Move Forward!

We find ourselves in the fourteenth chapter of Exodus, verses ten through fifteen. The main character in the story is Moses. If you use your sanctified imagination, you can see him. To many, he looks like a young Charlton Heston (1923-2008). He was the one God selected to liberate the Jews from Egyptian rule. You remember the story. After a series of plagues, the Pharaoh released his slave labor. It must have been an exciting day for God’s Chosen People. They were urban people, who were about to begin a rural life. Everyone was enjoying their freedom until our story. Suddenly, the mood changed. The people had made it as far as the Red Sea. Most eyes were on that body of water in front of them. However, someone looked behind them and saw the Egyptian army coming. They knew what had happened. Pharaoh had changed his mind. He had sent his army out to bring them back. What started off as a great day quickly turned into a very bad day. There was nowhere to turn. The waters of the Red Sea were in front of them, and the Egyptian army was behind them. They were in a hopeless situation. However, this is the truth. This is not really a story about a group of Jews who lived thousands of years ago. It is really a story about our time.

Have you ever found yourself in a hopeless situation? It may have been the time you children’s marriage was staggering. You tried to ignore the signs for years. You prayed they would have what you have, a happy marriage. The problem is your grandchildren tell you about all the fighting. You have a front row seat to a bad drama. It may have been the time you flunked out of school. The program was harder than you anticipated, and you just didn’t have time to study. Flunking out of school is embarrassing enough but now then student loans have come due. It may have been the time you tried to sell your house. The appraisal revealed what you have known for a long time. You owe more than your house is worth. It may have been the time you were pulled over at that the DUI check point. Have you ever been in a hopeless situation?

Could it be your church is in a hopeless situation? There are many mainline Protestant churches in hopeless situations. It has been your family church for generations. It was where your grandparents sang in the choir. It was where you were married. It was where your children were baptized. It was where you learned about Jesus. The stained-glass windows still shine as bright as ever, but the future of your church seems dim. You remember when the pews were filled, but now the pews sit empty. You remember when the offering plates bulged, but now they welcome a measly collection. No one complains about the noisy children because there are no children. The only ones who remain are bald and gray. You spend your time talking about the good old days because the future is too difficult to face. Everyone who remains knows the truth. The end is near. No one wants to close a church, but it is your only option. It is true of many churches, and it is true of many individuals. Each one of us has stood on the shore of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army in hot pursuit. You can’t go forward, and you can’t go back. You are in a hopeless situation.

In this blog, I want to talk about the three ways the Jews handled their hopeless situation. They handled their hopeless situation poorly so they will act as our negative examples. This is what they did. They looked back. They were consumed by self-pity, and they blamed others. Those things did not change their hopeless situation. There is no other way to say it: they were paralyzed with fear. I hope that is not your story. They did not move forward until they were encouraged by Moses in verses thirteen and fourteen and by God, Himself, in verse fifteen. Unfortunately we live in times when many are paralyzed by fear. For this reason, I want to break down the Hebrews negative behavior.

Do you know of anyone who can’t go forward because they keep looking back? That is what the Hebrews did. Look at the text with me. The Egyptians were coming, and things were looking bad. What did they do? They remembered a time when life was better. In two verses, 11 and 12, Egypt is referred to five times. Slavery looked good next to death. They looked back to Egypt and remembered the good old days. When was the last time you recalled the good old days? How often do you recall the good old days? Is it possible your good old days are preventing you from fully living today?

On September 6, 2012, the most sinister character in the history of Cleveland sports died, Art Modell (1925-2012). I remember that day. I know this is wrong, but I have to say it. At his death, it was hard to hear nice things about him. He was the one who moved the Browns out of Cleveland after the 1995 season. I will never forget hearing the announcement on the radio. It seemed impossible. The Browns were leaving! My heart was broken, and I could not understand why. How do you own the Cleveland Browns and lose money? How do you fill an 80,000-seat stadium each week and lose money? How do you walk away from a fan base that supported the team after decades of losing? I did it all. I bought the shirts. I bought the tickets. I bled orange. I sat in the Dog Pound before it had a name. I believed someday they would turn it around. I was a devoted fan, but on the day, Art Modell moved the Browns I stopped caring. (I am sure Art Modell does not need a sweater where he is spending eternity!) His death reopened those old wounds.

On the first family gathering after Art Modell’s death, I started lecturing my family about the ills of the old fool, Art Modell. My youngest daughter, Anna who was 22 at the time, looked at me and asked two questions. “Who is Art Modell?” “The Browns left Cleveland?” Suddenly I found myself being the person I never wanted to be. I was living in the past. Do you know what God was telling me? Stop looking back and move forward. When you live in the past you miss today! Could it be you are living in the past? Does someone need to tell you to move forward?

Do you know of anyone who can’t move forward because they are consumed with self-pity? That is what the Hebrews did. Look at the text with me. Verses 11 and 12 are coated with self-pity. They say, “They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Have you ever been frustrated because your life isn’t on schedule? How many pity parties have you thrown for yourself lately?

Did you know there are guidelines for holding a proper pity party? According to the internet, so you know it is true, there are four things you need for a proper pity party. I am not recommending these things, but this is what is required for a top rate pity party.

1. Alcohol

2. Lounging Gear

3. Food

4. Music, movies, or journaling

There is only one problem with a pity party. They don’t change anything. Wearing comfortable clothes doesn’t change the facts. Eating until you explode won’t change the facts. Drinking till you pass out won’t change the facts. Being absorbed in your favorite entertainment won’t change the facts. As a matter of fact, it may make things worse. Self-pity is only a distraction. Don’t invite God to your pity party because he won’t attend. God expects you to deal with your problems; God expects you to move forward. Do you know of anyone who likes a good pity party? Do you like a good pity party? Does someone need to tell you to move forward?

Do you know of anyone who can’t move forward because they are so busy blaming others? You know the slogan: it is hard to soar like an eagle if you are surrounded by turkeys. That is what the Hebrews did. Look at the text with me. Listen to verses 11 and 12 again, “They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” What are the Hebrews doing in those two verses? They are blaming Moses for their situation. If Moses hadn’t taken them out of Egypt, then they would not be in this difficult situation. Do you know of anyone who is having a difficult time taking responsibility for their own lives? Do you know of anyone who blames others for their difficult situation? Do you know of anyone who blames others for their limitations? Is it possible you have blamed others in your time hardship?You know it is true.

One of the most known stories in the Bible is the story of Adam and Eve. They were living in the Garden of Eden. They had everything they needed to be happy, and they only had one rule. You know the rule. Eve broke the rule first and then encouraged Adam to take a bite of the apple. When God discovers their innocence is lost, he confronts them. Do you remember what Adam did? Adam blamed Eve. Do you know of anyone who blames others for their actions? Do you know of anyone blames others for this difficult situation? Has anyone ever blamed you for their difficult situation? Have you ever been paralyzed by fear? As any preacher will tell you, fear has a way of paralyzing us, but faith has a way of mobilizing us. The choice is really yours. You can be paralyzed by fear, or you can move forward trusting God.

Do you know of anyone who trusts God and moves forward? The story does not end with the Jews perishing on the shores of the Red Sea. The story ends with the Jews moving forward and passing through the Red Sea as God holds the water back. If they would have not moved forward trusting God, then they would have missed the blessings God had in store for them. If it is true of them, then it is true of us. Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord.

Janez Rus (1914-2001) was paralyzed by fear. He went into hiding in his sister’s farmhouse in May of 1945. He hid because he was afraid. During the Second World War he had been part of the Nazi party. He was afraid his party’s activities would lead to his arrest. He stayed in hiding for years and didn’t come out until he was discovered in 1977. That means he hid for thirty-three years. That means he lost thirty-three years of his life! He missed everything because he was paralyzed by fear and failed to trust God. Let me ask you one more question. How much of your life are you wasting because you are paralyzed by fear? I implore you to trust God and move forward. American evangelical Bruce Wilkinson (born 1940) once said, “Dependence upon God makes heroes of ordinary people like you and me!”

God’s Mysterious Ways

Where is Jimmy Hoffa? That is one of the great mysteries in our country. The other day was the 45th anniversary of his disappearance. The teamster union leader disappeared on July 30, 1975 in Oakland County, Michigan. His involvement in organized crime is well documented. The police and forensic anthropologists have searched several sites in Detroit and Oakland County to no avail. One popular theory is that his body is under Giants Stadium in New Jersey. I think about him every time I watch a game from that location. As the years have gone on it appears Jimmy Hoffa’s body will never be found. Finding Jimmy Hoffa is one of our country’s great mysteries, but it is nothing next to understanding God’s mysterious ways.  That leads us to today’s scripture, Habakkuk 1:1-11.

