Chance to Be Afraid—and Trust God

Kenyans gathered to remember those who were killed in the Garissa University College attack.

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     On this past Maundy Thursday, students at a university in Garissa, Kenya gathered to pray before class.  Others crammed for exams or finished dressing for the day or scarfed down breakfast.  While they went about the spiritual and the mundane, gunman murdered two guards at the entrance to the school then headed for the chapel.

     After separating Muslim students, the gunman forced the Christians to the ground and shot them in the back of their heads.  During the attack, one Christian student hid in her closet and stayed there for two days.  She ate hand lotion to stay hydrated in this hot, dusty rural region of northern Kenya.  Another student was later pulled, alive, from beneath a pile of her dead peers, the image gruesomely reminiscent of survivor stories from Rwanda.  148 dead.

     The attackers were members of al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based Muslim militant group.  In Garissa, the majority of their victims were Kenyan, but inside their home country, Somalis themselves have suffered violence, brutality, and death at the hands of al-Shabaab.

     I felt sick and angry.  I felt the fringes of a grief and the cold, now familiar prickle of fear.  I don’t live in Kenya or Somalia, but I used to.  My teenage twins currently attend a boarding school in Kenya, while I live in Djibouti, a small country bordering Somalia, currently swelling with refugees from the violence in Yemen.  I am from Minneapolis, home to one of the largest populations of diaspora Somalis in the world.

     Anything related to Kenya or Somalia hits close to home.  Just a week earlier my teens’ school experienced an emergency security lockdown.  It was a false alarm, but it might not always be a false alarm.  There it is again, fear.

     After the Westgate shopping mall attack in Kenya in 2013, I can barely go to the grocery store without wondering if this is when I die, while buying apples and Corn Flakes.  After a suicide bomb in downtown Djibouti in last year, I can’t eat at the gelato shop without the flashing question, Is this where I die?, with a pink plastic spoon of coffee-flavored gelato in my mouth.

     Jesus’ command, “Do not be afraid,” is one of the hardest for me to obey.  I find great comfort in Psalm 56:3, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.”  David didn’t say, “I put my trust in you and never felt afraid again.”  He didn’t say, “I never feel afraid because my trust in you is so perfect.”  He didn’t deny his fear or ignore it.  He faced it, called it fear, and turned back to trust in God.

     I fear a lot of things.  Malaria.  Loneliness.  Physical pain.  I can’t sleep the nights my kids are flying between Djibouti and Kenya for school.  Easter Sunday after the Garissa attacks I noticed that our church hadn’t placed any armed guards outside like they often do on holidays.  During the service, my body was tense and my eyes constantly flicked to the doorway.

     If forced to choose between “brave” and “coward” to describe myself, I have to say coward.  I am the woman cowering behind Jesus, clinging to the edges of his robes, trembling.  I’m the one saying, “I want to be with you.  I want to go with you.  But are you sure you want to go there?  You really want to do that?

     Still, I love this brave Jesus that I’m following.  I love the sharp rebuke to the leaders who wanted to stone an adulterous woman, the serenity that slept through the storm, the face set resolutely toward Jerusalem, the desperate and submissive plea in Gethsemane.  I love the hope of resurrection.

     I would rather go with this Jesus into my fear than be left behind, safe and on my own.  And right there, I see all the motivation I need to cling to him:  ‘Safe’ is an illusion, and my lust for it can do nothing to guarantee it.  When the disease comes, when the plane crashes, when bombs burst, when loved ones grow old, right there in the middle of brokenness, fear, and the utter destruction of any illusion of safety, I need Jesus.  This need doesn’t cancel out my fears.  It teaches me trust.  And the way God teaches me trust comes in unexpected ways.

     Days after the Garissa attack, the cashier at the grocery story asked about my kids in school in Kenya, worried after watching the news.  She is a Djiboutian Muslim with family from Somalia.  Her thoughtfulness almost made me cry.  My kids were safe, they weren’t anywhere near Garissa, but the fear was real, the ‘what-ifs’ hovering.

     When I concentrate on what I’m afraid of, it inhibits my relationship and impedes worship.  But her concern at that moment counteracted the weight of my fear.  Her words were a gift from God, helping me take my eyes off my fear and instead focus on this friendship.  It may not take away my fear, but it helps me to pray more fervently with David, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.”

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Psalm 56:3-4  —  When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise– in God I trust and am not afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?

Matthew 10:28  —  (Jesus said), “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

John 14:27  —  (Jesus said), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

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Psalm 23:4:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.

