Have you ever made a house of cards? It is a tedious task and you have to be very careful at every step. As you successfully get taller, it can look like a rather grand construction project. But of course it can fall down with one false move. Or if someone comes in and purposely knocks it down. And the whole thing is destroyed.
Does your life ever seem like a house of cards? Does it feel like it could fall or has already fallen down like house of cards? Or does world feel like it is falling down like a house of cards—disasters and wicked people everywhere?
Well, there is a Psalm for that. It was one of Martin Luther’s favorite Psalms and gave him hope in difficult times. It can do the same for us. Let us take a look at it as
A Psalm of Hope for When Disaster Strikes
I. God is our fortress as the world falls apart
II. God is our fortress as the wicked fight
I. God is our fortress as the world falls apart
A. The world is falling apart
In Psalm 46 we read, “though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.” (v2-3)
Another hurricane has hit the Alabama coast and Florida panhandle with 100 mph winds, 30 inches of rain, and a 6-foot storm surge. There are more storms forming and they have already had to start using the letters of the Greek alphabet for names. Fires are ravaging the west coast. A pandemic is sweeping through the world. Many other disasters are happening all over the earth. So indeed the “waters roar and foam,” though the mountains aren’t falling into the heart of the sea just yet. It is still pretty scary.
What is happening to this world? Well, it all started when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s clear command. And then we hear God say, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life” (Gen 3:17). And Paul tells us, “The creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it” into a “bondage to decay” (Rom 8:20,21). Natural disasters will increase and become signs that the end is coming, as Jesus says, “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven” (Lk 21:11). We can consider Covid-19 one of those pestilences. And we can conclude:
This world is falling apart.
We note that these all came into this world because of sin, directly or indirectly. Now it would be pretty hard to point to any particular sin causing most earthquakes, though some other disasters can be traced to or worsened by sinful acts of mankind. Was the larger death toll in the United States caused by mismanagement of our government or were there larger, uncontrollable forces at work? Is our worsening weather caused by overuse of fossil fuels or are the other things happening we can’t explain? I really don’t know. Plenty of accusations are flying around as people panic and are desperate for some explanation. But no one really knows. And WE don’t need to.
B. God is our fortress in this world
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear” (V1-2). That is a lofty thought, but how does it work? In what way is God a refuge and strength?
Later in this Psalm we read,
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day” (v4-5).
God takes his people and forms them into a city, his city, a holy place, where he dwells, where he provides pure streams of water. Through his Son and the shedding of his blood on the cross, he has purified us to be his holy people. He is pleased to live within us, to call us his own. And to protect us. That doesn’t mean nothing will ever happen to us on this earth. In fact, we will go through much tribulation. But nothing can separate us from him, nothing can truly harm us; even death itself becomes for us the door to heaven.
But this is hard to hold on to, hard to believe. So he provides streams of water to revive us, the message of his Gospel, the good news of all that he has done for us. It starts with how he created us, how he preserves us, how he saved us, how he made us his own. When we review that good news, we are revived, we are renewed in believing that he is projecting us in the midst of disasters and pestilences. It is what we gather in this church to hear and rejoice in. We conclude:
God provides us a refuge in this world.
Truth: God is our fortress as the world falls apart.
II. God is our fortress as the wicked fight
A. The world is full of wicked people fighting us and others
But it is not just storms and pestilences that attack us. The Psalmist tells us, “Nations are in uproar” (v6). Then he goes on to talk about “desolations…on the earth,” then “wars,” “the bow,” “the spear,” “shields,” all of these parts of fighting, killing, and savage acts. This is all the direct result of sin, of wicked people in this world. While this is pictured as things happening between nations, similar things happen on a more local level, in communities, even in families. People shooting each other in increasing numbers in certain areas. Things happening that make some people even afraid, whether wrongfully or rightfully, of the police who are supposed to protect them. Bombs, missiles, armed conflicts ending in casualties in many parts of the world. People feeling driven to demonstrating, even rioting, in a desperate attempt to find solutions.
Again, our Lord Jesus told us these things would happen in this sinful world. He said, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…At that time many…will betray and hate each other” (Mat 24:6-10). Even his people will be persecuted and put to death. We conclude:
The world is full of wicked people who fight us and each other
B. God breaks and protects from the fighting
But there is hope for us who trust in our God. The Psalmist writes,
“Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire” (v8-9).
Now in an absolute sense, this hasn’t happened yet. The final fulfillment of this awaits the last day, when it for sure will happen. And defeating and punishing all the wicked people in this world, namely, those who refuse to listen to the Lord, will be devastating, will cause desolations on the earth.
But when the Lord comes to rule in a person’s heart, when that person comes to believe that he is their Lord and Savior, amazing things happen. Their stony hearts are broken, they become forgiving rather than belligerent, They put down the spear and bow; they seek reconciliation rather than war. When a person accepts that they are a sinner, that God has forgiven them, that he wants them in his family and will protect them, then they no longer feel a need to fight, they can let go and let God take care of them. The Lord does that when he comes into a person’s heart; he did that when he came into your heart. We conclude:
God breaks down the fighting in his people’s hearts.
Of course this is not a perfect change on this earth. We still retain an old self that is slow to trust and slow to let go the instinct to fight; this change grows as we grow in our faith. Then there is the fact that we still live in a sinful world, full of other people who do not believe, who feel a need to fight and defend themselves. Now God will sometimes allow the wicked to inflict wounds on his people to carry out his purposes on this earth, but he will not let anything truly harm us or separate us from him. He is our fortress.
God protects his people from the attacks of the wicked
The Psalmist goes on to write:
“He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.” (V10)
There will come a time when this change will become perfect. Our Lord will return to this earth. The wicked will be consigned to hell; this will be the desolations he brings to this earth, leaving the implements of war broken on the ground and showing that the Lord is exalted. At the same time his people, confirmed in their holiness, will be gathered to live with him in heaven, in perfect harmony and peace, with him and with each other. There will also be no more disasters of disease or flood or earthquake. Just perfect peace and tranquility.
God will deliver his people from this wicked world.
Truth: God is our fortress as the wicked fight.
God said he will protect us and deliver us. We often suffer because we do not trust him enough. But he has provided the stream of his gospel to strengthen our trust.
Be refreshed by the streams of his gospel.
Through the gospel he not only strengthens us, he changes us, leading us to fight less and trust more. We can become more peaceful and at peace.
Let his gospel put you at peace and live in peace.
God is a fortress for his people in this world that is falling apart and at war. He is almighty and wants to be with us. Let us learn to trust in his protection. “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (V11). Amen.
A song for the ascents.
Before we dig into the Psalm proper, I’d like to speak a moment on this heading, “a song for the ascents.” Most of the headings we find in our Bibles are additions put in by modern publishers to help us in following the flow of thought. They do not exist in the original languages.
This is not always the case in the Psalms, however. Many of the headings or notes we find in Psalms exist in the Hebrew text. See, the book of Psalms was something like an ancient Jewish hymnal. And so, we often find there notation for their musicians, or a mention of the author, or the historical context the psalm was written in, or in this case, the purpose of the psalm.
Psalm 121 is the second in a block of fifteen psalms labeled as “Songs of Ascent”, give or take how you translate it. Without any further explanation, we are left to speculate on what exactly this means, but we can make some fairly educated guesses. For example, it could refer to songs the priests sang as they went up into the temple to worship. It could also refer to songs that people would sing as they went up to Jerusalem to worship at the temple each year.
Even the psalm itself “ascends” in thought as it progresses, each thought building on the last to a grand final point. And so today we’re going to ascend this psalm together, one step up at a time, and learn what our God has to tell us about help.
We begin with the question:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains.
Where does my help come from?
It is again unclear exactly why looking at the mountains causes the author to wonder about help, but we can again, make a couple of good guesses. For one, mountains were often dangerous places. And not just dangerous to be on, but oftentimes they were sources of dangers. Criminals of all sorts would hide out there. Invading armies would cross the natural borders that mountains created in order to conquer the land. The natural barrier of mountains can even be responsible for some nasty weather patterns. So perhaps looking to the mountains caused our author to think about his problems. Problems he could deal with himself. After all what was he in the face on an invading army or a natural disaster?
Sitting in a moment of quiet and thinking over your problems, real or imagined, is a good way to start feeling helpless. To think that you can’t possibly have what it takes to overcome what you’re dealing with or what might be coming. You think, I can’t possibly deal with all that, who can I get to help me? What can I get to help me? And now you’re adding on top of that panic that you might not find the help you need and you have no idea what the consequences of failure might be.
I’m sure you’ve had this struggle. Are you perhaps even in the grip of it now? We like to think we live nice, orderly lives that we are in charge of, but there is so much out of our control. We just don’t think about it, we don’t realize it day to day. Our health, our finances, our relationships with others, the very world we live in… Any one of those could change at a moment’s notice, and it might not even happen because you did anything wrong. And it may not be in your power to fix it. What do you do when the prognosis at the doctor is grim? When some accident drains the bank account or a turn of the economy takes away your paycheck? When someone you care about decides that they’re just… done with you?
We want to be prepared. We want to deal with the situation. But we need help. Maybe that’s the reason the author was looking to the mountains. Maybe he was already feeling the natural fears of life and the mountains felt like a place of security. After all, it’s easy to hide in the mountains. And even if armies sometimes cross mountains to invade, mountains do provide a natural barrier. You can’t cross them in wide ranks and so it’s an easy place to defend from.
So maybe that’s what we’re doing. Maybe we’re already feeling helpless and a little panicked and we’re looking around asking… where does my help come from? The mountains? Well, probably not literally. But what would be the mountains we try to look to for help? It might depend on the trouble itself, but I’m guessing things like…
…our bank account
…our own strength or ingenuity
…our family or friends
…doctors or medicine
…government or authorities
These are the things that will keep us safe, right? We take care of ourselves generally. But if we need a little more we have family and friends we can lean on. And in extreme cases we can trust in professional help. The medical community or emergency services or law enforcement or government assistance. Sometimes just remembering that whole support network is there is enough to calm us down.
But the fact is that mountains are not a perfect barrier for troubles. Danger still gets through. Nor is any human source of assistance. I’m not calling any of those things or people unreliable, but they’re not perfect. They all can make mistakes. They all can be caught off guard. They all can miss things or make bad judgment calls or any one of a hundred other things because we are all sinners living in a sinful world.
So, you can look at the mountains in fear or you can look at the mountains as a source of sorta-protection but either way the question remains… where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
Okay, let’s not pretend we didn’t know this was the answer. Especially sitting here, gathered together to worship the Lord, we all know, intellectually, at least, that the LORD is where we find our help.
And we know what he has to offer. We know what a great help he can be. After all, he is the maker of heaven and earth. Not only does that mean he has unimaginable power to help us, it also means that all of this is his. He has authorship, ownership, and the authority to be in complete control of… everything.
So how will he use that immense power and authority to help?
He will not let your foot stumble.
He who watches over you will not slumber.
Yes, he who watches over Israel will not slumber.
He will not sleep.
Those are broad claims! A perfect God, always watching. But let’s explore what exactly that means… how he does this. Because I would guess that even though you knew this truth before coming here today, there are still times when you feel helpless. So, what does it mean to trust in God as your vigilant helper? Does it mean when trouble surfaces, we pray to God and then sit quietly while we trust and wait for him to fix everything?
Well, no, probably not. Because God helps through means. He created things here and put people in our lives to help us. So, when we have problems we pray, we ask him for help and support and guidance and then we go to the things and people he’s given us. Things like…
…our bank account
…our own strength or ingenuity
…our family or friends
…doctors or medicine
…government or authorities
But hold up. How is that at all different than before? It’s a change in attitude. First of all, it changes how we approach looking for help. We go to these things not as our saviors, but we go to them recognizing them as good gifts that God put in our lives for us. There is a big difference between saying “Doctor, heal me!” and “God, please use this doctor to heal me.”
But more importantly, it changes our attitude when the help “fails”. And I put fails in quotes because when we trust in the Lord for our help, there isn’t failure. God is in control of it all, isn’t he? God uses the means here on earth to help us in the best way he knows, right?
If one source of help doesn’t turn out how we want… it is not a failure. God is guiding you along a different path. So…when the Lord is our help, we don’t have to fall to pieces and lose hope when one avenue doesn’t work. The Lord chose to let this happen. The Lord is still your help. If both of those are true, then there is still complete hope. God still helps, but he does it in the way he knows best.