Many years ago, before man walked on the moon, before a civil war threatened to divide America, or before Columbus discovered a New World, there was a man who spoke for God. His name meant “Embrace,” but we just call him Habakkuk. He lived in the year 605 BC.  He was well rooted in the traditions of Israel, so many have concluded he lived in Jerusalem. His book does not contain any proclamation to Israel. His book, only three chapters long, is a dialogue between himself and God. Verses two through four are Habakkuk’s complaint to God. Verses rive through eleven are God’s response. The prophet is trying to understand God’s mysterious ways.

That is what we hear in the reading for today. According to verse six, God is going to use Babylon to punish Israel. The Babylonians were a mighty power at that time. Winning their independence from the Assyrians in 626 BC and destroying the Assyrian Empire in 612 BC. Those words seem benign to our generation, but to Habakkuk’s generation it seemed like shear insanity. Why would God use this evil foreign power to command his will? It is a good question. Have you ever tried to understand God’s mysterious ways? I will admit it, I have.

Our world seems to be broken. I am not just talking about the coronavirus. Our world seemed broken before the pandemic. Our world was and is facing some massive problems. Things like world hunger, climate change, violence, inequality, poverty, and corruption. Our denominational, the United Methodist Church, was on the verge of splitting over the LGBTQ debate. Both sides are filled with arrogance. What a mess! Then, the co-vid 19 entered our world and the simplest things got complicated. It is difficult to do anything. It is a hard time to have surgery. It is a hard time to get married. It is a hard time die. It is a hard to time travel. It is a hard time to own a business and be a preacher. It is a hard time to be a teacher or educator. It is a hard time to be with loved anyone because everyone has a different opinion, and everyone listens to different people. The rules keep changing. We have never seen anything like this, and we thought things could not get worse. Then, things got worse. George Floyd died, and racism grabbed the front page. Race riots and protests are common and not a single rioter was wearing a face mask. Statues have been torn down because some are trying to rewrite history. I was taught we were to learn from history, not worship history. Do not forget the national election is coming. Both sides will do anything to win. They are passionate about their candidate, but no one seems to care about what is best for the country. It is obvious to me. Our world is broken. We are not much different from Habakkuk’s generation. His world was broken too. We believe God is in charge, but his ways are a mystery to us.

Freddy Fritz has been the minister of the Tampa Bay Presbyterian Church for many years. In 2006, he wrote a sermon called Understanding Today’s News. In that sermon, he says there are several reasons we do not understand God mysterious ways. Each one is found in this morning’s reading. Consider these three things with me.

  1. God ways seem mysterious to us because God’s inactivity is frustrating to us. Verse one quotes Habakkuk. He says, How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?”  Have you ever wondered why God does not do something? We are not patient people. We want problems solved instantly, but God never seems to be in a hurry. God’s inactivity bothers us.
  • God’s ways seem mysterious to us because of God’s unexpected providence confuses us. Verse 5 quotes God. The Almighty says, Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”  We do not like surprises. We try to be organized and we like agendas. God often answers our prayers in unexpected ways. God’s unexpected providence confuses us.
  • God’s ways seem mysterious to us because of God’s unusual instruments. Once again God is quoted in Verse 6. He says, “I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own.” The unwilling are often part of God’s plan. The disliked are often part of God’s plan. God use of unusual instruments baffles us.

I hope you do not feel special. You are not the first one to be confused by God and ours will not the last. Habakkuk, himself, was confused by God. It is important to remember God is not accountable to us. However, we are accountable to God. It is equally important for you to remember it is not necessary for you to understand God’s ways. It is only important that you trust God. It has been said: FAITH IS TRUSTING IN GOD EVEN WHEN YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND HIS PLAN. How far do you trust God? That is an important question to answer in our broken world. It has always been important to answer that question.

Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895-1960) was pastor of the famous Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA from 1927 until 1960. In 1939, he was invited to preach at two preaching conferences in Britain. The first was in Edinburgh, Scotland. The second was in Belfast, Ireland. There was a week off between the two, so he decided to visit his family, who were staying in Normandy, France.

