Smart and Not Afraid: Fear Factor

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-35, 37-39 New Revised Standard Version)

When I was doing youth work during my first two years of seminary, I had a set of rules I gave the kids. Initially there were four. I told them if they would follow those four rules I wouldn’t have to make up any more. Yeah, they tested me and I did have to make up a few more. The new ones and three of the original four don’t matter for our purpose today but the last rule said, “God gave you a brain, please use it. If you think it might get you in trouble it probably will. Don’t do it.

Once upon a time NBC television show called Fear Factor? We never watched it much. The first time I saw it, I knew I wasn’t going to watch much. I knew they were in constant violation of Keith’s last rule. God gave you a brain please use it.

Contestants were challenged to do things that seemed more than just a little frightening. There were no snakes that first show but I knew it was coming. Too many of us have that fear.

I got no push back from Cindy. Her fear is heights. Christopher did give us some push back but that was to be a teenager giving his parents a hard time.

I wouldn’t have participated in the show. The prize money was $50,000 and that isn’t enough. Even without snakes, there were scorpions, bugs, maggots, and worms to name only a few.

I question the sanity of bee keepers allowing bees to cover his their face giving them a bee beard. I am not worried about getting stung by a bee. I have been stung before and probably will again. It isn’t pleasant But, to be stung by hundreds of bees. No.

They might had contestants dangle from a rope, attached to a helicopter 100 feet in the air if the scorpions, bugs, or snakes were not enough. After a few years they started running out of ideas and had contestants start eating and drinking things most of which were just plain disgusting. If you don’t know, trust me on this one. You DON’T want to know.

In 2017, MTV ran the show. The stunts became even more extreme, and more disgusting. In 2018 Fear Factor got cancelled for the final time. Eating bugs, carrying worms in their mouths, being covered in maggots all fall into that category of, what were you thinking, God gave you a brain, use it.

Last week we began a sermon series, “Smart and Not Afraid.” We talked about fear and how it isn’t a bad thing. Want to be tough and not afraid of anything. We talked about researchers reporting on benefits fear can bring to life and at the top of the list was, fear keeps you safe.

God gave us fear. Though my fear of snakes sits squarely in line with an irrational fear, Snakes can kill a person and they scare me. That isn’t the irrational part. Snakes on television or in a movie scaring me is. I won’t watch Snakes on a Plane or Anaconda those titles mean that movie is rated “K” for Keith stay out.

That’s where that youth group rule enters into Fear Factor. If I am irrationally afraid of snakes, that rule says, “God gave you a brain, please use it.” Don’t do something you fear, at least not without a plan it could bring harm to someone.

In Scripture, Jesus and others say, “Don’t be afraid.” At times, all of us are afraid. OK, not Jesus and probably not the angels, but the rest of us have fears. If you think your not afraid, you just haven’t found it. We are afraid of something.

Last week Paul said, to “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” There are only a few times in Scripture where fear might be thought of as a good thing. In the Old Testament particularly, the words “fear God” or “Jacob feared God” are used. That fear is considered more respect and awe. But, make no mistake, there should be a little fear of God’s power there too.

Last week I said, every time I preach there are a butterflies in the pit of my stomach. I can go be a public speaker in front of a big crowd and not be bothered. My fear is not public speaking. When I stand here, there is a tinge of fear because I know I speak for God. When you speak for the creator of the universe, if there isn’t fear, go sit down. This isn’t your calling.

In today’s lesson, Paul asks, in the Keith paraphrased version, “If God is on our side, can anyone or anything stand against us?” Think about that. If God is for us can our greatest fears be against us? Paul continues “God did not keep Jesus on the bench, even knowing what awaited Jesus God gave him for us. If God would do that, if God loved us that much, is there anything God wouldn’t give us, the faithful? If God says we are acceptable , can anyone bring anything against us? No! Christ died, Christ was raised, and now Christ is at God’s right side, speaking for us. Isn’t that a kick. No matter what we have done, no matter what we have or not have, Jesus is sitting with God and talking us up. Can anything, Paul asks, separate us from the love of God in Christ? Can trouble, suffering, hard times, hunger, nakedness, danger, I am going adding fear, or even death?

 No, Paul says, we who run scared, we with irrational fears, are conquerors who win a sweeping victory by faith, by grace, because Jesus loves us.

Still in the Keith paraphrased version Paul goes on, NOTHING SEPARATES us from God’s love—not life, death, angels spirits, the present past, or future, not powers above or below, NOT EVEN OUR FEARS. Nothing, nothing in the universe can separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ!