666) Facing Your Fears (part two)

          

     (…continued) Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  Free from fear, for one thing.  The truth of God’s Word does indeed speak to all of our fears.  In fact, one of the most often repeated phrases in the whole Bible is that simple little command, ‘Fear not,’ or, ‘Be not afraid.’  In one form or another, that little phrase appears 365 times in the Bible.  Fear not.  And why not?  Because God’s Word speaks a word of comfort to us in our fear.  God is our good shepherd, he is our refuge in times of trouble, he will watch over us both now and forever more, says the Bible.  “Be not afraid,” said the angels to the shepherds, “For I have come to bring you good news of a great joy; a Savior has been born to you.”  A Savior.  One who will save us from our sins.  Yes, says the Bible, there is One who is keeping score, One who sees your every sin, and who will, at the end of time, judge you.  And you may well fear that judgment– except that in Jesus Christ you have a Savior who has died for you, and in him, God has forgiven you for all of your sins.  And yes, we may well fear the death that awaits all of us, but, “Be not afraid,” said the angels to the women at the tomb of Jesus, “He is Risen.”  And Jesus said, ‘Because I live, you shall live also;” and, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, for I have gone on ahead to prepare a place for you.”  An eternal promise like that gives us a whole new perspective on all the other troubles along the way.  And there will be trouble– illness, accidents, financial setbacks, troubles with loved ones, and whatever else might come our way.

     In World War II as the bombs were falling on his city every day, including a direct hit on his church, German pastor Helmut Thielicke proclaimed to his congregation:  “We need not fear the next minute, because we know Him who holds in His hand the last hour.  He will be there for us and will save us, even if here in this world a bomb lands on our head.”  Jesus told us that the truth he brings will set us free, and in his Word, there are promises enough to set us free from all of our fears.

     But like the girl and the spiders, simply knowing the truth may not yet set us free.  We do say in the Apostle’s Creed that we believe in the ‘resurrection from the dead,’ but that does not mean that you would not tremble in fear if the doctor said to you, “There is nothing more we can do; you have two months to live.”  Death remains terrible and frightening.  It is supposed to be awful, said Martin Luther, because it is God’s punishment for our sins.  But still the Bible, “Be not afraid.”  We have a hope and a promise that can move us beyond our fears.

     We remain flesh and blood sinners.  Our faith and trust will never be perfect.  Our fears will remain, but we can grow in faith and confidence and strength.  We do that by living in the truth that we already know.  As we worship and say our prayers and read our Bibles, God’s Word gets a better hold on us.  Then all those great promises that we know to be true and we have heard since childhood, have a chance to travel from our head into our heart, where they will give us courage and hope every day, in the midst of even life’s most difficult challenges.  The Bible says “suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance builds character, and character produces hope.”  It is in the living with what we suffer, and in looking to God’s Word at those times, that our faith grows and we become stronger.

     The girl at the Fear Clinic with knew in her head that spiders did not really kill any of the people that she knew, but she could not get over her fear until she faced it and lived with it for a week.  In the same way, most people know the story of Jesus rising from the dead, and that he offers eternal life.  But only by living with that story, hearing it and living in it week by week, and then looking to it in times of trouble– only by all that, does it begin to take hold of our head and our heart.  Then our whole perspective begins to change.  The number of spiders in the world did not change because that girl went through treatment.  She was able to get over her fear because her perspective on the danger changed.  And your personal belief in Jesus may not change the world around you, and you will still face danger and illness and disappointment and death.  But your perspective on all those things will change, and that will make all the difference.

     From one perspective, all we have is this life and this world.  But Jesus keeps opening our eyes to a larger reality. You have a soul, he says, and that soul is more important than this whole world.  Even if you gain the whole world, it would not be worth it if you lose your soul in the process.  The world is temporary, but your soul is eternal.  Why would anyone want to give up something eternal in order to get something so temporary?  This puts a new slant on whatever it is we might gain or lose in the few years we get on this earth.  We will still do our best in the time that we have, but our gains and losses, our joys and defeats, our good fortune and our disappointments are all very small matters alongside that far greater hope.  Face your fears with the help of Jesus and “Be not afraid.”

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II Corinthians 4:18  —   So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Colossians 3:1-2  —  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

Matthew 16:26  —  (Jesus said), “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

Psalm 27:1  —  The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?

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O God, our defender, storms rage about us and cause us to be afraid.  Rescue your people from despair, deliver us from fear, and preserve us all from unbelief.  Amen.  

Lutheran Book of Worship (#82)

665) Facing Your Fears (part one)

     

     Are you afraid of snakes?  How about mice, or bats, or spiders?  If you are, you probably do know that here in Minnesota it is quite irrational to fear any of those things.  We have no poisonous snakes or spiders in this area, and while mice or bats may carry disease, it is very rare that anyone is even bitten by one of those critters, much less, get sick from a bite.  I can’t think of a single person that I know that was even in the least bit harmed by any one of those creatures.  But none of that matters.  If you are afraid of snakes you are afraid, and that’s that, and there is no changing you– right?