As he set out for France from Edinburgh officials urged him not to travel to France. Europe was in political turmoil because Hitler had just signed his nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union and was threatening to march into Danzig, Poland. Barnhouse did not listen. War seemed to be remote. As he traveled there was a frenzy of military activity. Nevertheless, he was able to join his family in Normandy on Sunday evening. Most of the time was spent on the beach, though the atmosphere was tense with uncertain anticipation for what was about to happen.

On Thursday morning word came that there would be no more flights to England. Dr. Barnhouse took a train to Paris and a boat to England. When Dr. Barnhouse arrived I England, he caught a train to London. From there he caught another train to the coast of Scotland, from where he was to take a boat over to Ireland. He spent all day on Saturday traveling, along with thousands of frightened children who were being taken out of London and harm’s way. Dr. Barnhouse finally arrived in the train station in Belfast at about three o’clock on Sunday morning. The committee that had arranged the Belfast preaching conference met him at the train station. After a short prayer they took him to his hotel. It was four o’clock in the morning and worship began to eleven o’clock. In parting, one of the men said to Dr. Barnhouse, “I hope you have a good sermon. It may well be the last sermon that some of the men will ever hear. The Prime Minister is declaring war on Germany tomorrow morning.”

When Barnhouse arrived at the church, he expected it to be empty. He was wrong. The church was full. Barnhouse knew that was a historic moment. Just moments earlier Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany. It was September 3, 1939. He read Matthew 24:6. Jesus said, “You will hear of war and the rumors of war: Do not be troubled.” Dr. Barnhouse then recounted the series of experiences that he had had on his way to Belfast. After each account he repeated his text: Do not be troubled! He told of the church bells sounding: Do not be troubled! He told of the mobilization of soldiers: Do not be troubled! He told of the frightened children: Do not be troubled! He told of the millions of homes that would be destroyed: Do not be troubled! The tension was mounting in the sanctuary, but then Barnhouse suddenly stopped. A minute later he said, “These words are either the words of a madman or they are the words of God.” But then, after a long pause, came the answer.

There are no troubles because Jesus Christ is God. Jesus Christ is the Lord of history. Jesus Christ is the God of our broken world. Jesus Christ has always been the Lord of our broken world. Jesus Christ is the God of every detail. Nothing has ever happened that did not flow in the channel that God has dug for it. No event has ever astonished, bewildered, or confused him. He is our God and he is in control. It is a lesson for the ages. That is what God taught Habakkuk years ago. That is what God is trying to teach us today. The question is how far do you trust God? Do you remember the slogan? FAITH IS TRUSTING IN GOD EVEN WHEN YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND HIS PLAN.

Behind Locked Doors

We find ourselves today in the twentieth chapter of John. So much has already happened. This is all you need to know: Jesus had died, and Jesus had returned from the dead. We have had two thousand years to process the resurrection; the disciples did not have that luxury. They were forced to accept the resurrection in a few hours.  That was a hard thing to do. According to the text, it is Sunday evening, Easter evening. The disciples were together. They must have felt as if it was them against the world. They really had no one else. They feared the Jewish leaders, who had orchestrated the death of Jesus, may be looking for them. The door is locked for their own protection. The disciples are afraid. Do you know of anyone in your life who is afraid this morning?

In my life I know a young woman who carries a great amount of responsibility. Her name is Candance. She is high energy. She is married and has two teenagers in her home. She is highly involved in both her husbands and children’s lives. She has a responsible job, which forces her to be detail oriented. Her plate is always full, but the pandemic was one too many things on her plate. One day at work she started getting chest pains. She was taken to the emergency room. The good news is Candance did not have a heart attack. The bad news is she is a victim of stress. Her doctor made an appointment with a cardiologist. After all the tests we run, she sat with her cardiologist. She reviewed all her heart tests with her. There was nothing abnormal. Then he asked her about her life. She told him about his husband, children, and job. He enquired about recent changes in her life which were upsetting to her. She confessed the coronavirus did not just bother her, it terrified her. She said, “I am trying to get all the information possible about the pandemic, so I can keep myself and my family safe. My tv is always on 24/7 news.” According to Candance, the cardiologist told her to turn her tv off, because it was causing her stress. She is not the only one. There are many who are locked behind closed doors afraid of the coronavirus.

