In this service of worship, we look at the fact that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is found in Christ Jesus our Lord. It has many implications – watch and learn! It’s based on Romans 8.31-39. The whole service is below, and the message alone is below that.
Nelson Mandela once said, “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Well, I assume he said it, because, you know, I read it on the Internet. If he didn’t say it, I’d be surprised, because it sounds like something he would have said. (And don’t worry, I’m sure he meant it to apply to women, too.)
There is wisdom in those words.
Each of us has fear over something – maybe even every day. But whatever the subject matter is, we all, from time to time, feel afraid.
To be sure, the current global pandemic has placed fear in a lot of people. In some ways, I don’t blame them; the Coronavirus is an Unknown Entity in so many ways, and none of us – not even the experts – have been down this road before. And as parts of the world and parts of our world begin to open, that may strike even more fear into some.
The good news for followers of Jesus is that conquering fear – that to which South Africa’s great freedom fighter commended us – is eminently doable, because we have the Holy Spirit living in us and through us.
In 1 John 4.16b-18, we read, “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love” (NLT).
More often than not, I hear that read as the second-most-favourite Bible passage used at weddings. But, like its first-place neighbour, 1 Corinthians 13, the context for the passage is not a wedding, even though each passage applies in that kind of setting. Of course, its context also was not a global pandemic (unless you count sin as a global pandemic, and that’s certainly legit!). But the principle fits.
Focus with me on one phrase: “perfect love expels all fear.” Perfect love is the love with which God loves us, the love that sent his only Son to the cross for us, the love that brought him back from the dead, the love that sent the Holy Spirit on his followers with tongues of fire. That love, Christian friend, lives in you and me. And that love expels all fear.
It’s easier to say than it is to live out, however. Our minds easily get caught up in fear over any number of life situations. But when we remind ourselves of God’s great love for us, and our desire to follow and serve him in the power of the Holy Spirit, he will cast out all fear.
Being rid of fear certainly shouldn’t rid us of caution. Just because we’re called to live in love and not in fear doesn’t mean we should be stupid. But it does mean we can rest in the confidence that God goes ahead of us in solving whatever dilemma causes us fear.
I have no idea if Mandela knew the Lord. But the best way to conquer fear is to let him do it through the Holy Spirit.
Okay, what’s with the run on toilet paper, people?
Honestly, I can’t wrap my head around this one. Apparently, scientists are not suggesting that ‘the runs’ are part of Coronavirus. Perhaps people are afraid of being quarantined in their homes, and fear running out of essentials. (The good news for me is that most people, apparently, do not consider bacon an essential.) And besides, when one can’t get out of the house, there are online vendors who will cheerfully drop necessities on your doorstep!
The sense of fear among many people around Coronavirus is unprecedented. Almost 20 years ago, when SARS was running rampant, there wasn’t this kind of trouble finding things like toilet paper.
The SARS phenomenon occurred a long time ago, and social media as we know it today didn’t exist. I suspect that it may be playing a role.
Until the last few days, I was <ahem> poo-pooing the whole matter. But then the World Health Organization declared that Coronavirus is a pandemic. Flights are being cancelled. School is being delayed in some places. Professional sports are postponing their seasons indefinitely.
This is a serious matter – more serious than I was initially prepared to believe. People are getting very sick, and some are dying from Coronavirus. And it’s important to take precautions, but for most of us, these precautions are normal precautions: handwashing, for example…and staying home if you are sick with any communicable illness.
Coronavirus is not the end of the world. In my opinion, we should not be cancelling our worship gatherings, nor most of our regular activities, because of this concern, provided we take careful precautions. We should expect people to be responsible adults and avoid public interaction if they are ill, and to wash their hands often to avoid communicating any kind of illness to others. I’ll admit that this may be unusually optimistic, and I’ll certainly be monitoring the matter in my own congregation and life.
It’s wise to avoid hoarding things like soap and hand sanitizer, since we all need such substances in order to maintain public health.
And we should trust the Lord to be our Protector. This does not absolve us of our responsibilities, but it should free us from captivity to fear. And I think fear is a big deal right now…maybe even a bigger deal than Coronavirus.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1.7, NLT).