     However, according to a TV show I saw a while back, there is hope for you.  The program was about the ‘Fear Clinic;’ a clinic which specializes in treating irrational fears.  Most people do not need clinical treatment for these kinds of anxieties.  My wife will let out a little scream if she sees even a picture of a snake in a magazine; but this doesn’t interfere very much with her day to day life.  But according to the TV program, some people’s lives become overwhelmed by these fears.

     The program told the story of a teenage girl who had a crippling fear of spiders.  This fear was with her all day every day and affected everything she did.  Whenever she entered any room, she would go in with great fear and extreme caution, going all through the room, checking out every edge and corner to make sure no spiders were present.  She was always on the alert, watching all around to see if any spiders had come into the area.  It was difficult for her to fall asleep, because she feared what might creep up on her when she was not watching.  She did not like watching TV or going to movies, because a spider might all of a sudden pop up on the screen.  And spending any time outdoors was out of the question.  Everyone knows that most spiders live outside; so that meant no hikes in the woods, no picnics with friends, no jobs where you had to be outside, and no outside social gatherings.  The fear of spiders had taken over her life.  She hated being the way she was and she knew it was irrational, but she could not imagine herself not being afraid of spiders.     

     The TV show then followed this girl through the one week treatment program at the Fear Clinic.  The plan of treatment was simple.  The girl would very slowly be exposed to spiders, and the contact would become closer and closer.  The very first step was for her to simply look at a picture of a spider– from across the room.  Even this terrified the poor girl, and she did not want to even look.  But the counselor was gentle and compassionate, and slowly talked her into simply looking at the picture from 20 feet away.  Finally, after a long time, the girl was able to take a quick glance, and then, after a while, was able to keep looking at the picture.  The next step was to move her chair one foot closer to the picture, then two, and so on.   Then they went through all that again for a colored picture, and then a colored picture of a more scary looking spider.  Then there was a video clip of a moving spider, and then many spiders, and then a scene from a scary movie of spiders coming at you from all over.  Each step was met with great fear and resistance.  Each time, the girl was quite sure she could not do it.  But each time the kind and patient counselor got her to look, and eventually, to touch.  Touching started with a small plastic spider, placed on the table a long ways away, then moving closer, and then making contact.  Next there was a real, but very small and cuddly spider; then a slightly bigger one, and on it went.  Finally, by the end of the week, the girl was even allowing a large tarantula crawl on her arm.  She was cured. She is no longer overwhelmed by her fear of spiders.  It was an amazing transformation. 

     What changed for that girl in order for her to become free of her fear of spiders?  There are still just as many spiders in the world.  A spider might still be lurking in any corner of any room she enters.  She may still see a spider while on a picnic or at a movie.  What changed?

      We might say that she learned the truth about spiders.  She learned the truth that the spiders who live in her part of the world are not poisonous and will not kill her and probably not even harm her.  Even if she were to get bit, the harm would not be nearly as great as the harm she was doing to herself by her irrational, crippling fear.  So we might say she learned the truth about spiders.  But I don’t think that was what she learned.  I am sure she already knew all that.  She could have already seen, even before treatment, that no one was getting eaten by or even getting hurt by spiders.  She already knew the truth.

     But for some reason, she was not able to apply that truth to her life, to her thought process, to her heart.  So in her heart she was still afraid of spiders.  What she needed was to experience that truth.  She needed to be exposed to that truth without running away from it.  That week in the clinic provided for her was a time to live in the truth that she knew, to experience it directly, and to allow the truth to set her free from her irrational fears.

     This serves as a good illustration of faith and life.  Fearing spiders or snakes in Minnesota is an irrational fear, but there are many things in life that we should be afraid of.  One should be afraid to venture out in a blizzard, afraid to go out on the lake when there are severe thunderstorm warnings, and afraid to go out onto a lake when the ice when it is not thick enough.  One may well begin to be afraid when the doctor says, “I think you better come back for some more tests.  I don’t like what I see.”  And one might well fear the death of loved ones, or yourself, for we know very well that that is coming.  I have been with many people as they face death, and there are many who fear what is next.  Is there more life to come?  Has someone has been keeping score, and if so, will my life receive a passing grade?  And if not, what then?  There are many things to be afraid of, and the ‘Fear Clinic’ will not be able to offer any help on any of these kinds of fears; because these are rational, reasonable fears of things that do happen and will happen.  You will die, and that is frightening.  (continued…)

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John 8:32  —   (Jesus said), “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Luke 12:4-6  —  (Jesus said), ““I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  But I will show you whom you should fear:  Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him.”

Hebrews 2:14b-15  —   (Jesus) shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

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Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me.  –Psalm 23:4a

629) Fear Not

     I once heard of a church called the “Community Church of Joy.”  Churches used to be named after saints, like St. John’s or St. Paul’s; or, after our Lord, like Christ Lutheran, or Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.  But it’s a relatively recent development to name a church after an emotion.  There is nothing bad about the word joy, and nothing wrong with being joyful.  One would hope that there would be a certain amount of joy in being a Christian.  And we all love that old Christmas carol ‘Joy to the World.’  And,  joy is a good Biblical word, appearing in one form or another 63 times in the pages of the Bible.

