9 – One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision:”Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.
10 – For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”
Like you, these past few weeks I have paid special attention to all that is going on in the nations of India and Thailand and Indonesia and the Maldives and East Africa-those nations devastated by the Tsunamis that swept their coasts, killing 150,000 people. And I must say, hearing the size of the waves and seeing the extent of the devastation-has been overwhelming to me. That much destruction is almost too much for me to comprehend. I mean, can you imagine the terror those people endured as they watched the first wall of water, which I understand was over 50 feet high in places, rushing toward them?!
And-as I’ve watch the news each day, it’s become evident to me that the people of these coastal nations CONTINUE to be plagued with overwhelming fear, fear of never finding their missing loved ones, fear of hunger and disease, fear of homelessness and joblessness due to the destruction entire towns, not to mention fear of aftershocks and more tidal waves. I mean, since the day after Christmas FEAR has been the constant companion of the poor people who live in these areas. Being afraid is now part of their daily existence.
I’ve personally been moved to see how people from all over the world have reached out to minister to this need-GIVING and even GOING to try to help these people deal with their fearful situation. Here at Redland we will be taking a special offering ourselves for this purpose January 30 and are looking into the possibility of sending a mission trip team there this summer.
But, I remind you of this colossal tragedy today because the fact is fear is a part of the daily existence for ALL people.
I mean, tidal wave or no, even here in Montgomery County Maryland each of us know what it’s like to experience fear that threatens to overwhelm us because fear is a UNIVERSAL thing. It doesn’t matter where you live on this world-you will experience fearful times. One dictionary defines fear as, “a sudden attack, anxiety, or agitation caused by the presence or nearness of danger, evil, or pain.” It goes on to say that fear covers a wide range of emotions: timidity, apprehension, terror, and dread. But, you know, the truth is we don’t really need a dictionary to tell us what fear is because, as I said, personal experience has taught us all too well. Let’s do a quick survey to highlight this fact. Raise your hands if any of the following applies to you.
- Has anyone here this morning ever had fears related to money?
- Has anyone ever been afraid you would be turned down for a job?
- Ever had health-related fears about yourself or a loved one?
- Since 9-11 have any of you DC workers ever feared a terrorist attack in our nation’s capital near your place of employment or on the metro?
- Have any of you ever had fears about a relationship-worries about the person you were dating-worries about your marriage-or worries that you’ll never get married?
- Have you ever suffered from such intense loneliness that you kept a TV or radio on in the house all the time simply because you were afraid of being alone?
- Have you ever been afraid of failing at work? Have you ever had a task that was just too big for you and you feared losing your job?
- Have you ever had fears about your children? Worried about the friends they were hanging around? Worried about them driving in this traffic-clogged county?
- Have you ever been afraid of the day your kids would grow up and leave home….or afraid they would grow up and NEVER leave home?
- One more-how many of you didn’t raise your hands this morning because you have experienced fear but were AFRAID to admit it?
Well, as you can see, there’s no shortage of things that can grip our hearts with fear. Fear is indeed a universal thing. All of us struggle with it. “Theologian” Dave Berry put it like this, “All of us are born with a set of instinctive fears-of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark, of speaking before Rotary Club, and of the words, ‘some assembly required.'” In his typical humorous way Berry has spoken the truth. We all wrestle with fear. We all know by personal experience how horrible fear an be. We all know that fear can be so overwhelming that it steals sleep at night and joy in the daytime-so intense that it immobilizes us.
Charles Swindoll tells about a young collegian who got a summer job as a welding assistant. He was afraid of heights and was terrified when they put him to work welding on the seventeenth floor! Vast sections of steel beams were jutting out all over nowhere. He was surrounded by empty space. And this poor guy worked, almost immobilized by fear from day to day-afraid of making that one wrong move that would send him plummeting to his death. Finally, one day his boss-an “incredible hulk” of a welder himself-noticed his apprehension and said, “What’s the matter, son? Are you scared?” The collegian replied, “S-s-scared? I’ve b-b-been t-t-trying to t-t-tell you for t-t-two weeks ‘I Q-Q-QUIT!’ but I c-c-couldn’t get the words out of m-my m-m-m-mouth!”
Well, fear CAN immobilize us like this can’t it! If we don’t learn how to handle it fear will indeed STEAL the PEACE God intends for us to have.
