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.