Sunday, February 8, 2009

366 Reasons to be Encouraged

The title of my message today is "366 Reasons to be Encouraged" and before all of you get up and leave because you're thinking it may be a very long message, let me assure you that it isn't. I pray that you will gain understanding as I move along. I'd like to start this message with a short story.

As a young boy growing up in north Idaho, one of the treats we would occasionally have were huckleberries. If you're unfamiliar with this berry, they are like big, juicy blueberries, only sweeter. And...they only grow in the wild, so they are relatively scarce. They grow in mountain regions and to pick them, you usually have to compete with the bears and do a lot of hiking. Each year, we would go huckleberry picking several times and collect a total of 4-5 gallons of the berries. These were then frozen and then only used on special occasions. My parents stored them in the old chest freezer we kept out in one of the barns we had on the dairy.

One day, mom decided to use some of the special berries for a meal and went out to the freezer and noticed some were missing...and the evidence of the theft was still visible. After consulting my dad, my parents asked each one of us kids (I have one sister and two brothers) if we took any of the huckleberries. Naturally, each one of us said "No". One of the things that I didn't mention before about huckleberries is that the juice is a rich, deep purple color and it easily leaves stains. Unfortunately for my older brother, while his mouth said "No", his purple stained lips and t-shirt shouted "YES!"

Why would my brother, who was about 8 at the time, lie about eating huckleberries? One word...FEAR! He knew (or thought he knew) that he would get a spanking if he admitted to taking the berries.

I want to talk about fear today, because it is a word we see repeatedly throughout the Scriptures. In the Bible, it has two primary meanings. One, "to show reverence", as in to "fear God". The other is "to be afraid." I'm going to focus only on the latter definition in this message.

Why does God talk about FEAR, or being afraid, so much in the Bible? Do you know how many times we are commanded to "Fear Not!" in the Bible? I have read that it is 366 times! That's right...366. Once for every day of the year, including leap year. That is something worth noticing. It tells me that God has a reason for telling us not to be afraid. It is definitely important.

If we study the word "fear" in the Scriptures, it becomes clear why God directs us not to be afraid. Fear often leads to sin. There are countless examples in the stories of the Bible, but I'll only focus on a few today because of the time we have.

The first reference to "fear" comes early in the Bible, in the Genesis story. In chapter 3 of Genesis, we see that fear causes us to hide. After Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit, they recognize their nakedness and hide from God. Their fear caused them separation from the One who loved them beyond measure. I find that I'm not so unlike Adam and Eve. When I get afraid in a relationship, I find myself "hiding". You may too. This hiding may be in our jobs, in a hobby, in a new group of acquaintances..or just plain old hiding. I remember as a child, hiding under the blankets of my bed to avoid facing mom and dad. Maybe you can remember similar times when fear caused you to hide from the truth.

A second sin fear leads to lying. Genesis 18:15 tells us how Sarah lied when the Lord told Abraham she would have a child. Sarah laughed at that thought because she was quite old, well beyond the age of bearing children. When the Lord asked her why she had laughed, she lied and said she didn't laugh. Why would Sarah lie to God when she knew God was right there, watching and listening to her laugh at the thought of having a child? Why would my brother lie to mom and dad when he still had huckleberry juice on his lips and shirt? Satan loves to use fear to cause us to sin against God and create separation between our Father and ourselves.

The last sin I'll talk about today is letting fear lead you to not believe in God's promises and miss the blessings that He has in store for you. In Nu 13:26-14:9, Moses tells tow the Israelite spies came back from exploring the "promised land", describing how plentiful the land was with food, but...doesn't there always seem to be a but?...but the people that inhabited the land were powerful. And, they were afraid. As a result, God sent them into the wilderness for 40 years and a complete generation missed the blessings of God's promise.

Many of you, like me, may feel like the Israelites. Afraid of what the future holds for you. I get released from here in about 8 months. Presently, I don't know where I'm going, or what I will do when I get out. Right now, I know I could end up homeless. I have to admit, at times, I'm afraid.

That brings me to my key Scripture for today...actually there are two that I would like to share. Remember, I had 366 to choose from. The ones I have chosen are both found in the Book of Isaiah. Isa 41:10 says, "So do not Fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." And in Isa 43:1b-3a, Isaiah says, "Fear Not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour." There is such promise in those words.

The God of the Universe is telling each one of and me...that He will be with us in every situation. We have nothing to be afraid of. Some of you have just arrived in prison and find yourself incarcerated for the first time. It can be was for me when I got here. But...FEAR NOT, God is with you! You may be afraid that your wife is going to leave you, that you are financially ruined, that all of your family and friends have forsaken you. No matter what trial you are facing right now, or will be facing in the future, God tells us not to be afraid. Why? Because He knows that if we don't trust in our faith in Him...believe in the promises He has made to us through His Word...then Satan will come in, prey on our fear, and lead us into sin.

We don't need to make the same mistakes as Adam and Eve, Sarah, or the Israelites. I also could have mentioned the sins that fear caused Saul, David, Elijah, the Apostle John, or countless others to commit whose stories are in the Bible for us, but time today doesn't allow it. The Bible is filled with examples of the damage that fear can do in our relationship with God.

There is a very good reason that God tells us through the Holy Scripture 366 times to "Fear Not! We can be slow learners in our frail human condition. As a former school teacher, I know one of the keys to learning is repetition. God is the Master Teacher and He uses that teaching strategy extremely well. This is a lesson He wants us to understand...and to practice daily in our lives.

I've heard many speakers say that the message they had prepared for their church was also meant for them. That was definitely the case with today's message. God is speaking to me as I am speaking to you.

I'd like you to close your eyes and bow your heads. As men, it is often times difficult to admit when we are afraid. But God knows our hearts and sees when it is full of fear. If any of you here today struggle at times with Fear, I'd like you to raise your hand. I want you to know that my hand is raised right now because there are times when I forget for a moment all of my God's promises. Remember, He says, "Fear Not, for I am with you." If you struggle some times, go back to your Bible, and notice for yourself how often God encourages us with His words, "Fear Not!" Let's pray.

Message presented at TCI on Jan. 10, 2007
Photo from Flickr

No comments:

Post a Comment