Okay-that’s the PROBLEM we all face. Well, where do we turn when it comes to a solution? How can we learn to have peace even amidst the inevitable fearful times of life?
I would suggest that a good thing to do to help us find a solution to this problem would be to pick up our study of the book of Acts because the central figure in it’s last few chapters is of course the Apostle Paul and Paul was someone who endured countless anxiety-causing experiences first hand. I mean, it would be an understatement to say that Paul was well-acquainted with fearful times. Listen to his own description of his life in 2 Corinthians. Paul writes: “I have been in prison. I have been flogged and exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
So Paul knew fear didn’t he?! And here in Acts 18-22 we see Paul enduring a particularly fearful time. Take your Bibles and follow along as I skim through these chapters and you’ll see what I mean. As we begin chapter 18 we read that he has just left Athens after far less than exciting results of his bold witness in that city-a witness that was climaxed with his famous sermon on Mars Hill. In spite of the power of his message, most of his hearers wanted to hear nothing more from Paul. And we never read or hear of a church being started in Athens due to his labors. So, I’m sure Paul must have been discouraged when he arrived in Corinth. Once he got settled there he followed his motus operandi and went to the Jews with the news of Jesus but they closed the door in his face. In fact, they attacked him in court-in essence suing him to stop his teaching. When he moved on to Ephesus, those Jews followed suit and maligned Paul’s missionary work. On top of that, Demetrius, a local silversmith, organized a mob against Paul angered because the growing Christian movement was hurting his business of making and selling silver idols of the goddess Artemis. The Jews there even plotted to attack Paul at sea-planning to intercept his ship, kill him and throw his body overboard, but he learned of their scheme and changed his travel plans accordingly. When he arrived in Jerusalem Paul was beaten severely. In fact the violence of the mob was so great that the Roman soldiers had to carry Paul-lifting him above their heads so as to keep him out of range of the hands of the people who were literally trying to tear him apart.
So Paul had it rough! I mean, if we could see a portrait of Paul done at this time of his life we would see a man full of scars and bruises because he had endured several years full of rough times! But, in spite of all this hardship, we don’t find Paul cowering in a corner somewhere. We don’t see him immobilized with fear. No, like the energizer bunny Paul just keeps on going.
Well, how did he do it? How was Paul able to have peace in the midst of all he endured? And, how can we do the same? How can we have peace in fearful times?
I think if we were to ask Paul he would give us four pieces of advice.
1. First, he would say that to have peace in life we must learn to FEAR GOD.
Now, I think a better word to use here-would be the word, “AWE.” Paul would say we should live in AWE of God-but we use that word “awe” so flippantly these days that I think we have forgotten its true meaning. I mean the word AWESOME is used to describe ice cream cones while at the same time we sing it over and over again in praise choruses with the attitude of cheer leaders in a pep rally. You know, “Our God is an AWESOME GOD-GO GOD!” Well, that misses the meaning by a mile! No, this form of fear-AWE-literally means,”an emotion in which dread, veneration, and wonder are variously mingled.”
In other words to be in AWE of God-is to honor and respect Him-to behold His infinite power and wisdom and holiness and all His other attributes with a combination of amazement and fear. I love the oft-quoted section of C. S. Lewis’ book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where the beavers are telling the children about Aslan-the Great Lion-who represents God in the flesh. Do you remember that part? Lucy asks Mrs. Beaver, “Is He-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just plain silly.” “Then, He isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course He isn’t safe. But He’s good. He’s the King. I tell you.”
Well, the Beavers were right. God isn’t safe. Hebrews 12:28-29 tells us that “…our God is a consuming fire…” and cautions us to worship Him “with reverence and awe.” In Romans Paul has reminded us that our every day lives are to be an offering of worship to God-in other words we are to live every day in fearful awe of God an awe that prompts us to obey His loving commands. This is what Paul was getting at when he told the believers in Ephesus, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and FEAR…JUST AS YOU WOULD OBEY CHRIST.” (Ephesians 6:5) This is the principle he was conveying in Philippians 2:12 where he wrote,”Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with FEAR and trembling…”
You know, the fact is, most of the fears we experience in life are a direct result of our disobeying God-doing things He has told us not to do. And Paul would advise us then, to heed the Proverb that says, we must not be, “…wise in our own eyes;” Instead, we must, “…fear the LORD and shun evil.” For, “…the fear of the Lord is a life-giving fountain.” (Proverbs 3:7; 14:27) I mean, we set ourselves up for fear whenever we ignore God’s laws and live the way we want to live-foolishly thinking we know more than God does or not caring what God thinks. Remember this: There is no more terrifying place to be in life than outside of God’s loving will.
And at this point I must say that it is very foolish to go through life afraid of nothing. I mean, there is such a thing as GOOD fear-constructive fear. For example it’s good to be a little anxious about driving on ice-slicked roads. That fear might keep you out of a ditch. It’s good to fear driving a car in the D.C. area because reverence for the dangers of driving on these highways can keep us attentive and on our toes when we are behind the wheel, such that we will avoid accidents that could harm us or others. It’s good to fret a bit about a huge presentation you have to give at work because that fear can motivate you to do your best. It’s good to worry about how your kids will turn out because that fear will compel you to be a better parent.
So, we should embrace GOOD fear-and Paul would remind us that the BEST fear to embrace is a healthy fear of God. Do you remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:28? Our Lord 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.”
Our Lord was reminding us here that it is RIGHT to fear of God and wrong to fear man as long as we are living for God. I guess you could sum all this up to say that the irony is that the one thing that will most stabilize and calm us in life is to FEAR THE RIGHT THING-and the “rightest” thing to fear is the Lord’s opinion, the Lord’s honor, and the Lord’s judgement. All other fears must fall in line after that. Paul understood this. He would say with the Psalmist, “In God I trust. I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 56:11)
Paul would remind us that, as we learned this Advent, God is all-powerful and all-wise and completely sovereign. He is Lord-so we need not fear anything the world throws at us. The only thing we should fear is disobeying God. To have peace in life we must learn this lesson-that as someone has said, “Don’t fear God and fear everything else. Fear God and fear nothing else.”
2. A second thing Paul would advise us to do when we face fearful times is to TELL God.
Let your AWE of God, your respect of God, remind you that He is in charge of this universe so bring Him your worries. Remember, the Bible tells us that our AWESOME God loves you!
Do you recall the guidance Paul gave the church at Philippi? He wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)
Paul would say-when you face the kind of fear that overwhelms you and immobilizes you and steals your joy and peace then like a scared child running to his loving parent, we must go to God and honestly tell Him. Think about it. When you have shared a deep fear with a trusted friend, and it was received lovingly, how did you feel afterwards? Didn’t it help? Didn’t it deepen the intimacy between you? Sure it did! Well, one way we get the kind of fearless faith that Paul had is by refusing to pretend-by admitting to God that we are terrified and that we aren’t sure we have the faith necessary for the battle. In times like this we must go to God and say, “I can’t handle this on my own! Help me Father!” We must realize that God isn’t mad at us for being scared-far from it! In fact, not only can He handle our fears. He also encourages us to bring them to Him. Do you remember what Jesus said, “How oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathers her [frightened] chicks under her wings but you would not!” (Matthew 23:37)
One of our family traditions at Christmas is to watch Frank Capra’s classic film, It’s A Wonderful Life. How many of you do the same? Well, do you remember the scene where George Bailey is facing the terror of imprisonment and scandal due to that missing $8,000 from his savings and loan? He’s suffering a typical panic attack. His heart is racing. He’s trembling. Watch this clip:
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1:35:25-1:36:20)
Now, I don’t know about you-but I’ve been there. I’ve been in George Bailey’s shoes. I’ve had times in my life when I was so afraid that I didn’t know what to do-and in those times I prayed-I told God of my fear. I poured my heart out to Him and asked for His help. And do you know what God did? Well, He didn’t send some apprentice angel named Clarence who was trying to earn his wings. No! He came Himself. In the form of His Holy Spirit, He came along side of me and helped me. My Heavenly Father surrounded me with His loving presence and calmed my fears. I could almost hear His voice saying, “Do not fear” – or as one paraphrase puts it, “There, there…”
Well, we can have peace if we follow Paul’s example and bring our fears to God. Do you remember what King David discovered in his own fearful experiences? He wrote, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34) So, when you are afraid of something in this fallen world of ours, TELL GOD!
3. And then a third thing Paul would tell us when we face fear is to TRUST God.
In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul writes,”Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, Who raises the dead.
He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us.” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10) Did you catch the progression here? Paul says, “God HAS delivered us; God IS delivering us; God WILL deliver us.” Get the picture? In spite of impending death, Paul trusted God-the God Who had delivered him in the past and was delivering him and promised to deliver him in the future. In other words Paul constantly focused on God’s ability to handle any circumstance in his life from start to finish.
No matter how scary things looked in life Paul trusted our all-wise, completely-faithful, fully-sovereign God-and this trust-this conviction-this mind set-is the foundation that enabled him to face fearful times with peace and even joy.
Psychologist Albert Ellis says that when it comes to analyzing how people respond to fearful experiences it is as easy as ABC. Let me explain his theory and you’ll see what I mean. The “A” in Ellis’ model stands for our ANTECEDENTS. This refers to the things that happen TO us-our circumstances-whether they be family crises or job worries. The “C” in Ellis’ model stands for CONSEQUENCES. This is the way we feel and respond because of our circumstances.
Now, most people would think that A causes C-that is, our ANTECEDENTS cause the CONSEQUENCES…that is it the problems in life that determine our response. When good happens to us we feel good. When bad happens we crash and burn. But Ellis would disagree. You see the “B” in his formula stands for our BELIEFS about the things that happen to us. And he says his research has shown that our beliefs-what we think about the things that happen to us-is ultimately what determines how we feel and how we respond. “B” determines the “C” – not “A” as we would assume-and he is right. I mean two people can be in precisely the same set of circumstances-they can have the same A, the same antecedents but have totally different C’s….different consequences and responses. This is because they look at their antecedents through different beliefs.
Lloyd Linn comes to mind. As most of you know, this Godly man is dying of leukemia. He’s been living under a death sentence for about six months now. Well, this week his liver shut down. Doctors will give him no more transfusions saying it is pointless. So, Lloyd is only days from death and he knows that. That’s his ANTECEDENT. The CONSEQUENCE most people given this news by a doctor would embrace is fear and sorrow but not Lloyd. I visited with him this week and he was his same, jovial man. He shared jokes with me and we laughed together. He definitely isn’t quaking in his boots dreading physical death. His “C” isn’t like that at all! No, Lloyd is totally at peace because of his “B” – his Belief in Jesus Christ. If you know Lloyd, you know what I mean. He trusts God-the God Who has promised Him that the moment His body ceases to function, He will be in Heaven-face to face with his Redeemer and Creator. Lloyd also believes God’s promise that some day all his Christian friends, his Christian wife Naomi and family members will join him there so Lloyd Linn would say with Paul, “[I’m not afraid of death because] I know Whom I have believed and I am persuaded-I BELIEVE-that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed to Him against that Day.” (2 Timothy 1:12) Lloyd believes that God has promised Him not death but eternal life so he has no fear-only peace. His “C” is different from other people because of his “B”…his belief-his trust in God.
Now-I must point out that one prerequisite for having this “B”-this caliber of trust in God when we face the fearful times of life-is to learn NOT to always trust appearances.
I mean, in this fallen world of ours, things may LOOK like they’re going down the drain but the Bible tells us to trust-that in spite of appearances God is still on His throne still sovereignly working out His purposes. We see an example of this principle here in Acts 22 as Paul faced a mob that threatened to attack him. Dr. Luke tells us that God used an unnamed town clerk who went to the leaders of the mob and warned them not to do anything rash, advising them to calm down and instead of rioting, bring charges against Paul in court. Miraculously, they saw the wisdom of his words and obeyed, dispersing and returning to their homes when this lowly clerk told them to do so. Now, the beautiful part is that this clerk didn’t even know Paul and Paul didn’t know him-yet God used this un-known clerk to quiet the multitude.
Well, we must remember that no matter how things look, God is still moving “clerks” around His board like pawns. We don’t see the chessboard. We don’t know the right moves because we’re not God. But God does. He knows the right moves and He is constantly doing them. So don’t always trust appearances. God is always at work. Remember, fear ALWAYS makes things look worse than they really are.
This reminds me of a true story I came across a few months ago about a woman in Arkansas who was sitting in her car in a grocery store parking lot last summer when she heard a loud bang and then felt a sharp pain in the back of her head. She grabbed the back of her head and felt warm soft tissue of some sort oozing between her fingers. The poor woman began screaming and when someone ran up to help she said, “I’ve been shot in the head and I’m holding my brains in.”
The bystander investigated and discovered it wasn’t her brains. It was biscuit dough. You see, a Pillsbury biscuit canister in her grocery bag had exploded in the back seat, apparently from the heat, making a loud explosion and shooting dough into the back of this terrified woman’s head.
Well, most of the time our fears are just as unjustified as those of this woman because fear has a way of making bad look far bigger than it really is. As someone said, “Worry always makes a big shadow out of little things.” Many times we give into fear because it looks like evil is winning and we wonder where God has gone-when in fact He has not gone anywhere-and is still working behind the scenes just as He did for Paul in Ephesus, accomplishing His eternal purposes-purposes that are for our good and His glory. We must remember not to always trust appearances because no matter how bad it may look, our present circumstances is not all there is to reality. This fallen world does not have the last word. God does! And it is a word of hope, peace, and victory to those who love Him and who are walking in His will. So Paul would say, don’t always trust appearances-ALWAYS trust God!
4. One final thing Paul would advise us in fearful times is this: OBEY God.
No matter how afraid it makes you to do so-obey God. Whatever tells you to do-DO IT! Here’s a little “Biblical fear trivia.” Do you know what is the single most common command in the Bible? It’s not a command to guard sexual purity or to walk with integrity or to embrace humility as important as those qualities are. No, the single most common command in the Bible is “fear not.” And the reason it’s given so often is because many times the thing that people like you and me fear most is doing the things God tells us to do. God issues a challenge. We experience fear-and come to a decision point. I have to decide: am I going to obey or not. It’s scary to obey because God has a way of asking us to do things that are beyond our ability. So God has said these words over and over again for thousands of years not just so we won’t be afraid but to encourage us to obey Him.
And when we OBEY God, in spite of our fear, we see Him do amazing things through us. We experience unbelievable adventure and joy! We see that here in Acts. In verse 18 God tells Paul what? “DO NOT BE AFRAID!” Keep obeying Me! Keep speaking, do not be silent!” And Paul was mature enough to do just that. In spite of his discouragement and fear, he obeyed God. And listen what happened! Look at Acts 19:11ff,”God did extraordinary miracles through Paul so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits came out of them.” Later God used Paul’s teaching to convict people involved in the occult to repent and follow Jesus. They even brought their books of sorcery and burned them. Luke tells us their value was such that today it would be equivalent to five million dollars. Then verse 20 sums it all up by saying,”In this way, [because Paul ignored his fear and obeyed God] the Word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.”
As most of you know, we’re about to approve a master building plan which means this fall we’ll be going through a capital campaign to raise the money necessary to build phase one. You also know we’re talking about hiring another full-time staff member this year to head up our discipleship program here at Redland. And I want to be honest with you as your pastor. These two challenges scare me to death! First, coming up with enough money to build-how are we going to do that? I remember the first time the architect rattled off all the costs and I added them up in my head-all the time thinking, we’ll never be able to get this much money! Forget it! That’s not to mention the scary thought of going through all this county’s hoops to get permits.
Then, finding a new staff member that fits into our current staff family-raising the money to pay him. Adding that fixed expenditure to our budget! And it ALMOST scares me enough to say-let’s play it safe and not obey. Let’s just keep things as they are. But you know-I believe God has commanded us to do these things-and I also believe He will enable us to do them. And furthermore, I believe that to say no…is to miss out on miracles-the same kind of amazing things God did through Paul because of his obedience. So, I’m taking Paul’s advice. I will not FEAR obeying God in these areas. I don’t want to miss out on miracles!
Well, let me ask you. Are you afraid of obeying God in some way? Has our Lord called you to do some thing that scares you? Perhaps it has to do with sharing your faith with a co-worker, or helping someone with a problem that is beyond you, or tithing, or joining this church. Well, God says the same thing to you and me as He did to Joshua when he faced the terrifying prospect of leading the Hebrew nation, “Have I not commanded you? Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
So, don’t be afraid-obey God!
And then, let me ask you, how is the “B” in your “ABC?” Do you have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ-such that, like Lloyd you have the kind of BELIEF that enables you to face life with peace? If not, then confess your BELIEF in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
You know the most fearful place in the church is its aisles. And if walking down one today to share a decision causes you anxiety, don’t let it. As we stand and sing, come as God leads.