The friend may not be there to help you move. The police may not have prevented the break-in or recovered your property. The doctor may have misdiagnosed you or wasn’t able to fix whatever it was. But when we know the Lord is our helper… that’s okay. Because God has not abandoned you.
This, perhaps, is a good place to interject a related thought as we celebrate kids’ ministry this weekend. Because this right here helps highlight why teaching our children about Jesus is so important. I know as parents you want your children to be safe and protected. More than anything you want to be there to help when there is trouble. And oftentimes, parents are the closest source of help that God uses for children. But as a parent, does it bother or even scare you that you can’t always be there? You can’t watch a child all the time, it’s not practical. And as they grow, they get further away. And someday… well someday it’s likely your child will be here on this earth when you are not anymore.
That’s okay. Because, just like all these other sources of help we talked about… it was never really you helping. It is God helping through you. And that is a very very good thing. You don’t have to be afraid or bothered that you might not be there when you’re needed… because God will be. God keeps working when you can’t. God picks up the slack when you’re not there. And God is even better at loving and caring for your child than even you are.
This is why children need Jesus, so they always have him to help. So he can always be there for them when you maybe cannot. Teach your children Jesus, and with him in their heart, they will always be safe.
Because for them and for us all, God does not rest. He does not sleep. He does not take his eyes off you for a moment. And he does not make mistakes. Earthly help may not always be there when you need them. They make mistakes, but the power behind them, God, is using them for your benefit and he is always there and he does not make mistakes.
The LORD watches over you.
The LORD is your shade at your right hand.
The sun will not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
In fact, it goes beyond the troubles we may tend to think of as needing help. God is here to guard and shield you from things no one else has any control over. No one can stop the sun or the moon (at least not outside of Bond supervillains). But God is your help and protection.
Because God has already helped against the most terrible force that no one else can control: death.
Sin is the real problem. Sin is in this world. It’s the reason so much is wrong, it’s the reason we need help so often. And sin is in us. When God says, “Do!” we say, “No, thanks.” And when God says, “Don’t!” we say, “Uh, why not?” And when God says, “Trust me.” We say, “I think I can do better.” Our disobedience to God earns us death. Not just the end of life here, but eternal death separated from God himself. You can’t change that, and no one and nothing here can.
That is the default destination we are born into. Talk about needing help.
But the Lord as our help? He just… makes it right.
The LORD will watch to keep you from all harm.
He will watch over your life.
I’d like to talk a moment about the last words in each of these lines. In the original language there’s some extra connotation to the literal meaning of these words. If we were to translate these words more literally, we might come up with this instead:
The LORD will watch to keep you from all evil.
He will watch over your soul.
When you look at that, and you consider our real problem (sin and eternal death), you can start to understand what it really, really means that the Lord is our help. He wants to keep you from evil. He wants to save you from sin and death. And… he’s done it. Jesus did it. He came to earth as a human being, as one of us, and lived under the law like one of us. And then he gave that life to you. At the same time, he took your crimes and he paid the punishment they deserved. He died in your place.
Jesus on the cross, shouting, “It is finished!” Jesus leaving the tomb on the third day. That is God as your helper. By his sacrifice you are forgiven your crimes and you are no longer cut off from the Lord. Eternal life is yours now, not death.
Now, I don’t want to be coldly logical about this, but let’s be honest. Getting you to that eternal life is priority number one. Anything else you might have to go through… no matter how horrible it might be… well, it doesn’t last, and if that’s what it takes… it’s worth it. Only eternity lasts. When God says that he wants to keep you from evil and watch over your soul, this is what he’s trying to accomplish. He died so you could have heaven. He will do everything he can to get you there.
The LORD will watch over your going and your coming
from now to eternity.
So sometimes it may seem like no one can help. But that’s only because we’re not seeing it. The truth is there is always always always constant help from God. The Lord has promised to watch over every step from here to the end. But we have to understand his goal. Everything he does is directed at getting you home safely. That is the mission. We may have to slog through some rough patches to get there.
At the same time God is not callous and malicious. God cares about your day to day struggles too. And so he has also promised this: as much help as you can bear.
What do you mean “as much as I can bear”? I mean that we need troubles. We couldn’t handle life being easy. If this life were perfect we would quickly forget we need God. We would quickly forget that we’re looking forward to something better. We need trouble to remember that we need God’s help. And God will help. God does help. Sometimes… sometimes that bad situation is the help we need. Think about a struggle you’ve endured lately. Think about one you might be in now. Maybe you can think of a way God is using that to bless you. Or maybe you can’t. Even if you can’t figure out the reason, you can still trust that God is using it to guide you home. That’s the help he promises.
Brothers and sisters, whenever you struggle, whatever you struggle, take this psalm and put it somewhere you’ll need it. Remember the Lord is your help. Remember how he has helped you through Jesus. Remember how he’s helping you now. He has bought you eternity and he is here every step of the road home. You always have his help.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
I could point to some cameras, some microphones, a computer, and a mixing board as the handiwork of my brother and myself. These things have enhanced our livestreamed and recorded services. Is this something to be proud of? We have others in our church who can make music, together or by themselves; we have those who can teach, who can disinfect, who can arrange flowers, who can keep track of finances, and many other things. We have members who do amazing things at work, though it may not always be visible, members who can make amazing meals for their families, and the list goes on. Are these things to be proud of?
Let us hold that thought while we take a look at some other handiwork, namely God’s handiwork. As we see this phrase in our text, we will see some aspects of God’s handiwork in us.
Look at God’s Handiwork
I. Our being saved is God’s handiwork
II. Our good works are God’s handiwork
I. Our being saved is God’s handiwork
A. We are saved from eternal death by God.
V8: It is by grace you have been _______. (saved)
Consider for a moment what that means. Some people—maybe you or someone you know—have been saved from drowning, saved from a burning building or car, saved from cancer, saved from a terrible fall. It was probably frightening, and the person saved was certainly grateful.
But those are cases of being saved from temporal death. Here we are talking about being saved from the eternal wrath of God where punishments last forever. It can make your skin crawl just thinking about it.
For as Paul points out in the verses before our text, we are by nature spiritually dead in our sins. We didn’t know God, didn’t want to know God, didn’t want to listen to him, didn’t want to follow his commands. What we did, even those things that look good, were done entirely for ourselves. And you were facing God’s wrath, his eternal wrath, for this.
But you _______ ________ saved. (have been) through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
Done by God, by grace, not from yourselves, not by works.
V8: Your being ________ is God’s handiwork. (saved)
B. We are saved by God’s saving work in Christ
Think briefly what that handiwork involved. He couldn’t overlook or ignore sins. Punishment had to be carried out. So he sent his one and only Son to become a human, to become Jesus, to be loaded with our sins, to inflict the punishment due our sins on him, to abandon him to the agonies of hell while he hung on that cross, and to die as an ordinary human being. It was not his death, he had never sinned and earned death, his death was our death. He saved us from death, he saved us for eternal life.
For it is by grace you have been saved through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
This is God’s handiwork.
Your being saved is God’s handiwork.
What now? What now is a good question to ask. How to respond to someone who has saved you? How do you repay someone who got your life back for you? We start with contemplation and praise, like the shepherds and Mary on the night of Jesus’ birth. As it sinks in, we are ready for what God prepared us for.
II. Our good works are God’s handiwork
A. God has prepared good works for us to do
V10: For we are…created in Christ Jesus to do _______ _____. (good works) which God prepared in advance for us to do.
It is not just that we respond to God’s gracious act of saving us by doing things pleasing to him, he is the one who has prepared works that we are to do. If we are filled with gratitude for his saving us, certainly we will want to do them.
Let’s note something about them first. These aren’t even our works. These are God’s works. He has prepared them for us.
So even our _______ _________ are God’s handiwork. (good works)
B. God’s word describes the good works we are to do
So how do we go about finding out what good works God has prepared for us? He doesn’t usually speak directly to us individually, but he has spoken to us through his word. So, we take his word and apply it to our situation in life.
Are you married? What does God’s word have to say to people who are married? Love your spouse, not just in the sexual sense but in the sense of figuring out what they need, what would be good for them, and doing that. He has some specific things for each spouse: husbands to love and be ready to sacrifice for their wife, wives to submit to, to follow their husbands. There’s nothing about husbands disciplining their wives or ruling over them; likewise, there is nothing about wives becoming doormats and serving their husbands like slaves. It all starts with love and continues even when the other is not so loveable.
Are you not married? God’s word has something to say to you do. Keep the marriage bed pure; it is not for those who are not married. Look for a caring, believing spouse to share your life with. And learn that you can serve the Lord single as Paul did.
Do you have children? God’s word tells us not to exasperate them. Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Love them, feed them, care for them, take time with them, make them a priority in your life.
Are you a young child at home? God’s word tells us to obey your parents in the Lord. This means trusting the Lord that he will work good for you in your obedience even in cases where your parents might be wrong. Keep your room clean, do your chores, finish your homework—the rules your parents have set for these things are there to prepare you to be responsible adults in this world.
Are you a worker? Are you a boss? Are you a teacher? Are you a law enforcement officer? Do you have what seems like a menial job? Are you working to support your family? Are you cooking and cleaning for your family? Apply God’s word to your situations in life and do the good works he has prepared for you to do, remembering these are God’s works, no matter what the world thinks.
Think about this. Are the teachers over at Precious Lambs doing anything less big than Elon Musk is flying astronauts to the space station or developing environmentally friendly electric cars? Absolutely not. Is the husband struggling with spreadsheets or factory assembly pieces doing anything less big than Jeff Bezos is delivering those countless boxes to your doorstep? Absolutely not. Supporting a family and training children is not spectacular but it is important for a good society and so that our families become and remain part of God’s family into all eternity. This is God’s work.
We should note that when we let God’s word guide us in good works, it will often bring us into conflict with what is common and what is considered good and bad in this world. What constitutes family and marriage, how we should train our children, how we should respond to laws and rules we don’t like are just a few examples of this. But even in these cases these are good works our God has prepared for us to do. We remember again:
Our good works are God’s handiwork.
What Now? As we look around ourselves in this world, we see many people trying to do great works in many different ways. Some are simply wrong, some are misguided, some are good. As we seek to do good works we want to look to God’s word for our guidance—learn it, trust it, put it into practice.
As we look at where we come from and what we are doing, and then what God is doing, somethings become clear. When we are born into this world, we are dead in our sins. But God saves us through his Son Jesus. Our being saved is God’s handiwork. But once saved he has plans for us, he has good works planned for us. The good things we do in response to his saving us are part of God’s plan. Our good works are God’s handiwork. And Paul sums it up succinctly:
What is God’s handiwork?
We are God’s handiwork, saved by his grace, created in Christ Jesus to do good works. We will want to live as his handiwork in this world. We pray to our God for help in living this life. Amen.
We are finishing up our sermon series on anxiety today.
In our first message called “Why are you so Anxious, O My Soul?”, we learned that anxiety thrives on uncertainty, but is driven out by certainty. That’s why we cling to God’s promises, because there isn’t anything more certain than our certain God.
In the second message called “The Anti-Anxiety God”, we studied the those certain promises of Jesus: Promises that guaranteed a place in heaven, knowledge of the way to heaven, the Holy Spirit within us, Jesus never truly leaving us, and the peace of God himself.
Today we want to talk about how to battle anxiety on a day-to-day basis.
A battle with anxiety can come out of nowhere.
It was the day after I had preached the Anti-Anxiety God sermon for the third time. I was very literally listening to parts of it, in order to critique my delivery, and editing down the full service to get a very brief sermon-only YouTube video.
When I received an email from our adoptive agency…
There was a humanitarian flight leaving that Friday that we could possibly get on in order to get down to our daughter in Colombia. All we had to do was fill out a few some forms online (in Spanish), finish up getting our medical reports Apostilled downtown, and hope that we get on the flight.
Almost immediately, my mind was racing!
When was this email sent?
How much time do we have?
Is this the fastest internet connection to use or should I call up Spectrum??
How am I supposed to fill out a form in Spanish?
Is the link to the right website?
This word “salida.” Google translate says it means “exit” in Spanish. But are you sure it isn’t asking my favorite place to eat lettuce?