The suicide bomb attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, has stunned many people. When we think of “suicide bomber”, we don’t generally think of a civilized country. When such an attack comes in a developed, western nation, it might be understandable to think that nowhere is safe anymore.
Investigators will get to the bottom of this. I have my ideas about the root of this attack, which may be unpopular, but my purpose here is not to deal with the why. I want us to think for a moment about what we do about it.
Many people live in fear. For some, it’s irrational; they watch a newscast, and think there’s a terrorist hiding around every street corner. For most, though, it’s a slow-burning fear, a fear that the world in which we live is very different from the world in which some of us who are older grew up.
That is true, of course, and has always been true. Each generation comes with changes to society – we just know more about them in this wired world we live in. This time, though, it just seems overwhelming to some.
What’s a Christian to do?
Someone with too much time on her or his hands apparently counted the number of times in the Bible the phrase “fear not” appears, and that number is 365: one for each day of the year. I think God wants us to get the message.
Psalm 46.1-2 says, “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea” (NLT).
So we’re not to fear. As followers of Jesus, we understand that God is sovereign, that he is in charge. It won’t always look like it, and we can’t comprehend the mind of God. But he’s got all matters in hand.
That’s easier said than done, of course. It involves deep faith. It also involves an understanding that as Christians, we are not of this world. Our home is with the Lord; all this around us is temporal. While we should want to enjoy as much of this life as we can, we should not be afraid of what lies ahead if we name Jesus Lord and Saviour.
You may wish for your children or grandchildren that they didn’t have to face such evils as what we heard about on Monday evening in England. But that is all the more reason for you to impart your trust in the Lord Jesus to them. Some call it ‘shoving religion down their throats’. We call it fulfilling our baptismal vows. When we present our children for baptism, we are promising before God that our kids are going to be so immersed in the love of Jesus that their own profession of faith will be as natural as breathing. When that happens, they will not fear, either, just as we do not fear.
There’s probably a sermon in here somewhere, but these are a few thoughts about dealing with fear in light of the world in which we live. Trust Jesus, and you have no need to fear.
Well, here it is, only the second Friday of the new year, and already it’s Friday the 13th. I’m amazed that this still proves problematic for some people, even people who believe in God. But I’d better not point fingers at anybody but myself. Let me tell you why.
There were two particularly unfortunate incidents that occurred for me in 2016: I had a gallbladder attack, and we were hauled in for a minor interrogation at the US border. Thankfully, these did not both occur on the same day.
However, they had one thing in common: on neither of those days did I shave my neck. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? I mean, any guy who wears a beard will have occasional days (maybe more than occasional days) when he doesn’t shave his neck. But I will admit, to my shame, that I have not failed to shave my neck once since the second of those two events occurred. Not. Once.
And I completely understand the irrationality of that…let’s name it for what it is…fear.
I’m no better than the person who wears the same sweater every time his favourite hockey team plays, or the person who refuses to walk under a ladder…or who is hung up on Friday the 13th.
Maybe, just this once, writing Encouragement From the Word will be therapeutic for me, because by admitting it for everyone to see, I know I need to break the trend. One day of an unshaven neck is not that uncomfortable – though perhaps there is something in my genes, for I have never in my life seen my father unshaven! (Of course, that didn’t keep me from growing a beard as soon as my hormones would allow!)
I can’t do it tomorrow, because I have a visit to make; I can’t do it Sunday, because it’s Sunday; but maybe on Monday, I will let the razor take a rest…just to prove the irrationality of this fear.
Why is it so irrational? Because we serve the God of the universe, the one who flung stars into space and gave Bach the inspiration to write the Prelude and Fugue in E-flat major. This God we serve is sovereign; it’s the only way he can be God. And this God has told us, flat out, in his Word: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1.7, NLT).
If you see me next week, hold me to account. I need to practise what I preach. Hopefully, you will, too!
I have a calendar in my home study that has a strange trait: it has two November Fourteenths instead of one November 13th and one November 14th. I suspect it’s an error, and not intentional, since I get a calendar from the organization this came from each year, and this is the only time I’ve noticed two days labelled November 14.
