There are many kinds of dangers in the world - crime, disease, being killed or injured in an accident. One we've just been reminded of in a horrible way is the danger of terrorism. Before last week, I'm sure that very few people working in tall office buildings were worried that the building might be destroyed by an airplane. It was literally inconceivable. Yet now, people all over the country who live and work in skyscrapers are nervously looking out the windows, scanning the horizon for the sudden appearance of a Boeing 757 headed in their direction. And it's not just that specific threat. People are talking about biological and chemical warfare; they're asking where they can get anthrax vaccine and gas masks; they're talking about moving out of the city and into the country so they won't be such a target. They're nervous and fearful. They wonder what will happen next.
How about you? Are you wondering what might happen next? Are you fearful of the future? It seems that the new media is constantly giving us things to worry about.
"It all may have sounded far- fetched a month ago. That's not the case now," state epidemiologist, Dr. Mike Crutcher, said Monday of possible biological and chemical attacks against the United States.
Crutcher and his colleagues fear that deadly bacteria, toxins and viruses could be introduced into water and food supplies, or released into office buildings, shopping malls and theaters.
Crutcher writes, "The present threat of the use of infectious agents in acts of terrorism has the potential to cause far greater human death and suffering than any previously used terrorist weapon,"
"We're certainly hoping it won't happen. However, that someone could do something like this on this magnitude is not just a fantasy," Crutcher said of bio-terrorism.
Dr. Ralph Feigan, a U.S. bio-terrorism expert, said, "Depending upon wind and other climatological factors, a large supply of anthrax spores delivered over a metropolitan area of 500,000 citizens could cause 100,000 deaths." "I hope it never happens, but the idea is entirely conceivable,"
At the request of federal authorities, law enforcement agencies around the nation on Thursday, September 27, were scrutinizing truck drivers hauling hazardous materials amid concerns raised by the arrests of at least 18 persons on charges they fraudulently obtained permits to transport potentially deadly cargo.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 (UPI) -- U.S. drinking water suppliers have been advised, at the direction of the FBI, to be on alert and exercise caution to guard against possible attempts at sabotage in the wake of the recent terror attacks, United Press International learned Monday.
"We have advised all utilities to be on alert and cautious," Tom Curtis, the deputy executive director of the American Water Works Association, or AWWA, told UPI in an interview. "We are not responding to a specific threat advisory from the FBI concerning water utilities, but we have advised water utilities to be on a heightened state of alert."
Earlier this year one of the hijackers had attempted to buy (with a government loan, no less) a crop dusting plane that would have allowed him to spread hundreds of gallons of deadly chemicals throughout the countryside, causing more death and misery. The government responded by grounding all crop-dusters until they could further investigate. But this was a reminder to us (as if we needed one) that all the enemies of America did not die in the Pentagon and World Trade Center explosions, and they have not yet given up.
These new threats also make us realize that it is not just those who live in New York, Washington or any major city that are at risk; the threat is real, and it is nationwide.
As we hear all this talk of terrorism, the risk is that we will start to focus on those things to an unhealthy degree and become fearful and anxious. That we will become obsessed with trying to protect ourselves from every conceivable harm (which, of course, is impossible). And so the world becomes to us, not a place of peace and security, not a place where God is in control and watching over us, not a place where we can live confidently and freely as sons and daughters of the King; but instead, a dark and dangerous place with evil lurking around every corner.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." We know now how true these words are. Fear holds you back. Fear causes you to withdraw. Fear turns an optimist into a pessimist.
We must not become consumed by fear, whether it's the fear of terrorist attack or any other danger. Some of you here this morning are facing very different dangers and different fears. But whatever your situation may be, God's will for his people at all times is that our hearts be controlled by His peace. It's never God's will for us to be anxious, and worried, and afraid. On the contrary, we're frequently commanded in the Scriptures to not be fearful. Listen:
Psalms 27:1-3 (NKJV) The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? 2 When the wicked came against me To eat up my flesh, My enemies and foes, They stumbled and fell. 3 Though an army may encamp against me, My heart shall not fear; Though war should rise against me, In this I will be confident.
John 14:27 (NKJV) "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV) For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
In other words, fear is not from the Lord. Why is fear never from God? Because fear and faith are mutually exclusive. You can't trust God, and at the same time be worrying that He isn't trustworthy. Fear is an implicit vote of "no confidence" in God's ability to care for you.