Are the “apostilling” accepting appointments?
Do you think they’ll squeeze us in if I ask nicely?
What if they do but the notaries did the notary-ing incorrectly and it doesn’t get accepted?
What if they do but the notaries are offended by my misuse of the word “notary-ing” and I don’t get accepted?
What happens if we do all this work and we don’t get on the flight?
Will I be prepared for worship?
What happens if we do all this work and we do get on the flight?
Will I be prepared for fatherhood?
It was attacking me.
It was winning.
And right after preaching a sermon on anxiety.
What tools does God’s Word give us to fight off an anxiety attack? Before we look in God’s Word, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
Philippians 4:4-7 is a section of the Bible made for battling anxiety.
REJOICE in the Lord always! I will say it again: Rejoice! (v.4)
Do you know the backstory to this section of Scripture? It was written by a guy named Paul. Paul was a believer in Jesus who had gone to many different cities spreading the good news about Jesus, the Savior of the world. But some people didn’t like it. They falsely accused him of starting riots and planning to destroy Jewish tradition. As a result, Paul was put on trial and taken into the city of Rome in order to await trial by Caesar, the king of the Roman empire.
Paul waited for that trial for two long years.
During that, he was under house arrest.
And while he was under house arrest? He wrote these words.
REJOICE in the Lord always! I will say it again: Rejoice!
Can you believe that?
It’s like Paul was on quarantine for two whole years.
What reason could Paul possibly have to rejoice?
A big one.
(1) …In the LORD
This is a key phrase.
Because there aren’t always amazing reasons to rejoice.
During the pandemic, you might have had to lower your expected reasons for rejoicing.
You might’ve rejoiced....
…in completing a word search.
…in the new season of Umbrella Academy on Netflix.
…in tutoring your kid to a B- on her English homework.
…in the Uber Eats guy bringing food before his expected arrival time.
When there aren’t a lot of good reasons to rejoice, Paul provides one:
In the Lord.
Rejoice! In the Lord, there is freedom.
Rejoice! In the Lord, there is belonging.
Rejoice! In the Lord, there is forgiveness.
Rejoice! In the Lord, there is eternal life.
Rejoice! In the Lord, there is peace.
(2) …as a Verb
It’s easy to misread this phrase in Scripture as a command to “feel happy.” That would be strange. Because it is hard to command emotions.
Just ask any mother of a newborn baby who looked at their tiny newborn throwing a fit and said, “Just be happy.”
Or when I tell me dog to just “be peaceful.”
It doesn’t work.
God doesn’t command us to feel an emotion of happiness here.
He’s commands us to do the action of rejoicing.
To sing a hymn.
To turn on worship music.
To shout God’s praise.
To write a praise post on social media.
To take a moment with your kids to talk about how great God is.
God isn’t commanding an emotion.
He is commanding a verb.
Despite our emotions!
And here’s the genius of God.
When you start singing…
When you start shouting…
When you start smiling about the joyful things God has done for you.
You start to feel joyful.
Which is why Paul tells us to do this…
Since it is an action, rejoicing is absolutely something that you can do in any situation.
Don’t believe me?
Consider Paul! He had recently been rioted against, falsely accused, transported hundreds of miles away from his family, endured a shipwreck, been bitten by a snake, and locked under house arrest for two whole years…
Still he writes: REJOICE!
The same is true for you.
Gained a job? Rejoice.
Lost a job? Rejoice.
Finances good? Rejoice.
Finances tight? Rejoice.
Feeling comfortable? Rejoice.
Feeling stressed? Rejoice.
Everyone healthy? Rejoice.
A loved one sick? Rejoice.
No matter what you’re feeling.
No matter what your situation.
Not matter what’s going on.
Rejoice in the Lord always; I’ll say it again: Rejoice! (v.4)
II. Be Gentle
Check out the next verse:
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. (v.5)
The word translated “gentleness” is the Greek word “epiekes.” It means to “be in submission” or to “be passive.”
That’s interesting here.
Because oftentimes when it comes to anxiety, we tend to fight it:
I don’t want this to happen.
I won’t be able to hand that awful thing.
I’m so angry and upset. I will fight to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
Does that fighting bring you peace?
Does fighting whatever it is that’s causing you anxiety bring you calm?
That’s why Paul wants us to be gentle in our words and actions…
(1) …to prevent ANXIETY BUILDUP within YOURSELF
Because anxiety is a pinball in a pinball machine.
And as the anxiety makes its way towards you and the little flipper thingies, you could gently hold down the button and calmly receive the ball, cradling it between the downward slant of the machine and your little plastic flipper thingie.
You could press the button as soon as the ball connect with the flipper causing it to fly in the opposite direction.
Directly into more bells and bumpers which causing your anxiety’s velocity to simply increase.
Imagine that you just got a message about a meeting with your boss at work.
It makes you anxious cause you don’t know what it’s about.
Because you’re anxious, you speak gruffly to my spouse.
They correctly tell you, to “calm down.”
You’re anxious that they’re right so you snap back at them even more loudly.
You look over at your kids who are making you anxious that they heard you.
So, you slam the door in a huff, noticing your neighbors across they street, anxiously wondering if they heard you as you drive to the office.
And you ignore the friendly greetings of your coworkers as you get to your desk, because “you’re not in the mood.”
When you calm down.
You don’t just have the anxiety of your boss’ meeting.
But the anxiety of ruined relationships.
Instead of responding to anxiety with volatile words…
Take a breath.
Avoid angry outbursts to keep anxiety from increasing within you.
(2) …to prevent BUILDUP within OTHERS
Allow me to illustrate this point. By communicating the same truth in two different ways:
1. Oh friend, there’s a mistake in this report.
2. HEY LOSER! THERE’S A MISTAKE IN THIS REPORT!!!
1. Honey, we’re running short on funding.
2. WE’RE RUNNING SHORT ON FUNDING!!!!
3. Sorry, Kids. This home teaching thing is difficult.
3. LISTEN, RUNTS! THIS TEACHING THING IS DIFFICULT!!!
Which style puts you on edge more?
The same is true for others too.
Be kind with your words.
To prevent anxiety for others.
But before you say, “Pastor, who cares about everyone else’s anxiety…”
Listen to the last part of the verse.
(3) …because the LORD is near
That’s both a scary and comforting thing.
On the one hand, God is near, and he hears you speaking that way to the spouse he created for you?
To the parents that he gave you?
To the children that he gifted you?
How much do you think it pleases him when you do that?
On the other hand, God is near.
You’re in his hands.
You are his forgiven child.
Whatever anxiety is causing you to feel so frustrated, it’s nothing compared to the God who died and rose again to save you.
You’ll be okay.
Take a breath.
III. Be Prayerful
One more section of WHAT NOW? Think of it like a secret weapon against anxiety:
Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. (v.6)
This verse really helps us to understand the word, “prayer.” Paul has followed it up with a synonym, “petition.”
What’s a petition?
A petition is something that you sign in order to ask someone in a higher-up capacity (government, work, school) to change something.
For example, a petition was integral in change the Wake school plans to be more virtual than in-person this year.
A petition was integral in allowing us to fly on a humanitarian flight to Colombia.
Petitions are integral in changing hidden racial prejudices within our American system.
If the change that you want has to do with your personal life, who do you take the petition to?
The government doesn’t care that much about you.
Your boss might not either.
Who should you petition in order to remove anxiety in your life?
Bring your petition…
(1) …to God
God’s never too busy.
God’s never too stressed.
God doesn’t require a group of about 500 to sign your petition before he takes the anxieties in your life seriously.
In fact, God already took the source of your ultimate anxiety (sin) out of the equation, before you ever even petitioned him.
He came to earth for you.
He lived perfectly for you.
He died innocently for you.
He rose triumphantly for you.
Now he waits attentively to hear your petition.
To listen to your anxieties.
To share your anxieties.
And he wants to hear it all.
(2) …in ALL Things
Sharing anxieties can absolutely improve your outlook, right?
But sometimes you don’t know who to share your anxieties with because…
Maybe they’ll gossip.
Maybe they’ll judge.
Maybe they’ll just get angry about that secret thing.
Maybe they’ll think this isn’t important enough.
Maybe they’ll do that thing where immediately; they start telling you all about their own similar anxiety before you finish your first paragraph.
He’ll simply listen.
No matter what it is that’s causing you anxiety, you can talk to God about it.
(3) …with THANKSGIVING
Look to the end of this verse on prayer. It mentions that we should pray to God with thanksgiving.
It’s kind of a circle back to verse 4 that says, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”
God wants us to come to him with a thankful heart, because that immediately refocuses our hearts from anxiety to thankfulness.
It’s like an actual thanksgiving meal where you sit down to a meal filled with delicious hot baked turkey, green bean casserole with the little crispies on top, asparagus, cranberry sauce, three different kinds of potatoes, hot buns, corn on the cob, and a variety of grandma’s hot pies awaiting you in the oven.
It’s VERY hard to make your first words a complaint.
Thanksgiving battles anxiety.
Even if you aren’t at the Thanksgiving table.
Looking for a practical way to do this?
Here’s what I was told to start doing by a pastor who knows what he’s talking about:
Before I begin each morning devotion.
Before I begin with prayer.
I force myself to write out 5 things that I am thankful for.
Could be anything.
My beautiful wife.
My beautiful daughter.
The dog licking my leg.
The cat batting my hand as I write.
The taste of last night’s Doritos on my breath.
But here’s what happens.
No matter how groggy.
How grumpy I might be.
Taking a moment to reflect on what God has given me, battles that anxiety.
Instead of focusing on what I wish were true,
I look at the amazing things that are already true.
And it immediately gets much tougher to be anxious.
IV. God’s What Now?
There’s an interesting finale to our sermon. Because usually we end with WHAT NOW’s for us. These are take-homes for us to put into practice.
But we’ve already got three of them.
This week we are ending with God’s WHAT NOW?
What is GOD going to do for you and for me to battle anxiety?
Look at his promise in verse 7:
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (v.7)
Paul was quite familiar with guards.
Since he was under house arrest, yes, he knew he couldn’t go out into the world.
But he was also safe from unlawful people who wanted to kill him.
Roman guards were there at his door 24/7.
Armed with a sword.
Skilled with defense.
Protected with armor.
In verse 7, God promises to
Send His PEACE to GUARD your heart.
It’s a peace beyond understanding:
We are sinners.
God is holy.
Jesus died and now we have peace?
Yet this is a true peace.
It is a God given peace.
It is a peace that guards our hearts and our minds against any anxiety that comes our way.
This means you aren’t alone.
You don’t have to battle anxiety alone.
God is with you.
God is battling it for you.
And God always wins.
In Jesus, you will have PEACE. Amen.
We started our sermon series called ANXIOUS FOR NOTHING last week and talked about how anxiety thrives on UNCERTAINTY. This means that rather than cling to uncertain truths like “things should get better” or “I think COVID will be done soon”, we cling to the CERTAIN truths of God to battle anxiety.
Today, we’re diving into a situation where the disciples had all kinds of reasons to feel anxious, but Jesus gave them even more reason not to be. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. All Kinds of Reasons for Anxiety
The lesson comes from John 14. In this account, Jesus and his disciples were gathered around a table celebrating the Jewish Festival called the Passover. It was a celebration of when God delivered the Israelite people from their slavery in Egypt.
The mood was festive.
Jokes were made.
Kosher finger foods were passed around.
Wine was available to consume in moderation.
Suddenly, Jesus broke the festive mood:
“Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” (John 13:21)
Things got real quiet, real quick.
Who is it?
Can’t be me.
Probably James the Less, he’s been quieter than normal tonight.
I do hope, Jesus, that it isn’t me.
Jesus responded: “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas.” (v.26)
Judas looked down at the piece of gravied bread.
He looked up at Jesus.
And got up and left them room.
As the rest of the disciples watch Judas leave in shock, Jesus gave them more sad news:
“My children, I will be with you only a little longer.” (v.33)
As I’ve told you before:
I will be betrayed.
Nailed to a cross.
And by the way…
“This very night you will all fall away on account of me.” (Matthew 26:31)
You’ll abandon me.
To which Peter replied:
James the Less, most likely.
But never me!
Jesus sadly looked at him and said:
Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” (Mt. 26:34)
I think it’s safe to say that at this point, the festive mood was dead.
All that was left was anxiety.
