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Do not be afraid!

‘For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.  Do not be afraid, for I myself will help you,’ declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 41:13-14

Psalm 97

Luke 2: 8-20

2:8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
2:9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
2:10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
2:11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Now, I have a dog that was rescued from the streets, and she is generally fearful and anxious.  If the angels had appeared with her around, I’m not sure whether she would have frozen, fled before they gave the message, or lashed out and tried to bite an angel! Because that is how she responds in fear: flight, fight or freeze!

There’s a meme going around the internet that there are 365 verses in the Bible of “don’t be afraid” or “fear not”. Unfortunately, there are only about 119 such verses, but there are more than 300 more that speak about “when I am afraid” and the ways that we can respond when we are afraid.  For me, it is really important to know how to manage fear and anxiety, because otherwise I spiral downwards into anxiety attacks. Anxiety is simply generalized fear: people living with constant fear.  When most people think of anxiety, the image that comes to mind is generally of someone biting their nails, obsessing, and tossing and turning wide-eyed in bed, unable to sleep. For me, that’s not anxiety. I don’t turn into a helpless mess on the floor. I get irritable and angry!

Someone else described their anxiety as:

Rage seems to feel safer than anxiousness and masks the true emotion. It’s easier for me to direct the emotion outwards at someone else, something else or some situation than it is to face the inner facing anxiety.

Another person described this as:

Having anxiety doesn’t just mean being nervous or worrying. When my mind starts racing and I can’t decide which thing to think about, that’s anxiety. When my chest feels like it’s going to explode from pressure, that’s anxiety. When I snap at a co-worker for no reason at all, or I am inexplicably moody, that’s anxiety. When I spend the entire weekend wondering if I’ll be fired for something I said on Friday, that’s anxiety. When I randomly start crying, or laughing, or jumping up and down, that’s anxiety. When I flake on plans at the last minute, you can bet it’s because of anxiety.

And the result of all of this?

“Anxiety leaves you feeling out of control and vulnerable. Anger makes you feel powerful,” he wrote in 2014. “Compared to each other, anger can appear the clear winner.”

But, there is something more interesting about anxiety:

Anxiety is NOT a random, unknown, or uncontrollable disease or illness that you develop, inherit, or contract. Anxiety results from a certain style of behavior. …we create the physiological, psychological, and emotional state of being anxious when we behave in an apprehensive manner, such as being worried, fretful, and/or concerned.

… The problem is that overly anxious personalities perceive danger more often and to higher degrees than those who aren’t as anxious. It’s this overly anxious behavior that causes problems with anxiety in our lives.

So, there is a very good reason why FEAR is spoken about so much in the Bible!  Even today, this is very relevant.  So much crazy going on around us today – wars, conflicts, persecution, violence, crime, natural disasters, terrorism, economic uncertainty, unemployment, divisions, disease, death. We fear for our children’s future, we fear for our families, we fear for our financial future, we fear for our safety. The list goes on…long. There actually is a lot we could potentially worry about. And yet Jesus says to us:

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:22-26

Psalm 56: 3

When I am afraid,
I will trust in you.

Psalm 23: 4

Even 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.

Deuteronomy 31:6

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

And Jesus reminds us in John 14:27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

And finally, Isaiah 26: 3

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

So, we see in the Christmas story a overwhelming situation: the suddenness of the appearance of the angels, the brightness of the light, the sound that must have accompanied their appearance: it must have been how movies envision an alien invasion! Do you run, fight or simply freeze? And so the angels begin their message with “Do not be afraid”.  They tell the shepherds the good news, and then they give them the instructions: what to do with this information!

Luke 2:12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.

And after the angels left, and everything was once more quiet, and dark, the shepherds decide to go and see the baby.

But every Christmas story has a lesson for us. It was not just for the shepherds on that day in Bethlehem.  We are called:

Do not be afraid.
I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: the anointed one, the Messiah, was born over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem.
And we have seen the signs and know of the wonder.

But have you gone personally to see Jesus? Have you taken the time to actually meet Jesus? How does Christ call you to live? What does Christ call you to do?

 

As we enjoy this Christmas day, let us remember to live without fear, to keep our minds stayed on God in perfect peace, trusting in the perfect plan for our lives. And let us share the good news with others: “Do not be afraid. There is good news of great joy for all the people!”

