Archive for December, 2009

This article appeared in the West Douglas County Record on December 10, 2009:

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the
Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel
said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring good tidings of great
joy, which shall be to all people.” – Luke 2:9, 10 KJV

Once I attended a college Christmas concert narrated by a young man with a resonant baritone voice, perfect for the role. Mostly he did a great job, but when he came to the line “and they were sore afraid,” he said it with a sappy, condescending tone of voice that said, “Oh, the poor shepherdy-poohs are scared.” I felt embarrassed and a little bit indignant. If we saw real angels face-to-face in all their supernatural glory,we would not look down on the shepherds for being “sore afraid.”

There are many places in the Bible where people are told to “fear not.” Let’s look at a few of them:

In Isaiah 35:4 we read, “Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be
strong, fear not: behold your God will come with vengeance, even God
with a recompence; he will come and save you.” God doesn’t just tell
us “fear not,” He gives us a good reason not to fear. It always,
always has to do with the fact that He is coming as Savior. We see
this in Genesis 15:1, the first place where “fear not” appears in the
Bible: “After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a
vision saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding
great reward.” Can you imagine what it would be like to have the LORD
come to you in a vision? God knew Abram needed reassurance, and He was
more than happy to give it to him.

Abram also had fears that he would not become the father of a great
nation, as he had been promised, so God reassured him of that as
well: “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to
number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he
believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”
Genesis 15:5,6. We need God’s promise to soothe our fears, and to
ground us in faith. I John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but
perfect love casteth out fear.” It is His perfect love that motivates
Him to deal with our fears, in such a way that they are overcome by
His promises.

Joseph, too, had fears. He feared that Mary his betrothed had been
unfaithful. He feared that her life and his would be marred by scandal
if he took her to be his wife. He feared that she would become
a “public example,” and he wanted her to be protected instead. The
LORD took Joseph’s fears seriously, too, and sent His angel with this
message: “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary
thy wife: for that which is conceived in here is of the Holy Ghost.
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS:
for he shall save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20,21 Once
again there was a solid, concrete reason given why he didn’t have to
be afraid. Once again it had to do with the LORD’s salvation.

When God tells us “fear not,” He then calls us to take a step of faith
based upon His reassuring promise. For Joseph it was to go ahead and
take Mary as his wife. For the shepherds, the step of faith was first
to go find the newborn Savior and worship Him; then, to tell everyone
what they had seen. “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad
the saying which was told them concerning this child” Luke 2:17. Their
fear of the angel had been replaced by a strong faith in the Savior
whom they had seen, and this faith made them fearless of what anybody
thought as they spread the good news.

There are other “fear nots” in the Christmas story. Zacharias was
struck with fear when an angel appeared to him as he served in the
Temple. The angel said, “Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard;
and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his
name John.” Luke 1:13. Mary was struck by fear when an angel appeared
to her. The angel said to her, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found
favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring
forth a son, and shall call his name JESUS.” Luke 1:30,31. Again and
again, people aren’t just told not to fear. They are given a good
reason not to fear, and that reason is that God is working out His
plan of salvation. God is still at work today, and in a troubled
world we can be assured that He knows what He is doing.

May the LORD’s perfect love cast out fear from our hearts as we prepare to celebrate Christmas!

Pastor Michael Peterson


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This article first appeared in the West Douglas County Record on November 26, 2009:

Once upon a time, in high school Social Studies, the teacher asked who was the first American in space. I spoke up and said “Alan Shepard,” and he began to write the name on the blackboard. That’s where the trouble began. He started to spell the astronaut’s last name S-h-e-p-h-e-r-d, like a herder of sheep, and I tried to point out that the name was spelled S-h-e-p-a-r-d, but to no avail. To our teacher it seemed clear that, since the word shepherd is spelled s-h-e-p-h-e-r-d, the astronaut’s name must be spelled that way. I felt discouraged and frustrated. As a lifelong fan of astronomy and space travel, I knew well how to spell the name of the pioneer Mercury astronaut, who later traveled to the Moon and famously golfed there, on Apollo 14. Furthermore, I was no slouch with spelling. I knew very well how to spell shepherd, and also how to spell Shepard. But now my teacher wasn’t listening to me, and the whole class seemed to agree with him. Were they taking it on faith that the teacher must be right? Could some in the class have enjoyed seeing me put in my place? I admit that as a kid I could sometimes be boastful about my knowledge. It’s good not to boast, but it’s also good to be confident, and after that day I was less confident about speaking up in class.

But I knew the truth. Regardless of what anyone in class thought, even the teacher, shepherd is spelled shepherd, and (Alan) Shepard is spelled Shepard. But don’t just take my word for it. There are higher authorities that can be consulted. Check a dictionary, encyclopedia, or the NASA website if you really want to be sure. The Bible says, “By two or three witnesses let every fact be confirmed” (Deuteronomy 19:15, Matthew 18:16, and other places). In spite of what many people say, the Bible encourages us to check things out and not just accept things blindly.

There is a Voice who speaks with much greater authority than myself, or my teacher, or the dictionary, or the highest leader of the most powerful nation, and sometimes people don’t listen to Him either: “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:11, 12 NASB) A “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) can testify to the truth of what this Man, Jesus, has done for them.

One more thing, for those of us who are teachers, preachers, or others in authority: we have a special duty to the truth which requires us not to discount anyone’s voice, including that kid who doesn’t seem to know how to spell “shepherd,” or that employee who quietly but stubbornly refuses to see things your way when everyone else does, or that parishioner who disagrees with my pet point in my recent sermon. They may know something we don’t!

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