October 18, 2020 Faith over Fear part II 

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Today I pick up hopefully where I left off last week on the topic of Faith over Fear.  It’s joyful and anxious day here at Greenford Lutheran as we have joy in coming together for worship in person rather than in cars and we have anxiety over coming together for worship in a time of a global pandemic.  We have both Faith and Fear going at the same time.  While you can't help having both at the same time the important thing to realize is you have a choice as to which one can take the lead.  If you choose to allow fear to lead it leads to a life that is limited, constantly anxious, weary, worried, exhausted and finally depressed, lonely and hopeless.  But there is a way to allow your Faith to rule Over your Fear and provide you, lead you, direct you to a fuller more joy filled life.

Last week my main point of living a life of Faith over Fear is to realize and experience that You have the Spirit of God in you.  The Holy Spirit was poured out into us at our baptism and God has promised to reside within each believing heart. As a Christian we were never meant to go through life alone.  As much social distancing as we are being asked to do, as much isolation that has come through this pandemic a Christian just never has to be alone… when they believe, experience, receive, enjoy, stir up the presence of God within them. 

This is what the Apostle Paul reminds his friend Timothy about.  "I want to remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you."  That word “rekindle” in the original Greek is actually the word for stirring up.  Many of us like to be amateur pyromaniacs especially around a camp fire or fireplace. How many times have you taken your little poker or stick and stirred up that dying or perceived to be dead fire and just by stirring have brought it back to a roaring fire.  Stir up- rekindle what is already there Timothy. What’s there?  The Spirit of God in you.

We too often inadvertently reduce Christianity to a solo function when we focus on the idea of God rather than the person of God. When we educate ourselves on the principles of God and leave out the presence of God. Even when we lift up the extremely uplifting promises of God and not intentionally seek out or “stir up” the very presence of God which has already been given to us as a gift.

Scripture reminds us to seek continually the presence of God.  David in the wilderness in a time of great anxiousness with King Saul seeking his life wrote Psalm 63:1-3 “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you;  my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.  3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.” That is a life of Faith over Fear, and we know David with the power of the Spirit stirred up in him was able to go on and become King of Israel.  Paul is reminding Timothy you have that Spirit of God that power and love and self-discipline in you, you can stir that up within you.

So what’s the problem this should be “easy peasy,” right?  But how come Timothy, and how come we struggle to live a life of Faith over Fear? Now while we have received the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit in our baptism we were born with a different spirit, the spirit of the flesh.  So on earth a Christian actually has dueling natures, two dueling spirits.  The spirit of the flesh is tempted with contemporary concerns, the flesh is focused on temporary concerns, the flesh is concerned with the earthly kingdom and its nature- its tempted to be anxious about, as Jesus pointed out in his sermon on the mount,  what am I to wear? what I am to eat?

Yet the Holy Spirit’s nature is not one of fear. As Paul tells us, it is not a spirit of fear but of power and love and self- discipline.  The spirit unlocks the very power of God in our lives.  The spirit pours into us the overflowing amazing Love of God in Christ Jesus.  The spirit enlightens us and guides in the way of self-discipline.

What are we to do with this dueling nature of flesh versus spirit?  The answer is simple but not easy… (repeat). The answer is to stir up the spirit within you. The simple but not easy answer is to lean into God.  It’s that old proverb 3:4-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” that’s not easy.  That’s especially difficult when you aren’t looking at life from God’s vantage point. 

There’s the old joke of the guy hanging by tree root off a cliff.  He yells “Help!”  A fellow hiker a little bit behind him on the trail yells to him “let go of the branch there’s an outcropping right below you.”  The guy responds, “Is there anybody else up there?!”  The other hiker could see more clearly the predicament the guy who fell off the cliff was in.  God knows all, sees all and our limited capacity doesn’t always see a good solution or a good path but God does.  But that doesn’t mean its easy to let go of the one branch we’re so desperately clinging to.  Lean into God- simple but not easy.