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“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 1:9

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The trees of the forest sing for joy

This morning, we lit the candle of Joy in our Advent Wreath. And we read part of the Nativity story and Cynthia read for us

Psalm 96:  11-12

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy

What is Joy? “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness”  and also “delight, jubilationtriumphexultationrejoicing, gladness, gleeexhilarationexuberanceelationeuphoriablissecstasyrapture

Nehemiah 8:10 says

And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”

And another Psalm reminds us: Psalm 28:7

The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.

But what does that mean for us as Christians at this time of year? For starters we are celebrating and remembering Christ’s birth. But his birth and his life and Christ’s death is nothing without victory over death. This is true joy! While we celebrate and remember that Oneness with God is possible because Christ came to show us the way, through that small child in a manger, what we are truly celebrating is the light that has come into the world through victory over death.

This is the time of year for joy!

It’s also a time of year when here in Panama we spend time outdoors: at the beach, in the sun, hiking, exploring, swimming, paddle boarding. And so this Christmas Eve, I want to invite you to use those moments in nature to remember that all of earth is simply a reflection of the greatness of God and that the mountains, valleys and even the ocean remind us of the joy that we have through Oneness with our Creator.

Job 12, verses 7 through 10 remind us:

But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.  Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.

In a similar way, Psalm 19, verse 1 says:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

And Psalm 33:5

… the earth is full of his unfailing love.

And the prophet Isaiah in chapter 43, verse 20

The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen.

And then later in Isaiah 55:12

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

As you spend time at the beach over the coming weeks and months, or go boating or water-skiing, meditate on the greatness and awe of the creation of the Earth.  Think about how nature reflects the creative nature of God and the creation story.  And consider for a moment, as you contemplate the vastness of the ocean, or the stillness of the tropical jungle, the intricacies of the perfect balance of life.  Take a moment to watch an ant work – carrying its load back to the colony, or contemplate the lessons that you can find in the variety of plant life that covers the floor of the tropical forest.  A close look at the millions of animal life types that we have in Panama should be enough to humble you before our awesome God and Creator: to realize how truly ignorant we are.

 

But the reality is that we need to do more than just appreciate God in creation.  It’s not enough just to learn from the jackals and owls, to enjoy how the sky proclaims the glory of God. You also have an important role to play. The same way that nature speaks of God, and of the celebration of life, death and victory over death: you should also be this witness.

Nature doesn’t speak using words: it is silent. It just is – and by its  being it demonstrates the joy and the peace of complete communion with God. Even in the majesty of an angry ocean, we can appreciate the power of God.

So even if you don’t speak, does the way you live reflect your relationship with God? If you could never speak a word, could people see from the way that you live your life that you are a child of God? Does your life reflect the joy of the Lord?

Spiritually, I’m not talking about cheeriness or bubbly, feel good.  I’m talking about the settled assurance that God controls all the details of life: where you live in a quiet confidence that all things work together for good of those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose.  I am talking about choosing to thank God and practice gratitude in spite of the situation.  Joy is not about feeling good all the time; it’s not about living as a person who is naturally upbeat and optimistic: being that bubbly, peppy person that the melancholy look at with envy.  No – I’m talking about a deep inner peace that shows itself as joy in your life.

 

Earlier we read Job 12, verses 7 through 10:

But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.  Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.

Would someone come to ask you to teach them about God because of the way that you are living your life? Can they see God through you? This Christmas season are you the reason for the season? Does your life reflect the hand of God?

I want to close this morning with a reminder of our first reading:

Psalm 96:  11-12

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.

In this same way, our lives should reflect the glory of God: be glad, rejoice, exult with everything that in you. And sing for joy!

God, maturity, grow, Spirit, true, best version of you, body, emotions, spirit, John, baptizer, light, testimony, Messiah, prophet, voice, practicing presence, Shekinah

Who are you?

Readings:

  • John 1: 6-8; 19-28

God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light.

19 This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” 20 He came right out and said, “I am not the Messiah.”
21 “Well then, who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?”
“No,” he replied.
“Are you the Prophet we are expecting?”
“No.”
22 “Then who are you? We need an answer for those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?”
23 John replied in the words of the prophet Isaiah:
     “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness,
    ‘Clear the way for the Lord’s coming!’”
24 Then the Pharisees who had been sent 25 asked him, “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?”
26 John told them, “I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not recognize. 27 Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.”
28 This encounter took place in Bethany, an area east of the Jordan River, where John was baptizing.

So, I would ask each one of you this morning: who are you?

John the Baptist, knew clearly, who he was. Do you know who you are?  Are you living the life that God intended for you to live, being who God made you to be? Have you reached a place of maturity where you know and accept what God says about you, agree with Spirit that this is true of you, and become the best version of you that exists?

Let’s do a small exercise, and review different areas of our lives: starting with our bodies.  I want you to close your eyes for a moment, and just be present in your body. Be aware of your head, of your neck, your shoulders, your left arm, your hand, your right arm, your right hand… and now let’s move down to your legs. And now let’s move back to your head. And now, I want to ask you: are you your body? Or is your body simply the vessel that carries you?

If you are not your body, then who are you?

What about your possessions? Do those define who you are? Your home, your car, your bank account? Is that who you are?

How about your job, profession and career? Does that define who you are? How many people do you know that have changed careers? How many times in your life has your career and profession changed? How many people do you know that have been laid off or fired, that have quit, that have moved to another country and had to start over in another field? Is a person truly defined by their career or profession? Who are you?

What about your family? Are you mum, dad, the black sheep, the only single one left, the life of the party, the grandmother? Is that who you are? How many people do you know who have lost members of their family? And yet they still continue to live and find new identities and purposes.  Who are you?

How about your emotions? Are you happy, sad, angry, fearful, ashamed, tired? But is that who you are? Or is that simply a state of feeling and emotion that comes and passes?

John responds rather cryptically to the Pharisees and scribes: “I am a voice…” The first verses of John tell us a little more about John the Baptist’s identity:

“God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light.”

And you, who are you? What were you sent for? God sent you… Have you discovered yet what for? Are you living out that purpose? Are you being everything that you could possibly be?

Your identity doesn’t depend on something you do or have done. Most of us confuse doing, having and feeling with being.  Instead of saying I feel sad, we identify with the sadness and say “I am sad”. Instead of saying that I work as a lawyer, we say “I am a lawyer”. Instead of saying I have a family, we lose our identity within that family.  But is that truly who you are?

John knew who he was. And Jesus certainly knew who he was.  Jesus said:

  • I am the bread of life.
  • I am the light of the world.
  • I am the door.
  • I am the good shepherd.
  • I am the resurrection and the life.
  • I am the way, the truth and the life.
  • I am the vine.
  • “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I Am!

And who are you?

Now, I don’t care much for Joel Osteen, but I quite like part of his start to Sunday services and his declaration about the Bible:

This is my Bible.
I am what it says I am.
I can do what it says I can do.

Who are you?

Who does God, through the Bible, say that you are? Let me give you some ideas:

  • You ARE a child of God, complete in Christ – John 1: 12; Colossians 2:10
  • You ARE loved, accepted, redeemed, holy, forgiven, free from condemnation, chosen, established, anointed and sealed by God. 1 John 3: 3; Ephesians 1:6; Colossians 1:14; Romans 8:1; 2 Corinthians 1:21; Colossians 3:12
  • You ARE a joint heir with Jesus, united with God and one spirit with God Spirit. Romans 8: 17; 1 Corinthians 6:17
  • You ARE a temple of God: his Spirit and life lives in you. 1 Corinthians 6:19
  • You are God’s co-worker; a living stone on which the spiritual house is being built. 2 Corinthians 6:1; 1 Peter 2:5

So, if that’s who you are: what are you doing that lives up to this description of you? Does your life reflect who you are?

If you embodied this description of you: what would be different to how you are living your life at the moment? What needs to change in your life, for this to really be you? What would new things would appear in your life if this was you?

What scares you the most about this description of you?

  • Being a child of God? a joint heir with Jesus?
  • Being united with God – complete Oneness?
  • being complete?
  • being loved, accepted, redeemed, holy, forgiven, free from condemnation, chosen, established, anointed and sealed by God?
  • being God’s temple?
  • being God’s co-worker and co-creator?

What obstacles or idols in your life keep you from living this out? What habits or practices do you need to incorporate into your life to live this more fully?

What’s keeping you from living this life today? From walking out of the Church today and being You, the best You that there is, the You that God created you to be in all your fullness and glory, so that others might see Christ in you?

Because today, YOU are the hope of the world. You are the voice in the wilderness. You are the light in the darkness. God sent you!

So, who are you?