SEVEN WAYS TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR

Facebook Video of the service for this day.

Love has its basis in Creation. You are made in the image of God – that is who we are. God loves us and goes to great lengths to save us. This tells us that we have great value in God’s sight. Everyone you know has great value in God’s eyes. This is the basis of the two greatest commandments.

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-40, NLT

The apostles Paul and James reflected this important truth.

Galatians 5:14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

James 2:8 “…It is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Showing kindness to the least, the last, the lost, the lonely, and the unloved – extending God’s grace in its various forms to the hurting, hated and heartbroken people He brings into our lives is our calling.

In a pandemic where we have been isolating – and now slowly re-entering into public life – there are challenges to love. Here are seven practical ways to love your neighbor.

Love Others Like You Want to Be Loved!

The spirit of the command is that we show genuine concern for others.

Matthew 7:12 Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.

We generally think of ourselves first, we know what makes us feel loved, accepted, and encouraged.

When we wonder how we can express love to others during this pandemic, we find our answer when we ask what would make us feel loved? Then do that!

Love With Empathy!

Empathy is identifying with the feelings and hurts of another as if it were happening to you.

Romans 12:15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

Love sometimes means we weep with those who are sorrowful, sitting with them in their sorrow and not trying to fix it. At other times we rejoice with those who are happy. There are many different reactions to the coronavirus pandemic. Trying to see the other person’s point of view is how we love with empathy. How can we do this? Listening to others, paying attention to what is going on in their lives, genuinely asking how they are doing. That will help us do the next thing…

Love By Praying!

Ephesians 6:18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

This can include not only our personal prayers, but also expressions of prayer. Prayer Cards; praying with people over the phone; intercession on their behalf.

Just as everyone needs love, everyone needs prayer. Pray for the ones who do not want the gospel. Pray for the ones who have not found Jesus. Pray for Christians to grow in discipleship. Pray for those who are ill, or who have family that are ill.

Abba Father knows how to answer our prayers. We may not understand how He does answer them. In His times and in His Ways. We affirm that He knows how to answer prayer.

Love by Encouraging Others

Hebrews 3:13 You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God.

During this pandemic, we all need some encouragement. The economy, family problems, personal failure, fear, illness, loss – all leave us thirsty for encouragement.

Proverbs 16:24 Kind words are like honey— sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.

Find a way that is natural to you – a phone call, a card, an email, text.

Love like you want to be love, love with empathy, love by praying, love by encouraging others …

Love When Others Hate

Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times.”

We live in a cynical hate-filled world. That is never more evident than in social media. It seems some people think that since they are behind the keyboard they can be mean to other people. Even some Christians. Christians are shining lights because we are not to join in the hate speech. We may disagree on politics, face masks, how we deal with the virus – and we can discuss anything – but our conversation should be brighter and better than the hateful world around us. Of course this holds true for in-person conversations and relationships as well.

Love With Words

Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (ESV: that it may give grace to those who hear.)

The guiding principle of the words we speak is this: will it encourage the one who hears it?

How many people need to hear “I Love You?” Or “I Care” or even just “I hear you”

Love When Opportunity Arises.

Multiple opportunities to share love and mercy will present themselves. Feeding hungry in Zambia, helping Kevin and wife in Honduras with medical expenses, blessing the girls in the Living Hope orphanage. Compassion International / World Vision / KIVA.

Opportunities that are near… directly helping those you can … supporting the helping organizations in our city that are set up to bless others.

Galatians 6:10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

Conclusion

What is my Christianity doing for another person? What is my Christianity doing for the people that God has placed in my path? Or in my neighborhood? Or in my family?

Seven ways to love our neighbor: Love like you want to be love, love with empathy, love by praying, love by encouraging others, love when others Hate, love with your words and love when Opportunity arises.

Why You Can Trust God

Note: This is the script for a Faith Partnership Initiative conference call (audio above).