Perhaps the most important question you can ask yourself today is: "Do I have the spirit of God within me?"  You see if God is just a good idea… the answer is probably no. If God is just a place on a Sunday morning… the answer is not unless I’m in that space and place.  Baptized Christians need to realize that God’s Spirit was a gift put in them by God at baptism.  Redeemed, Claimed, Saved, Baptized, Born Again Christians need to rely on and allow the experience of leaning into God to shape their reality and form the basis for their life’s foundation.  We seriously need to rely on God’s comforting spirit rather than earth’s creature comforts to get us through anxious times.

Second important question today, “Are you living in the fullness of the spirit?”  Are you stirring up the spirit of God within you?  Stirring it up as scripture suggests “by singing songs and hymns of praise,” or by reading the Word, by communing with other people who love Jesus, sharing his supper. 

These simple acts of faith are powerful beyond comprehension in living a life of “Faith over Fear.”  By stirring up the power of God’s Spirit, by living in his Spirit, we live in God’s love and scripture tells us “perfect love casts out fear.”  (I John 4:18) It’s a simple answer but not easy. We get so distracted, busied, inebriated, with this world that it is so difficult to do simple things like slow down on a Sunday and worship, to take a moment to pray a heart felt prayer, to carve out time for a daily devotion. 

A great story by Billy Graham tells of a grandfather telling his grandson that there are two wolves inside every person vying for control of our very souls. A wisened grandfather is told his grandson a story. “A fight is going on inside every human being,” he said. ”It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil — he is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, resentment, lies, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good — he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The wolves are fighting to the death for the very soul of each person.  Wide-eyed, the boy asked his grandfather which wolf will win. The old man simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Faith over Fear is simple but not easy.  Ask yourself; which wolf am I actually feeding? Not feeding the wolf of fear is hard in our culture and our day.  Feeding the wolf of faith is often a challenge as well.  As the father in our gospel prayed, we need to pray “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” Living a life of Faith over fear is not easy also because so many of us fail to realize that living a life of Faith over Fear is a message of comfort AND a message of challenge.  It’s a message of comfort because God changes us from a creature of fear into a person of faith.  Yet it’s also challenging because God changes us from a creature of fear to a person of faith to usher in change for others. 

I want you to know that, YES this is a message of care for those of you that are hurting and dealing with fear.  But it is also a charge.  It’s a charge, a message to remind you that you weren’t just made for comfort you were made for a purpose.  (repeat) God placed his spirit in us so that our lives would matter! God changes us to usher in heavenly change for others.  How many think our world needs a heavenly change more than ever?!  How many think our world needs change in heavenly direction rather than earthly direction?!  Amen?! How’s that to happen? 

When God’s people arise.  When’s God’s spirit moves us to be changed from a sinful fleshly nature to a saved redeemed heavenly spiritual nature.  When God changes us… to usher in change for others. God’s plan is to usher in change through God’s people.  2 Timothy “For God has given us not a spirit of fear but of POWER and LOVE and Self-discipline- can be interpreted SOUND MIND.  We have a lot of weak minds, sick minds functioning out there trying to get us to join them in their “think tank” but thankfully we have a spirit that gives us a spirit of self-discipline, a spirit of a Sound Mind.

We need a sound mind because we are living in a culture of fear.  Politics are polarized in gridlock because each side not only fears but hates the other. The media makes its most money feeding us one of two steady diets- sex and fear.  We live in a hyper sexualized, hyper anxious culture that propels us to seek first self-comfort and self-pleasure above all else.  Second to fear everyone different from you. 

But what if we, the children of God, lived in homes of Faith Over Fear?  What if the culture Christians cow-towed to, wasn’t a culture of hate and fear but of love and faith?!  What if we were part of a counterculture that lived lives seeking heavenly change rather than earthly comforts?  What if we were part of a counterculture that lived lives loving others not just similar to us but showing Christ’s unconditional love to those different from us? 