Is Judas really going to betray you?
Is Peter really going to deny you?
Are we really going to abandon you?
And if you die, what’s going to happen to us?
What about our safety?
Won’t we be next in line for the cross? I’m not ready to die!
And what about our ministry?
What about your followers?
What about our mission?
If you leave us in charge, this kingdom of God thing is going to die.
The mood in the room had changed.
Festivity has been replaced with anxiety.
But Jesus didn’t let the anxiety linger. As big as their anxiety was, his promises were even bigger:
“Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (14:1)
Did you catch that?
Jesus speaks firmly.
Jesus speaks calmly.
Jesus speaks peacefully.
Stop being anxious.
Stop letting anxiety take over.
Listen to me.
I have some promises for you that will work against your anxiety.
Promises of peace.
Friends, these promises were written down.
They were written down because they are for you as well.
If you feel like 2020 is about as anxious as a party with Jesus where he predicts his betrayal:
Listen to your Savior.
He has promises for you.
II. Anti-Anxiety Promises of Jesus
(1) You have a ROOM in Heaven
I don’t know if you’ve been out and about trying to get into any of local establishments since they’ve reopened, but it isn’t as easy as it used to be.
Restaurant seating has been cut in half.
Stores have limits on how many people can enter.
The other day we tried to get into Top Golf. Have you heard of this? You swing a golf club with some friends and try to get the balls to land in particular targets. I was looking forward to it.
They serve chicken wings.
They serve beverages.
It’s out in the open air.
You’re walled off from everyone outside your group.
It seemed like the perfect COVID-19 activity.
Apparently, so did everyone else.
There was a four-hour wait to get into play. But we couldn’t make a reservation over the phone. We had to get there in order to physically put our name on the list. We did; only to discover the waitlist had grown to 4 ½ hours. We decided to wait to see if it was going to drop, only to discover that the entire first floor was empty! They had room, but because of COVID – they didn’t have room for us.
Heaven is not like that. Jesus said about heaven:
In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that you may also be where I am. (v.2-3)
Heaven isn’t filled to capacity.
There aren’t rooms off-limits because you are too full of sin.
It isn’t a priority club for all the “most holy of people” who wear nothing but religious jewelry and win Bible trivia every time.
One particular room.
(2) You know the WAY to Heaven
This is another thing that’s a stress off your back.
Because a lot of people have ZERO idea how to get to heaven. It’s one of the reasons that people avoid the question. They don’t know the answer and that uncertainty leads to all kinds of anxiety:
How do I get to heaven?
Learn the right set of Buddhist rules?
Sacrifice to the right Hindu idol?
Follow the correct Islamic principles?
Or just generally do “good” things…
What are good things?
Is it this set of “good” things over here?
Is it this set of “good” things over there?
And what if I mess up?
Can I start over?
Do I need to give my money to a charity?
What if I don’t have enough?
But you don’t have to worry about any of that. Because Jesus has revealed the way to you:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (v.6)
It’s as if you enter “eternal life” into Google Maps and it simply brings up a photo of a cross.
He is THE Way.
Not “a” way.
Not “one of the” ways.
Not even “an optional” way.
And you know him.
You don’t have to try and recall it from that time you drove with your dad.
You don’t have to try and listen to Siri while a rainstorm is causing the 5G to slow to 1G.
You don’t have to try and follow a treasure map that your 4-year-old son drew with a blue Crayola. (Is heaven over by this green squiggle over here?)
Jesus is the way.
And you know Jesus.
So, you know the Way.
Consequently, that segues into our third key truth:
(3) You Know the REAL GOD
Sometimes Social media can be frustrated. If you’re trying to follow Beyonce on Instagram, there’s a lot of options.
Thankfully, Instagram helps people out. It places a little BLUE checkmark next to the Real Beyonce.
Jesus is like that blue check mark.
If you’re looking for the real God, you’ll find him in Jesus.
If you know me, you would also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him... Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me. Or else believe because of the works themselves. (v.7, 10-11)
And Jesus’ works?
They were things that only God could do!
He walked on water.
He stopped storms.
He pulled bread out of thin air.
He pulled fish out of thin air.
He made the blind to see.
He made the deaf to hear.
He made the lame to walk.
He raised the dead.
But three times.
And then when he died.
A time when most people do nothing.
He did the one thing that no one can do while living.
He conquered death.
He brought himself back to life.
That’s a God thing.
This means you don’t have to keep looking for the Real God.
You have found him, in Jesus.
(4) God WILL WORK through You
This one is important.
Because right here during COVID, you might not feel as productive.
You might not be able to have face to face meeting with clients.
You might not be making the same amount of money that your business did beforehand.
You might not be working at all, because you lost your job.
Or you might be working, but the whole job feels extra stressful with all these rules and regulations that you aren’t able to put smiles on people’s faces like you could before.
But look at Jesus’ promise:
“Truly, Truly, I tell you: The one who believes in me will do the works that I am doing. And he will do even greater works than these…” (v.12-14)
Did you see that?
Jesus works through those who do work through him.
And that work?
It’s always greater than anticipated.
When you sit down your kids amid an argument over whose turn it is to hold the Elsa action figure and you tell them about sharing with each other just like Jesus shared salvation with us. Jesus is working through you. It’s greater than settling an argument. It’s about training your kids in Jesus.
When you scroll through your social media feed and you see an angry political post, but instead of clicking ANGRY face and resharing that, you find a photo of your friend’s new baby and type out: “What a blessing! Praying that Jesus keeps her safe always.” Jesus is working through you. It’s greater than a simple compliment, it’s introducing your friends to their Savior.
When you lovingly, kindly make a meal for your spouse, clean the dishes, throw the garbage out, pick up the kids’ toys, and put the child to bed all so that they can relax on the couch with their favorite Netflix show and a glass of wine, Jesus is working through you. It’s greater than making them happy. It’s showing them the sacrificial love that Jesus showed for you.
Here’s the point.
You may be at home.
Life may be different.
But Jesus has work for you.
And he will work through you.
(5) The HOLY SPIRIT Is in You
Ever heard of the Holy Spirit before?
He is the unsung hero of our Triune God.
The Holy Spirit is God.
The Holy Spirit is invisible.
The Holy Spirit is in this worship place right now.
Because the Holy Spirit is always at work when God’s Word is spoken.
The Holy Spirit creates faith.
The Holy Spirit blazes with fire.
The Holy Spirit can turn someone’s life around from sin to eternal salvation.
It’d be nice to have the Holy Spirit with you as you went about work for Jesus.
Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth. (v.16-17)
During the pandemic, mental health is down. Many are turning to mental health professionals for help. There are even some excellent Christian mental health counselors that I know, have worked with, and highly recommend.
But even those professionals have office hours.
Some of them you can only get to through Zoom.
Sometimes, they get distracted by their own mental health.
You have the Holy Spirit as a Counselor.
He lives in you through faith.
And as you are undergoing anxiety.
As you are feeling stressed.
He is the one who recalls promises from God:
God has a home for you.
You know the way to heaven.
God is working through you.
You are loved, God is working through you!
I am with you.
But it isn’t just the Counselor, Holy Spirit who is with you….
(6) You are not ABANDONED by Jesus
And you’re probably thinking. What are you talking about?
Jesus isn’t here.
I don’t see him.
He had the good sense to stay home away from the virus.
I’ll give you this point: Jesus is not visible.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t here.
Look at what Jesus himself had to say:
“I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you.”
Orphan has taken new meaning to me.
Since working on the adoption, we have been exposed to a variety of children that live in an orphanage.
These kids don’t have a family unit.
They don’t have a “parental guardian”.
They seemingly abandoned.
But then again, that’s a very earthly version of the story.
Because Jesus loves them.
He died for them.
He rose for them.
He works through their biological parents to get them to the orphanage.
He works through the orphanage to get her profile to an agency.
He works through the agency to connect them to parents.
And through those parents he might introduce them to their Savior.
It might look like Jesus has left you.
You are not an orphan.
You are HIS.
III. What Now?
This is more proactive than anything. But if you want to head off anxiety, you need a healthy dose of God’s promises.
In fact, you need to regularly ingest his promises.
It’s like taking an apple a day to keep the doctor away.
Or taking a zinc supplement to stave off the common cold.
Or rubbing Lavender on your hair to prevent male pattern baldness. (I obviously have not done that).
The point is that sometimes we supplement our health to keep up our physical health.
The same is true with our spiritual health.
To stave off anxiety, it is valuable to take a healthy dose of Jesus’ promises on a regular basis.
Where do we get that?
Is CVS even open on a Sunday?
Look at the last couple of verses after Jesus gives these promises. He says:
“I have told you these things while staying with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I told you. (v.25-26)
Jesus said that to his disciples.
One was named John
Months later, the Holy Spirit came to these disciples and reminded them of everything that Jesus promised them.
Coming to John.
Reminding him of these promises.
Having John write them down.
So that you might know them too.
Remind yourself of these promises.
Jesus didn’t give you these promises so that you would have ANXIETY.
He gave these promises so that…
I let him tell you:
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not let it be afraid. (v.27)
Not as the world gives.
From God himself.
No matter what it looks like in your life.
You have PEACE.
Dwell in that peace.
One of the byproducts of COVID-19 has been a significant increase in anxiety.
Anxiety over our own health.
Anxiety of the health of our parents.
Anxiety over the reopening of schools.
Anxiety over politics.
Anxiety over the economy, our jobs, our plans.
The other day I was sleepy. It was the afternoon so, as much as I love hot coffee, I don’t generally drink hot coffee when it’s 125 degrees outside. So, I walked up the sidewalk by church to the closest gas station. I was craving a Dr. Pepper.
I was looking forward to all 23 flavors of deliciousness and the caffeine spark associated with it. As I searched for it in the store, I couldn’t find it. I ended up settling for an off brand and Coca Cola, paid my bill, and went back to work.
But then I saw the article online. There’s a Dr. Pepper shortage. COVID-19 had closed factories for a bit and people began to stockpile Dr. Pepper. Such that the company hasn’t been able to keep up with the demands.
Immediately, I thought:
What if they never restock?
What if I can’t enjoy the beverage during a movie?
What if I never get to taste the 23 flavors again?
I wasn’t alone.
On Twitter, on person wrote:
Can’t find Dr. Pepper anywhere!!! (Crying emoji, crying emoji, crying emoji) How am I supposed to work?
Could you sell the syrup in an IV bag? That would make it easier to wake up in the morning.
Still another said:
Yeah, I’ve been on the hunt for Dr. Pepper. I’ve been having to drink other sodas. They’re all TRASH.
Finally, another wrote:
Such sad time. I need my DP. #NeedMyPepper
Over the next weeks, we want to dig deeper into anxiety and dig deeper into how God helps us with our anxiety. Today we want to discover what the source anxiety and the source of defeating it. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Poetic Anxiety
This lesson comes from Psalm 42. Psalm 42 was written about 3,000 years ago by a Levite. Do you know what a Levite is? Levites were a tribe of Israel. They were named after Levi, one of Israel’s 12 sons. But unlike the other sons, Levi wasn’t promised land. Rather, he was promised that his descendants would have a special place in Israelite history. They were the ones in charge of working in and with the temple.
They kept it clean.
They polished the golden ornaments.
They made sure that the religious celebrations ran smoothly.
A Levite was similar to a member of the altar guild.
Only on steroids.
The man who wrote Psalm 42 was a church worker, but he was also feeling anxious.
Do people who work for the church feel anxious?
As a doe pants for streams of water,
So my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Psalm 42:1-2a)
Did you know that deer drink 3 to 5 quarts of water per day? They are so large that they need that much water. And if they don’t get it? They begin to pant. Deer can’t sweat like we do. Panting is their only way to release heat until they can find some kind of cool water.
The deer is in deep need of relieving its thirst.
The Psalmist is in deep need of relieving his anxiety.
Anxiety is like a THIRST so great it causes you to PANT.
This is literal and physical.
Anxiety can cause headaches.
A stressful tension.
It’s like you’re suffering from dehydration.
Only it’s spiritual dehydration.
The Psalmist continues with the metaphors:
My tears have been food for me day and night,
while people are saying to me all day,
“Where is your God?” (v.3)
Imagine sitting down to watch some Netflix, maybe an old episode of America’s Top Chef and as you watch them cook up a delicious Chicken Cordon Bleu, you get hungry.
You check the fridge…
No chicken Cordon Blue.
Nor is there a piece of leftover grilled chicken.
There’s not even a leftover chicken nugget from your 5-year-old’s unfinished meal.
All that’s in the cupboard?
A bottle of tears.
Anxiety is like is a steady diet of UNEASY FEELINGS.
The nutritional value of tears isn’t great. Tears are made of a combination of recycled water, mucin, lipids, lysozyme, lactoferrin, lipocalin, lacritin, immunoglobulins, glucose, urea, sodium, and potassium. But none of them are substantial enough to be included in even .1% of the daily value of what you need to function.
A steady diet of sadness that is very unhealthy…
If you’re constantly nervous.
That’s not good.
For your health.
Physical, mental, or spiritual.
II. The Source of Anxiety
But where does anxiety come from? I think there are clues within the text. Check out the second part of verse 2:
When can I go and appear before God? (v.2)
Remember the writer was a Levite. Levites worked in temple. Since the temple was in Jerusalem, that means that writer would have lived in or near Jerusalem.
But here, we discover he has been separated from the temple.
Ones of the reasons may have been that this was during the time of the Israelite Civil War. Originally, the 12 tribes of Israel were one united kingdom. But after a king named Solomon passed away, there was a struggle for the throne.
Some followed one guy.
Others followed another guy.
Such that the kingdom split into two kingdoms. Scholars estimate that the guy writing this Psalm may have been separated from the temple due to the Civil War. In fact, later he in the Psalm he reveals that he is writing…
from the land of the Jordan,
from the heights of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
That’s over 150 kilometers from Jerusalem.
At any rate…
The writer isn’t in Jerusalem.
It’s no wonder he’s so anxious.
He wonders if he’ll get to see the temple soon.
He wonders if he’ll get to spend time with his friends in this next month.
He wonders if a year will pass without him hugging his family.
Anxiety can come from FRETTING about the FUTURE.
A key source of anxiety this week seems to be about school.
Whether you’re a teacher or a parent, you might be nervous about this year.
Will your kids be safe learning in person?
Will your kids be able to learn online?
Will your kids be able to avoid a “gap” in learning?
Will your kids be able to get back to school soon?
Will you remember what a parabola is if you have to teach geometry?
The reality is…
No one really knows the answers to these questions.
Not the health officials.
Not the government.
Not the school superintendent.
Not even the very opinionated friend on your Facebook timeline.
No one knows what the future holds.
This is why focusing on the future can lead to so much anxiety.
But the future wasn’t the only source of anxiety for the psalmist. Check out verse 4:
I am overcome by my emotions
whenever I remember these things:
how I used to arrive with the crowd,
as I led the procession to the house of God,
with loud shouts of thanksgiving,
with the crowd celebrating the festival.
These verses give a glimpse into Old Testament worship.
There would be throngs of people.
There would be a procession usually led by trumpets and horn blasts.
Loud shouts of thanksgiving: “Praise God! Hallelujah! Hosanna to the King! Amen.”
There would be a festival. A celebration. A holiday dedicated with people gathering together to celebrate God.
Did you see a key word in that section?
Anxiety can come from DWELLING on the PAST.
Sound at all like 2020?
We used to have a packed church.
We used to eat in restaurants.
We used to have festivals downtown.
We used to have open parks.
We used to be worried about murder hornets!
Used to has been a common sentiment.
Maybe that’s the problem.
Because guess what…
Things may never go back to the way they used to be.
Things may never return to what we consider “normal.”
Things may never be the same.
God didn’t promise it.
God didn’t prophesy it.
There isn’t a Bible passage that says, “God so loved the world that he promised to return your life to the way it used to be, in its pre-COVID state.”
Here’s the bigger truth:
If you’re trying to battle your anxiety by hoping for the future.
Or trying to calm your nerves by longing for the past…
Anxiety will win.
Anxiety ALWAYS thrives on UNCERTAINTY.
III. The Source of Calm
Where should we put our hope?
Why are you so depressed, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I will again praise him
for salvation from his presence. (v.5)
Did you see that?
The Psalm doesn’t say:
Hope that things return to way they were in the past. (They might not.)
Hope that things will improve in the future. (They might not.)
The Psalm says:
HOPE IN GOD
The cure for anxiety is putting your HOPE in GOD
Because God is not UNCERTAIN.
God is REAL.
God is ABSOLUTE.
God is TRUTH.
God is MERCIFUL.
In fact, this Psalm is written by the Sons of Korah.
Do you know who Korah is?
Korah was a man who lived at the time of Moses. Moses was God’s prophet, but Korah was sick of listening to him and God. Korah started a rebellion against God. It was a rebellion big enough that there needed to be a public intervention to clarify who was God’s chosen servant.
The rules were simple.
Korah and his followers would stand over here.
Moses and his followers would stand over there.
Whoever was really God’s servant would be fine.
Whoever was not God’s servant would be swallowed alive by an earthquake.
Since you’ve probably never heard of Korah before…
Guess who got swallowed by the earth…
The writer of this Psalm was of Korah’s lineage!
It’s understandable that he might consider God to be against him because of what his dad/grandpa did.
But that’s not what God had done.
God had shown him mercy.
God had brought them into his kingdom.
God had made them a part of his ministry despite their open rebellion.
When life made this son of Korah feel anxious, he remembered that merciful God.
The Psalmist writes this passage to himself. He literally says, “Hey self, put your hope in God.”
Later on, he writes this:
My God, my soul is depressed within me.
Therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan,
from the heights of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. (v.6)
Do you remember verse 3?
The Psalmist was in agony because he remembered the way things were.
But here he finds joy in remembering God.
That God things of the past might be gone; but God isn’t.
That things of the future may never come; but God will.
That things might not feel good; but God is good.
IV. How God Battles Anxiety
How good is God?
A type of good that battles our anxiety for us, even when we’re focused on anything but him.
The rest of the psalm describes how he does that.
(1) God Commands MERCY
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your rapids.
All your breakers and your waves have swept over me. (v.7)
The Psalmist feels like he keeps getting hit by wave after wave after wave of bad things!
He can’t keep his head up.
He’s barely treading water.
But notice how God responds.
He doesn’t tell this guy to keep swimming.
He doesn’t tell him he’s on his own.
He doesn’t let him drown.
By day the Lord commands his mercy (v.8a)
Look at the word “command” there. The Hebrew word there is the same word that God uses in the commandments.
He commands us:
Do honor your parents.
Do worship me.
Don’t commit adultery.
Don’t take my name in vain.
But in this Psalm, God is not commanding US to do something about our ANXIETY.
God commands his MERCY.
It’s as if God is sitting on his Almighty throne giving orders to his mercy to go to earth and help YOU:
Go! Help her!
Go! Uplift him.
Go! Calm their anxiety.
Go! Give them peace.
(2) God Soothes with SONG
And at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life. (v.8b)
When you were little did you have a favorite bedtime song to sing with your parental figures?
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star?
Jesus Loves Me
Rock a Bye baby, don’t say a word.
I know a kid whose said his favorite bedtime song was baby shark.
I don’t know how well that soothed him.
But the truth is that God soothes us.
God SOOTHES with his song called the GOSPEL,
When we’re anxious and worried, it is God he speaks truth in the Gospel.
I love you.
I am with you.
I will not leave you.
In the Gospel,
It’s as if God is holding your hand.
He’s rubbing your back.
He’s looking you in the eye and whispering:
V. The Long Game
But here’s a reality.
Anxiety doesn’t instantly get solved.
In fact, look at how the Psalmist continues:
I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go around mourning because of oppression by the enemy?”
It is like breaking my bones when my foes taunt me.
All day long they say to me, “Where is your God?”
Why are you so depressed, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me? (v.9-10)
Anxiety is a battle.
Because there are constantly things that make us anxious.
There are constantly people that make us anxious.
But even if anxiety is a repetitive struggle.
The Psalmist has a repetitive refrain:
Hope in God, for I will again praise him
for my salvation from the face of my God. (Psalm 42)
Do you see it?
He repeats what he said before.
Put your hope in God.
Put your hope in God.
Put your hope in God.
Since anxiety is RELENTLESS, we RELENTLESSLY put hope in God.
When anxiety is high.
Put your hope in God.
When anxiety is about school.
Put your hope in God.
When anxious about work.
Put your hope in God.
When anxious about money.
Put your hope in God.
When anxious about your future.
Put your hope in God.
We are finishing up a sermon series on Acts. It’s a book in the Bible that focuses on the work of the Early Christian Church. This summer, we’ve been focused on the final eight chapters of Acts which are all about a missionary named Paul.
If I had to use one word to describe Paul in these last chapters of ACTS, I’d use bold.
Think about it:
While facing a riotous crowd chanting for his death, Paul took the opportunity to preach a sermon.
On trial before hundreds of men that hated his guts, Paul spoke about the resurrection.
Standing before, not one, not two, but three government figures with the ability to have him put to death, Paul talked about how Jesus defeated death.
After a hurricane, a shipwreck, and a snakebite, Paul simply shook it off and boldly kept serving Jesus.
Paul was definitely bold.
Do you ever wish you were like him?
Do you ever wish you could boldly walk up to a stranger and tell them about Jesus?
Or maybe a coworker?
Or a friend?
How about a spouse?
Today is the culmination of Paul’s journeys. He arrives in the biggest, most influential, most powerful, and most intimidating city in the Ancient world: Rome. As we study Paul’s bold actions in Rome, we’ll discuss how we might be just a bold as Paul. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
Last we left Paul, he made an unexpected stop. A wind called the Northeaster shipwrecked him on the island of Malta. There he survived a snake bite, healed the father of the chief island executive named Publius, and shared the Gospel.
But three months later, it’s again safe to sail. So…
After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island—it was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli. There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them. (v.11-14)
Scripture references “Brothers and sisters”. This isn’t a reference to Paul’s biological brothers and sisters. (Although, trivia fact: Paul had a least one sibling. If you remember, his nephew had saved him from a death plot back in Jerusalem.)
These words refer to fellow believers.
A people who shared a deeper bond than genealogical blood.
People who share the bond of Jesus’ own blood.
Here’s how deep it is: though they’ve never met Paul, they invite him to spend a week with their fellowship.
They hug him.
They high-five him.
They give him a hearty handshake, look him in the eyes and remind him that God has his back.
They hand him a coffee.
They hold a potluck for him.
They let him try 13 different kinds of JELL-O casseroles – including the green kind with the little carrot bits inside.
They worship together.
They study God’s Word together.
They join hands and pray God’s blessing on Paul’s work together.
When the week is up, Paul’s voyage to Rome continues.
We came to Rome. The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. (v.15)
Back to the map. From Puteoli, Paul sets out on foot towards Rome. The Forum of Appius is about 40 miles from Rome, but a group of believers know that Paul is on his way and they travel that 40 miles to meet Paul and walk with him. A second group leaves Rome, travels 30 miles by foot and meets Paul at the Three Taverns.
Now, this is important
Because I’m sure that these people had jobs.
I’m sure that these people had responsibilities.
I’m sure that these people had the 1st century equivalent of ZOOM meetings. (I think they call those “meetings.”)
They did not hesitate to ask off work, use up vacation time, and walk for days just to get to this stranger named Paul and walk with him.
Is it any wonder Paul’s reaction?
At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged. (v15b)
Because Paul was a foreigner.
Paul was in a strange land.
Paul set to meet with the highest authority in the ancient world.
He was probably feeling a bit intimidated.
But seeing friendly faces?
It encouraged him.
Keys to a Bold Faith #1: The ENCOURAGEMENT of Fellow BELIEVERS
Can I speak candidly on this?
COVID has been difficult for me. I think I thrive on interaction.
I get pumped when I see a smiling face nodding along to a sermon point.
My heart beats faster when I see fellow believers join me for worship.
I feel happy when someone gives me a hearty handshake.
During the initial phases of COVID – all of that went away.
Honestly, I started thinking – this is too much.
I’m spending all this time getting online worship figured out and for what?
Is anybody even listening?
The text messages.
The phone calls.
The in-person, socially-distanced, mask-covered visits.
The encouragement of other believers.
If it wasn’t for the encouragement that some of you gave me, I wouldn’t have made it through this.
