"We Will Not Fear"#86-07
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 14, 2018
By Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, Guest Speaker
(Q&A Topic:We Will Not Fear)
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Psalm 46
People say religion has nothing to do with real life. Maybe not. But faith does. Faith in God is real life. People say faith in God is not of much use until you are in trouble. Maybe so, if you're talking about that religious feeling that comes over people and makes them say pious things when someone is taken to the hospital or someone, as they say, passes away. Faith in God, however, is not just a religious feeling or pious words. It is knowing God, having confidence in God, trusting God, expecting God to do His thing, come good days or bad. God is good for the good days, and He is good for the bad days. God is strong on the successful days and strong on the unsuccessful days. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble," said the psalmist.
It must have been a day of dark, foreboding, and bitter struggle when the psalmist wrote, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, will not we fear? Though the earth be removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof." It was a day of dark, foreboding, and bitter struggle, and Martin Luther used to say to his treasured friend Philip Melanchthon, "Come, Philip, let us sing the 46th Psalm." Out of one of those occasions it is said, through that great hymn: "A mighty fortress is our God. A shield and weapon to defend us."
The theme of both the psalm and the hymn is we will not fear. We may fret still and worry ourselves into gray hair, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and possibly a lot of other things. We may prepare for ourselves premature coffins and graves, forgetting the one who can make everything different for everyone in this wide world of ours. But there's always God. No matter what may come; there's always God. It's always possible to have faith in Him, no matter how dark the day or how bleak the future. Simply because He's God. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, will not we fear? Though the earth be removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea."
What kind of talk is that anyway when we're surrounded by all kinds of possibilities that strike fear into the hearts of people and even terrify them to death? With all the other fears, there's always the fear of death. It haunts people from the cradle to the grave. Children are afraid of death, and so are their parents. In fact, one of the great fears of children is that their parents will die, or that they will go away and not return, or that they will break up with one another and wreck a beautiful little family, or something will happen that will bring about change, which almost always produces fears in children, just as it does in older people. All the fears are really mirrors of the one fear, the fear of death. That explains why people don't like to talk about death. Or if they talk about it, they try to make it seem pleasant, when they know otherwise.
The Bible does not blink at talk of death. It faces death with a clear eye and it calls death an "enemy." Talk about change, death changes everything. It changes things for people who die, and it changes things for people who are left behind. Fear is a fact of life. It is not all bad. It keeps a child who has burned his finger on a stove from doing it again. Fear keeps us from all sorts of rash and reckless actions. Fear drives people to see the doctor or keeps people from going to see the doctor for fear what he will tell them. They pretend that the pain isn't there, or they act as if it will soon disappear.
Fear can be a gift from God. It can wake you up. It can jog you loose from your complacency. It can turn you from fiction to fact. It can bring you back to reality. But fear will never make you strong. It takes something else to make you strong. Faith makes people strong. Not any old kind of faith, but faith in God that He is for real. It's not just a vague feeling about God, but actual faith, confidence in God, trust in God, even closeness to God. Which is more than mere piety because it is a deeply felt conviction on which you bank your life. That's faith when it is faith in God.
Contrary to what some people say and think, faith does not eliminate fear. Faith in God takes fear and channels it in the right direction. Fear destroys, and faith saves. Faith saves people by overcoming the frenzy of fear, which is unhealthy and destructive. Turning the face of fear in the right direction, which is toward God. Faith turns people away from themselves toward God. It may sound unrealistic and foolish to some people, but actually it's the only real and intelligent way to live.
I wish I could tell you how often I've prayed with people who were scared to death as someone close to them was being carried into a hospital unconscious and placed into the intensive care unit, hovering between life and death. The whole family stood around in the hallway, young and old, not knowing which way to turn. All kinds of fears were all over the place. And we prayed to God, quietly and confidently, all together. You have to experience something like this to feel the peace that settles on that scene. Fears may still be there, but they are no longer in control. Something else has taken their place. Faith takes over and people put their fears into the hands of God.
That's not just a religious feeling or pious talk. When fear is so thick that you can cut it with a knife, faith cuts through, and then there's light again, no matter what may happen. There's God. Where God is, no fear. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, will not we fear? Though the earth be removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea."
Faith in God harnesses fear and points it in the right direction. The direction is toward God. Fear of God becomes a healthy thing when you have faith in God. With faith in God and a godly fear that goes very well with faith, people begin to see things again with a clear eye and to take things with a clear mind. It's a good thing to fear the devil, but you've gotta know where he's at. With faith in God, you know where He's at. The great thing about God is that He shows us where He's at, where the devil is at, and where we are at in relation to God and to all the forces which arise to deceive and to trouble us.
The great God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world. He really came. The story is there for all to hear, all to read, all to see. There are mysteries about God that none of us understands and mysteries about Christ that nobody can explain. But there's no mystery about who Christ is and what Christ did. There's no mystery about who Christ is and what He's always doing. He died for the sins of the whole world. He did that for all of us. That's God doing his thing in His Son Jesus Christ.
For the sake of His Son, the great God forgives the sins of our humanity, whatever they are. He forgives them all. He does this for the sake of His Son, who died for us. As a sure sign that God forgives, the great God raised His Son from the dead and gave Him a Name above every name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow. It takes faith to bow the knee to Jesus. It takes faith to ask God for forgiveness, and it takes faith to accept His forgiveness for the sake of Jesus Christ. It takes faith in Christ, which is not content just to say nice things about God and about Christ, but actually bows the knee before Him. It takes faith to see yourself both as a saint and a sinner in the sight of God.
Saved by faith in God's great heart and moved in the right direction by a holy fear of God, which is true recognition of your own humanity, along with love for God, which has plenty of room for wholesome awe of His sovereign power and His overwhelming grace, all of which you see in His Son Jesus Christ.
Faith in God that He is truly a Father, intent as a Father in saving you rather than destroying you, produces a new kind of personality. With love for God combined with fear of God and fear of God combined with love of God. With that kind of personality, you can draw close to God as He has drawn close to you. You're perfectly content to go along with God, with faith and fear and love, producing a new maturity with a really healthy outlook on life. That's what Martin Luther was talking about when he explained the Ten Commandments. We should fear and love and trust in God above all things.
We should fear and love God that we may tame our cursing and swearing and crabbing and sharp and filthy tongues. We should fear and love God that we may offer Him acceptable worship and praise. We should fear and love God that we may honor, respect, love, and obey every proper authority, including parents. We should fear and love God that we may stop murdering people, not simply with guns and knives, but with unloving and hateful words and deeds. We should fear and love God that all of our thoughts, words, and actions may be sexually pure and clean. We should fear and love God that we may not engage in the grand larceny of slander, whereby we rob people of their good names. We should fear and love God that we may not crave and covet what we may never own or possess.
We can live that way in fear of God and in love for God. We can do that by faith, which is born at the foot of the cross of God's Son, Jesus Christ. That's why we will not fear, said the sons. We know God and we will not be given to the fear that destroys.
"There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God. The holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved. God shall help her and that right early. The heathen raged, and the kingdoms were moved. He uttered His voice and the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge." The enemies of God lie dead outside the door; why be afraid? The enemies of God are your enemies too. They lie dead outside the door; the Son of God has nailed all that stuff that rises to haunt us to the middle of his cross, and He has taken all the powers and authorities and dragged them along in His possession like a conqueror coming home in triumph. The Son of God is the Lord. Why be afraid?
You don't have to be perfect. Jacob was not perfect. His name means stinker, cheat, liar, deceiver. You don't have to be perfect, but you can be forgiven, and you can be led in the right direction as was Jacob. The Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge. Our God is the Savior. The God of Jacob is both Savior and Lord. He is with us in the tears and the torments of bondage to the smiles and the laughter of freedom. It is freedom from sin, freedom from guilt, freedom from death, freedom from everything that arises to trouble you. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, will not we fear?
"Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolation He has made in the earth. He makes wars to cease unto the end of the earth. He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in sunder. He burns the chariot in the fire. Be still and know that I am God. I was exalted among the heaven, and I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of Hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge." There goes worry. There goes all that effort to save yourself. There goes all that bragging which is a sign of weakness rather than a sign of strength, and there goes death, and with it goes fear. All of it goes in the Name of the Lord. The Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge.
Jesus Christ said, "Behold the birds of the air. They do not sow and reap and store in barns, yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. You are worth more than the birds." Said the robin to the sparrow, "I would really like to know, why these anxious human beings rush about and worry so." Said the sparrow to the robin, "Friend, I think that it must be that, they have no Heavenly Father such as cares for you and me." Go to the birds, you worrywarts, and learn from them the lesson of the carefree life. It was not for the birds that Jesus died and rose again. It was for you.
What more do you need? What more does any of us need? It is true. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, will not we fear? Amen.
Reflections for October 14, 2018
Title: We Will Not Fear
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and we just heard a classic message from Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, talking about the connection between faith and fear. Joining me here now to discuss that is Dr. Tony Cook, director of U.S. Ministries here Lutheran Hour Ministries. Tony, let's talk about fear in our lives, and how faith interacts and intersects with that.
Dr. Tony Cook: Sure. Thanks for having me again. This is a topic that I can get in the way-back machine, and go back to, I think if I'm remembering correctly, to about when I was seven. I was going through some rough times in my life, and I started to have night terrors, when I would have these dreams that felt like you were kind of locked into them. You couldn't get out of them. They repeated every single night. It was the same dream that happened every time.
When I would wake up from this dream, I'd be really startled, and my heart would be racing, and I'd be half awake and half asleep, and I would see shadows in the room, as a little kid, you know.
Mark Eischer: All that scary stuff.
Dr. Tony Cook: It was. I had a closet that didn't have a door, so it was dark. And I had a Barney Rubble night light. You remember that from the Flintstones?
Mark Eischer: The Flintstones.
Dr. Tony Cook: Yeah. I had that night light, and that was the only light in the room. Sometimes it helped, and sometimes it cast odd shadows on the wall. But what happened is as I was going through this period of when I went to sleep, I would have this dream, and I would wake up with this tremendous sense of fear and foreboding. As a little kid, I thought, what can I do to keep these things away?
I really only knew two prayers at that time. I knew "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep," and I knew The Lord's Prayer. So, what I did is, before I would go to sleep, I would close my eyes and in my mind, every time I said one of those two prayers, they would make a brick. I would take these bricks, and I would put them around me in a circle, and as I prayed, they would get higher and higher and higher, until it was like a pillar of bricks, and I was inside of this pillar of brick of prayer. And that would help me fall to sleep, and it gave me a sense that this pillar of bricks was protecting me, if you will, from the fears that came in the night.
Eventually, they went away, after a period of time. But I still have that very, very vivid sense of needing to be protected from that fear, as well as not being able to stop those fears from invading my sleep. But I do remember that little, I don't want to say, childish technique, because now that I think about it, it actually probably wasn't that bad of a thing to do. But that was a time in my life that I had these kind of foreboding fears and how I handled it.
Mark Eischer: As you look back on that as an adult, do you continue to use prayer as a shield and as a protector?
Dr. Tony Cook: Yeah. For me, it's interesting with prayer. As a Lutheran, a lot of times we'll say, when something happens, "We'll pray for you." A lot of times, that's a way of saying, "I'm sorry for what you're going through," or whatever. But what I realized is that prayer has power, and in the power of prayer is something that I've learned over my life. And I still use it today, when I'm fearful and anxious, I have anxiety about decisions I need to make, things like that.
Most of the times, still, oddly enough, I use prayer when I go to sleep. I'm a person that thinks a lot in their head, and turning off those worries and those concerns, especially when I'm trying to sleep, prayer is about the only effective way for me to do that. So, it's carried along with me this whole time, so it's more than just a platitude. It actually is powerful.
Mark Eischer: Would you say fear is a bad thing?
Dr. Tony Cook: Well, I guess, what kind of fear is it, and who you ask? Probably so. When I was a little kid, I felt that that fear was bad. Maybe it was my subconscious working out the issues that I was going through, so maybe it was good. But as an adult, I've found that fear actually can be good, obviously. Fear helps to protect us from things, so you have that fight or flight syndrome that we get, and-
Mark Eischer: A healthy fear.
