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

It’s God’s Fault

The Lord won’t always reject us 32 He causes a lot of suffering, but he also has pity because of his great love.
33 The Lord doesn’t enjoy sending grief or pain. (Lamentations 3:31-33, Contemporary English Version)

I am once again in a book of the Bible I have never preached from or really studied. There should little wonder about why, Lamentations is one of only a few books in the Bible. Lamentations is a book that is a downer. It is even in the name. Lamentations, meaning, it is a book of laments. A few months back, when we were working through the first part of Psalms, we talked about there being more psalms of lament than any other type. Here we have an entire book devoted to complaining to God about the way the world is treating the writer.

When I went through deacon (20 years ago United Methodist pastors were first ordained deacons and a few years later were ordained elders) ordination interviews I was asked a “what would you do if…” question. The question was this (I can remember just about the exact wording), you have been out all day doing the various things pastors do. When you returned home you found that there was a message on your answering machine that said one of the boys in your church was out riding his bicycle, was hit by a car, and killed. Being the good pastor you are, you immediately leave and drive to the family’s home.

When you get there, a neighbor is there and you hear them say, “You just have to accept this. It is the will of God. God needed your son and called him home.”

Before telling you my answer, I cringe at the thought of such statements. That being said, the writer of Lamentations understands the neighbor’s sentiment. Biblical writers from the Old Testament portray God differently than the writers of the New Testament. I think the writer of Lamentations would probably agree with the neighbor’s statement to the family in the question. I think other Old Testament writers might say the same thing.

As for New Testament writers, if they were to say this was the will of God, their understanding of God’s will would likely be different.

In his classic book, The Will of God, Leslie Weatherhead divides God’s will up into three categories. The intention wil of God, how God intended for the world to function. The circumstantial will of God. Because God allows us free will, the decisions and action we make can cause trouble and because of the gift of free will, what we do can clash with God’s intentional will. God’s will still ultimately will prevail through The Ultimate will of God which is a peaceful world of love and compassion.

Weatherhead would say it was not God’s will for this boy to die. To say that would make God out to be a killer. Circumstances in the situation interfered with God’s intentional will.

So, back to the question in my interview, I said this setting was not the place for theological debate or argument. I would first, work on getting the neighbor whose good intentions are doing more harm than good. Then I would sit down and tell them, this was not God’s will for their son. God gives us all free will. The decisions we make can and do impact the lives of those around us. Because you are hurting, God hurts with you. God grieves with you because of the love God has for both you and your son. And ultimately, God’s will, a world of love and compassion will win the day.

I am not sure that the writer of Lamentations would get that. He talks about God causing a lot of suffering and grief and pain. While God does have that ability, we cause enough of that. God doesn’t need to cause us grief and pain. Thankfully, God doesn’t love us that way. Yes, God can cause grief and pain but when we are talking about God’s children, Why would God want to do that?

I am thankful for the relationship we have or can have with God who wants to fill us with love that we might go into the world to share love and compassion.

I think we reach for the excuse, “It’s the will of God” sounds good. It sounds to our ear to be comforting. We mean well but what that person all too often hears, “It’s God’s Fault.” Such words can hurt their relationship with God at the time they need God most. We need to be careful because when all is said and done, we can’t fix this. We can’t heal a broken heart but God can do all of that and more.

Some of you have heard me talk about it before. Cindy has worked on staff for a few different churches in her working life. At one of them, on the back of her office door was a sign that had a picture of Patrick Stewart decked out in his Star Trek uniform. He has a finger pointing up. Under that picture there was another piece of paper with a letter “R” on it. In much smaller print it said, “It’s all about relationships.” Under Patrick Stewart was the word, “Engage.” In other words, Go build relationships.” We need to be at work building relationships with God and neighbor.

So, “ENGAGE!!!”

Be blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved.

Prayer 101: Breakthrough Prayer for My Family

One time, after eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah got up and presented herself before the Lord. (Now Eli the priest was sitting in the chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s temple.) 10 Hannah was very upset and couldn’t stop crying as she prayed to the Lord. 11 Then she made this promise: “Lord of heavenly forces, just look at your servant’s pain and remember me! Don’t forget your servant! Give her a boy! Then I’ll give him to the Lord for his entire life. No razor will ever touch his head.” (1 Samuel 1:9-11, Common English Bible).