Friends, it’s works the same for you too. The Early Christian church knew how important encouragement was to boldly sharing the Gospel. The group in our text knew it so well that they went the extra mile; no, they went the extra 40 miles just to get some encouragement to each other.
I think that’s important.
The devil is tricky.
And in the modern world.
Rather than ask ourselves, “How many ways can I stay connected?”
I fear the temptation is to say, “What’s the bare minimum?”
Show up once a month?
Like a post on Facebook?
Read an Instagram post?
Friends, if you’re asking what the bare minimum is, you’re asking the wrong question.
Bold faith needs the encouragement of others.
Proverbs 27:17 says this, “As Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
Like two knives sharpening one another; time with another believer sharpens the two believers.
Bible study? Sharpening.
ZOOM study? Sharpening.
Scripture text message? Sharpening.
Phone call to catch up and see what you can pray for? Sharpening.
Pay attention: This is not a mandate to “get to in person worship.” Not at all. If you’re watching this service online, you are getting the encouragement of others. That’s a sharpening.
But I am challenging you to look at your life and consider:
How might I get more connected to God’s people than I am currently?
How might I get my faith sharpened?
The lesson continues, “When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders.” (v.16-17)
Now hold up!?!
Paul getting together with other believers made sense.
But three days after being in Rome, he calls together the “local Jewish leaders”.
Do you recognize who those guys are? It’s…
The same group that threw stones at him in Thessalonica.
The same group that rioted against him in Jerusalem.
The same group that plotted to kill him.
Granted, the group in Rome is a different group of human beings, but they still belong to the same group.
Why would Paul seek them out?
The answer is in verse 23: “They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus.” (v.23)
Do you see it?
He wanted to tell them about Jesus.
Keys to a BOLD Faith #2: Stay Focused on SHARING JESUS
The same thing can happen to Christians.
We get excited to share our faith in Jesus but then…
We lose focus.
“What will they think about me?”
“Do I know the right thing to say?”
“I think I have bad breath and I don’t have gum on me so some other time.”
“I left my favorite pair of Gospel sharing jeans at home. I can’t share Jesus without my Gospel sharing jeans!”
But a funny thing happens when we focus on sharing Jesus.
We end up also focusing on Jesus.
We focus on how Jesus is God himself.
We focus on his love so great that he died for us!
We focus on a power so great that he rose from the dead.
We focus on his promise so permanent that we know he will be with us.
And with the focus on Jesus?
Suddenly it isn’t so scary.
If Jesus makes us bold enough to face our Righteous God,
He can also make us bold enough to face a mere human.
After Paul does the work of sharing Jesus, look at how the people respond:
Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. They disagreed among themselves and began to leave… (v.25)
On the positive side, no one is throwing rocks at him.
On the negative side, most aren’t throwing “Amens” at him either.
But Paul isn’t bothered. In fact, he quotes this passage from Isaiah 6:
“The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
“‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’ (v.26-28)
This section always makes me think of little kids.
Sometimes they don’t want to hear what you have to say.
Sometimes they don’t want to see what you want to show them.
Sometimes they don’t want to understand what you want them to do.
They throw a fit:
What did you say? Clean up the toys? I can’t hear you mom. I have a toy in my ear.
Oh, no! I’m blind. I can’t see the homework assignment anymore.
Sorry mom. I don’t understand. What do you mean by “stop watching Netflix and go outside?”
Jesus says that’s the way human hearts are towards the Gospel.
The see who Jesus is and immediately close their eyes.
The hear what Jesus says and immediately plug their ears.
They understand what Jesus tells them about their sin and immediately use their sinful reason to rationalize their sin.
Isaiah wrote this about the people of Israel hundreds of years before the Gospel of Jesus made it to them.
Paul knew it.
Paul expected it.
It didn’t stop him when it happened.
Keys to a BOLD Faith #3: Expect REJECTION
Because knowing what to expect makes it easier.
For example, if you plant three to four radish seeds in a 1-inch hole about 2 inches apart and the instructions tell you that some of these radishes will make it while most some will not that will prevent you from angrily pulling out all the radishes during week three because “I’m the worst radish grower of all time.”
If someone doesn’t listen to the message of Jesus, it’s to be expected. Jesus said it this way: “ ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20)
The message is all about Jesus.
And people have been rejecting Jesus since the time of Jesus.
They’ll reject you too.
But it won’t be you their rejecting.
They’ll be rejecting their Savior.
Shake it off.
And keep sharing Jesus boldly.
IV. Celebrate the Next Opportunity
In fact, speaking of rejection, we often talk about all the people who believed the Apostle Paul. We discuss all the people who he preached too. But do you know what we don’t discuss?
How many people didn’t listen to him.
I’d say it’s a lot.
In the hundreds of thousands.
But Paul wasn’t disappointed. Look at how he concludes his conversation with the Jewish leaders:
“I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (v.29)
Did you see it?
Paul is motivated here in the same way he has been motivated throughout his ministry.
Instead of focusing on the people that rejected the message.
He looked at the next opportunity.
Keys to a BOLD Faith #4: The Next OPPORTUNITY
Because while Jesus says some will reject his message,
he also promises others will believe it.
When someone rejects our message of the Gospel.
We simply look forward to the next opportunity.
The next friend in need of being uplifted.
The next relative asking questions about Christianity.
The next neighbor looking for a church.
The next time your kids sit down for Bible story.
Because you don’t have to look at the far for these opportunities.
In fact, look at Paul:
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! (v.30-31)
Did you catch that? Paul’s final two years of his missionary journey involve a lot less mileage than the first years.
After years of travelling hundreds of miles to get to his next stop on a missionary journey,
Paul’s next stop?
Was his front door.
Just close to home.
Friends, do the same.
Preach the Gospel far away and preach it close to home.
Last we left the Apostle Paul, his ship had crashed into a sandbar. But God protected him. He and his shipmates swam and floated on wood to the shores of an unknown island.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Island
This true story picks up Acts 28:1
Once we were safely on shore, we learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us extraordinary kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all, because it had started to rain and was cold. (Acts 28:1-2)
A few notes:
Malta is a small island about 60 miles to the south of Sicily and about 150 miles southwest of the “toe” in Italy’s boot. That means it is about 400 miles off course of Paul’s final destination in Rome.
And the Maltans?
…People of Malta…
They show extraordinary kindness. (v.1)
They built a fire.
They welcomed everyone.
They probably provided some food and drink:
Maybe even a nice beer from a local microbrewery.
All to welcome their visitors to the island.
It’s like the 1st century version of a Visitor’s center.
“Welcome to Malta!”
“Here’s a fresh coffee.”
“Did you want some to buy our best-selling t-shirt? It says:
“I’ve visited MALTA-ple times.”
But did you notice something?
This was all brand new to Paul.
He and the crew needed to “learn” the island was called Malta.
I think that’s important.
Malta wasn’t familiar to Paul.
He hadn’t been there before.
It wasn’t even on his radar.
Why would God, who controls the winds, send through a storm to crash land Paul on the island of Malta?
Especially because God had already told Paul that he wanted him to preach the Gospel in Rome.
Why blow Paul 450 miles off course?
There wasn’t a church on Malta.
These people, nice as they were, didn’t know anything about their Savior Jesus.
Sometimes God gives UNEXPECTED opportunities to share the GOSPEL.
I remember a few years back I was serving a senior group at a retirement home. Since this was a very specific group of 80 plus year-olds, I could tailor the sermon specifically to them. I would leave out references to Pokémon and iPhone updates and instead focus on particular struggles they might have like loneliness, pain, and a lifetime of guilt.
But on this particular session one of the employees came into the living area to help a resident with some medicine. She was a much younger woman about 25 years old. As she helped the other woman, she listened.
She sat down.
She began to tear up.
Afterwards I talked to her and she discussed how her boyfriends had abandoned her, how she was pregnant without any clue if she had the money to raise the baby, and about how she was considering having the child aborted….
She heard the sermon.
She heard that God would be with all these residents even in their old age.
Would God be with her in single parenting?
I told her YES.
Because that’s what God promises in Scripture.
Something God promises because he removed her sin when he died on the cross.
Sometimes God gives UNEXPECTED opportunities to share the Gospel.
Again, like COVID-19!
Here’s an objective fact about ministry at Gethsemane.
We had broadcasted online before COVID.
But we did so with a much smaller webcam. It’s the one we moved up front and now refer to as the “pew” cam.
At that time, our worship would average 5-6 watches on a weekend.
And at least 3 of those were my mom.
But since COVID-19 hit and were forced to revamp our online presence?
We averaged 110 unique watches.
That’s a number that’s gone up – even though people are attending in person.
That number involves…
A family on our block who didn’t know we existed till we popped up on Instagram.
A guy from another state who said the service helped him deal with loneliness.
A woman from the Caribbean who has now followed our social media feed and has even encouraged with me a well-timed “Amen!”
Here’s the point:
Sometimes God gives UNEXPECTED opportunities to share the Gospel.
But…God ALWAYS EXPECTS us to share the Gospel.
Jesus didn’t say, “Go and make disciples of all nations, except for that nation of people that you didn’t know existed.”
He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Mt. 28:19)
Jesus didn’t say, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel… as long as your plans work out the way you want them to.”
He said, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel...” (Mark 16:15)
2 Timothy doesn’t say, “Preach the Word to the people that you’d like to preach to.”
It says, “Preach the Word.”
This means God is calling.
Not to ignore that acquaintance at work who’s feeling glum.
Not to scroll past the friend from high school who’s broadcasting her challenges on Social media.
Not to turn to the people who show up for your Bible study and say, “I was actually hoping to share Jesus with someone else today.”
God is calling us…
God is expecting us to take advantage of the unexpected opportunities he presents before us.
II. When the Unexpected Isn’t so Good
Later that evening, Paul went searching for firewood.
A stick here.
Another stick there.
A pile of brush over there.
Maybe even a piece of broken ship from the shipwreck.
Paul gathered all the wood.
He asked if the fire needed it right now.
The fire tender said, “Sure! Throw your pile of wood on the flame.”
So Paul laid his sticks on the fire and…
…a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand.
This portion of the Bible is written in Greek.
And the Greek word for translated “viper” is “echidna”.
It sounds intimidating.
It’s important because it’s a word used to indicate that the snake was poisonous.
And notice this snake doesn’t just bite Paul.
It fastened itself to his hands.
It plunges his fangs into his skin…
Into his veins.
Into his bones…
And lets the poison seep in.
When the natives saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” (v.4)
Justice was their name for the god of, get this, justice. The thought process was simple.
Paul must have been very guilty to go through a shipwreck, survive that shipwreck and still get bit by a snake.
They grabbed some popcorn.
They poured a large Coke.
They waited for Paul to die.
Paul shook the snake off into the fire and was not harmed. (v.5)
It’d be really easy to think the main point of this sermon is don’t pet a snake.
But it’s worth saying:
Don’t pet a poisonous snake.
But the reality is that the worst kind of poison doesn’t come from reptiles.
It doesn’t come from fangs.
It comes from the human tongue.
The worst kind of poison comes from the HUMAN TONGUE. ‘
James 3:7-8 says this, “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
Think about that.
Snake charmers exist.
They play a little flute called a pungi and weave back and forth, back and forth, back and forth – until they seemingly hypnotize these poisonous snakes into being calm and not harming anyone.
You can’t pungi flute a human tongue.
The human tongue inflicts poison in so many ways.
The human tongue can tell a lie that ruins a marriage.
The human tongue can tell a gossip that ruins a friendship.
The human tongue can tell a joke that ruins a promotion.
The human tongue can say racist things that drive wedges between people of different cultures.
The human tongue can say a complaint that drives someone from ever examining Christianity again.
The human tongue can tell a false teaching that ruins someone’s faith.
The tongue contains the most impressive of evils.
And to avoid it, you might think: I’ll just avoid the tongues most ruthless with evil.
You stay away from your friend known for gossip.
You avoid the angry guy at work.
You refuse to befriend the guy with pictures of Satan on his Facebook profile.
Because in Paul’s case, he didn’t go out to collect venomous snakes.
He went to collect firewood.
Once he had it in his arms, he did not expect a snake to be in the wood pile.
But it was.
VERBAL POISON can come from UNEXPECTED places…
It can come from a friendly coworker.
It can come from a long time Facebook friend.
It can come from your sister.
The things people say can absolutely be poison.
And they hurt more, because these people are close to you.
I can’t share Jesus with anyone.
I’m too big a sinner.
My friend is right.
I can’t keep raising my children as godly.
I messed up too much.
That meme is accurate.
I can’t help anyone.
I’m a helpless mess just like that angry text message from my spouse said.
You stop serving God.
You stop following God’s plan.
You stop letting your light shine.
You retreat to your room.
And keep to yourself.
Have you ever heard of CroFab? They are the leading producers of antivenom in the United States. They milk the venom from spiders and snakes. (How’d you like to be a snake milker?) Then, they inject animals with a tiny, non-lethal amount. They then harvest the antibodies those animals produce and create antivenom that helps humans fight off the venom of a snake. It’s not cheap. The average list price for antivenom is about $3000 per vial.
According to an article from NPR.com, a young summer camper named Oakley was bitten by a poisonous snake on her big toe. She was rushed to the hospital, was given antivenom and cured. Then, the bill.
Do you know what the antivenom for the poisonous words of others is?
The antivenom for unexpected SPIRITUAL poison is GOD’S WORD.
Because God’s Word speaks to you and says:
You. Are. Loved.
You. Are. Forgiven.
You. Are. Mine.
This Word pushes out those venomous thoughts in your head.
It pushes them out with the truth.
It pushes out the poison with truth specifically tailored to YOU.
And how much does it cost?
Just God’s own blood.
But don’t worry.
That price has already been paid.
You have a free, unlimited supply of spiritual antivenom from God’s Word.
Once you’ve been injected with God’s Word?
Shake if off…
When you get BIT by an unexpected enemy, SHAKE IT OFF…
Because what did Paul do when bitten by the snake?
He simply shook it off and immediately went back to working for Jesus.
In fact, Scripture says that, “The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited for a long time and saw nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. (v.5-6)
Based on Paul’s track record, I think we can assume that Paul corrected them.
And explained that the true God was Jesus.
A God, that lived for them, died for them, rose for them, and offered full salvation to all who trusted in him.
And what does God want you to do when the words of others BITE you?
Shake it off.
Use the antivenom of God’s Word.
Go to work for God.
III. Working for God
After word got out that he had survived the snake bite, people wanted to listen to him.
In fact, nearby…was an estate that belonged to a man named Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us and entertained us hospitably as his guests for three days.
There’s another trivia name for you to memorize. Publius is a Roman name. He was apparently the Roman official in charge of the island. And he takes care of Paul, a prisoner, as a guest in his home for three days.
Undoubtedly, Paul spoke the Gospel to him.
Undoubtedly, Paul told him about the Savior.
Undoubtedly, Paul called him to repentance.
The father of Publius happened to be sick in bed, suffering from a fever and dysentery. (v.8)
There isn’t any record of a doctor in the house.
There isn’t any record of medicine working.
There isn’t any record of any drugs being offered to him.
They’d tried everything.
Healing was impossible.
But do you know what else was impossible?
Surviving that viper bite.
Paul went to him, prayed, laid his hands on him, and healed him. After that happened, others on the island who were sick also came and were healed. They honored us in many ways, and when we were going to sail, they put on board whatever we needed. (v.8-10)
Now Paul was not a doctor.
Paul didn’t have a bottle of medicine with him.
Paul didn’t have the ability to identify island herbs for the purpose of healing.
But Paul had God.
Paul went to work.
Expect GOD to work through YOUR work for him.
Because you aren’t called to work alone.
God isn’t asking you share the Gospel on your own.
He is there with his incredible strength.
Strength to send a storm.
Strength to keep a crew safe from a storm.
Strength to cure the poison of the viper.
Strength to cure the fever of an old man.
Strength to drive out fear.
Strength to drive out doubt.
Strength to drive out unbelief.
Strength to do God’s work!
Whether it’s sharing Gospel with a friend.
Sharing the Gospel with a spouse.
Passing on a message to a friend on social media.
Do God’s work and God will work through you. Amen.
Last we left the Apostle Paul he was in Caesarea where it was decided he would be sent for trial in the capital city of Rome, Italy. Today we’ll see what happens as he travels. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Trip
The action for this week’s sermon is found in Acts 27. It’s a travel log written by Luke who went on the journey with Paul:
When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, of the Imperial Regiment. After boarding a ship…which was going to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, we put out to sea. (27:1-2)
Julius is a new name for your Bible trivia knowledge. He is a Roman centurion in the Imperial Regiment. (Of course, whenever I hear the word “imperial”, I think of Star Wars. And here I begin to imagine Julius dressed in full storm trooper garb.
Unfortunately, this is only a long time ago and not in a galaxy far, far away.
Julius is dressed in full Roman soldier garb because he is put in charge of getting Paul and some other prisoners to Rome.
Next is some mapwork.
They start in Caesarea where Paul was located.
From there, they sail north to Sidon where Paul is visited by some friends.
Next, they head up the eastern side of Cyprus. This is because the wind is coming from the West and preventing them from skating across underneath the island.
They travelled west along the cost and finally landed at Myra.
There, they switched to an Alexandrian ship that was sailing for Italy. Alexandria was a part of Egypt, so this was very likely a trade ship on the midst of its trade route. The Roman centurion paid the traders some money and was able to buy passage on the ship for Paul and all the prisoners.
Then, the wind slowed their trip. It took them several days to travel to a place called Cnidus that was only about 100 miles from Myra.
Since the wind did not permit them to go father, they went south and sailed on the eastern, sheltered side of Crete.
Eventually they came to a place called Fair Havens, which sounds like some kind of Disney resort. (Although I doubt they played “It’s a Small World” as Paul stepped off the boat.)
It was at this point that Paul spoke up to warn the men about going any farther. He said, “It looks to me as if the voyage is going to end with disaster and great loss, not only for the cargo and the ship but also our lives’ (v.10)
Paul had previously been involved in 3 other shipwrecks. This is according to his own words in 2 Corinthians 11:25. Perhaps his past experience led Paul to be conservative here.
But Julius doesn’t listen to Paul, the prisoner.
Instead, he listens to the pilot and the owner of the ship, both who suggested they go on – at least to the next harbor about 50 miles down the coast called Phoenix.
When they received a gentle south wind, they cast off, thinking it would allow them the boost needed to go north around Crete.
They never made it.
Before long, a hurricane-like wind, called the “northeaster,” rushed down from the island. Since the ship was caught in it and could not head into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. (v.14-15)
You know a wind is impressive when it has its own name.
Just like hurricane Irene.
Or hurricane Hazel.
Or hurricane Ione.
The ship was caught in the storm and there’s nothing they could do about it.
They lost control.
Some things in life are beyond your CONTROL but nothing is beyond GOD’S.
Because, did you notice in that travel log how often the wind affected the boat’s travel plans?
In verse 4, they sailed south around Cyprus, because the winds were against us.
In verse 7, they sailed on the sheltered side of Crete since the wind did not permit us to go farther.
In verse 13, they took off from Fair Haven because a gentle wind began to blow.
In verse 14, they lost control because a hurricane-like wind…rushed down from the island.
There were so many things that were out of the sailors’ control.
More specifically, so many things that were out of Paul’s control.
Those same things were not out of God’s control.
Because God controls the winds.
God invented the winds.
If weather itself isn’t beyond God’s control, then nothing is beyond his control.
Just like right now. In 2020, a lot of things might be out of your control.
How much income you receive.
Whether you keep your job.
How schools reopen.
Whether the guy down the street wears a mask or not.
The Coronavirus itself.
Not even the internet speed you’re using to watch this sermon.
Lots of things are out of our control.
Nothing is beyond God’s control.
II. The Panic
But the sailors could do some things. They immediately began doing all the things they learned about back in Sailing School to keep the boat afloat.
First, they secured the skiff, a tiny little lifeboat that was dragged behind their bigger vessel. (v.15)
Next, they ran ropes around the ship to reinforce it. The hope was that the ropes would absorb the blows from the waves and hold the stern together. (v.16)
Then, fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor. They might be bobbing up and down violently, but at least they wouldn’t be smashing into land. (v.17)
But it didn’t work.
The wind was harsh enough that they still were driven along.
The soldiers began to throw the cargo overboard. (v.18)
Gone are the suitcases.
Gone are the blankets.
Gone are the personal hygiene kits.
Gone is the iPad mini.
Still in trouble.
Next, they threw the ship’s gear overboard. (v.19)
The boom vangs.
All things that I don’t even know what they do.
But they were somewhat important.
But the sailors thought they were worthy tossing overboard in order to slow down the speed of the boat.
It didn’t work.
When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the violent storm kept pressing down on us, finally all hope that we would be saved was disappearing. (v.20)
Because they couldn’t move.
And they couldn’t navigate.
And they couldn’t do anything to save themselves.
They didn’t have any reason for hope.
But Paul did:
“I urge you to keep up your courage, because there will be no loss of life among you. Only the ship will be lost. In fact, last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand before Caesar. And surely God has graciously given you all those who are sailing with you.’.” (v.22-24)
Appears to tell Paul don’t worry.
Don’t you wish you had that kind of promise from God?
Don’t you wish you had that kind of encouragement from God?
Don’t you wish God would speak to you to tell you not to worry?
In the Bible.
When all hope is LOST, there’s hope in God’s PROMISES.
Because God had promised to Paul that he would make it to Rome.
Since he wasn’t in Rome yet, Paul figured he would survive the storm.
God might not have promised Rome to you.
God did make promises to you. He said:
He promised: “Surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:21)
He promised: “I will give them eternal life and no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)
He promised: “Whoever believes in me will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
He promised: “I will come back and take you to be with me where I am.” (John 14:3)
He promised: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:15)
If you feel like all hope is LOST, may I remind you…there’s hope in God’s PROMISES.
III. Time to Abandon Ship?
When the fourteenth night came, while we were being driven back and forth in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were approaching some land. They took soundings and found it to be one hundred twenty feet deep. After sailing a little farther, they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. (v.27-28)
Sounding was originally done by hand with a sounding pole or a weighted lead line. The pole or weighted lead line would be dropped into the water and when retrieved you could estimate the depth of the ocean by the length of wetness on your line. Usually the devices would be marked up every couple of meters in order to allow a quick approximation of depth.
The depth for these sailors was shrinking quickly.
Fearing that we would run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daybreak. The sailors tried to escape from the ship and had let down the skiff into the sea, pretending they were going to put out anchors from the bow. (v.29-30)
Because the lifeboat only had room for so many people.
Since the sailors knew that…
And since they knew that they would crash…
They tried to sneak off when no one was looking:
“Hey look isn’t that the Little Mermaid over there!?!”
Paul knew what they were doing.
And he reminded them what God had told them:
“If these men do not stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” (v.31)
Because God had said that Paul would survive.
And he had said that all who were sailing with Paul would survive. (v.24)
If these men weren’t going to sail with Paul…
They wouldn’t survive.
If you ABANDON God, you will be LOST.
Because you might think now is the time to stop worrying so much about God.
You might think now is the time to stop worrying about your church.
You might think now is the time to stop spending time in the Bible.
You might think now is the time to worry about you and stop worrying about your believing friends.
If you abandon God, you will be lost.
In fact, look at this passage from 1 Timothy. It was written by the Paul in this story to a fellow believer. He wrote:
My son, I am giving you this command… so that…you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. (1 Tim. 1:18-19)
Now is time of job loss.
Of a slumping economy.
Of an unprecedented pandemic.
Of social distancing.
Or blatant racism…
Those things are all rough!
If you think now is the time to abandon God?
If you think now is the time to abandon God,
Then you can add “SHIPWRECKING YOUR FAITH” to the list of the sad things to happen during 2020.
Don’t abandon God.
Don’t abandon God’s Word.
Don’t abandon your church family.
IV. A Strange time to Worship…
Instead of abandoning ship, Paul had a different idea for the crew:
Just before daybreak, Paul urged them all to eat some food. (v.33)
I like that.
In the midst of a storm, just eat some food.
Grab some beef jerky.
Fix up some Spaghetti-Os.
Slam a bag of Doritos.
You’ve gotta keep your strength up.
But seriously, it is important to be physically well during a storm.
It’s important to be physically well…
But also spiritually well.
It’s why Paul continues to feed them.