Ingrid Betancourt camaigned to be president of Colombia when she was kidnapped by guerrillas. They held her in the jungle for six years. With fear her companion, she learned to use it and grow. They carried her into the jungle. She thought they would kill her first she thought. The first night the guerrillas put an iron collar around her neck and bolted her to a tree, high enough that her toes barely touched the ground. There she stayed all night with one sadistic guard watching her. He tormented her all night, degrading her, and stirring up all her fear and emotion.

New days meant continued torment . Every night fear ruled her. She had panic attacks, tremors, and cold sweats. The more fear shown, the more her tormentor played on her worst feelings. One day she vowed to kill him. For weeks she plotted and looked for opportunities to execute the plan. One day she stopped. She said she wouldn’t allow herself to become one of them and began living in defiance. Things were difficult she wasn’t going to allow them to turn her into something she was not.

Not long after her moment they carried her further into the jungle. They built a concentration camp with twelve foot high walls topped with barbed wire and guard towers in each corner.

She overcame using many principles and lifted up three. The first was to be guided by her ideals. They wouldn’t turn her into something she wasn’t. fter arriving at the camp someone yelled for the captives to number off. When at her turn she yelled, “I am Ingrid Betancourt. I am not a number, I have a name. If you want to know I am here, call me by my name.” The guards went crazy but it was nothing compared to the hostages. They feared she would get them into trouble. But, she was living out of her ideals. She was human. The others were too. She wouldn’t give up anyone’s humanity.

Her second principle was, to build unity. The guards new their jobs and they did them well. They manipulated with fear, mistrust, whatever would tear them apart and make them feel alone and isolated. She worked repairing damage. Her first escape attempt was with Lucho. They tied themselves together. By day they hid. At night they got into water with alligators and piranha, allowing the current to carry them downstream. Lucho was diabetic. They slowed and when he became sick, and the guerrillas caught them. Because she stayed with Lucho unity grew among her and the captives. She couldn’t leave Lucho behind Her ideals wouldn’t allow it.

The third principal, develop faith. Ingrid said by this point she had a master’s degree in escape. One captive, a former police officer she called Pincho, was held the longest. He asked her to help him escape. She was surprised. He was more afraid than anyone. They first had to teach him to swim, not easy for a prisoner. One day he asked Ingrid, “Suppose I am in the jungle and wander in circles unable to find my way out. What do I do?” Sbe said, “Pincho, grab a phone. Call the man upstairs.” He said, “I don’t believe in God.” Her response was classic. “God doesn’t care, He’ll help you anyway.” A few days later, Pincho was gone. The guards said Pincho died, claiming finding his body half eaten by an anaconda. Seventeen days passed. Ingrid knew because she had counted each torturous day. On day 17, news exploded from the radio: Pincho was free and alive They heard him say, “My fellow hostages are listening. Ingrid, I did what you said. I called the man upstairs, and he sent a patrol that rescued me.”

Not long afterward, the Colombian army rescued all the hostages. It was six years for Ingrid. She learned the transformation power of the principles she learned, to live by her ideals, to foster unity, and develop faith. Ingrid always felt fear. It wasn’t about not having fear. It was about surviving. Without ideals she wouldn’t have fostered unity and without unity she wouldn’t have had the faith carrying her and others through.

I believe she also lived out my last rule. She used the brain God gave her to do all those things. To do otherwise, the person she had been wouldn’t survive. And, most importantly, she knew that NOTHING would separate her from the Love of God in Christ Jesus her Lord.

_____

Be Blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Smart and not Afraid: Lessons from a Turtle

12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

14 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. 16 It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— 18 and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:12-18, New Revised Standard Version).

Giuseppe’s granddaughter and Bill’s mother was a four-years-old when the Great Depression began. One day in 1930 Giuseppe brought home a pair of box turtles for Bill’s mother. Giuseppe fenced in the yard to keep the turtles in. As was for most pets during the great profession, the turtles, ate whatever the family ate. They named the male Horace. Bill, the author of the story said he regrettably never asked why an Italian family would pick such a name for their pet turtle. His best guess was that there had been an Italian poet of some note named Horace.

Bill said he never knew the name of the female who, around 1950 escaped the fenced in backyard. They found the turtle at the neighbor’s home who refused to give it back. So then it was one box turtle, Horace, and Giuseppe reinforced the fence.

