Opening:
One of the most repeated commands in the Bible is “don’t be afraid.”
For example, we find it four times in the Christmas story in Matthew and
Luke. So for this Christmas season, we’re going to talk about our fears, and
why God says, “Don’t be afraid.” And today we start with the number one
reason to not be afraid: God is with you!
A Gallup Poll done in 2001 with American adults identified our greatest
fears. Here they are in alphabetical order:
• Being closed in small spaces.
• Flying.
• Heights.
• Mice.
• Needles and getting shots.
• Public speaking.
• Snakes.
• Spiders and insects.
What do you think is the number one fear? Here they are from most common
to least:
• Snakes. 51%
40%
• Public speaking.
• Heights. 36%
34%
• Being closed in small spaces.
• Spiders and insects. 27%
• Needles and getting shots. 21%
20%
• Mice.
• Flying. 18%
 
Greeting:
What is your greatest fear?
 
Introduction and offering:
Hebrews 13:5–6 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be
content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
6 So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?”
Do you know what keeps some of us from being content and being generous?
Fear. Fear of running short. Fear of not having enough. Fear of missing out.
But here the Bible says that we can be content with what we have because we
have the Lord. God said, “I am with you. I will never leave you.” So we say, “I
will not be afraid.” If God is with me, what do I have fear? Nothing. We can
give generously to God and others because He is with us.
“Don’t be afraid.”
God says it over and over—it is one of the most repeated commands in
the Bible. In the next few weeks, we’re going to look at those verses and see
why God tells us, “Don’t be afraid.” Today, we start with the number one
reason not to be afraid: God is with you. Here’s:
The Big Idea: “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.” God.
All of these verses say, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.” Don’t be afraid,
for…
 
1. God is with us…always.
Since this is our Christmas series, I want to start with a Christmas verse.
When Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant—not by him—he decides to do
what most men would do: quietly end the engagement. But an angel appeared
to him in a dream and told him, “Don’t be afraid.” He was to take Mary as his
wife. The child was from the Holy Spirit; he was to name him Jesus, for He
would save people from their sins.
 
Matthew 1:22–23 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said
through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth
to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
Why would Joseph be afraid to take Mary as his wife? His reputation would
suffer. People would talk. “Joseph got Mary pregnant; he had to marry her.”
The only way Joseph could protect his reputation was to end the engagement,
to tell the truth: “This isn’t my baby.”
Don’t be afraid, Joseph. This baby is Immanuel, which means, “God with
us.” As much as Joseph had to fear, he had more to gain. He was cooperating
with God in the fulfillment of a 700 year-old prophecy given by Isaiah. God
was coming to rescue His people. God was moving into the neighborhood! In
fact, God was moving into his house!
I wonder if Joseph thought about the story in 2 Samuel 6, when David,
acting in fear, left the Ark of the Covenant in Obed Edom’s house. The Ark
represented the presence of God. What happened? God blessed Obed Edom
and his family and everything he had! God was with Obed Edom, and it was all
good!
Maybe Joseph thought of that story and thought, “I will lose my
reputation, but I will gain the presence of God—and that’s all good!”
So Matthew’s gospel, the good news about Jesus, starts with this
promise that God is with us. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, God becoming
one of us. God moves into the neighborhood—and it’s all good.
And Matthew’s gospel ends on a similar note. Here is the last sentence
in Matthew; Jesus says:
Matthew 28:20 And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the
age.
It starts with “God with us.” It ends with “I am with you always.” Always.
Jesus is with you always. I looked up the Greek word for “always” and it
means, “always” (all the days).
Hebrews 13:5–6 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be
content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
In the Greek it is a double negative followed by a triple negative. Literally,
this reads, “I will never, never leave you. I will never, never, no never forsake
you.” God was underscoring, “I am with you…always.” Will I leave you? No,
no; no, no, no! I am with you always.
 