Introduction

One of the things we have learned in this experience with COVID-19 is that we have to learn to trust God. There are too many unknowable things about the virus. It leaves so many questions unanswered. Why some get ill, some do not. Why some recover, and some do not. How is it transmitted so invisibly? What is the future going to look like as we learn to live with it? Why do doctors and health professionals have vastly different opinions about the virus and how to respond? 

In all the things we cannot know, the one thing that brings us hope is God is present, He is Holy, He is all powerful, and He can be trusted. Today I want us to think about why we can trust God. There are many wonderful stories about trusting God, but I want us to focus on our Bible. When you hold your Bible in your hand, you hold the wisdom of God through the ages. You are able to hear a Word from Him simply by opening its pages and reading. What a wonderful privilege. 

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

Trust is something we decide to do. It is our response to what we know and love about God. It requires our heart. It is out of devotion that we give our lives to Him. Scripture promises that if we seek God’s will He will show us the path to take in our lives. 

Some things we experience may make it difficult to feel trust in God. But notice that this verse does not tell us to feel close to God. In fact, it tells us to look beyond our feelings – do not depend on your own understanding. Instead, seek God’s input in your life and believe what he has given you in His Word.  When bad things happen or when we give in to temptation or when we have tried to do everything right and it still has produced struggles – all of those are times when trusting God seems hard. But the Lord understands these things and He will remain with us while we try to figure it out.  Corrie Ten Boom famously said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” Trusting God can be a challenge – but there are many reasons why you should trust Him.

Looking through the Scriptures, there are several expressions of faith that teach us why we can trust God. 

TRUST GOD BECAUSE NOTHING IS TOO HARD FOR HIM.

Jeremiah 32:17, 26-27 O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!  ….  Then this message came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  “I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me?

John Piper assembled a list of the works of the Lord. He wrote:

He created the universe out of nothing (John 1:1). He turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). He split the Red Sea (Exodus 14:22). He brought bread from the sky (Exodus 16:15) and water from a rock (Numbers 20:11). He slew 185,000 Assyrian soldiers to save his people (2 Kings 19:35). He caused ravens to bring his prophets food (1 Kings 17:6). He made the jar of meal and the cruse of oil keep on giving till the famine was over (1 Kings 17:16). He shut the lions’ mouths to protect Daniel (Daniel 6:22). He caused a virgin to conceive a child (Luke 1:31). He cleansed lepers (Luke 17:14) and healed the lame (Matthew 15:30) and gave sight to the blind (Matthew 9:30) and hearing to the deaf (Mark 7:37). He fed 5,000 with a few loaves and fish (Matthew 14:20). He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:43). He caused Peter to find a coin in a fish’s mouth (Matthew 17:27).

Is anything too hard for the Lord? The Bible teaches that we can trust God because nothing is too difficult for Him. 

TRUST GOD BECAUSE HE IS YOUR SHEPHERD

A Shepherd is in charge of a flock – he feeds them, protects them, leads them. God is our Shepherd, caring for us, loving us, and leading us. 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

Psalm 23, NKJV

This Psalm has brought comfort and strength to untold millions over the centuries.  It reminds us to put our trust and faith in God who cares, loves, and leads us through the most difficult days of our lives. 

As our Shepherd, it concerns him when we wander away from the truth, away from His presence. Matthew 9:36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

As our Shepherd, Jesus will give his life for our protection. John 10:11 says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.”

As our Shepherd, Jesus knows us – he knows our hurts, our strengths, our weaknesses, and our needs. John 10:14 says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me...”

TRUST GOD BECAUSE HE IS OUR HELPER

I would not want to try to go through this pandemic experience without the help of God. I’m concerned for those who have yet to give their lives to Christ – how are they coping with all of the stress and anxiety of COVID-19 and the resulting life changes? It is an upheaval of our society – but those who trust in God have a Divine helper who will give them strength to overcome and survive and thrive each day.

I look up to the mountains—  does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The Lord keeps you from all harm  and watches over your life.The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,  both now and forever.