Fear is one of the most common, yet damaging, attitudes that we can experience. And I believe that fear is one of the most important attitudes to control and conquer in life. We must guard our heart against fear. The writer of Proverbs tells us:
Proverbs 4:20-23 (NKJV) My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. 21 Do not let them depart from your eyes; Keep them in the midst of your heart; 22 For they are life to those who find them, And health to all their flesh. 23 Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.
God's words are "life and health", and we are to guard our heart with His word. Notice how the translation GWT puts it:
Proverbs 4:23 (GWT) Guard your heart more than anything else, because the source of your life flows from it.
We need to guard our heart, which refers to our thinking. How you think will affect how you live. We need to guard our heart against fear. The good news is that fear is an optional misery. You don't have to fear. It's not forced on you. Every time you fear, you're choosing to do it. This is one area where we, who are believers in Jesus Christ, have a distinct and definite advantage over unbelievers. When you know God and His Word, you know you don't need to fear. As opposed to someone who doesn't have God in their life, who is not a Christian, we know that God knows everything. God knows the future. God's been in the future, in the past, and in the present. Nothing is ever going to surprise God, disappoint God, or catch Him off guard. He already knows everything that's going to happen in my life.
Why is it that we are not to fear? Why is it that no matter what our circumstances - a soldier preparing to parachute into Afghanistan; a New Yorker wondering when the next attack is going to come; a middle manager in his fifties who just got laid off; a wife wondering if her husband is going to leave her; a cancer patient - no matter what our circumstances, why is it that we, as Christians, are not to fear? Because God has pledged Himself to be with and care for us. And if we choose to fear, we're saying that his love and care are inadequate. They're not enough. We're saying that we don't trust all his promises and assurances. And that's a failure of faith, and that's a sin.
"But," you ask, "how can I not be worried? How can I not be fearful? How can I not be anxious, when I'm facing the very real possibility of suffering and loss? Are you telling me that if I place my trust in God, nothing bad will ever happen to me?" No, I'm not saying that. Christians suffer pain and loss and sorrow, just like anyone else. What I'm saying is that the peace God gives is independent of our circumstances. What I'm saying is that we can be free from fear, even when we are not free of suffering. How is that possible? Consider these three principles from the book of Isaiah, they will strengthen your heart against fear. First of all, remember that:
1. YOU BELONG TO GOD
Isaiah 43:1 (NKJV) But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.
It was God who created you, it was God who formed you, it was God who redeemed you, and it is God who calls you by name. Then, at the end of the verse God says to Israel, ... "You are mine." "Israel" is a designation for God's chosen people, believers. All who trust in Jesus Christ are part of the Israel of God.
Galatians 6:15-16 (NKJV) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. 16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
All those who are part of the new creation by faith in Jesus Christ are the Israel of God.
The participle "creator" in Isaiah 43:1, suggests creation out of nothing. Israel's existence is due to the pure grace of God alone.
The Creator says to his chosen people, "Fear not." Nothing should cause God's people to fear. This doesn't mean that God's people won't suffer harm. We're not immune from suffering. But we're not to fear that things have somehow gotten out of God's control.
Believer, you belong to God. Jesus Christ came into this world and died on the cross for your sins. The Bible teaches that through his death you were bought and paid for, and you now belong to him:
Acts 20:28 (NKJV) "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
Revelation 5:9 (NKJV) And they sang a new song, saying: "You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
You belong to God, and he takes it seriously. He gave his Son so you could be his. Don't make the mistake of thinking that God's commitment to you is only as strong as your commitment to him! You may fail from time to time, you may have a hard time keeping your promises, some days your heart may be cold and your faith may be weak. The good news is that God doesn't change his mind about us like we change our minds about him. As far as he is concerned, you belong to him, and nothing will ever change that:
2 Timothy 2:13 (NKJV) If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.
Sometimes when we go through hard times, we are tempted to think "God must have forsaken me - why is He not helping me?" Remember he said, "You are mine...you belong to me." God, the Creator of the universe, loves us!
Consider this, if you belong to Christ, then no one can take away from you that which is most valuable, that which has eternal worth. Yes, you may suffer loss. You may experience pain. But no one can rob you of anything that you weren't going to lose eventually anyway. The most they can deprive you of is your physical, earthly life, which had at most sixty or seventy years to go before it ended. What they can't steal is your eternal life; and what they can't touch are the fantastic rewards stored up for you in heaven. Those are safely stored away in a place "where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:20). They are completely out of reach; they are far beyond the power of any evil. Our eternal life, our salvation, our hope, is "stored up for us in heaven" (Colossians 1:5). It cannot be lost or stolen. No matter what happens, no one can separate us from Christ and His love.
Therefore, the Lord tells us that we should not fear any circumstance, because comparatively speaking, even the worst that can possibly happen to us is ultimately of no consequence. Nothing can take away our eternal life; nothing can invalidate our forgiveness; nothing can steal our eternal rewards stored up in heaven; and nothing can separate us from Christ. The worst that could happen is some temporary pain and suffering, or an end to a life that would have ended in not too long anyway.
Remember that you belong to God, and he doesn't turn his back on his own. When your circumstances are causing you to fear, when they seem like they're out of control, remember God's words, "You belong to me." Secondly, remember that:
2. GOD IS ALWAYS WITH US:
Notice what God promises us through the prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah 43:2 (NKJV) When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.
Isaiah 43:5 (NKJV) Fear not, for I am with you;....
Circle "When" and "I will be with you." This is a central truth that you need to grasp. Notice that Isaiah doesn't promise you will be saved from the fire or the flood - he promises that you will be protected in the midst of the fire and the flood. Water and fire, taken together, form a picture of every danger that could come. He is saying, "You will experience circumstances beyond your control, but God will protect you and help you through them."
Some people interpret the fire and flood as evidence that God has deserted them. Don't believe it! The fires and the floods of life are evidence only that you are human. Everyone has problems. Jesus said, "The rain falls on the just and the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). We all experience tragedy at some time in life. But remember: God brings difficult situations into our lives to remind us how much we need Him. Every trial is an opportunity to trust.
In your future, you are going to face some deep waters, and you're going to think you're going under for the last time. And in your future, you are going to face some major troubles. Count on it. And in your future, you are going to face some fiery troubles. But God is going to be there, and you're not going to go through it alone.
Hebrews 13:5 (NKJV) Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
The point is: When Jesus is near, you lose your fear. I can face anything, if I know I'm not going through it alone. When Jesus is near, you lose your fear.
God is going to be with you no matter where you are, no matter what happens, no matter what happens in the economy, in the country, or in your family. God will be with you when you're tense, nervous, and in distress.
Jesus was going through a distressing time - facing death, and the abandonment of the disciples. But listen to what He said:
John 16:32 (NKJV) "Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.
Some of you need to go home and make some big posters and put them all over your house that says, "God is with me!" You need to remind yourself over and over of that. You need to put it on your refrigerator door. You need to put it on your sun visor in your can. You need to put it on your bathroom mirror. Make a big poster and put it in your living room. God is with me! I am not alone. God is with me! He'll help you with the fear, helping it be relieved and released.
The Bible gives us a reassuring picture of God's faithfulness in:
Deuteronomy 31:8 (NKJV) "And the LORD, He is the one who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed."
Christian growth should result in one's ability to trust God's faithfulness, and trust the fact that He will give me what I need for every situation.
Psalms 23:4 (NKJV) Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Thirdly, remember that:
3. ALL DIFFICULTIES ARE OPPORTUNITIES TO GLORIFY GOD.
Isaiah 43:7 (NKJV) Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him."
Trials, difficulties, and tribulation provide us the opportunity to glorify God. We like the easy road, we like to be comfortable, we enjoy prosperity and success. But the truth is that God is most often glorified in our lives when things are the worst. God wants us to be lights in a dark world:
Matthew 5:16 (NKJV) "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Our trust in God is magnified in the midst of difficult situations. I'm sure that most of you know the story of Joseph, found in Genesis 37-50. Joseph went through one bad circumstance after another. Finally, after 13 years of difficult times he is promoted to prime minister of Egypt. God gave Pharaoh a dream which Joseph interprets. Seven years of plenty will be followed by seven years of famine. So, Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge and he begins to store up food. After the seven years of plenty the famine hits, and Joseph's brothers, who sold him into slavery, end up coming to him for food. Notice why God sent Joseph to Egypt:
Genesis 45:4-7 (NKJV) And Joseph said to his brothers, "Please come near to me." So they came near. Then he said: "I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 "But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 "For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 "And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
Why did God use all the trials in Joseph's life to send him to Egypt? So he could save his family from starvation. Isn't that what it says. Who caused the famine that they needed to be saved from? God did!