     But I don’t think I would want to join a church called the Community Church of Joy.  That would be a tough name to live up to.  I don’t know anything about the people in that town where the Community Church of Joy is located, but in all of the towns I’ve lived in, the people were not always joyful, and I know that I’m not always joyful.  And I don’t know how it goes in your church, but in all the congregations I have ever been in, some people could even get a little crabby once in a while, and I get crabby sometimes, too.  Emotions come and go, changing back and forth, for all of us; so naming a church after just one emotional state seems to me to be a little dangerous.  I have heard that in marketing it is best to “under-promise and over-deliver.”  Advertising yourself as a community church of JOY might be promising a little more than any church can deliver on a regular basis.

    Not only that, but if you look through the Bible you will find that the emotion of joy, though mentioned 63 times, is not the predominant emotion.  Actually, people in the Bible are far more often described as fearful than as joyful.  Whereas the words joy or joyful or joyous appear 63 times, the words fear or fearful or afraid appear over 500 times.  And in many of those times that people are experiencing the emotion of fear, it is because GOD, or an angel of God, has appeared to them.  Good old God, our friend and heavenly Father, our shepherd, guide and protector; God, or his angels, are always scaring the daylights out of someone.  That is what happens almost every time God appears to anyone in the Bible.

     Think about that.  Church is the place where we gather each week to worship God and come into his presence.  God is always with us, of course, but there is something special about the weekly service when we gather before him to hear his Word and offer our prayers.  And in the Bible, whenever people find themselves in the presence of God, the very first thing they feel is fear.  So really, if you were going to name a church after an emotion, it would be more accurate to name it the Community Church of Fear (though from a marketing standpoint that would probably not be a very good name for a church either).

     Consider just two examples of such fear, from two of the most important Bible stories of them all.  The first is from the story of the birth of Jesus in Luke two where it says: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”  The glory of the Lord shines all around them, and they are afraid.  How afraid are they?  They were ‘sore’ afraid, says the King James Version– so afraid that it hurt.

     The second story is the Easter morning resurrection of Christ.  The women went to the tomb to prepare the crucified body of Jesus for a proper burial.  But instead of a corpse, they found an angel of God announcing that their friend and Master Jesus was not dead but was risen from the dead and alive and would soon be meeting them.  So are they then filled with joy?  No.  The Gospels tell us they are afraid, filled with fear, bewildered, and trembling.

     But there is always more to the story.  The God whose very appearing elicits such fear, quickly speaks to calm that fear.  To the shepherds who are ‘sore afraid,’ the first words of the angel is “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of a great joy.”  The words of the angels to the women at the empty tomb are, “Be not afraid.  Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is risen.”

     In neither of these stories are the people told to be afraid.  Fear was a logical response in those situations, and fear is a reasonable response to our own situation as we live in this uncertain world.  Whether or not God or his angels are appearing to you, there is much to be afraid of.  The doctor comes in after your physical and says, “There’s a problem and we need to take some tests; I am concerned about something we saw on your X-ray.”  What do you feel?  You feel fear, and that fear comes from an unexpected, unwanted disruption in your routine, in your way of seeing things.  You are used to living day after day.  That has been your routine.  You are used to seeing things from the perspective of life.  But now all of a sudden, there is a chance that the routine may be broken, and that there may not be any life; and you are afraid.  Fear is a reasonable response to many situations, and that fear can be a good thing if it moves you to put your faith in the One who can help you.

     Little children have to be taught to be afraid of going out into the street.  Parents tell their small children in the firmest possible language, “The street is a dangerous place.  Do not even think about crossing it unless I am with you and holding your hand.  The street and the cars in it are very dangerous.”  Fear of going out into the street is a good kind of fear for a small child to have.  You have to worry about a child who has no fear of anything.  Far better is it when the child knows enough to fear what needs to be feared, and knows enough at those times to trust in the care and leading of someone bigger than himself.

     “Do not be afraid,” Jesus would say to his disciples, oftentimes adding, “For I will be with you.”  A child crossing the street will be all right if holding on to the hand of someone big enough and wise enough to know what to do in traffic.  And we too will be all right, no matter what we must face, even if it is crossing from over from this life to the next.  We will be all right, if we hold on to and trust in the one who can handle even death.

     Tomorrow we begin a new year.  We have many reasons to be afraid, but God says, “Fear not.”

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Isaiah 41:10  —  So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Luke 12:32  —  (Jesus said), “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Psalm 46:1-2  —  God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.

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Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me.

–Psalm 23:4