Psalm 121, NLT

I hope those words encourage you because they reflect that God is never “off duty” … his office is never closed … He never fails to notice what we are going through or how our day is going … We will never know the harm he has kept from us. Even when we experience struggle and difficulty, we can have confidence that we can make it through because of His loving care … both now and forever!

TRUST GOD BECAUSE HIS MERCIES ARE NEW EVERY MORNING

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” …He also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love.

Lamentations 3:22-24, 32, NLT

We can never exhaust the mercies of God – Every morning when we wake up they are as fresh and new as we need them to be. Aren’t you glad that God’s mercies never come to an end? This is why we can put our hope in Him and why we can trust Him – his love is unfailing. 

TRUST GOD BECAUSE HE KNOWS YOU

There is nothing about you that God does not know. He is aware of all of your struggles. He knows when you have experienced victory, and defeat. He knows your thoughts – and your words before you speak them. Yet he loves you deeply. So if you have experienced fear, worry, anxiety or stress over COVID-19, do not think that He is unhappy with you or displeased. His love goes beyond our weakness. 

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel  and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!

Psalm 139:1-7, NLT

TRUST GOD BECAUSE HE MAKES YOU STRONG

Our strength is not in ourselves – but in the God we love and serve. I’m so glad that I do not have to fight the spiritual battles on my own. In fact, I can’t do it on my own. I need our strong God to give me the heart to go on. 

Have you never heard?  Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31, NLT

TRUST GOD BECAUSE HE CANNOT FORGET YOU

…Can a mother forget her nursing child?  Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands. …

Isaiah 49:14-16, NLT

I know it seems like God may have forgotten us and is far away when we are struggling and hurting. Sometimes we just do not understand the things that happen to us in this life. 

I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse. – Philip Yancey

Conclusion

Faith is a reasoning trust, a trust which reckons thoughtfully and confidently upon the trustworthiness of God. – John R. Stott

Psalm 147:11  …The Lord’s delight is in those who fear him, those who put their hope in his unfailing love.

The Coming Pastoral Crash

I don’t want to be a prophet of doom, but as a minister in touch with many ministers, I see a coming pastoral crash. And I’m not sure we can stop it. The impact of the world response to COVID-19 will be felt for many years to come. It will be felt in every career field and in every home. This post does not diminish the hard work and adjustments being done by first responders, law enforcement, health care workers, and the educational structures. But from my perspective, those who serve in ministry are, in my thinking, in particular danger for several reasons.

They are serving in ways for which they have no training or experience. At first, this is energizing and sparks our creative thoughts. This energized feeling does not last, however. It is neither exciting for the minister nor the congregants after a month or so.

They are doing their best, but unable to keep it up. Frankly, it is draining. Ministers fall into the comparison trap. Some ministries were already online and have everything they need in place. Many of us, however, did not. We look at what other churches are producing and that makes our efforts feel not worth it.

They are worried about ministries that are unable to operate, and if they will be able to operate later. Some of the ministries that are very important such as support groups, specialized Bible classes (ladies, mens, teens), and Bible camps and retreats are unable to meet. The people who utilize those kinds of ministry need the support still, they are just unable to be in the same room together. Young people are missing out on the fellowship that can strengthen their young spiritual walk. The mental and physical health of our congregations is a huge concern.

They are exhausted. Less gathering does not equal less work. If a minister is worthy of his or her calling, they are not afraid of hard work. Some members might assume that since there are no current meetings at the church building the ministers have a lot of free time. When I talk to ministers, I get the opposite impression. They are doing things they are not accustomed to doing. There is an endless array of glitches when it comes to online ministry. More, the mind of a minister is constantly thinking about how to bless his people and community – and the response to COVID-19 makes this more difficult to navigate.

They are not feeding their souls. Perhaps some ultra self-disciplined ministers are growing during this season, but what I observe is that they are so involved in this new ministry model that they have no down time. One friend said that he thought during the ‘stay at home’ time he would read many books that he had on his ‘to read’ list. Not so.

The future is cloudy. Ministers would like to plan ahead, forecast a visionary approach to the work, and proceed with energized hopes. However, like everyone else, ministers do not know what happens the next day, much less the next five Sundays. Contingency plans can be made, but one never knows what the next steps ought to be. From everything I read, we are looking at resurgence of the virus in the Fall, and what one government official called a ‘long dark winter’.

The collapse of the job and financial markets impacts churches. No doubt churches will close, having reached the end of savings and not receiving enough income to go on. Most churches in America are less than 100 members, leaving them vulnerable to shutdowns, loss of jobs for ministers, and significant issues with debt. This weighs on ministry staff and can cause a great deal of stress.

They are physically not healthy. I don’t want to mention this, but it has been pointed out many times that many in ministry are overweight, stressed, do not exercise or observe a healthy diet. Additional stress in all the areas mentioned above will have a negative result on the minister’s health. Although there is a lot of humor being expressed about eating our way through the pandemic, that probably won’t feel funny in the ER.

They have conformed to a 7 day schedule. Ministers usually have one or two days “off” per week like most people. Also most ministers are self-reporting. There’s no one making sure they work as they are asked, nor demanding that they take their time off. Church leaders should urge their ministers to take their time off seriously. Now that the awareness of what day it is has been jumbled, many are working seven days a week and not taking any sabbath rest. This is leading to depression, exhaustion, and loss of heart for the work.

They are unwilling to take time off. How can a minister consider taking a week off during a pandemic? The idea of travel is just now becoming more of a possibility – but it still carries its risks. In addition, who is going to see that all the online stuff happens if the minister is out of pocket? I know ministers who were set to take sabbaticals, but instead are running on fumes, unable to get away. Congregational leadership is not doing itself any favors by expecting the ministry staff to run full steam ahead when they do not have any steam left.

They do not seek out mental health. Some years ago a well known pastor suggested that all ministers should see a therapist once a month. We spend significant time helping other people with their problems. Although the wisest of us refer those with mental health issues to a certified counselor, we still worry about others. And we do not take care of our own mental health. Since ministers are in a helping profession, they often do not see the need to receive help themselves. There is an attempt to minister out of the emptiness of the soul which I think will result in dangerous decisions and perspectives. The recent death of minister Darren Patrick may have been a result of pressures pre-COVID-19, but certainly the pandemic did not help matters.

They are in dangerous spiritual territory. Weakened and exhausted, temptations that once were not so strong have now grown irresistible. Coping with the stress of this situation by numbing the pain with drugs, alcohol, pornography, gluttony, excessive television … or anything to excess. Resistance is low to temptations that invade the minister’s private space.

I believe we are going to see the affects of this pandemic on the ministers in all denominations.

All of this leads me to conclude that there is a coming pastoral crash. And I don’t think we can stop it. Our pastoral care providers are maxed out. While some church members might think their preacher’s duties are relaxed, but it is actually the opposite. As we head into the coming months I believe we are going to see the affects of this pandemic on the ministers in all denominations.

I’m tempted to write out a list of things we need to do now to avoid the crash. There are many articles already available (see links below) offering strategies for good mental and physical health. But it’s hard to get preachers and ministry staff to slow down long enough to look in the mirror. It is equally hard to find church leaders who demand that their ministers slow down and get help. The impact of ministry job losses, minister burn outs, and ministry suicide is going to be a major event for the church to deal with in the coming year.

The best strategy I know

*Ministers must commit to ministering to their own hearts first. Engage in the spiritual disciplines, re-engage frayed family relationships, restart physical exercise and rest, or take time to rest and read non-work-related relaxing books. Whatever feeds your heart, you should do it. Now. If you are waiting for the pandemic to be over, you might not survive.

*Ministers must commit to look out for one another. To speak into the lives of those we perceive are growing weaker will be a means of rescue for them (and perhaps yourself). We know that congregational leaders simply do not know the ministerial life. They love their preachers, but they don’t live in the same world. Just as we do not live in the world of other occupations (which are facing their own crises). So, wherever you can be with other ministers and look out for one another, do so. Facebook groups, calls, emails, and now I think you can start to meet together observing social distancing…. reach out to your fellow ministers. Pray for and with one another.

I hope I’ve overstated the case, been a worry wart, and this post won’t age well. I hope in a year you’ll call me ‘chicken little’ worried about the sky falling. But I doubt it.

ADDENDUM: I could not have foreseen the impact of sharing these thoughts on my blog. I am grateful that most of you found value here, and I hope some encouragement in knowing you are not alone. I have updated the links with some of those shared in the comments. I thank you for sharing and talking about these issues we are facing now. Praying for peace and perception on how to honor God and love His people, one day at a time. Out here, hope remains. JED

Links

When A Pastor Commits Suicide by Kevin Carson

4 Ways to Refresh When Your Soul is Weary by Dan Reiland

The Pressure on Pastors During Covid-19 by Trevin Wax

How Do I Avoid Pastoral Burnout During Covid-19 by Garrett Kell

Positive Emotional Health in the Midst of Covid-19 by Tanaya Meaders

Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation Audio Helps

4 Steps to Cultivating Pastor Resilience by Jamie Aten & Kent Annan (Note list of links in this article)

On the Rise and Fall of Pastors by Scott Sauls

CDC Case Study on Church Outbreak

Reopening Resources accumulated by Dr. Carlus Gupton

Clergy/Spouse ER Resources

Surviving Ministry by Mike Osborne

The World of Pastoral and Spiritual Care

Care for Pastors

5 Keys to Refreshing Your Soul During COVID-19 by Brandon Kelley

From Fear to Faith

In 1933, the country was in a severe depression. The stock market had crashed four years before. People had lost their jobs and their homes. Savings were gone. There was no social security. People stood in bread lines for food. The threat of starvation and homelessness was constant. Fear pervaded the very atmosphere. A new president was about to take office. After Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in, he gave his inaugural address. One of the things he said as he tried to bolster the morale of his disheartened countrymen has become immortal. He said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself!” (Kraft)

What is fear? Merriam Webster Dictionary says that fear is  an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger … anxious concern … reason for alarm due to danger.

According to experts there are typically five general categories of fear

  • Fears related to animals (spiders, dogs, insects)
  • Fears related to the natural environment (heights, thunder, darkness)
  • Fears related to blood, injury, or medical issues (injections, broken bones, falls)
  • Fears related to specific situations (flying, riding an elevator, driving)
  • Fears / other (choking, loud noises, drowning)

Is your heart rate up a bit after hearing that? We’ve all heard of common phobias, but there are some unusual ones.

Examples of some of the more unusual phobias include: (Legg)

  • alektorophobia, fear of chickens
  • onomatophobia, fear of names
  • pogonophobia, fear of beards
  • nephophobia, fear of clouds
  • cryophobia, fear of ice or cold

Fear is Not Rare

Thankfully, those are rare. But fear is not rare. There has been much fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic we are living through. We are fearful for our health, our families, and even our state and country. Should that fear paralyze us? 

Fear is a natural reaction to something that seems to be a threat to ourselves or to someone we love. There are many dangers in this life and it would be easy to fall into the trap of living in fear each day. This is especially true during a pandemic – an invisible virus that has led to the illness and death of many people in our state and in the world. 

Vickie Kraft wrote: Fear is part of our Creator’s loving provision for us. Properly controlled, fear protects us from harm and motivates us toward positive action. If you were to see a bear in the woods, you wouldn’t go up and pet it—you’d flee as fast as you could. Your sensible fear protects you. Uncontrolled fear, however, can lock us into an emotional prison and stunt our personal and spiritual growth. Unrestrained fear darkens our lives; it colors everything we do. It is a great obstacle to our spiritual growth.

Fear can also evolve into a psychological issue, becoming a problem that disrupts our lives and causes many issues to erupt. 

It should not surprise anyone that the Bible talks a lot about fear – and is usually encouraging us not to give in to fear. In fact, the first humans experienced fear.

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. 9 Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10 He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”

Genesis 3:8-10, NLT

Psalms To Help With Fear

Since fear is a way of thinking about things, I want to give you some things to think about when you are facing something that is causing you to feel afraid. I want to begin by spending a few moments in the Psalms. We know from the story of David and Goliath that he was a very courageous young man. But we shouldn’t think that he never had his own fears and struggles. Here are just a few thoughts from the Psalms about facing our fears. 

We Do Not Need to Be Afraid because God Lights the Way Forward.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?

Psalm 27:1

When we look to God, he can free us from our fears.

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. 5 Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. 6 In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles. 7 For the angel of the Lord is a guard; he surrounds and defends all who fear him. 8 Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! … 17 The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles.

Psalm 34:4-8,17, NLT

Notice the emphasis on prayer here. Prayer can redirect our thinking. When we are focused on whatever is causing us to be afraid, we can forget the truth that God is with us, Hears us, and loves us. This Psalm uses language of being guarded, surrounded, defended, and rescued. This is what God does for us when we pray.

God knows we will be afraid sometimes.

But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?

Psalm 56:3-4

Melanie Newton noted about these verses this important teaching:

Notice that David doesn’t write, “If I am afraid.” He says, “When I am afraid.” Fear will happen.  God gave us the emotion of fear. It was given with a purpose—to alert us to danger so that we will take action against it. Yet, sudden fear can cause us to be terrified. We can let fear take root in us so that we give way to panic and hysteria. Does that ring any bells with you? Are you prone to hysterics? God knows this about us. When we are afraid, God wants us to trust Him and not give way to fear. Learning to do that is our walk from fear to faith.

Praise is a Portal out of Fear and into Security.

I praise God for what he has promised; yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?

Psalm 56:10-11, NLT

When we praise God we recognize His power, strength. We are moved to look at our fear in a different light. 

Seek God’s Shelter from the Fears 

He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,  nor the arrow that flies in the day.

Psalm 91:4-5, NLT

Sometimes bad things do happen. It’s true that sometimes our fears do come to pass. The arrows do fly from the enemy. But in all of those events, God is near and He can be trusted to see us through.  I’m so grateful for the comforting message of the Psalms to help us with our fears.

New Testament Helps With Fear

In the New Testament the subject of fear is addressed as well. In these words the Lord directs our hearts away from fear and into faith.

Jesus affirms that our Father knows everything we are facing in life.

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. 30 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.

Matthew 10:29-30

The Bible affirms that we can resist fear because we have a Father who cares for us as his own children. 

“So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”

Romans 8:15, NLT

When we gave our lives to Christ we received the Holy Spirit. That’s not a spirit of fearful enslavement, but instead freedom and trust. Two truths give us courage in difficult times:

  • We have been adopted as God’s children
  • We have a close relationship with Him – He is our “Abba Father” – a term of intimate closeness. 

God Cares, God is our Father, and God is our Helper. 

For God has said, “I will never fail you.  I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear.   What can mere people do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6, NLT

When our fears have taken our thoughts in the wrong direction, we forget that we have a helper that is greater than our fears. No matter what happens, we can trust that God is our helper and he never fails us. Even when we do not understand everything that happens in life, we can have confidence that God has never abandoned us. 

To the young preacher Timothy who might have been struggling with some fears, Paul wrote these memorable words:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7

We know that when we are experiencing fear, we are not experiencing something God gave us. We have the power to make it through each day, the power to love every person, and the self-discipline not to give in to a spirit of fear. Those are gifts / promises from our Abba Father who loves us and holds us closely. 

When we focus on love, fear has to leave our mind.

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.

1 John 4:18, NLT

We do not have to give in to fear because of the truth found in the most beloved verse in the Bible: 

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16, NLT

In a world where a majority of humanity had rejected Him, God sent His son to reveal His love for them. God’s love is NOT for a select few, but it is FOR ALL in this world…

This means when you feel alone…God is there and God loves you!

This means when you feel outnumbered…God is there and God loves you!

This means when you feel helpless and of NO worth…God is there and God loves you!

This means that when trouble and trial come your way, don’t hang your head because GOD LOVES YOU!

It does not matter who you are, or what you have done, God’s love is available for you and accessible TO you! This means that you are never out of the reach of God’s love! (Stults)

Fear cannot stand in the presence of God’s love! God’s love fills our hearts and minds and is available to ALL who want to receive it…

Conclusion

Melanie Newton: 

God’s not saying, “Don’t ever feel fear” God gave us the gift of fear as a normal human emotion designed to alert us to danger so we can take action against it. He’s saying, “Here’s why you don’t have to be terrified and paralyzed by your fear.” We are to face our troubles without panic and hysteria. We are to TRUST GOD—in whom we have put our hope and by whose Word we are taught to do what is right.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.

Isaiah 43:2, NLT

Do not fear. God is near. Instead of fear, choose faith. 

____________________

Resources

Newton, Melanie. Got Fear? Trust Your God.

Kraft, Vickie. Nothing to Fear But Fear.

Dictionary, Merriam-Webster: Fear

Legg, Timothy J. Common and Unique Fears Explained

Stults, Bobby. Overcoming Fear through the Love of God

The Path Forward

Directions For The Path Forward Acts 14:21-28

Every day in many different ways we ask ourselves about the path forward in our country as we battle coronavirus. No matter what opinion you hold, there is a longing not to stay where we are now. As have navigated now into Phase One in Louisiana, some loosening of restrictions is observed. There will be a Phase Two and Phase Three. How do we make our way through this as a family, as individuals, and as a church?

As Christian people we would like to hear words of wisdom from Scripture. The text today recounts the end of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. They endured so many struggles, but kept going. Even at the end of this mission, there is a sense that there is much more to do. As we endure our lives in the COVID-19 pandemic, don’t we have a sense that there is much more ahead for us? We just need directions for the path forward.
I think we can find some directions in this setting of Paul and Barnabas ending their mission, with a knowledge that there is a big mission ahead.

Today I want to mention four slogans that we might hear as we read this text.

Spread the Word.

After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia

Acts 14:21, NLT

The Gospel is the only news that everyone needs to hear. We are hearing a LOT OF NEWS right now. Much of it is conflicting. Let’s be known for sharing the love of Christ during this time. Without the power of technology, Paul and his crew of missionaries headed out across dangerous territory to preach the good news. Dr. Bob Pierce – “Others have done so much with so little, while we have done so little with so much!” (via Wiersbe)

Today we have the ability to reach out across the globe with the gospel – and it is happening. But also we have opportunity to reach across our parish and bless others with the greatest news ever heard.

In this coronavirus pandemic, social media has become a place where people who love Jesus have spread the good news that Jesus Saves to anyone who would want to hear it.

Paul and Barnabas were interested in teaching about Jesus, but also making many disciples – helping people not only make a decision to follow Jesus but to give their lives to living the Jesus Life.

Stay the Course.

where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.

Acts 14:22, NLT

Paul and Barnabas are retracing their trip, maintaining contact with the churches he has planted, providing ongoing counsel and encouragement. They encouraged the disciples to stay the course.

-They needed strength – to be strong is to be committed and knowledgable of the Christian faith. We sometimes forget what a strengthening resource our Bible is. When we feel weak, discouraged, or helpless – we should turn to
the strength available within our reach.

-They needed encouragement. We all get discouraged in life – and in our life with the Lord. Whatever it is that makes you discouraged in your walk, the key is to have encouragers in your circle of friends and family. One of the best ways to be encouraged is to be an encourager.

-They needed expectation – to know that there would be some suffering. The new believers have (known persecution and will know the pressure of Judaizers’ attempts to turn them from the “faith way”. Paul commands them to remain true to the faith. (Larkin) Hardship is not a reason to abandon faith, it is a reason to stay the
course, to stick with the plan, to never give up!

Strength, encouragement, and realistic expectations. Spread the Word, Stay the Course and…

Practice the Presence.

Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Acts 14:23, NLT

This verse tells us of the early Christians practicing the presence of the Lord. These words tell us of their awareness and focus on the presence of God in their midst.

They appointed leaders to lead the church in the ways of the Lord. The organization of the church included appointing elders to lead the church. The church of the New Testament was led by a plurality of elders, not by a single individual. These elders would ensure that the church functioned as they should in light of the gospel of Christ.

They engaged in practices that demonstrated their faith in the Lord. This important step was accompanied with prayer and fasting – which were common ways that the early church practiced the presence of
God in their lives. Notice Acts 13, the sending out of Paul and Barnabas:

One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” 3 So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.

Acts 13:2-3, NLT

Fasting, praying, laying on of hands – these were practices that recognized two things:

*They leaned upon the presence of the Lord for the work of the church.

*They leaned upon one another in serving and loving the Lord who called them into the church. Christianity must be lived in fellowship.

John Wesley: No man ever went to heaven alone; he must either find friends or make them. (via Barclay)

Through Christian Leadership, Prayer, Fasting together, we demonstrate that we are practicing the presence of the Lord among us.

Spread the Word, Stay the Course, Practice the presence,

Open the Doors.

Finally, they returned by ship to Antioch of Syria, where their journey had begun. The believers there had entrusted them to the grace of God to do the work they had now completed. 27 Upon arriving in Antioch, they called the church together and reported everything God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, too. 28 And they stayed there with the believers for a long time.

Acts 14:26-28, NLT

In their report of the work they did, they said that God opened the “door of faith”. The door of faith – opening up the doors of the kingdom to all who want to come and be a part.

Even when the doors of the church building are closed, the doors to the Kingdom are wide open and we should keep our eye on that truth!

What are some ways we can open the doors of faith?

*Pray for God to draw all people unto himself. Barclay: Paul and Barnabas never thought that it was their strength which had achieved anything. They spoke of what God had done with them.

*Be accepting of people where they are, knowing that we all had to grow from some point to where we are now. And we all have more growing to do. One church offered to pray for anyone in the community. One person responded and in an email confessed a sin he was involved with. The minister responded that he would be happy to pray for him. The man wrote back and said, “No church has ever been kind to me before. Thank you.”

*Do what we can to lift others up in ways that will help them know that God loves them and wants to live with them together in eternity .

*Interact with people, keeping our eyes open for opportunities to share the gospel. You never know who God has sent to you so that they can know Him.

Revelation 1:4a Then as I looked, I saw a door standing open in heaven…

Conclusion
Spread the Word, Stay the Course, Practice the presence, Open the Doors.

Whatever challenges we face today, we have a path forward that we entrust to God. We may not be able to see what is ahead, but He can. He is already there. These are all strategies that helped Paul and Barnabas on their very successful missionary journey. They will help us in our journey as well.

Communion Thought:
When we get to the end of the book of Acts we find Paul under house arrest, welcoming anyone who would come.

Acts 28:30-31 He welcomed all who visited him, 31 boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.

A beautiful testimony of a life that was lived Spreading the Word, Staying the Course, Practicing the presence, Opening the Doors.

He wrote to the Corinthians, “For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24 and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

As we commune together we recognize the need to spread the word, stay the course, practice the presence, and open the doors. May it be so. Amen.


Resources
Barclay, William. The Daily Bible Study Series: Acts.
Larkin, William J. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Acts.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Daring: Put Your Faith Where the Action is, Acts 13-28.