Dr. Tony Cook: Exactly, so it's a healthy fear of things that would do damage to you. I also think that when it comes to fear that it is something that can set a hedge or a boundary so that we remain faithful to God. And then there is not like a horrifying kind of fear, but a fear when we look at God and who He is, honoring Him, and that's a kind of fear, too. I would say that's a positive fear as well.
Mark Eischer: Yeah. Actually, the first use of the Law would be an example of a healthy fear, the fear or running afoul of the authorities that God has put in place, the curb that restrains you from acting out on whatever sinful impulse you might have that might be against the Law. So in that case, that would be a healthy fear to have.
Dr. Tony Cook: You're correct. So, the first use of the Law--why do people obey the Law in that sense? It's because they're fearful of the negative punishment, you know? So, it's like, "Oh, well, I'm not going to do this because I don't want to go to jail." You're not really doing things for wonderful, virtuous reasons, but because you're fearful of the penalty. But at the same time, it's not like the man's trying to keep you down. It's really about protecting you as well as maintaining stable society. So, while there's fear involved, the overall goal isn't simply terror. The overall goal is to maintain peace and to keep us protected and to keep us healthy.
Mark Eischer: In the sermon, Dr. Hoffmann said that all fears are really mirrors of the one fear, the fear of death. Would you agree with that?
Dr. Tony Cook: I agree with that. I might put it a little bit differently. To me, death is one kind of loss.
Mark Eischer: Okay.
Dr. Tony Cook: At least for me, personally, I think that a lot of my fear is connected to loss, death being probably the largest one. But, yeah, I would say that death is a form of loss, and if you think about it that way, that many of our fears are connected. So, we're fearful if we're going to lose our job, or if we're going to lose a relationship with someone that we love, or if we lose someone in death. Or, if we're going to lose a part of our identity, or a part of our freedom. All of those, I think, go back to loss.
For me, maybe it tells you a little too much about who I am, but fear of loss of many kinds has been something that I've dealt with over my life. It also, I think, exposes the fact that maybe we think that the things that we provide for ourselves are the only way that we make it through this world, and if we lose those things, we're not going to be able to go on. So, I think it probably also says something about my understanding of my trust in my relationship with God in those times of fear.
Mark Eischer: It seems to me that fear could also be a result of uncertainty, not knowing where things are going to go, and so you fear what could happen.
Dr. Tony Cook: Exactly, yeah. I'm one of those people that I probably do myself a harm by thinking about all of the possible results of a situation, you know? I can imagine 40 different horrible things that could happen. I tend to let my mind think through those things, and sometimes, I'll notice that that will actually impact me emotionally, that I will be fearful about a consequence that I have determined to simply be a possibility in my mind. And trying to realize that there's plenty of real things to be fearful about, instead of just being fearful about the thousand things that I make up.
Mark Eischer: In his sermon, Dr. Hoffmann says, "When fear is so thick you can cut it with a knife, faith cuts through, and then there's light again. No matter what may happen, there is God, and where God is, no fear."
Dr. Tony Cook: Yeah. I couldn't agree with that more. You know, as we're talking about this, I only thought of the illustration as I was coming down here about this story of when I was a child. But thinking about that statement, and also thinking about Psalm 46 that he's using in this, that a mighty fortress kind of thing. And I thought ... well, and of course, I didn't know this, but in a way, I was kind of building a fortress ...
Mark Eischer: Your own little fortress with bricks, yeah.
Dr. Tony Cook: ... with prayer. But that's true. In the darkest times, God is that defense. He is that light that cuts through that darkness. We also know from Scripture that a lot of times, we don't necessarily see the light of God unless it's dark. Or, to put it another way, we see it more clearly or more brightly when it's dark. So, it's interesting that when you talk about faith and you talk about people's relationship with God through Christ, that if you ask them to tell you a story about it, many times, they're going to tell you a story about darkness, a story about fear, a time when God made a difference in their daily life.
Dr. Tony Cook: In many ways, without these times of fear, without these times of brokenness, without these times of darkness, maybe we wouldn't understand God's graciousness and provision as much as we do today.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Thee Will I Love, My Strength, My Tower" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)