Psalms 105:16-17 (NKJV) Moreover He called for a famine in the land; He destroyed all the provision of bread. 17 He sent a man before them; Joseph; who was sold as a slave.
Why didn't God just not cause a famine in the first place? I'll tell you why - it is in times of trouble that we learn how much we need God's help. And as we learn to depend on Him, he is glorified:
Psalms 50:15 (NKJV) Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."
What is the standard of power in the Old Testament? When they want to speak of God's great power in the Old Testament, what do they refer to? The Exodus!
Psalms 106:7-8 (NKJV) Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders; They did not remember the multitude of Your mercies, But rebelled by the sea; the Red Sea. 8 Nevertheless He saved them for His name's sake, That He might make His mighty power known.
How did God's people end up in Egyptian bondage? They went to Egypt to escape the famine, and in time they ended up as slaves to Egypt. Why didn't God just not cause the famine, and they wouldn't need delivering? Through their deliverance, God's power was put on display, and He was glorified. God said to Pharaoh:
Exodus 9:16 (NKJV) "But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.
God's power is displayed as he delivered his children from bondage. In our weakness, we look to God's power for help:
2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV) And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
It is in the trials and difficulties of life that we learn to trust and depend upon God. As we trust him in our struggles, He is glorified. So, all of our difficulties are opportunities to glorify God.
Dennis Byrd was a professional football player: a defensive end for the New York Jets, an up-and-coming superstar predicted to help turn the Jets organization around. Then, tragedy struck. On November 29, 1992, the Jets were playing the KC Chiefs. Dennis was about to sack the quarterback when he collided with a teammate and his spinal cord was snapped. In a split-second his football career ended. He was paralyzed from the neck down. Everything he had planned for his life came to a screeching halt. Later he wrote about waking up in the middle of the night at Lenox Hospital in a halo brace, not knowing where he was, not knowing why he couldn't move, not knowing what was happening. Suddenly, he went from dreaming of making it to the Pro Bowl to hoping he could someday hold his daughter in his arms again.
From a worldly perspective, Dennis was no longer able to reach his potential. But in God's eyes, Dennis Byrd is capable of much more than sacking quarterbacks. In God's eyes, Dennis Byrd is capable of giving him glory. And Dennis has done that in a tremendous way.
The world watched and listened as Dennis Byrd told the media that Christ was his source of comfort in his time of tragedy. The doctors announced to the media that Dennis may never walk again, and it would be years before they would know. Dennis told the media that with God's help, he would walk again - soon.
On opening day of the 1993 football season, less than a year after the tragic collision, millions of television viewers watched Dennis Byrd walk out to the middle of the Meadowlands Stadium while 75,000 fans stood cheering in ovation. It was without question the highlight of the entire season.
The miracle in Dennis Byrd's life is not that he broke his neck and walked again. The miracle is that the injury that destroyed his career didn't destroy his life. God protected him through the fire and flood. Even though he no longer plays sports, he is able to glorify God with his life.
A financial setback may prevent you from becoming rich, an illness may prevent you from doing work you love, a tragedy may submarine some of your goals in life - but nothing can prevent you from glorifying God through your life. You have the potential to glorify God. That means, simply, that you can show the world how great God is.
That's the difference when a nonbeliever experiences tragedy and a Christian experiences tragedy. The nonbeliever is sidelined, their hopes are dashed, and the purpose of their life may dwindle to nothing. But a believer can keep going, knowing it is not the hand we are dealt that determines our happiness - it is our attitude in the process. No matter what happens, we can glorify God. And that is what will make your life fulfilled.
Whether your greatest fear has to do with global events and terrorist attacks, or whether it has to do with something much more personal, remember to place your trust in God as your loving heavenly Father, and remember that no one can take from you that which is most valuable, your eternal life in Christ.
Our hope is not built on Colin Powell, or the U.S. Army or an international coalition. Our hope is not built on Alan Greenspan or the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Our hope is not built on the CIA or the FBI, or any other governmental agency. Even though we live in the greatest country this world has ever seen, our hope is not built on this nation. Our hope is not in ourselves. Our hope, our trust, our confidence is in God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There will be circumstances in your life from time to time that you can't control, but you will always have control over the most important aspect of your life; your attitude. So, when tough times come your way, let this be your attitude: I belong to God, He will always be with me, and no matter what happens, I can use it as an opportunity to show the world the glory of God.