“This is the fourteenth day you have waited in suspense and have gone without food. You have eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food because this is important for your rescue. In fact, not a hair from any of your heads will be lost.” After he said these things and had taken some bread, he gave thanks to God in front of them all. (v.34-35)
Did you catch it?
All the gear is lost.
Things look bleak.
Paul has them eat food.
Here’s the TRUTH:
In a storm, WORSHIP God.
Understand what I’m saying:
I’m not demanding that you attend in person worship.
You might not feel safe to be at in person worship- and that’s ok.
Maybe you feel safer in outside worship.
Maybe you feel safest at home doing online worship.
It’s OK to worship in a different way.
But…It’s not ok to NOT worship.
Because in worship we connect with God.
In worship, we sing his praises.
In worship, we give him thanks.
In worship, we connect with God.
In worship, we hear his promises.
In worship, God gives us HOPE.
Rather than spend less time with God over these next COVID months.
Spend more time with him.
V. Safe at Last
Suddenly, the sailors noticed there was some land up ahead.
They didn’t know what kind of land it was, but they were thrilled for a chance to get to shore.
It’s kinda like finding a rest stop after hours of driving on a highway without a rest stop.
You don’t recognize it.
But your kid needs the bathroom, so you stop.
Before they can run the boat aground, it hits a hidden sandbar and the boat stars tearing to pieces.
Immediately, people figure they won’t make it.
And the soldiers came up with an idea.
The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners so that no one would swim away and escape. (v.41)
As opposed to today, in the Roman world you are guilty until proven innocent. If word reached Caesar they had let the prisoners escape, the guards themselves would be killed.
But the Centurion remembered Paul’s warning.
They all had to stay together.
He ordered those who could swim to get out and swim.
And he ordered the rest to grab a plank of wood to float to land.
And so they did.
Some began the front crawl.
Some started the butterfly.
Others did the doggie paddle.
And some floated to shore.
In the end. Look at this:
All of them were brought safely onto land. (v.44)
All of them.
All the sailors.
All the soldiers.
All the prisoners.
All made it to shore.
Because God promised they would all make it to shore.
God FULFILLS his promises.
You’ll get through this pandemic.
You’ll get through that job loss.
You’ll get through that loss of money.
You’ll get through that relationship struggle.
You’ll get through whatever 2020 is throwing at you.
God promises to give you strength.
God promises to be with you.
God promises to take you home to heaven.
He will hold you his arms until you safely reach the shore.
That’s God’s promise.
Even when life’s like a shipwreck.
We’re in the middle of our sermon series on the book of ACTS. Last week, a new Roman governor named Festus had come to power. Less than ten days into his reign, he restarted Paul’s trial that had been on hiatus for two years. He listened to Paul’s opponents bring charges against him. Their goal was to get Paul to Jerusalem in order mug him and to kill him.
To which Festus turned to Paul and asked:
“Do you want go? It’s not necessary. It’s illegal. In fact, they might try to kill you. But…it’d sure help me improve my approval rating if you did.”
In turn, Paul very spoke boldly, “I do not refuse to die. But I do want what is right. Since you won’t give it to me, I appeal to Caesar.”
Legally, Festus had no other option but to send Paul to Caesar, but it would look bad to Caesar if he sent Paul to trial without any kind of explanation of what Paul had done wrong.
Since Festus didn’t understand why the Jewish leaders were so upset with Paul, he needed help.
We’re picking up the story there. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. All About Goads
Acts 25:13 says, “A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus.”
King Agrippa was the King of Judea. He wasn’t over Governor Felix. He oversaw the Jewish temples within his region, advocated for Jewish principles in front of the Roman government and appeased the Jews by giving them a “figurehead” monarch.
Agrippa was a cross between Prince William and a church maintenance chairman.
Felix and Agrippa were friends.
And Felix knew that Agrippa was more aware of Jewish thinking than he was.
So, when he got together with Agrippa to have a drink and talk shop, he told the story about how he didn’t understand Paul’s trial and strongly implied that he could use help.
Another trial was set up for Paul.
This time King Agrippa would hear the case.
That’s what happens.
The next day Agrippa…came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. (Acts 26:23)
Big impressive-looking king.
Long flowing robes.
Probably a teacup he held with his pinky up.
Paul stretched out his hand and began his defense. “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate that I am going to make my defense before you today.” (Acts 26:1-2)
The truth is that…
This isn’t about a riot.
This isn’t about a cult.
This isn’t about desecrating the temple.
They just don’t like me teaching about Jesus.
And I get it. I hated Jesus too.
In fact, I was “convinced that it was necessary to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus the Nazarene.” (v.9)
That’s what I did.
I threw them in prison.
I voted for them to get the death penalty.
I had them punished.
Because I was so insanely angry with them, I even pursued them to foreign cities. (v.10-11)
That’s what I was going to do.
I went to Damascus to kill believers.
“At noon along the road, O King, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those traveling with me. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
“Then I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
“The Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’ ” (v.14-15)
We’ve heard this account before.
Paul’s conversion is written about in Acts 9.
A second time in Acts 22.
This third time in Acts 26.
Each time Paul adds a little bit more information about his conversion.
This account includes Jesus using the phrase:
“It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
How many of you thought that the sermon title was just a misspelling of the word “goats”?
By the way…
It is foolish to kick a bunch of goats.
A goad is a SPIKED STICK used for driving cattle.
It may not be the most humane thing. But it was certainly effective in ancient times. Positioned on the plow behind the animals, the spiked sticks would poke the animal in the haunches whenever he backed up. This usually caused the animal to move forward – and keep moving forward – as to not be poked in the haunches again.
Every once in a while…
An animal might try to fight back.
They might try to back up.
The end result?
The animal gets injured.
It didn’t pay for an animal to kick back at the goads, because…
When an ANIMAL kicked at the goad, the animal got INJURED.
Do you get it?
Paul was kicking back at the message of Jesus.
It wasn’t working.
The Gospel was still spreading.
Christianity was still growing.
Paul thought he was harming the message of a false god.
But in reality?
He was only HARMING himself.
REPETITIVE SIN results in continuous HARM to yourself.
You might think it doesn’t.
You might think it’s getting you ahead.
But it’s harming you.
You’re kicking against the goads.
Repetitive lying results in harm to your relationships.
Repetitive gossiping results in harm to your friendships.
Repetitive slacking results in harm to your place at work.
Repetitive drunkenness results in harm to your liver.
Repetitive sleeping around results in harm to your esteem.
Repetitive porn viewing results in harm to your ability to be intimate.
Repetitive anger outbursts result in harm to your kids’ trust of you.
Repetitive sin ALWAYS results in HARM to your relationship with God.
Because God hates sin.
And God punishes sin.
God punishes sin with death.
And try as you might to stop God from punishing your sins.
By screaming at him.
By calling him a liar.
By telling him he’s wrong about this being a sin.
You’ll only be racking up more sins.
You’ll only be racking up more punishments of death.
You’ll only be harming yourself.
Here’s a truth –
I don’t know what your repetitive sin is.
I don’t know what sin you struggle with.
But I do know what God’s Word is saying to you today:
Stop kicking against the goads.
Stop harming yourself.
II. When You Stop Kicking Goads
Take a look at what Jesus called Paul to do instead of kicking at the goads:
“Jesus said, ‘Now get up and stand on your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose: to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things you have seen and to the things I will reveal to you.’ ” (v.16)
This is the reason that Paul left his life of persecuting believers.
He saw Jesus.
He saw that Jesus was real.
He was that the resurrection was real.
He saw that he was only harming himself by what he was doing.
Paul does a turn-around.
He begins preaching Jesus.
He beings telling others to stop kicking the goads.
He begins telling others to “turn around”.
In Bible language, that “turn around” is called “repentance.”
Repentance is what God is calling each of us to do right now!
God is calling you to turn from sin to your Savior.
This repentance results in a variety of blessings.
(1) Life in the LIGHT
I once spent the night at a family member’s house and the sleeping arrangements meant that I would be crashing in an area where the kids played.
No big deal.
I fell asleep.
I started dreaming.
Until I woke up thirsty around 2 am.
So, I sat up and started walking over towards the door. When…UGH! The sharp pain of LEGO corner jutted into the bottoms of my feet.
I took another step…YOW! Another toy to the other foot.
After limping to the water, I came back into the room and OW!!! One more painfilled step.
The next morning, I woke up around 7 am with light streaming into the window.
I didn’t step on any Legos.
Cause I could see where I was going.
The light is better.
Jesus said that repentance needed to be preached, “…to open people’s eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light…” (v.18)
Jesus is that light.
In Jesus, we see things clearly.
I see it now: This thing that I’m doing is sin.
This sin is what I keep stepping in to harm my relationship with God.
But over here, LOOK! It’s the Savior.
Over here is Jesus.
Jesus is the way to restoration with God.
(2) A New AUTHORITY
Have you ever had a bad boss?
When that boss moves on and you get a new one?
You realize that they’re a sinner too.
Acts 26 says that the message of Jesus turns people “…from the power of Satan to God.” (v.18)
You get a new boss!
Because the boss when you’re living in sin is Satan.
And he’s a jerk!
Satan doesn’t care about you.
Satan wants you to harm yourself.
Satan sends you emails in the morning that say:
I need you to sabotage your esteem by 11 am today.
Don’t forget our quarterly goal of weakening your faith by 25%.
Oh…and how’s it coming on utterly destroying your relationship with your spouse?
Jesus on the other hand?
I saw the mistake that you made on that report, don’t worry. I fixed it.
I stopped on the way to work and bought you some PEACE. It’s in the workroom. Have as much as you want.
Have I ever told you how important you are to me? I’ll pay whatever it takes to keep you on staff.
If it costs…
My own blood.
Which leads directly into the third blessing of turning to Jesus.
Jesus says that is another reason for Paul to preach repentance. “…so that they may receive the forgiveness of sins…”
Earlier we said that sin deserves punishment from God.
If you’ve been doing repetitive sins you’ve been earning repetitive punishment from God.
You might call it…
Jesus didn’t do any repetitive sins.
He never repeated a sin even once.
Do you know how I know?
Because Jesus never did a sin the first time even once.
Yet Jesus was punished.
Not for his sins.
But for yours.
That means in Jesus you are forgiven.
For that sin you’ve done hundreds of times, you are forgiven.
For that sin you struggled with earlier this week, you are forgiven.
For that sin you’ve been hiding from others in your family, you are forgiven.
You are forgiven because of Jesus.
And that forgiveness is yours through turning to him.
(4) A Place among the HOLY
Jesus says that’s the result of repentance. Believers have “a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (19)
“Sanctified” is a fancy word.
It means “to make holy.”
Do you think you belong among “the holy?”
Because that doesn’t sound like a place for me.
It sounds like a place for impressive believers.
It sounds like a place for heroes of faith.
It sounds like a place for those people who can quote Bible verses for every situation.
Not for me.
Not for a repetitive sinner like me.
But through faith in Jesus,
That’s exactly where you belong.
You belong with the holy.
You belong with the sanctified.
You belong with God’s people, because you are God’s person.
III. Short Time or Long
At the end of Paul’s confession of faith, Governor Festus had seen enough: Festus shouted, “Paul, you are out of your mind!” (v.24)
But Paul replied, “I am not insane, most excellent Festus, but I am clearly speaking words that are true and sensible. Certainly the king to whom I am freely speaking knows about these things. Indeed, I cannot believe that any of these things has escaped his notice, because this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” (v.25-27)
Can I tell you something about King Agrippa’s family?
His dad was the king that killed the Apostle James.
His grandpa was the king that beheaded a prophet named John the Baptist.
His great grandpa was the king that slaughtered innocent young boys in the hopes of killing Jesus.
Herod Agrippa came from a long line of goad-kickers.
Maybe this is why he can’t believe Paul’s questions!
Agrippa said to Paul, “In such a short time are you going to persuade me to become a Christian?” (v.28)
Look at Paul’s response: “I pray God, that whether in a short time or a long time, not only you, but also all those who are listening to me today would become what I am...” (v29)
That you would stop kicking the goads.
That you would repent.
That you would walk in the light.
That you would serve Jesus.
That you would find forgiveness.
That you would belong among God’s people.
The same is true for you.
Whether it’s been a short time or a long time, God’s not interested in that.
He’s interested in the right now.
Stop kicking against the goads.
Turn to Jesus.