This is the gospel that starts on Christmas: God is with us. God moves
into the neighborhood. He is Immanuel, God with us. And He decides to stay.
“I am with you always.”
But it doesn’t always feel that way! Have you ever wondered, “Where
are you God?” You’re not alone. This is why this command is repeated so
often in the Bible. People found themselves in seemingly God-forsaken
circumstances, overwhelmed with fear. And God spoke, “Don’t be afraid, for I
am with you.” Here are a couple examples you might identify with.
Don’t be afraid, for…
 
2. God is with us when everything is going wrong.
One of the great stories in the Bible is the story of Joseph. I particularly
like it because of his fine name, and Genesis 39:6 says, “Joseph was well-built
and handsome.” My life-verse.
As a young man, God gave Joseph dreams indicating that one day his 11
brothers and even his parents would bow down to him. Because his father
already favored him, the dreams added fuel to his brothers’ jealousy—they
hated him and wanted to kill him. The oldest brother, Reuben (creator of the
famous sandwich) convinced his brothers not to kill Joseph, but instead to sell
him as a slave to a passing band of traders. And you thought your family was
dysfunctional!
So Joseph ends up a slave in Egypt. His dreams look pretty stupid now.
Everything has gone wrong. In fact, it is hard to imagine it going much worse.
Genesis 39:2–4 The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he
lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that
the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything
he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant.
Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his
care everything he owned.
In the midst of betrayal and slavery, God was with Joseph. And like Obed
Edom, God’s presence meant blessing—it was all good. God blessed
everything Joseph did. It was all wrong, but because God was there, it was all
good.
And then it all went wrong again! Because Joseph was such a hunk,
Potiphar’s wife got the hots for him. When Joseph refused her, she accused
him of trying to rape her, and Potiphar had him tossed into prison. Out of the
frying pan, into the fire. What happened? God was with him—and he ends up
going from slavery to prison—from bad to worse.
 
Genesis 39:20–23 But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the
LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in
the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge
of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that
was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under
Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success
in whatever he did.
It went from bad to worse, but God was with him.
“I am with you always,” Jesus said. I think that means even when
everything is going wrong; even when things go from bad to worse; even
when nothing seems to be turning out like you dreamed it would. God is with
you.
ILL: In 2006, my annual physical resulted in a biopsy that showed I had
prostate cancer. I was 54. My dad died of prostate cancer at 64. His
dad died of prostate cancer at 58. So we took this seriously.
I will never forget when Laina and I went to the doctor for the
biopsy results. He told me I had cancer; it was moderately aggressive (a
Gleason score of 7) and was in 7 of the 12 needle aspirations from the
biopsy. Laina and I walked in silence back to our car. Before we drove
away, I took her hand and said, “Nothing has changed. I woke up this
morning in God’s hands. And I’m still in God’s hands. This news doesn’t
change that. I’m in good hands.” And we drove home with peaceful
hearts.
When everything goes wrong, it makes all the difference to know that God
is with you. You are in good hands. That is not to say that there weren’t
moments of fear.
ILL: From my journal, April 21, 2006—a month after diagnosis.
I’ll be glad when my surgery is over. At this point, waiting is hard,
and gives me the opportunity to worry. On my run this morning, I had
to fight off dark thoughts again. I’m sure this is normal for anyone
facing this. I keep reminding myself that my life is in God’s Great Hands,
and I’m trusting Him to make me well. Be still…and know that I AM
GOD. Nonetheless, I’ll be glad when it’s over…and that’s only six days
away now. One soldier in “Citizen Soldiers” (by Stephen Ambrose)
said, “The absolute worst period of fear came as we were organizing for
an attack. We never knew what to expect or when to expect it, and the
longer the wait the greater the fear.” (Pg. 485) I understand that
feeling. Waiting is hard.
 
I had that surgery and have been cancer free since. I’ll bet many of you
have a story like that—a time when knowing God was with you dispelled your
fear. Share your story: #LCnotafraid on Instagram and Twitter; or respond
to the post on the Life Center Facebook page. When did knowing God was
with you dispel your fear?
Maybe you’re in that waiting period now. The best help I can give you is
to remind you that God is with you. You are not alone. You are in good hands.
Don’t be afraid, for God is with you when everything goes wrong.
Don’t be afraid, for…
 