You really cannot blame them because the numbers are not pretty. Did you know, as of Friday, there have been over 3.2 million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the world. (234,765 have died.) There have been over one million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States. (55,439 have died.) There have been over 18,000 confirmed causes of coronavirus in Ohio. (975 have died.) There have been 828 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Mahoning County. (80 have died.) How many people do you know have had the coronavirus? Do you know anyone who has died of the coronavirus? Do you know of anyone who is afraid of the coronavirus and is living behind locked doors? I will admit, I was afraid how this church would respond to the coronavirus. I am proud to report, you are much braver than I ever knew. With this in mind, let us look at the Gospel lesson again.

This is the good news for today: Someone unlocked the door and the disciples came out. They did not just come out. They came out different people and transformed their world. Three things happened to the disciples behind that locked door which led to their transformation. Let us briefly look at those three things.

First, the disciples experienced the resurrected Jesus. Look at the text with me. It is important that you look at the timeline. It is not Easter morning; it is Easter evening. The disciples have had all day to wrestle with the women’s account of experiencing the resurrected Jesus. Did you hear what I said? They had heard about the resurrected Jesus, but they had not experienced the resurrected Jesus. Once Jesus appears to them, he shows them his hands and his feet to prove he is genuine. When they are finally convinced it is Jesus, they are overjoyed. There is a world of difference between hearing about the resurrected Jesus and experiencing the resurrected Jesus. Everything changes once you experience the resurrected Jesus!

Second, the disciples experienced the Holy Spirit. Look at the text with me again. When the disciples finally experience the resurrected Jesus, they are overjoyed. Verse 22 says, Jesus breathed on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Why is that line important? Receiving the Holy Spirit means you do not have to do the work of the church alone. The Holy Spirit goes before us and helps us. It is like cutting a tree down in your yard. You have a choice. You can cut it down with a hand saw, or you can cut it down with a chain saw. Which one are you going to use? The Holy Spirit made their divine work easier.

Third, the disciples embraced the mission. Look at the text with me one last time. Once the disciples had experienced the resurrected Jesus and accepted the Holy Spirit, Jesus gave them a job. Verse 23 says, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  What does that verse mean? It simply means we are to take the Good News into the world and win souls for Jesus. Only one of the disciples in the room at that moment, John, died an old man. The rest died a martyr’s death. You cannot tell me the disciples did not embrace the mission.

It is not just the story of the disciples over two thousand years ago. It is the story of disciples in every generation. Every generation must experience the resurrected Jesus for themselves. Every generation must experience the Holy Spirit for themselves. Every generation must embrace the mission for themselves because every generation of the church has been entrusted with the Good News of Jesus Christ. If one generation of the church fails to pass on the Good News to the next generation, then the faith itself will fail. With so many churches failing, I feared we would be that generation who let Jesus down. Then, the coronavirus entered our world and God reminded us the church exists not in buildings, programs, and budgets. The church exists in the hearts of men and women who believe.

I got the news of Friday, March 13. I will admit it. It was a shock. East Ohio Resident Bishop Tracy Malone had suspended worship for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus. Everything was really to go for Sunday, March 15. The sermon was written, the music was selected, and the bulletins were run. On that Sunday morning, I came out late in the morning. I walked around our empty building and thought about what should have been. I was filled with questions because I did not know how the congregation would respond. However, there was one thing I did know. We had to adapt if we were going to survive. Over the past few weeks, we made some changes to adjust to our new normal. We did four things.

Devotions – Several years ago, we began to write a Lenten devotional. This year my wife, Kathryn wrote it. They are not just theologically accurate. They are well written. Every day, a devotion was emailed to the entire congregation. The mailings were scheduled to end on Easter, but due to the pandemic we decided to continue. Writing a daily devotion is a big job and we owe her a great deal. Those devotion are a reminder our church is functional.

Facebook – Every Saturday morning at 10:00, I come to the church and record my message for Facebook. I meet two friends. The first is Doug Price who acts as my camera man, liturgist, and editor. The second is Mark Halls who is an accomplished pianist. I knew Facebook is a power tool, but I never imagined. I email those YouTube links ever Sunday morning for the non-Facebook members. Many have shared those links. More people listen to me now, than ever have in person.

FM Transmitter – The idea of parking lot worship was not original. I first heard about it on the local news. One of our sister churches was doing it and I thought we could do it. We purchased a FM transmitter on Ebay and had to wait several weeks. It was worth the wait. We will remain in the parking lot until the pandemic passes.