I shared a devotion with our council this week from Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan’s Purse and son of the great Evangelist Billy Graham. In his devotion Faith over Fear he writes “None of us knows when this global pandemic will end, but we can choose to live in faith, not fear; faith in a God who cares for us, loves us, is in control of every detail, and who will never leave us or forsake us. With God’s help, this can be an opportunity for Christians to be a bold testimony for the Gospel as we refuse to cave into the hysteria. During the mid-third century, Rome was caught in a deadly plague that was killing 5,000 people a day. While many fled the city, including physicians, persecuted Christians cared not only for their own dead but also for their pagan neighbors. Their selfless love caused many to see Christianity in a new light, and actually gave rise to even greater spread of the Gospel. May our neighbors and friends see what a difference the presence of the living Savior makes in us today as we live out our faith. “

The world can’t help but change if the people God stirred up, by God’s spirit, raised up and lived out the culture of God: a culture of power, of love of sound mind.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer anti-Nazi dissident in a time of fear.  Fear had made most pastors; most Christians turn a blind eye to the evil of Nazism. Which is what fear does.  It limits our vision- it turns a blind eye- because its hard to see anything else when we focus on our fear.  Fear wants, no demands, all of our attention, all of our focus. Have you ever noticed how big a spider, or a mosquito, or a bee gets when you fear it?

Anyway, Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in a time of fear that had blinded so many and yet he lived a life of power, love, and sound mind. In the midst of fearful Christians getting in lock step with Nazi’s doctrine of hatred, Dietrich was proclaiming through his preaching and writing an amazing witness to God’s power of love and commitment to the least of these our brethren.  He wrote such amazing testaments to what the Christian community and the Christian life is about during times of stress and strain that they’ve become a staple of not just seminary courses but local church bible studies as well. His books Cost of Discipleship, and Life Together, are still impacting molding Christian communities today. 

Like many powerful witnesses his life ended in martyrdom.  Arrested for his outspoken criticism of Nazism he was imprisoned at Buchenwald concentration camp. 21 days prior to Hitler’s suicide Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed.  But his life had a purpose, meaning, and it caused heavenly change in those around him, beyond him, after him!

Living a life of FAITH over Fear changes us our tunnel vision, frees us from hatred of those different from us, liberates us from being solely concerned with creature comforts and “how can I get mine.?” Faith frees us from that life and erases that tunnel vision.  A life of Faith over Fear is powered not by us, but by God in us, the very spirit of God, stirring in with and among us. Giving us a spirit of power, and love, and sound mind.

Living a life of Faith over Fear gives us a life of power. The world needs to see a power that lasts, that changes lives for the better, that sustains hope even in a despairing situation. Living a life of Faith over Fear lives a life of love. Fear gives us tunnel vision, loves broadens our vision.  Fear clouds our vision with shadowy terrors, love clears our eyesight to see God present with us.  Living a life of Faith over Fear, lives with a sound mind.  Fear destabilizes us, gives us the sense that we’re constantly teetering on the brink.  Faith gives our feet a firm unmovable foundation so we can think rationally instead of reactionarily, so we can think critically rather than chaotically.

A life of Faith is one of love, the love of God in Christ Jesus dwelling inside us.  And that is perfect love which cast out our fears.  It’s not that we don’t have any fears anymore it just that we can cast our fears on God. (I Peter 5:7) When we cast all our fears on God what are we left with?  We are left with the peace of God- that wonderful "Shalom" of God.  That peace that passes all understanding- that isn’t based on our circumstances alone but primarily on our relationship; our loving- redeeming- lifegiving relationship with Christ Jesus our lord.

Go in peace, the peace that passes all understanding, and serve the Lord... without fear but in faith.  That during these anxious time your life, our lives, we have faith- as the writer of Hebrews defines faith “the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen”- that during these anxious times our lives have meaning, our lives have purpose, and we are not prisoners of fear but freed, powerful, loving, self-disciplined faithful people of God. 

Go in peace serve the Lord.  Thanks be to God!