In 1990, Bill’s great-grandfather Giuseppe, was long deceased and his grandfather was recently deceased. His grandmother decided to sell her home and Horace’s habitat in New York and get a much smaller place near her sister in New Jersey. She called Bill and asked him to take over the now 60-year-old box turtle. He agreed and with a friend’s help and some books and articles about building an outdoor habitat for a box turtle, Bill did just that.

Over the next 25 years, Bill said he learned a lot about turtles. Horace is on a healthier diet these days. His people don’t feed him table scraps. He eats a balanced died of fruits and vegetables and worms and bugs. The article Bill wrote was published in 2012. About that time, Horace lost a leg to a predator. Bill’s daughter made a comment to Bills story about Horace in 2013 and said Bill came through his hibernation fine. I could find nothing new about Horace since 2013.

Until reading Horace’s story and doing some research for this sermon, I had no idea how long box turtles lived. They are right there with talking birds and us!!!

I learned box turtles don’t travel far from where they are born. If a human picks one up in the woods and carries it home to be a pet, the turtle has some kind of homing mechanism built in and will work itself quite literally to death trying to walk home. Turtles have no concept of glass and will beat itself up trying to get past the glass and go home.

I learned that turtles hibernate. As a reptile, they don’t handle the cold so they hibernate. I always thought turtles like we see around here were amphibians. I never thought about them as a reptile though that one doesn’t surprise me. Their periods of hibernation are vitally important to them and they can lose as much as a quarter of their body weight during hibernation.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that the most vulnerable time in a turtle’s life is when they are young. After they are hatched, for several months their shells are not fully hardened. Some predators like alligators and crocodiles can, if they have unusually strong jaws, break the shell of an adult, any can break the shell of a hatchling. Only 20 percent of hatchlings live part their first year. But, if they make it past the first year, living to a very old age improves dramatically. It is not uncommon for turtle to live to be 100 years old.

When I started on this search for turtle data, I wasn’t really looking for much of what I have said this morning. I was focused on finding one thing. I remember as a kid, when me and my friends would play with a turtle, we knew as soon as we picked it up, we would startle the turtle and legs, feet, claws, tail, and head would all be pulled into the shell and that shell was closed and locked just about as good as a bank after closing time. Oh, that was something else I learned, not every turtle can pull itself into its shell. Only the box turtle can close itself up tight.

So I knew a turtle retreated into its shell when it was scared. I wanted to know the other times a turtle hid out in its shell. There were two I found and both are related. Neither was surprising. The first is to sleep. I guess I always assumed when looking at a turtle when I wa a kid that they were still fearful so they had not come back out. It is likely that at least some of that time they were asleep. The other is to hibernate. Since I didn’t know turtles hibernated, I also didn’t know they did that in their shells.

Turtles hide themselves well when they sleep. They bury down and hide themselves VERY well when they hibernate. Aside from their first year, hibernation and sleep are the two most dangerous times for a turtle. Sure, they have the protection of their shell but they are still very vulnerable.

I have give quite a bit of thought lately to the turtle’s hangout, its shell, its house. They are there to hibernate and fight off the cold of winter. They are there to sleep. And, they go there when they are afraid.

In those ways, we are a lot like a turtle only we don’t carry that house around with us. I think of the proverbial story of the tortoise and the hare, no wonder tortoise was slow. More than a quarter of its body weight is that house he or she carries around on their back.

We may not carry a shell around but we still find ourselves seeking the shelter of our homes. Just as the turtle needs the security of its shell to protect it from predators during its vulnerable times, we seek that same kind of security.

The turtle’s world is pretty scary. They have many different natural predators and when those vulnerable times come, they place themselves in the best possible position to survive. The box turtle pulls itself tightly into its shell and seals themselves in. When ready to sleep, the turtle may push itself into a hollowed log or up under leaves.

When we are at home and about ready to go to sleep we go around the house and make sure everything is closed up and locked. We want that additional level of security.

For the turtle, the desire is just like us. The turtle wants to make itself as secure as possible before it goes to sleep. First under leaves or plants or wood, pull in the head and the extremities, close up the shell and then sleep.

Hibernation is a bit different. Because the cold weather makes a difference, the heart rate slows, temperature changes, other things in their body changes. The place where turtles set up for winter may or may not be more secure than where they slept the night before but to bury itself or close the ends of that hollow log added make that place warmer and more comfortable for hibernating. In the cold, with all the physical changes for the turtle, they are at risk to the cold. The best line of defense from predators is to disappear. The best defense from the cold is to add layers of protection around the shell and then pull up inside the shell.

