Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The presence of God alleviates fear

One of the cardinal rules of preaching is never to make apologies at the beginning of a message, but I thought I should say that this message will probably be a little shorter than normal given the circumstances from this past week. We arrived back from vacation late Tuesday night and spent the entire next day getting our house in order, anticipating the surgery that Sally would have on Friday. So I thought I’d give myself a little grace, make accommodations to take care of some of the family needs, and trust God with the message.

Some of you asked if this was an emergency situation, and no, it was scheduled late and we moved quickly after that to get it done. She is doing fine but is resting at home today.

In one of my high school health classes I remember reading about the natural response to danger. They called it fight or flight. Last week while in Colorado at my in-law’s home, I would go jogging in the early morning and pass a sign which read “Mountain Lion Country.” By that time I was constantly looking in the woods to see if a mountain lion lurked nearby waiting to pounce on me. And I wondered what I would do? Would I fight or take to flight?

On Friday morning, I took Sally to the hospital for her surgery and wondered if that would be the last time I would see her alive. Even though the surgery was routine, there are always risks of something worse happening. As I left her side and went to the waiting room, would I let fear take hold of me or would I let God give me peace?

Fear is a powerful emotion that can take hold in childhood and grow stronger as we grow older.

Time magazine reporter that in a nationwide survey of more than 2,200 seven-to-eleven- year-olds, most children feel good about their lives, their families and just being themselves. But many are also afraid. More than two-thirds are scared that “someone bad” is lurking about their neighborhood, waiting to break into their homes. A quarter of the children are afraid that they will be attacked when they go outside – with some justification, since more than 40% have been harassed by older kids or adults while playing. Children addicted to television (those who watch four or more hours daily) are twice as likely to be fearful; nearly 25% of all the children are frightened by TV “shoot ‘em ups” and other violent programs. [Tan, Paul, Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations, 1979]

Many Christians today needlessly live in a state of fear: fearful of death and the burden it could place on their left-behind family, fearful of missing God’s plan for their life, fearful of not finding their soulmate and then being stuck in a unfulfilling marriage, fearful of the cost of being a disciples of Christ. I say they “needlessly live in a state of fear” not because there aren’t legitimate things which cause fear but because God has provided a remedy for fear.

Our text today is very short and very familiar but it touches on this theme and the remedy. Let us turn to John 6:16-21. Jesus and the disciples had just fed the 5,000+ people and the people wanted to make Jesus king by force. Realizing that this was taking place, Jesus slipped away from the crowds, sent his disciples on ahead to another location by boat, and would catch up to them at a later time. This is where we pick up in verse 16.

I. Various events and circumstances in life open the door to fear. (6:16-19)
A. The disciples faced various situations that opened the door to fear because they followed Christ.
1. The possibility of death was very real in a culture that had less access to modern health care. [plagues, famine]
2. The destructive power of nature was always nearby with great storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions. [Martin Luther - great fear during a storm]; storms often seen as the wrath of God
3. Hostile, corrupt men (terrorism) were present to oppose the work of God.
4. Christian persecution was not only a reality but was an expectation. [burned at stakes, wild beasts, beheading, ]

B. Christians past and present continue to face these same situations.
1. Heightened fear because of the propagation of news regarding disaster
2. Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis
3. Missionaries who face the possibility of kidnaping and abduction
4. Persecution against Christians by communist or Moslem governments

II. The awareness of God’s presence in the life of a Christian alleviates fear.
A. Jesus said to his disciples in the boat, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

B. God has always told His people to have courage and not to be afraid.
1. Moses
2. Joshua (Joshua 1:9)
3. David ()
4. The Twelve Disciples (Matthew 28:20)
5. Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:9-10)
6. Timothy (2 Timothy 1:7)

C. Christians are commanded to have courage because the presence of God is with them.
1. The presence of God is with His people.
a. God the Father
b. God the Son
c. God the Spirit
2. The presence of God provides more than just “emotional support.” It is a layer of defense, a presence of power
3. The awareness of God’s presence, however, is an important factor. The awareness of God’s presence is heightened by prayer, self-reminder of truth, listening. [Why is the presence of God a help?]

“[When women] love, they love quietly; they speak, as it were, in whispers, and we have to listen carefully, attentively, to hear their words of love and to know them. Isn’t God also this way? Doesn’t he intervene in most of our lives in whispers, which we miss if we fail to recollect ourselves and pay careful attention–if we do not constantly strive to hear those whispers of divine love? [Sacred Marriage, p. 235]

III. Find courage in the presence of God.

“Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the mastery of it.”

A. When you face death, read your Bible, sing the hymns, and pray to the Father because it transforms your mind with truth.
B. At the time of death you will not be left alone, for the angels of God will bear you to Abraham’s bosom. (Luke 16:19-31)
C. When you suffer for being a Christian let the ever-present Spirit of Christ give you a measure of grace to endure.
D. Go to the church meetings to find the special presence of God. You will be encouraged and your fears will subside.

In the book Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas speaks about marriage as a spiritual discipline which invites the constant awareness of presence of God. Just like the presence of God was manifest between the two cherubim on the ark of the covenant, God’s presence is manifest between the husband and wife. How does this work? One way it works is in the practice of conversation. They way a husband and wife speak to each other either invites or pushes out the presence of God. Words of encouragement and comfort bring the presence of God because that atmosphere is consistent with his character. Words of strife and chaos push out the presence of God because the atmosphere created by those words are inconsistent with the character of God.

It is the same way in church services and meetings. The presence of God is either invited or pushed out by the words that are spoken. Think about what we do on Sunday morning. We speak words for 75 minutes: words of praise, words of prayer, words of exposition. The words that we speak here which are consistent with the character of God invite the presence of God. And when the presence of God is here, it alleviates fear. It provides comfort. It provides strength to carry on and to face our tasks with confidence in God.

E. When you are afraid to carry out a job God has given you to do
1. Speaking publicly for Christ
2. Leading the Church as an elder or deacon, making hard decisions which are unpopular and difficult
3. Doing the work of evangelism
4. When the world wants you to denounce Christ [illus: Polycarp, see From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya]

Polycarp was a bishop of Smyrna (which I think is a city in Egypt) for 50 years. He was a direct disciple of the Apostle John. Wouldn’t you like to have been listening in to those conversations where John was telling Polycarp the stories of Jesus. Well, Polycarp became mighty as a defender of the truth and boldly spoke out against paganism, condemning their religion and calling others to do away with their godlessness. Finally a persecution broke out in AD 156 against the Christians and Polycarp was targeted. His own disciples hid him for a time in a hayloft but after a servant was taken and tortured, the servant gave up the location of Polycarp so that the authorities could take him into custody. They did not want to kill Polycarp. He was already 86 years old and they thought it would do little good. They only wanted to make him deny Christ publicly. He was taken to a great arena where thousands of pagans had gathered and commanded to deny Christ. As he opened his mouth to speak, his first words were, “Away with the godless.” Listen to what he said.

The benediction that we say also takes hold of this theme:

Now go into the world in peace.
Have courage,
hold onto what is good;
honor all men.
Strengthen the fainthearted;
support the week;
help the suffering;
And share the gospel. Love and serve the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit;
And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
[And all God’s people said] Amen.

No comments: