(adapted from Mark & Kathy Weaver Wenger’s message at the Pastors & Spouses Appreciation Breakfast on December 6, 2011)
“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’” (Luke 2:10)
Fear is one of our deepest instinctual responses from the “reptilian” part of the brain. To live without fear is unrealistic. Impossible. We may as well try to live without pain or suffering.
“Be afraid, be very afraid” – The fear-industry is Big Business that sells us lots of things – insurance, weapons, health products, relationships, consumer products. Fear, dread, worry, concern, anxiety. It’s a powerful motivator.
“Do not be afraid” is specifically mentioned 70 times in scripture. Some examples:
- The Lord to Abraham – “Do not be afraid, I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Gen. 15:1)
- Moses to the Israelites as the Egyptians closed in for the kill – “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.” (Ex. 14:13)
- The Lord to Joshua after Moses’ death – “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Josh. 1:9)
- The angel to Joseph—“Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.” (Matt 1:20)
- Jesus to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Fear is usually portrayed negatively. It’s a bad thing, to be controlled and to be avoided. We are told to “lead without Fear” and that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18) But a fuller reading of Scripture gives another twist to the language of fear that we don’t pay much attention to:
- “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)
- “Show proper respect to everyone, love your fellow believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17)
Fear God??? What is going on? This sounds contradictory and confusing. Is God an enemy or cheat or torturer or tyrant or bully?
We get a sense of the “fear of God” in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis – Aslan is a Lion, the Christ-figure. His roar shakes the mountains. Aslan is not a “tame lion” Nor is he a “safe lion.” But above all else, he is good and he is loving. He’s the King.
What does it mean “to fear God?” C.S. Lewis says it is to “feel awe and wonder and a certain shrinking.” It’s mystery. It is to acknowledge that God is sovereign and recognize and defer to God’s power, love, majesty, and superiority. It means respecting, reverencing, honoring God as sovereign and Lord.
Maybe this ancient language of “fearing God” provides a CLUE for “Leading without Fear in a Fear-filled World.” Being in right relationship with God is the key. To grasp deep in our souls (deeper than reptilian brain) that God is sovereign, God is the “Untamed One,” the “Not-to-be-played-with-Lord,” of the Universe. And that God is Good, God is Love.
And that God comes close to us at Christmas.
We can be come immobilized or possessed by terror when we forget God’s greatness and goodness to us in Jesus Christ. “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
In the Bible, God’s words of reassurance, “Don’t be afraid,” often preceded a great event. How many times have we missed God doing something good or great because we were afraid of something or someone, instead of trusting God? The angel’s reassurance to the shepherds turned them loose to find Jesus and tell the whole neighborhood about God’s good news.
Take a moment and reflect: What is a fear that gnaws at you? What anxiety keeps you from venturing into deeper water with God? What are you afraid of as a pastor, or as a pastor’s spouse? What are your co-workers and neighbors afraid of? What keeps them stressed and up at night?
The arrow of Christmas is pointed directly at addressing and shrinking those fears, putting them into living relation to God, the Lord of Universe. The One who comes to us in Christ Jesus to save us. The One who will never leave us.
A parable: When I (Mark) was five, we lived in Ethiopia. Our family went on an evening picnic with several other families along the Awash River. After supper the grown-ups got to talking; we children raced and squealed in a game of tag. The sun set and dusk began to lower over the African landscape. Heedless in my dashing, I ran off the top of a bluff, tumbling about twelve feet to the bottom of a dusty dry creek bed. When I stood up, it was utter darkness. I could see absolutely nothing. I started howling at the top of my lungs, “I’m blind, I’m blind, I’m blind.” My dad heard my cries and came running. He couldn’t jump off the bluff; it was too high. So he had to take the long way around. He scooped me up, held me, and took me to the river. He washed my dust-coated eyeballs and I could see again.
Leading without Fear is born by calling out to a great God who in fact is reaching out to us. Leading without fear is undergirded by the character of God, the words of God – Do not be afraid. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Ps. 23)