10-30-16 FEAR NOT
October 30, 2016
Yes, tomorrow is Halloween - when scary and spooky are the adjectives of the moment, goth the way to dress, and candy the main dish. But if one word could describe the theme of the occasion it would be 'fear'. Fear of the dark and fear of death are two of the most common fears known to mankind, and two of the most difficult to overcome, even if on Halloween they are made out to be something to celebrate.
Psychologically speaking, by packaging things that frighten us as something we can control, be it Halloween decorations or a horror movie, it somehow makes our fears more bearable. Most people can walk through a haunted house with only a smidgeon of mild fear (the fun kind), because they know no one is really going to hurt them. And even if the ending of a horror movie isn't good, it is still just a movie. The actors are still alive, and the blood isn't real. So, all of this is just harmless fun, right? Yes and no. Some people are very sensitive to suggestion. I had a terrible fear of spiders for many years because of both stories told me by other children and a movie that I saw. On the other hand, some people dismiss all of it as make-believe because of how it is presented on either Halloween or in the entertainment industry, and therefore don't realize they do need spiritual protection from the forces of darkness and evil. Now I'm not saying I never watch a horror movie. Actually, as a pastor I am obligated to stay informed of what the enemy is trying to fill the heads of my congregation with. And I have found that he loves to make demons appear more powerful than really they are, and Christians (especially priests and pastors) look like they are well-intentioned, complete idiots.
So how is a Christian supposed to deal with fear, both real and imagined?
First of all, know what the Bible says. "Fear not!" is the most repeated command in the Bible. In fact, it's been said that there are 365 "Fear nots" in the Bible - one "Fear not for every day of the year". It's a nice sentiment, but that number isn't exactly true. In actuality, there is not a version of the Bible that precisely 365 times says, quote unquote, "Fear not". For instance, the King James Version says "Fear not" or "Be not afraid" 103 times, but not 365 times. But "Fear" is spoken of over 500 times in the Bible. Furthermore, in addition to the "Fear nots" many times the Bible instructs us to "Fear God", which really means reverence God alone and do not fear anyone or anything else. For indeed, if you have a reverent fear of God you need not fear anyone or anything else!
So, if we reverently 'fear God', how does that help us to not fear anything else in our life? First, let me clarify the difference between what some would call a healthy fear, which in essence is only sensible behavior, and the type of fear that Satan loves to use to make people either doubt God, or test Him.
Satan used fear to make the disciples think Jesus was a ghost; and then to make Peter doubt, even after God had proven to him that with faith he could do the impossible. In Matthew 14 we read, "Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. After He had sent them away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone, but the boat was already far from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went out to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified. 'It's a ghost!' they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately spoke up: 'Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.' 'Lord, if it is You', Peter replied, 'command me to come to You on the water'. 'Come', said Jesus. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and took hold of Peter. 'You of little faith', He said, 'why did you doubt?'"
But faith doesn't mean believing God will protect you if you deliberately put yourself in harm's way for selfish reasons. Walking down the railroad tracks with headphones on, because you want to prove to others how cool you are, is not being brave. It is being stupid; and please don't expect God to make the train go around you. Satan tried to get Jesus to jump off a building by quoting a Bible verse. He led Jesus to the top of the temple and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down from here. For it is written: 'He will command His angels concerning You to guard You carefully; and they will lift You up in their hands, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.'" But how did Jesus respond? He declared, "It also says, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (Luke 4:9-12). Not having fear doesn't mean deliberately putting yourself in the line of danger. Not having fear means knowing that God is with you every minute of every day, is in complete control of everything in your life, hears every prayer that you speak from your heart, and has promised that everything that happens to you is for your good and His glory (Romans 8:28). That doesn't mean nothing 'bad' is ever going to happen in life. We live in a world filled with evil, but the Bible says that Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33) and it also says, "Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith." (1 John 5:4)
So what fears has Satan put in your life? Are you afraid of death? Christ defeated it when He rose from the grave, and promises eternal life to all who put their faith in Him. Christians, upon passing from this world, are immediately in the presence of their Savior, nevermore to feel pain, or sorrow, or fear. (2 Corinthians 5:8, Revelation 21:4). Believers can say with the apostle Paul, "Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (1 Corinthians 15:54b-57). Are you afraid of the dark? The Bible says God "reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him." (Daniel 2:22), and also that we should give thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. (Colossians 1:12-13). What about demons? Jesus said he has given us authority over all the power of the enemy, but not to rejoice that the spirits must submit to us, but rejoice that our names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:19-20).
Of course, just knowing the Bible verses, even memorizing them and repeating them, of itself will not defeat fear, nor the devil. Remember, you must have faith. I shared the following story from the Bible found in Acts 19:13-16 a couple of weeks ago, and I would like to share it again this morning as an example. "Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, 'In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out'. Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, 'Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?' Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding."
So the recipe for overcoming all fear in your life is this: Daily reading of the Word of God, combined with a good measure of faith, and topped with prayer that is from the heart. But remember, to not add any unconfessed sin that you refuse to abandon, or the recipe will not defeat fear properly. Then whether you serve up this recipe with a slice of pumpkin pie and some apple cider, or decide to super boost it by fasting, you will be able to face your fears without the slightest bit of anxiety. Yes, it works better than all of the Xanax and Valium on earth combined.
In conclusion, today, on the eve of All Hallows Eve, remember that we are not of this world. We belong to Christ; we are the ones called to shine His light in this dark world. We are the church! Amen.
THE CHILDREN'S MESSAGE:
Pastor Karen told the children how Jesus was the only one who enabled her to overcome her fear of spiders, and He could enable them to overcome their fears as well.