Reverend Sue Nilson Kibbey defines breakthrough prayer as asking God to intervene in ways we cannot. She challenges people to pray for breakthrough. Her challenges ask Christians to imagine seeing God-sized breakthroughs in difficult situations.

Many have vivid imaginations. Still, no matter imagination, God breakthroughs impact lives. God’s power is greater than human imagination. God’s plans are greater than our imagination.

Betty owned a horse farm. She rescued wild mustangs having difficulty in the desert. She gentled them and put up for adoption. Horse ranching isn’t easy or cheap. Betty’s husband Chuck is a trucker and he subsidized the ranch. They had problems from early marriage.

One mustang, Harpo, had problems. He was a metaphor for Betty and Dave’s marital problems. Her voice steady but weak. Harpo bolted. Time for lunch. Chuck made breakfast. He worked all night and slept in that morning.

They met during Bible study. Chuck was a gentleman, unlike Betty’s experiences. Chuck seemed to like Betty for Betty while dating they talk constantly.

While she was out her ex committed suicide her home. Their children found him, leaving emotional scars. She adopted a lone wolf persona. She warned Chuck. He was patient. Their marriage went bad immediately. He didn’t like her parenting. She thought he spent too much money.

Betty hated Chuck’s road trips. They went for days. Her womanizing father and her mother were always on her mind. During trips, she investigated financial data, she found nothing but kept searching.

Betty still didn’t trust Chuck. He hated it. They argued constantly until talking stopped.

Chuck finished breakfast. Betty made lunch and went outside. Eating er sandwich as she watched Harpo. With other horses, by now she had a hand on the animal. It was over then. The horse trusted her. Not so with Harpo, he didn’t trust her. “Trust me,” Betty whispered.

She stopped cold. Reality time, she didn’t trust Chuck, never had. He didn’t love her, or so she thought. He had plenty of reasons to go but he was still here.

Their last phone call, she yelled, “Why don’t you leave? You want to.” He said, “We need help,” the call ended. Betty was scared. Had she given him an idea?

Betty never saw Chuck pray. Prayer matters in our families. Today’s lesson is a story about the prayers of one woman. Hannah was childless. A Biblical-era woman’s identity, person-hood was tied to her father, husband, and children. A blessed woman had sons. Hannah had neither. Her husband Elkinah had two wives, Hannah and Pinnenah. Pinnenah had children and sons. She taunted Hannah mercilessly.

Hannah was sad. She wanted children. She wanted God’s blessing. After eating she prayed at the tabernacle.

Eli watched Hannah pray. First, he thought her drunk but she wasn’t and asks God to answer her.

Hannah’s prayer asks for God’s blessing, a son. If God blesses her, she will give that son back to God. If she prayed for herself, she wouldn’t give him back to God? Hannah asks for “breakthrough prayer.” She wants change in her family. She wanted life-altering change. She needed divine intervention. She got it.  She got Samuel, eventually God got him back.

Breakthrough prayer happens. Ask God to break through for families will change lives.

Betty didn’t know Chuck had prayed for her. He prayed for breakthrough in Betty’s life. He knew he had faults, even in their relationship. He knew Betty needed to trust. Chuck wasn’t her father or her ex. He wasn’t leaving and needed Betty to know she could trust him. He prayed for years.

Breakthrough came in Betty’s corral. She saw Harpo. “Trust me,” she whispered looking into his eyes. She understood his fear. She was scared.

Betty feared Chuck didn’t love her and would leave. Mostly she feared giving God control. She thought God failed her, why trust now?

She stared at Harpo. She wondered about her misunderstanding. After 20 years, Chuck’s still here. He said they needed help… Could they fix this? What signs had she missed?

She and Harpo were alone, but she heard echoing of her words to Harpo, “Trust Me.” She repeated them to Harpo and stepped toward him. Again, again, until she had her hand on Harpo’s shoulder. He didn’t move. The beginning of trust.

Betty realized if she wanted her marriage to work, she had to trust. She and Chuck saw their pastor for help, then marriage counseling. They found Bible study. It wasn’t long before they were in different place. It all started with Chuck’s break through prayer.

Breakthrough prayer can happen for any of us, perhaps not immediately, but in God’s time. For Betty and Chuck, it took years, but it happened.

I don’t know your family situations that need a God-sized breakthrough. I don’t know the situations in my own family. But God knows. That’s what matters.

Have a Blessed Day in the Lord.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved