THE POWER TO FACE OUR FEARS

ACTS 18:1-11

JUNE 26, 2016

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            My friend Glenn McDonald still replays an event that took place in his life fifty years ago. When Glenn was ten the coach of his summer softball team told him, “You have been chosen to be on the All-Star team, and the other coaches and I have been talking, and we want you to be the starting pitcher.”

            One would think that it doesn’t get much better than that for a ten year old boy, however it wasn’t. He was terrified. All he could imagine was failing. So when game day arrived, he told his coach that he had fallen off his bike and had seriously injured himself.

            Glenn says he can still remember the look of sadness and compassion on his coach’s face when he failed to talk him out of his fear. He ended up handing the ball to someone else.

            His fear of failing translated into failing to try.

            What do we fear?  Is it failure? Snakes?  Losing someone?  The dark?  Of course, not all fear is bad. Some of it is downright healthy. A healthy fear keeps us alert and motivated. For example, a fear of falling keeps us from stepping out of a tenth floor window. A fear of disease will encourage us to live a healthier lifestyle, maybe quit smoking or begin exercising. A fear of losing those we love may remind us to be more attentive and spend more quality time together.

            Not all fears, however, are good. Some fears can hold us back and severely limit our enjoyment of life, and it’s one of those fears we see addressed in our passage for today. As we conclude our Power Points sermon series, we will observe God helping Paul face and overcome one of his fears.

            Let me set the scene. Paul has just arrived in Corinth from Athens. Athens was 50 miles up the road, and the Athenians proved lukewarm to Paul’s message, and he arrived in Corinth wondering whether or not he was going to bomb again. In fact, listen to how Paul describes his state of mind when he arrived in Corinth. I’m reading from his letter to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 2:3), which he would write years after the events recorded in Acts, but Paul could still vividly remember his thoughts and feelings when he came to Corinth. He remembered them as vividly as Glenn McDonald remembered his terror when informed that his coach wanted him to pitch in the All-Star game. Listen to them.

 

            I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.

 

            We don’t think of Paul as a particularly fearful person. Why in the city of Lystra he was run out to town, stoned, left for dead, but he got up, dusted himself off and went back into the city. I mean, it was almost like a scene from the movie "Hang Him High," where the Clint Eastwood character is hanged, left for dead, but he convalesces and then he goes back into town to confront the hangmen. We see Paul as a sort of a “Go Ahead, Make My Day” sort of guy, but not when he rambled into Corinth. When he entered Corinth his knees were knocking.  He wondered if he would be laughed out of Corinth like he had been laughed out of Athens.  Well, let’s see what happened when he arrived in Corinth. Acts 18:1 … 

 

            After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.  There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife, Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.  (Tragic, but anti-Semitism goes way back.)  Paul went to see them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together – by trade they were tentmakers.  Every Sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks.

 

            I want to make a couple of comments about these first four verses.  First, note how Paul financed his missionary journeys. One source of income was from churches. Paul, however, supplemented that income as a tentmaker. You see, it was expected that Jewish rabbis, which Paul had been, have a trade. A Jewish quote of the day read, “Excellence is the study of the Law along with a worldly trade.” So we find rabbis in the first century following every respectable trade and Paul is no exception.

            The second comment has to do with Aquila and Priscilla. When Paul arrived in Corinth, he began applying for jobs at tent making shops around town, and here’s where he met Aquila and Priscilla.  In all likelihood, Aquila and Priscilla were the contractors under whom Paul worked, their business being big enough to take on an employee.  Their association, however, became more than as tentmakers, for they became life-long friends and teammates in ministry. They would become part of Paul’s missionary team, part of his entourage that we mentioned last week. Let’s continue reading.  Verse 5.

 

            When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus.  When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads!  I am innocent.  From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”  Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God; his house was next door to the synagogue.  Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized.

 

            At this point, we would think Paul’s fear had vanished. He wasn’t bombing in Corinth.  He had found friends. People were responding to the Gospel, even the official of the synagogue, but listen to what comes next. Verse 9.

 

            One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.”  He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

 

            Despite the initial inroads, Paul was still afraid. Even though things looked fine on the outside, Paul was battling fear on the inside. Maybe he feared the bubble would burst and people would turn against him like had happened in Lystra. Whatever the specifics God gave Paul three things to do with his fear. Let’s take a look at them.

            First, God told Paul to face his fear.  God said, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent.” 

            Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do the thing you are afraid to do and the death of the fear is certain.” 

            One of the regrets of my life was not playing organized baseball.  Oh sure, I played ball with my friends and in their backyards, and in the street, but I never tried out for Little League.  You see, I was afraid of being hit by a pitched ball, and I never faced that fear. 

            And I remember years ago, being so impressed with Ron Cey. In the 70's and 80's, Ron Cey played third base for my favorite baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  And the Dodgers were playing the Yankees in the 1981 World Series and in the fifth game of the series Goose Gossage … and by the way maybe you saw in the paper that Goose Gossage is in town for the College World Series … was on the mound, and Ron Cey got hit in the head by a 98 mph Goose Gossage fastball.  Many thought Cey would be lost for the Series, but he wasn’t. He returned for game six and dug in again against the Goose. I’m sure Cey was a little apprehensive about stepping back into the batter’s box, but he faced his fear and continued to be a productive player for years to come.

            Norman Vincent Peale tells the story of attending a Rotary luncheon in Chicago.  It was a huge luncheon and he noticed the speaker looked a little scared.  Afterward, Peale shook hands with the speaker and said, “That was a fine speech, and I want to congratulate you on it.’ 

            The man replied, “I owe that speech to you.”

            “How come?” asked Peale.

            He answered, “I read in one of your books that if you are afraid of something you should stand up to it and do it.  And the thing that scared me more than anything in this world was getting up before people to make a speech.  When I read your book that I should face my fear, I decided I would make speeches whenever I got the chance.”

            Second, God told Paul to do was share it.  God reminded Paul, “There are many in this city who are my people.”

            Do you know the number one reason people become inactive in a church?  It wasn’t that they didn’t like the pastor, even though some people left became inactive because of that. It wasn’t that the church did something that hurt them or disappointed them, even though some do become inactive because of that. No, the number one reason people become inactive is because they face a crisis in their lives and they are afraid to share it with others in the church. They are afraid they will be judged or thought less of due to the crisis, and so they drift away. 

            “Share it,” says God.  Share it.  I loved the old “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip.  In one strip, Calvin is in bed at night.  He’s saying to himself, “I can’t go to sleep. I think nighttime is dark so you can imagine your fears with less distraction. At nighttime, the world always seems so big and scary, and I always seem so small. I wish I could fall asleep, so it could be morning.”

            Then he turns to Hobbes, the cute little stuffed tiger who is beside him in bed, and in Calvin’s imagination Hobbes comes to life. He’s his imaginary friend, and Calvin looks over at Hobbes and says, “Look at Hobbes. He’s asleep. He sure looks funny when he sleeps. Tigers close their eyes so tight. I wonder what he’s dreaming about. Good ol’ Hobbes. What a friend.”

            Then he cuddles closer to Hobbes and continues, “Things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend!”

            Afraid? Share it. There are many of God’s people in this city.

            And God not only says. Face it and share it.  God says remember me.  God reminded Paul, “Do not be afraid ... for I am with you.”

            I'll close with one of my favorite stories. You, no doubt, have heard it before. Alex MacLaren, a great preacher of another generation, tells a wonderful story about his childhood. As a young boy Alex took a job in Glasgow, some miles from his own village. Due to the distance, he stayed in the city during the week and returned home on Saturday evenings. There was a ravine, however, on the way home which superstition supposed was filled with evil spirits.  All during the first week of work Alex feared having to walk through that ravine on Saturday night. The anticipation blighted every waking moment.

            Well, Saturday came and there was nothing to do but muster up enough courage and start home. His heart was beating a mile a minute as he reached the ravine.  He paused in a panic. His feet were like lead. Then suddenly he heard a voice calling, “Alex, it’s your dad. I’ve come to walk through the ravine with you.”

            What are the valleys of fearful worry for us?  What is the ravine of deadly anxiety?  Like MacLaren’s dad, God says to us, “I’ve come to walk you through it.”  God knows what’s in the ravine and God wants us to know that if we place our hand in his, we can make it through.  Amen.