But it does lead one to wonder about that fear of the number 13, and some people’s ‘issue’ with Friday the Thirteenth. “Triskaidekaphobia” is the fear of the number 13; “paraskevidekatriaphobia” is the scientific name for the fear of Friday the 13th. Some say this superstition stems from the notion that Judas was the 13th person at the Last Supper, on the night before Good Friday.
In other cultures, it’s a different number than 13 that is problematic. What they all hold in common is that the fear is irrational.
A common meme that finds its way around the internet now and again says that “Fear not” appears in the Bible 365 times, once for every day in the year. I haven’t stopped to count them all, but it seems about right. When we trust in the Lord, we have no reason to fear, no reason to worry.
Sadly, though, we find it easy to fear, easy to worry, but not so easy to trust in the One who created us, redeems us in Christ, and sustains us by the Holy Spirit. That will change as our relationship with the Lord grows deeper, as we know God’s character better, and are assured more of his love and kindness.
What do you fear irrationally? Think about that, and let it be an occasion to trust in the Lord more fully.
“Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave” (Revelation 1.17b-18, NLT).
Well, we’ve arrived at our first Friday The Thirteenth of 2015. (Since this is not a leap year, you can expect another in March. We won’t see another until November.) Some in western culture do see it as an “unlucky” day (as if there really were such a thing as luck, but that’s a topic for another day!). The fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia. I don’t know if anyone seriously fears these days anymore; most of the time, what I see on social media just laughs them off.
But one thing is for certain: human beings do have fears. It’s part of who we are as those who live in the time after the fall of humanity. And it’s amazing what we will do, sometimes, to compensate for our fears.
People who are afraid of heights, for example, will normally try to steer clear of places where they fear they may fall a great distance, such as roofs, balconies, or mountaintops. People who are afraid of dogs will try to stay away from homes where dogs may be kept as pets, or from pounds, kennels or veterinary clinics.
Some fears, though, can’t be compensated for. They must be faced.
One might be afraid of public speaking; I think I read that this is the commonest of all fears. And while some people may be able to escape it their whole lives, others must speak publicly, whether for their employment or to voice a conviction or to laud someone at a retirement banquet or a funeral. Sometimes, upon conquering the fear once, it is discovered that it can be conquered again. Soon enough, the individual realizes that the fear wasn’t all that rational after all.
Followers of Jesus, like everyone else, experience fear. But we have an additional source that can encourage us to face our fears. King David, who had his share of enemies during his life, proclaimed, “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?” (Psalm 27.1, NIV). It would have been easy for David to run into the Judean hills and hide from his enemies, but he stood fast because the Lord was with him.
Whatever fears you may face, the Lord will be with you, too. Why not make Friday the 13th an occasion to rejoice in the Lord, who has the power to take away our fears?
For a long time, we assumed these sorts of things only happened in other places: Tel Aviv. Belfast. New York.
Now we know: Canada is not immune. The terrorist attacks in Ottawa on Wednesday morning have shaken our nation in ways not previously experienced. We are vulnerable. Those who would make Canadians “pay” for our desire to see freedom and democracy for all the world’s peoples are among us.
In other words, we now live as much of the world lives.
We cannot, however, live in fear, for that is what the terrorists want. They undertake their activities in an attempt to terrorize people into succumbing to the wishes of those doing the terrorizing.
Many people in the world live in fear because of terrorism, and it is in those places where the terrorists have the upper hand.
But not all those living under terrorism live in fear. Consider the Christians in Mosul, Iraq. It is they who live with the most visible sign of terrorism these days. It is they who have the Arabic letter nun painted on their homes by ISIS insurgents who are intent on eradicating the Christian “infidels” from the land they believe is rightfully Islamic territory.
If some armed group were threatening to remove you from your home, what would you do? If your answer is “give in”, you’re not like the Iraqi Christians. Not only are they not giving in, there are reports that more people are coming forward to be baptized into the name of the Triune God of grace – even in the midst of overt persecution.
“Fear” is not in the vocabulary of these believers. Neither should it be in ours.