Contact – There is nothing high tech about this idea. I knew it was important to stay in touch with everyone, so I started to contact them. I went through the directory, A to Z. Then I went from Z to A. Then I started in the middle and went forward, then backwards. Some I called. Some I texted. Some I emailed. I cannot tell you how much I learned listening to you.

This is the truth. I knew, I could change. I did not know if you would change. After all, the church is not known for changing rapidly. Some churches will never change. However, that is not the case here. This church did change and seemed to be energized by the challenge. I have always believed churches vote in two ways, by attendance and financial support. If people do not like what is happening, then they will not come. If people do not like what is happening, then they will not give. If people do like what is happening in their church, then they will come and give. I did not know if they would come and give with all the changes. I was afraid people would stay at home tight fisted behind locked doors. I am glad to say, “I was wrong!” I had nothing to fear.

People have been coming! On Palm Sunday, we tried something new. We called it, Palms and Prayers. Respecting our social distancing guidelines, everyone who came got a palm and a prayer. For two hours, I talked and prayed with people. In that 120 minutes, there were very few breaks. On Easter, approximately two hundred came to listen to our parking lot to hear about the resurrection of Jesus. Last Sunday, more than one hundred sat in their cars again on a cold wet day to hear the word proclaimed. For years, I have called this church the ultimate non-prophet. This church has next to no financial reserves. We exist on your generosity. In the economic storm we are living in, I was afraid you might forget us, but we have not been forgotten. I am humbled by your generosity and moved by your Christian love. You are hungry for God and concerned about one another. The number of people who have offered to help others is really something.

The coronavirus has brought out the best out in us. I will admit it. I was wrong! You were not like the frightened disciples behind locked doors. You were like the disciples who left that once locked room to face a changing world. Can I be honest with you? I am proud to stand with you not just as your friend or your pastor. I am proud to stand with you as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Do you remember the quote from T.S. Elliot (1888-1965) is considered one of the great poets of the 20th century. He once said, “The True Church will never fail. For it is based upon a rock.”

What Frightens You?

I love this story. Did you know the White House was wired for electricity in 1891? However, it was not necessarily welcomed by the sitting President, Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901) or his wife, Caroline (1832-1892). They refused to touch the light switches because they were afraid of getting shocked. It was rumored they slept with the lights on when no one was around to turn the lights off. They preferred the old oil lantern system. (Because open flames are much safer than electricity 😉) Fear makes us do funny things. So let me ask you the question of the day: What frightens you?  

There is no shortage of fears in our society. Maybe you have one of these. This is a common list that is found on a variety of websites.

  1. Fear of flying
  2. Fear of public speaking
  3. Fear of heights
  4. Fear of the dark
  5. Fear of intimacy
  6. Fear of flowers
  7. Fear of driving
  8. Fear of snakes
  9. Fear of needles
  10. Fear of spiders
  11. Fear of dogs

How many of those things do you fear? Since we are speaking of fears, let me ask you this series of questions.

Do you fear aging? That is a common fear. My goal is to get older. So, why do people fear aging? According to the Huffington Post, people fear aging for five reasons. They are based on stereotypes.

  1. Old people always get sick and have chronic pain.
  2. Old people suffer from memory loss.
  3. Old people lose their attractiveness.
  4. Old people can’t learn new things.
  5. Old people are lonely and grumpy.

This is my opinion: Aging bothers us because it means we are closer to death. Aging is not one of my fears. Does anyone here fear aging? What frightens you?

Do you fear illness or disease? The other day, I did a funeral for a man who was a few years older than I. According to the family, he was completely healthy, until he fell and broke his hip. In the emergency room they noticed something funny. No one laughed, because when the test came back, it showed he was filled with cancer. Over a short six-month period, the man went from the life of the party to terminal. I hope that isn’t my story someday. I will admit it, medical issues frighten me. Have you ever wondered about your cause of death? Does anyone here fear illness or disease? What frightens you?

Do you fear the future? How many churches do you know that are afraid of the future? Perhaps it is a lack of faith or trust? How many people do you know fear the future? I believe, many fear the future because they fear change. Psychologists tell us, we fear the future because we feel a lack of control. I do not fear the future now, but I may in the future. Does anyone here fear the future? What frightens you?

Do you fear for their own security? On Friday night, I was out with friends. We were at a concert when I got the news about the shooting in Virginia Beach. A disgruntled employee opened fire at a municipal building. Now twelve families are mourning the loss of a loved one. I will be honest, when I got the news, I looked around to examine the audience. Everyone looked safe, but who really knows. We live in such a violent society. Does anyone here fear for their own security? What frightens you?

Do you fear loneliness?  On Memorial Day, Kathryn and I celebrated our thirty-first anniversary. We got married in a friend’s backyard. The next day, we went to a Cleveland Indians game, followed by a trip to Florida. It is hard to believe we have been married for thirty-one years. Time is moving fast. I will be the first to admit it: We have good lives. We have big lives. Do you know my greatest fear? My greatest fear in life is not my death. It is her death. I don’t want to live in this world without her. I don’t want to live in this world alone. Is there someone in your life you can’t live without? It would be a horrible thing to outlive your children. Does anyone here fear loneliness? I do. What frightens you?

Do you fear the loss of independence? I try to visit at least one person every day. The other day, I was out visiting. As I walked down the hall of a local nursing home, I noticed an elderly gentleman sitting in his room in a wheelchair with a large bandage on his nose. His eyes were glassy, and I could feel his broken spirit. The depression poured out of the room. One of the aides was helping him to the bathroom. There was no privacy. The door was wide open. I thought about that man with the large bandage on his nose the rest of the day. I hope that is not my future. I like my big independent life. Does anyone fear the loss of independence? What frightens you?That takes us today’s scripture lesson. Does anyone here fear death?

In our scripture lesson for this morning, the Israelites were afraid of the Moabite raiders. The scripture lesson is easier to memorize than it is to understand. It was springtime. We look forward to spring because we have grown tired of the harsh winter weather. In their time and place, they must have dreaded the spring. For it was during the spring that the Moabite raiders came. (The Moabites were mountainous people in that region of the world.) They did not come for a social visit; they came for military action. Their unannounced raids brought death and destruction. The Israelites were preoccupied every spring with these unwanted visitors.

That is what happened in the text. Someone had died and they were placing the body in the community tomb. Normally, the body was treated with respect. When the raiders suddenly appeared, the normal activity of treating the dead with respect was disrupted. According to verse 21, the frightened Israelites threw the corpse in the tomb, or cave, so the living could flee for safety. This is where the story takes an unusual turn. We do not know the identity of the deceased, but it is safe to say he was the luckiest person in the region. He was thrown into the same tomb that held the remains of Elisha. According to verse 20, Elisha had been gone for more than sixty years. There was nothing left of the old prophet but his bones. However, his bones were enough. When the corpse of the recently dead man hit the bones of Elisha, the man was resurrected. It is an odd story, but it does demonstrate for us the power of God. Listen to this next line. The Israelites were afraid, but God was with them the whole time. That is our story. We have our fears, but God is with us; so we really have nothing to fear.

Today, I would encourage you to do two things. First, admit your fears. They are part of the human experience. Second, I would encourage you to look for God. With God all things are possible. Every day, we play the part of the Israelites. We have grown blind to God, who is in our very midst. How much time do you spend looking for God? How much time do you spend examining your human limitations? How much time do you spend worrying about your human fears?

One of the great stories in the Bible is the rich young ruler. It is found in all three of the synoptic Gospels; Matthew, Mark and Luke. You know the story. I have referred to it many times over the years. It seemed like he had everything. He was rich, so he could buy what he desired. He was young, so he had a future. He was a ruler, so he had influence. The only thing he lacked was salvation. He went to Jesus to ask him a question that had been eating away at his soul, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It is an excellent question. The Master answered, “Sell everything and give your money to the poor. Then, follow me.” The rich young ruler didn’t like the answer. He left upset because he couldn’t do it. Jesus says, money is more of a curse to your soul than a blessing. It is harder for a rich man to get into heaven then it is for a camel to get through the eye of a needle. Then, Jesus reminds us of the power of God. He said, “With God, all things are possible.” We have nothing to fear, because with God all things are possible. Then why are you afraid?

One of the great names in western civilization history is Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). As a French military and political leader, he dominated European affairs for nearly two decades. He feared nothing, except one thing: cats! He wasn’t alone. Hitler, Mussolini and Julius Caesar also feared cats! That leads us back to our question of the day: What frightens you? Do not be afraid. With God, all things are possible. George Patton George Patton (1885-1945) was a General in the United States Army during World War II.  He once said, I never take counsel from my fears.”  What frightens you?