Pastor Doug Stratton – June 18, 2017
CCI: When we are overwhelmed or feel like we have no place to turn, God promises strength.
Into: This Summer, you will have the chance to shape our worship services and the preaching moment. I have invited you to submit favorite passages of scripture, soon we will also be asking for your favorite hymns and praise songs. These are all rich in truth and blessing. Pray with me that as we explore what has touched your heart, God will touch each of our hearts.
In the bulletin you will find a small pamphlet titled, My Strength. In it you will find a number of promises of God that remind us that God is the source of our strength. This tract was one of the first scriptures that was shared with me when I asked for your favorites. Annette Brookshire sent this tract with a note that “These are verses that have meant much to me. I often send this tract to others.” So Annette has provided these for us today, I hope you will find it a blessing in your life and perhaps you will want to share these verses with others as well. The address for ordering this tract is on the back, perhaps you could share the source of your strength with others.
Fear is a reality all through our society. We are afraid of foreigners, we are afraid of people who are different, we are afraid of heights. Phobialist.com is a collection of the names and descriptions of more than 500 fears that a man named Fredd Culbertson has collected and organized. He also sells a poster-size version of the entire list that can be hung on your wall. Mr. Culbertson claims all of the phobias mentioned on his site can be found in reference books or in medical papers.
Among the unusual fears he lists:
Peladophobia: fear of bald people
Geniophobia: fear of chins
Aulophobia: fear of flutes
Paraskavedekatriaphobia: fear of Friday the 13th
Entheraphobia: fear of mother-in-law
Pteronophobia: fear of being tickled by feathers
We face many fears in this world, both real and imagined.
Throughout Israel’s history there were many occasions when they needed to be reminded that God would be with them in the midst of their fears no matter what they faced. This was certainly true when Noah exited his ark of safety and God placed a rainbow in the sky. It was true when the Egyptians were closing in on the Jews as they fled slavery and God opened a way through the sea. It was true when Gideon was outnumbered in his battle against the Midianites and he was victorious. In fact, “Fear Not” is the most common command in the Bible. But the people probably never needed reminded of God’s enduring presence more than when they returned from Exile to find their homes, their lands, and their temple in ruin. I don’t know about you, but when things are a bit of struggle and I face a disappointment, I can handle that pretty well. But when my hopes have been boosted and I think the hard times have come to a close, and that God has carried me through the rapids and has given me the chance to ride on smooth water, and then I face an unexpected disappointment – that is when I often collapse, that is when fear and discouragement can strike the fastest. Maybe some of you have felt the same way.
Without a doubt that is how the Jews were feeling when they returned from Exile. In a period of only a lifetime, their nation had crumbled, they had been made refugees in a strange land, they had begun to establish a new normal, then they were permitted to return to their homes. Their emotions must have been soaring as they retraced the steps of Abraham 1500 years before. They were returning to their ancestral home. Their God had proven to be faithful, he had fulfilled the promise of restoring the nation!
And then they arrived home, and they found the land in turmoil. The cities had fallen into ruin, the temple no longer stood, the vineyards were overgrown the sheep had gone wild. All they had imagined about their homeland suddenly evaporated. There was nothing left that mattered. Those who were returning on the wings of hope, arrived and found fear and bitter disappointment.
Disappointment following high expectation is often the worst kind of disappointment. The pain of a miscarriage adds the loss of a dream to the fear of never being able to bear a child. The death of young adult who overdoses soon after leaving rehab, multiplies the pain of the death with the fear that we did not do enough.
Sometimes it even feels like the people who ignore God and God’s ways have it easier in life. And when we see that, we grow weary. When the wicked are acquitted and innocent suffer, we wonder where God is in the midst of it all.
The prophet wrote:
“The metalworker encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer spurs on the one who strikes the anvil. One says of the welding, “It is good.” The other nails down the idol so it will not topple.”
It is as if there is nothing that the wicked fear. The blacksmith uses the very words God used to describe creations, “It is good.” But the false gods who demand their allegiance are nothing but works of art. They are the work of the silversmith and the welder who ultimately must nail his creation to a board to keep it from falling over. The gods of this world are weak imitations of God who prey on our fears. In fact, any time we encounter people who play on fear, who use fear to manipulate others, we can be sure we are dealing with a false god, with a person who wants to rule the lives of the people around them. And any time we fall into the trap of using fear to make our point, or to control others, we are setting ourselves in the place of God who alone can save us from our fears.
So even though it seems like the wicked live the easy life, the Lord has made a promise with his people:
“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.”
Notice, the Lord did not say, “Rest assured, you will not have any problems.” We do face times of trial. In fact James wrote, “When you face times of trial.” Peter even said, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” We will experience times of difficulty, but in the midst of our trials, during the periods of grief, through the tests in our relationships, amidst the trials of the body, hear the word of the Lord, “Do not fear, I am with you.”
God takes fear seriously, because fear, at its center, is a perceived loss of control. When life spins wildly, we grab for a component of life we can manage: our diet, the tidiness of our home, the armrest of a plane, or, in many cases, people. The more insecure we feel, the meaner we become. We growl and bare our fangs. Why? Because we are bad? Maybe. But more so because we feel cornered and powerless.
Martin Niemöller was a German pastor who took a heroic stand against Adolf Hitler. When he first encountered the dictator in 1933, Niemöller stood at the back of the room and listened. Later, when his wife asked him what he’d learned, he said, “I discovered that Herr Hitler is a terribly frightened man.” Fear releases the tyrant within.
While God does not promise to protect us from trouble and pain, we still need not fear because God does promise to be with us and to strengthen us in the midst of anything we face. Mary Southerland tells about a conversation she overheard between her son and her husband. She writes, “When our son Jered was a little boy, we were careful to teach him our phone number and address in case he was ever lost.
One night, he and his dad went for a before-bedtime walk. After a few minutes of silence, Dan decided to test Jered’s knowledge of where he lived.
“How far are we from home?” Dan asked.
Jered answered, “Dad, I don’t know.”
Dan tried again, “Well, where are you?”
Again Jered answered, “I don’t know.”
Then his dad said good-naturedly, “Sounds to me like you’re lost, son.”
With a confident grin, Jered looked up at Dan and responded, “Nope. I can’t be lost. I’m with you.”
And that is the secret of our strength, it is the confidence that no matter where we are, we are never lost if we are with our Father. Even when we are weak and feel like there is no place for us to turn, the Father promises to be with us.
Have you found the secret of your strength? It is not found in the gods we can create, nor is it found in the fear we can instill. The secret of your strength is found in the one who said,
“I am with you.
I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.”
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