Of course, you and I don’t hibernate. That being said, when cold weather rolls around, we often do sleep longer. We spend more time inside because it is more comfortable. Much like a box turtle, when we head for our sleep time in winter, we do make sure the house is closed up and locked. We make sure that the household heating devises are operating appropriately, meaning off if that is what should happen, and throw an extra blanket or two on the bed. They keep us as warm and the weight gives us comfort. Our Loose Threads group understands that as they regularly sew weighted blankets for autism patients.

The third thing that sends a box turtle hiding in its shell is when something scares it. Fear, and knowing the comfort and safety of its shell will pull up inside.

Every living creature has fears and something they try to do to keep themselves sake. From the turtle’s shell to natural camouflage, to growls, rattles, hand hiding, animals try to protect themselves from whatever they fear.

The human animal is really no different. We all have fears. I know people who don’t name their fears but I am convinced after talking to them that they have fears but don’t want to let others know or want to take control of what scares them.

I have told you before, I hate snakes, but it is more than that. I am flat out afraid of snakes. Yet it is still even stronger than that. I have an irrational fear of snakes. Still pictures of snakes don’t bother me too much but if I see a snake in a movie or television, I hide my eyes until its gone. That snake on the screen can’t hurt me but I am still not looking.

Several years ago, back in the late 1990s, Cindy had a job working in a chiropractor. This guy loved to scare people with his life sized statue of a rattlesnake. He would set the snake on the floor just outside an examining room or office. Then he would hang back for the reaction when someone saw the snake. When it was my turn, I saw him set the snake on the floor. He came back in and we carried on a normal conversation like I knew nothing about the snake. When I left the room a few minutes later, I simply stepped over the snake, turned around and laughed at the good doctor. He said he loved to scare people and that getting scared was good for you.

Until just recently, I thought him to be joking. While preparing for this message I discovered, The Adventure Collection Blog said there are a number of benefits when you get scared.

Fear keeps you safe.
Fear helps you lose weight
Fear temporarily boosts your immune system
Feeling fear-in the right dose-can be fun and exciting
Fear gives you a natural high and a sense of empowerment
Fear helps you manage stress and relaxes you.
Fear helps you stay in the present moment and to focus
Fear socializes you and bonds you to other people
Fear allows you to live life to the fullest
Fear gives you clarity on what’s really important in life

All over the Bible we have people telling others Don’t be afraid. In the Emmaus story, Jesus tells the disciples in the boat, right before Peter walks on water,. “Don’t be afraid.” An angel tells the shepherds outside of Bethlehem.”

Then here, Paul says to, “Work out you own salvation with FEAR and TREMBLING. In other places in the Bible we find places that talk about the fear of God and living in the fear of God. I have long argued that the Fear of God is to be in awe and respect of God. We also know that God loves us. That alone should remove some of our fear.

The bottom line is, fear is not such a bad thing. The thing that makes fear bad is when we let fear take control. If I know there is a snake in the yard, no longer do I want go out in the yard. I seek the safety of my house. But, if I go look, I don’t see the snake. I am not staying in the house because I fear the snake. I am going outside because that is where I feel best. I will not let the snake control my life.

For the past two months we have been staying in. We have avoided just about all things out. I am more than ready to be out. This extrovert needs out of the house and back around people. This preacher is glad to be able to look into people’s eyes today instead of only looking at empty seats and a camera lens. Though I know God is with me, it is still a scary world. I know this, I am not going to let my fears be in charge. Just like a rattlesnake in my yard might keep me out of his way, the possibility of a rattlesnake in the yard tells me I need to keep my eyes open if I don’t want an unpleasant encounter but so can getting out of bed in the morning.

Friends the fear we feel is not a bad thing. I am glad gave it to us. Because of fears, in some settings it causes me to be alert and think about the best way to protect myself should the need arise.

I don’t stay home because I fear the virus. I don’t wash my hands just because it is good hygiene. I don’t wear a mask because I am going out on a robbery binge. I do all these things because there is something scary out there. Because God gave me a gift of respectful fear, wisdom says, I should do all I can to protect people around me and encourage others to do the same. In reality, if by being a bit afraid and use that fear to motivate me to protect myself and be an example for others, that’s what I should strive to do. It’s what we should all try to do.

Be Blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved