Dread

Fifth in the “As the Wall Turns” series,
Delivered March 17, 2002 by Rev. George Antonakos.

Theme: The force that tempts us to put our trust in false security instead of the Lord.

In the series, “As the Wall Turns” we look at the obstacles Nehemiah faced as he sought to carry out his mission.

Sermon Text:
Nehemiah 6:1-9
and Matthew 5:1-11

… That was taken from the requiem as you can see from your bulletin, and has that tone that in parts of it about fear. There’s a sense of fear that comes through that, and I just couldn’t help but think, as I read the end of that explanation as the choir was singing in Latin, how the Lord will deliver us from death because of our trust in Jesus. We don’t have to be afraid. And yet we are human beings and we do become afraid. And as we come to the final episode of Nehemiah’s story, As The Wall Turns, as I have been calling it, we have learned much from his life about how to overcome barriers to faith, and grow in our relationship with God. We have looked at four “D” words before today. Discouragement, dissension, diversion or distraction, and also distortion of motives. Today we will look at the final barrier. Really it’s the foundation of all the rest, it’s at the root and that is dread or fear. So let’s look at Nehemiah, Chapter 6, Verses 10-15 and there we will see how Nehemiah responded to this barrier as well.

“One day I went to the house of Shemaiah, son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He said, “Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you-by night they are coming to kill you.” But I said, “Should a man like me run away? Or should one like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” I realized that God had not sent him,but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this,and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me. Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, Oh my God, because of what they have done;remember also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who have been trying to intimidate me.”

Fear, dread. One of the two great forces in this world, fear and faith. Fear retards our growth more than anything. Faith revives it. You have probably heard the axiom, fear knocks at the door, faith answered and no one was there. Fear always is overcome by faith, by trust in God. I want to just share with you from this text what I think are three of the things that fear tries to get us to do, or calls in us. The first is that fear tries to obscure clear thought. Fear does obscure clear thinking. In fact, as we look at the beginning of the text, here was the prophet Shemaiah. He probably thaned ritual impurity and so he was shut in at his house and he asked Nehemiah to come over because he couldn’t go out. Interestingly, he does suggest to Nehemiah that they go to the temple, so you know already that he was not being straightforward and notice what he says to Nehemiah. How he tries to drive it into his heart. “They are coming to kill you Nehemiah. They are coming to kill you at night.” See fear creates a rhythm in our head. In fact, if you were to look closely at this text, you would see that it is actually written in a couplet or verse form. “They are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you at night.” They are coming to take you away, ha-ha. They are coming to take you away. You see, that’s what it does. That’s the way the rhythm of fear happens in our head. He says, “Let’s meet in the temple.” See the thinking starting to get …here’s the plan Nehemiah. Let’s run into the temple, let’s shut the doors. We will be safe and secure in that place. What better place could we go to hide from this fear? But Nehemiah knew God’s word and he would not let his thought get clouded because he knew the Scriptures, he knew from Numbers and many other places the fact that said that if anybody but the priest went into the temple area that they were suggesting they go into, they would be harmed. They might even be killed. And so fear gets our rational way of thinking turned about. Fear makes us say and do things that we normally wouldn’t do. Our thinking is obscured. Fear is what turns the chair with the clothes on it into a lion in the child’s bedroom. It’s what makes adults drive ten hours instead of flying one. It’s what makes you think thoughts about others that are totally untrue, or makes you think that they are thinking things about you. Embedded in all of us is some level of paranoia, that’s afraid of what others will think or what others will do to us, or that others will reject us. Fear tragically is what’s at the root of a horrific act of a mother ending the lives of her own children. And so we see that fear is not just a feeling or emotion, it’s a spirit. It’s a power that seeks to control our life, but it’s not greater than the power that God gives. A faith through our Lord Jesus Christ.

King David said, “When I am afraid I will put my trust in thee, in God whose word I praise and the Lord whose word I praise. I shall not be afraid. What can people do to me? My enemies will turn back in the day that I call for help.” So fear, this fearful message did not fool Nehemiah because he thought about God’s Word and understood that the message was not from God. This is the second thing now. Instead of confronting our fears with faith though, many times we will be encouraged to seek out a false security. See running into the temples was a false security, it looked good, and it seemed like it would work, but it wasn’t the right answers. And that’s the second thing that fear does. It tempts us to seek out false securities. It bullies us using scare tactics and surprise attacks. “Quick, run into the temple.” Before you can even think. I tell you today don’t run and panic, run in faith. Let me explain. There was a wealthy Australian who in the 1930’s was dismayed by signs of a global conflict on the horizon. He decided to use his wealth to find a safe place to live and he chose a tiny island in the Pacific, it seemed to be completely secure. The name of the island, Guadacanal. One of the most dangerous places during the 1940’s. Another man fearing an earthquake moved from California to Ohio. His home was flattened by a tornado. A carpenter being afraid of being poor in his old age worked almost night and day and lived very frugally, but the plaza in which he invested his money went out of business and he lost everything. Now, it’s not wrong to seek safety from bombings or natural disasters or poverty that’s not wrong at all. The point is that fear can make us seek out false security and make us run to things that we shouldn’t run to. But the writer of the Proverb says the name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run to it and are safe. See, we can run and panic or we can run in faith. So it’s either run into the tower of the Lord or run to a false security.

Let me share with you some ways of false security thinking. Do you have a fear of failure? Well then the false security thinking will be, well then just play it safe. Just don’t try. See we think that’s what’s going to protect us instead of taking a risk. Faith is all about risk. Reasoned risk. Do you fear rejection? Well then don’t risk getting close. Don’t let people really know you or if you try to get close to people, just keep a barrier there. Maybe your appearance, or your wit or your position, don’t really let them know you. If you are feeling financial reversal like the man I shared with you, your tendency will be the false security of hoarding, instead of giving graciously. If you fear facing reality called life and many people do, many people get up and say, “God can I make it through this day?” And they fear life. And so many times the false security is some kind of drug, whether it be electronic, whether it be substance abuse, something will cause a person to drop out of the reality that they don’t want to face.

You see Nehemiah knew that if he ran into that temple, it would have been wrong. And running into false security is wrong for us as well. The only way to get the dread out is to listen again to God’s word. And Nehemiah knew God’s word. He says in Verse 12, “I realized that God had not sent him. I realized that he had prophesied against me because he had been hired.” Look at that how fear works. Sometimes it will work through legitimate people. I mean this guy was really a prophet. And it says at the end of the text that prophetess and others tried to intimidate him. Sometimes a fearful message comes through people that you normally might trust. Don’t trust anything but God’s word when it comes to a challenge between fear and faith. And Nehemiah knew that God did not send that message, as logical as it sounded at that moment.

Now here is something that you can use as a loadstar through life. God does not send messages of fear. How do you know? Because of what Paul said to Timothy, in 2nd Timothy, 1:7. He was talking to Timothy and he said, “Timothy I know that your disposition many times is to be timid and to be fearful and I want you to remember that I laid my hands on you and a gift of God was given to you and I want you to exercise that gift.” And then what did He go on to say. “God has not given us a spirit of fear or timidity, but of love and of power and of a discipline mind.” You know it strikes me as we ordained elders today in the 8:15 service and we introduced them early in this service, that one of the things that might cause Central Church to be afraid as we move more and more into this new paradigm that Greg Ogden talked about last week, is it seems like it’s getting out of control or let’s just go back to the old way. It just seems too scary. How will we keep things in order? And the temptation would be to just go back to the way things have been.

You know Murray’s here today, Pastor Smoot and he has preached many many sermons from up here and I had the privilege as many of you have had to sit under his preaching for seven plus years, and there is some lines that stand out to you in certain sermons. And maybe the line that stood out to me you remember too, but I will never forget and it has served me so well and I want to thank you Murray. He said, “Never make or not make a decision motivated solely by fear.” Never make or not make a decision motivated solely by fear. And that has stuck with me and I think not only did he preach it, but also he lived it by going to places like Bangladesh and Taiwan and South Africa. It’s a good example for us. And so Nehemiah says, “I will not be afraid of these false messages. I will not move toward false security.” And then it brings us to the third thing that fear tries to do. It tries to immobilize us. It tries to just get us again to stop. All through Nehemiah that’s been the goal of the enemy, just stop, just quit. And he says, “remember God, Tobiah and Sanballat in Verse 14, because they had been trying to intimidate me to stop the work. That’s what fear does. It immobilizes us, it tries to get us to just stay right in one place and not move forward. I was amazed when I read a letter from early January. Sometimes we support the Jesus film project and one letter came and it gave a day in the life of Jesus’ film teams, and it just gave an account by account of what it might be like to serve on a film team going into the remotest parts of the earth, going into the most scariest places on earth to preach the gospel. And in one unnamed country, they couldn’t even list the name of the country because it was too dangerous to do so, it says, “Ten Hindu radicals are ready to attack. Now hidden in the bushes they surrounded an unsuspecting film team that has just finished showing Jesus. The people have left. The radicals emerge with shouts of obscenities, wielding clubs, sticks and stones. For ten minutes they mercilessly beat the film team members and destroyed their equipment, they left them for dead and two are unconscious. Days later the severely beaten men are released from the hospital rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. A month passes undaunted and almost fully recovered they resume their mission with more resolve than ever.” Where does that come from? Where does that kind of courage come from? Where does that kind of standing in the face of fear come from and just staring it down?

Another account. In India after all these accounts come into this central office, here’s the last entry into this letter. It says about 200 young men, all in their 20’s here a final challenge and here’s the challenge from the country director. You’re about to begin a great adventure. You will be resisted. Some of you will be beaten. It’s possible that some may give your lives. So far ten Jesus film team members have died in this service. We will equip you and train you and pray for you and support you and you will see the hand of God at work as the word of God comes through the film, each of you will help in the planting of many churches. Will you commit two years of your life to this service, even if it means death? Would you signify by standing? All 200 men stood at the end of that challenge. How come they weren’t immobilized? Why were they able to move forward? Because they had the power of Jesus in their breasts. They had a power that many times we are just not aware of.

I remember as a kid a childhood fear that I had. Actually it was a real fear; it was not just a false fear. I would walk home from elementary school; I was probably about eight years old at the time. And to give you the image there was this big row of hedges, and when the hedges ended there was a yard and a house with a front porch. And on this front porch at one point there were these mean kids that had just moved into the house. Just to try to give you an idea I called them “Deliverance Junior”. They were just nasty and nasty looking. They said, “kid you better not cross in front of that sidewalk.” “You’re going to get it if you do.” I was shaking in my boots. So I would try to find a way that took me way around and my house was just around the corner. One day you know I remember Dwight McConnell. I don’t remember a whole lot of neighbors from that neighborhood, but I remember Dwight McConnell. Why do I remember his name? He saw me coming down the street the wrong way and he said, “What are you doing?” And I said, and I explained to him what was going on. He looked at me and shook his head; he was about 16 years old. These kids on the porch were about 12. I was about 8. He said, “What time do you get home from school?” And I told him. He says, “don’t you worry about a thing.” Well the next day I come walking past those hedges, still kind of shaken, because sometimes they weren’t there and so I would peek around the corner and there they were. My knees started knocking again. They started yelling, but what they didn’t see that day from the back of the house coming up the side was Dwight McConnell. All of a sudden everything changed. I just sort of relaxed. Almost started whistling. I wasn’t afraid of anything. And they were looking at me and yelling still. He came right along the side of the porch, came up kind of sneaking up, kind of like this and he comes up like this and he says, “Is there a problem?” And they looked at him and ran inside. I just walked by, it was the same thing. Same sidewalk, same porch, same kids, but something was different. I saw a power that they didn’t. But look it gets better than that. It’s not get the human power that can help us overcome fear, it’s the power of God himself who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, that’s the very power that it says lives inside of us and in Romans Chapter 8, the Lord says it so clearly. “What shall we say to this? To all this love and grace that God has given us. If God is for us, who can be against us?” He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will He not give us all things with him? God’s given us the package, why would he deny us a ribbon? God’s given us the armor of Jesus to surround us.

What are you afraid of today? Are you using some other kind of means to deal with your fears, than running to Jesus, to running into the tower of the name of the Lord? Are you fearing that if you turn everything over to God, God will do something terrible, like make you do something you don’t want to do, become a missionary, worst yet become a pastor? God has not given us the spirit of fear; don’t be afraid to do what God’s calling you to do. We heard all about call last week. Many times in the Scriptures people heard the call of God and they were afraid, they just didn’t want to do it. Until God came in and said, “I will do it through you.” God desires that you simply put your trust in Him, not in false security, not in an idol, but in Him. Did the wall get finished? You bet. In Verse 15, right after the text that I read for you today. So the wall was completed on the 25th of Elul in fifty-two days. Look at that. Decades of crumbling rock and in fifty-two days God does a great work. You know the wall wasn’t the miracle, the people were the miracle. Nehemiah was the miracle. It makes me think of something that I am sure you have heard before from Philips Brooks. He said, “Do not pray for easy lives, but pray to be stronger men and women. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers, but pray for power equal to your tasks. Then the accomplishing of your work will be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.” Learn from Nehemiah. Learn that prayerful trust in an all-powerful God can knock down every barrier that comes up against our faith and the work that God has called us to.

Let us pray. Gracious Lord we thank you for your great love and mercy. We thank you that you are a shield and a protector, and you give grace and you give glory and no good thing will you withhold from those who walk brightly. How blessed O Lord is the person who puts their trust in thee. And I asked today Lord if there are any who are fearful, any who are facing things that just seem insurmountable in the weeks ahead that you will fill them with your trusting spirit. Help them to look to you and your word, to think clearly, not to go towards false security, not be immobilized, but to go forward in the strong name of Jesus for we pray it in His name. Amen.