The days of Christendom, even in good old safe Canada, are gone. To live as an authentic follower of Jesus today is not mainstream. It is, as it always was in New Testament times, counter-cultural. But we serve the God who enabled the prophet Elijah single-handedly to put the prophets of a false god in their place. We serve the God who enabled little David to slay Goliath the giant. We serve the God who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ.
If that sounds a little bit triumphalistic, so be it. The apostle Paul told the Roman Christians, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8.31, NIV). It is this belief that we serve the one true God that has encouraged Christians for over two thousand years.
The threat of terrorism – religious, political, or otherwise – is real for us. But we should not fear.
Take a few moments and slowly read – more than once, if you can – Psalm 46 (NLT). Allow it to soak through you and fill you with faith in the God who will protect you, who will protect all of his faithful, in the face of whatever may come before us. (When you see the word “interlude”, that’s right in the text; pause at those points and let the words sink in.) Believe what you read, and let that be an encouragement to you…and through you, to others.
God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come
and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Let the oceans roar and foam.
Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! Interlude
A river brings joy to the city of our God,
the sacred home of the Most High.
God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed.
From the very break of day, God will protect it.
The nations are in chaos,
and their kingdoms crumble!
God’s voice thunders,
and the earth melts!
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress. Interlude
Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:
See how he brings destruction upon the world.
He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.”
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress. Interlude
I shared a poem at a memorial service this week which I had used many years ago, but stumbled upon again. It was written by a missionary to China in response to a number of missionary martyrdoms, and has always, for me, been a powerful testament to what Jesus’ death and resurrection mean for Christians, a poignant illustration of the apostle Paul’s words to the church in Corinth when he quoted Isaiah: “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15.54b, NIV).
Read this slowly and meditatively, and let its meaning wash over you today.
Afraid? Of What?
To feel the spirit’s glad release?
To pass from pain to perfect peace,
The strife and strain of life to cease?
Afraid – of that?
Afraid? Of What?
Afraid to see the Saviour’s face
To hear his welcome, and to trace
The glory gleam from wounds of grace?
Afraid – of that?
Afraid? Of What?
A flash, a crash, a pierced heart;
Darkness, light, O Heaven’s art!
A wound of His a counterpart?
Afraid – of that?
Afraid? Of What?
To do by death what life could not –
Baptized with blood a stony plot,
Till souls shall blossom from the spot?
Afraid – of that?
Sometimes, the world seems like a more evil place than ever before. In reality, I imagine it isn’t much more or less evil than in days gone by; it is our technological advances that enable us to know more about what’s going on in the world, thereby drawing our conclusion about evil. Nevertheless, this has drawn out fear in some people.
The Bosma case, about which I wrote last week, is an example of this. Advances in information sharing arguably led to Mr. Bosma’s abduction (because he was selling a truck online) and to our knowing about it (through mainstream and social media). One could argue that the advent of terrorism, of which we rarely spoke in the past, has come as a result of how much we can know and how quickly we can know it.
And terrorism, if you think about it, has its root in fear. Terrorism is commonly defined as the use of violence and intimidation for political gain, but if you break it down, terror itself is extreme fear. Those who engage in terrorism are trying to make people afraid – afraid enough to give in to what the terrorists want.
Terrorism, then, doesn’t just happen with guns and bombs and planes and land mines. It can happen even with words alone. And because we have greater access to more words than ever before in the history of the human race, it has become easy to terrorize people with words. Fear is struck into many hearts as a result.
What do you fear? It’s a good question to ask oneself. The root of our anger is fear, and in extreme cases, we are driven to do whatever we do in life by fear. But that is not God’s plan for us.
In 1 John 4.18 we read that “perfect love expels all fear” (NLT). The deeper we grow into the love of God – which is perfect love – the less fear we will have. The Psalmist wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea” (Psalm 46.1-2, NLT). And who can count the number of times Jesus told us not to be afraid?
Easier said than done, right? Fear is one of the devil’s great tools against followers of Jesus. Face your fears head-on, mindful that you have the Creator of the universe going ahead of you and behind you (Psalm 139.5). Give them to God in prayer, but don’t take them back. Let God’s perfect love drive out your fears. This might not all happen at once, but as the Lord works in your heart, you will find your fears replaced with God’s perfect love.