In part one of this sermon from Ron Pyle, professor at Whitworth University, he explained why as Christians, we don’t need to live in fear. Ron begins part two by giving examples from Scripture in which God overcomes fear with His presence.
God promised that Abram’s offspring would be as numerous as the stars in heaven, but, since he was childless, he feared that the promise would go unfulfilled. To Abram, this is what God said (Gen. 15:1) “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Abram, it’s not about you! And it’s not about us either. It’s about God’s on-going presence. Perhaps you identify with Abram. You thought you understood when and how God is sending you, but that plan is not unfolding as you expected it to. Abram is not alone, he has a protection and a reward. Do you need protection and a reward?
God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to release the Israelites. In response, the conversation went like this: (Exodus 3: 11,12) “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ And God said, ‘I will be with you.” Moses, it’s not about you! It’s not about us either. And when we feel inadequate for the task God has set before us, remember this – it’s not about you, our sufficiency and our adequacy is in the God who is with us.
Joshua was called to fill some enormous shoes (sandals). Moses died and God chose Joshua to take the Israelites into the Promised Land. Joshua witnessed the risks and discouragement that often comes with leadership and so he was afraid. Listen to God’s encouragement (Joshua 1:9) “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua, it’s not about you! And it’s not about us either. And my friends, when you lack strength and courage look to the one who is with you wherever you go.
Paul was sent to Corinth. A year and a half of teaching seemed to fall on deaf ears. Many of the Corinthians were oppositional, divisive, and even abusive. In the middle of profound discouragement, we read, “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you.’” (Acts 18:9, 10) Paul, it’s not about you! And it’s not about us either. The next time you feel like giving up because you meet resistance and no one seems to be listening, know that the results are God’s business. The one who declared His presence to Paul is present with you, as well.
The disciple’s faith was a crumpled and twisted mass of disappointment. The one whom they hoped was the savior was dead and buried. What happens now? Our future is uncertain and our guide is gone. Some of us know the disappointment that comes when our dreams and plans don’t materialize. Listen to this great news, there is a resurrection and Jesus who rose from the dead is still alive. We worship the risen Jesus, and yet we, like some of the disciples gathered on the mountain described at the end of Matthew’s gospel, doubt still. Jesus offers last words to His followers. I expected Jesus’ last words to be something like, “Remember the amazing miracles I performed.” Or, “Obey the teachings I left you.” Or, “Stop your selfish bickering.” Instead, these are the words Jesus wanted lingering in the minds and hearts of his closest friends, (Matthew 28:18-20) “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Oh disciples, it’s not about you! It’s not about us either. It’s about the One who is with us always.
Jesus takes fears seriously. In the gospels, there are 125 Christ-issued commands. The most frequent command appears 21 times, it urges us to “be not afraid.” The second most common command “love God and love your neighbor” appears eight times. Fear matters, but fear won’t have the last word. In my preparation for this sermon, here’s one thing I learned. It’s not about me, it’s about the God who is with me. Fear matters, but 1 John 4:18 tells us that, “perfect love casts out fear.” Perfect love has a name; His name is Jesus! And perfect love has chosen to take up residence in your heart. God with us in the Holy Spirit is the only way we will have the fruit of the Spirit, the only way we will have true success, the only way we will have the bond of unity even across our differences. Perfect love whispers in your heart, “I am with you”:
When your life is a mix of faith and doubt; I am with you.
In times of intimacy with God, and when it feels like your prayers bounce off of the ceiling; I am with you.
When you dare to risk saying yes to being sent and when the feeling of inadequacy floods you; I am with you.
When you rejoice that God gives you the privilege of being involved in His ministry and when you’re so discouraged you want to quit; I am with you.
When you find the place where your gifts and passions meet the world’s need and when you can’t imagine how a Holy God can use a broken vessel; I am with you.
When you bask in the richness of fellowship and when you’re struggling to love your brother and sister; I am with you.
When this church actually reflects the Christ we worship and when we are indistinguishable from the world; I am with you.
My brothers and sisters, nothing can separate you from the love of Christ who is with you always. Amen.
Ron Pyle graduated from Washington State University in 1979. He worked in youth ministry, completed an MA in theology through Fuller Theological Seminary, and holds an MA and Ph.D. in Speech Communication from the University of Washington. Since coming to Whitworth University in 1988, Ron has been honored by his faculty peers with the “Whitworth Teaching Excellence Award” and has been named by eleven graduating classes as their “Most Influential Professor.”
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