3. God is with us when He calls us to a new challenge.
Sometimes life is going along just fine, then God interrupts our comfort
and calls us to a new challenge and turns our world upside down. One great
example of this is the story of Moses.
Moses was born of Hebrew slaves in Egypt, but was adopted by
Pharaoh’s daughter, and was raised as a prince of Egypt. But he knew his
roots, and one day he killed an Egyptian overseer who was abusing a Hebrew
slave. When Pharaoh heard, Moses had to run for his life, escaping to the
deserts of Midian where he married, and settled down as a shepherd for the
next 40 years.
One day, Moses is tending his sheep—just doing his job and minding his
own business like he’s done for the last 14,600 days—when God shows up. A
bush is burning and when Moses turns aside to check it, God speaks: “Moses,
take off your shoes, you are on holy ground.” Then God tells him, “I have seen
the misery of my people; I have heard their cries for help, and I have come
down to help them.” So far, so good. “I have seen, I have heard, I have come
down to help.” You go, God!
Then God says, “No, you go, Moses! I am sending you to Pharaoh to
bring my people out of Egypt.” Whoa! That’ll mess up your day!
Exodus 3:11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to
Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
“You want me to go back to Egypt and take on Pharaoh? Who am I? He’s
the most powerful man in the world, and I’m…a shepherd. He runs the most
advanced civilization in the world, and I run…sheep. He controls the mighty
Egyptian army with horses and chariots, and I control…my sheep dog. Let’s
not kid ourselves, God; you got the wrong guy. This is beyond my pay grade.
Who am I?”
Exodus 3:12 And God said, “I will be with you.”
 
Do you think Moses feared Pharaoh? He should—Pharaoh tried to kill him!
Moses knew he was no match for Pharaoh, and he was afraid. What was God’s
answer to Moses’ fear? “I will be with you.”
God interrupts Moses’ comfortable life and calls him to a new challenge,
something frightening, something that is way over his head. And when Moses
asks, “Who am I?” God’s only answer is, “I will be with you.”
Have you been there? Have you heard God calling you beyond your
comfort zone? Challenging you to take on a task bigger than you—a God-sized
task? When you think, “Who am I? This is too much for me.” God will
say, “Don’t be afraid, I am with you.” You’re not going to do this alone. God
will do the heavy lifting.
This is why Jesus concludes the Great Commission with “And I am with
you always, to the very end of the age.” He has just sent them to make
disciples of all the nations. Take this good news to everyone everywhere! He
is saying this to a tiny group of followers who have no money, no power, no
qualifications—they have nothing…except Jesus. “I am with you always.” He
called them in way over their heads, and then promised to be with them every
step of the way.
ILL: I recently met Jeremy Peckham. He lives in England and describes
himself as a serial entrepreneur: he starts and builds businesses and
then sells them. Jeremy heard God call him to train rural pastors in
Africa. There are hundreds of thousands of pastors in rural Africa that
have no theological training; many of them don’t even own a Bible.
Jeremy has devoted most of his resources to creating ART: African Rural
Trainers. They are three years into their pilot project: three groups
of 50 pastors each that are completing their undergraduate degrees
in Bible and ministry. We met a few pastors in Kenya who are being
trained by an ART trainer, and they are jazzed! One of them, Pastor
Michael, said to me, “Would you want a surgeon to operate on you
who had no training? There would be many dead patients! We need
training!” Michael was part of a group of 17 pastors in the Adiedo area
who had one ESV Study Bible between them, but are being trained.
There are hundreds of thousands of these pastors, and Jeremy is
getting calls from all over Africa. “Help us. Help us.” Does that sound
overwhelming? It is for Jeremy; it isn’t for God.
“I am with you always.” I think God loves burning bushes. I think God loves
to call us to great challenges, to God-sized tasks, to things we could never do
without Him. And when we say, “Who am I?” He says, “I am with you.”
What’s He calling you to do that seems impossible?
 
Don’t be afraid, for God is with you when He calls you to a new
challenge.
Don’t be afraid, for…
 
4. God is with us in turbulent times.
We live in turbulent times. Our economy has been on the skids since
2008. Many are unemployed; many others underemployed; and many more
dealing with cutbacks and reductions in wages and benefits.
It has also been politically turbulent. We just concluded an election
cycle that left some overjoyed and others depressed. I was struck by how
deeply people feel about this when I read in Friday’s paper a letter to the
editor. The woman wrote, “I am desolate since the election. I wake up every
morning with a feeling of deep sadness and disbelief. America is in decline. I
could cry a river.”
Economic turbulence, political turbulence…and many of us are caught in
personal turbulence. It may be a marriage that is imploding, a child that is
rebelling, a parent or grandparent that is dying. It could be our health is
failing, or our job is frustrating, or our future is uncertain.
We live in turbulent times.
The prophets in the Old Testament spoke to Israel in the midst of
turbulent times. Because of their own sin and God’s judgment, the Israelites
found themselves in exile. They were forced to leave their beloved homeland,
and were relocated hundreds of miles away in idolatrous foreign countries
where they were strangers who didn’t speak the language or know the
customs. In other words, their whole world was turned upside down. The
prophets called them to repent, promised that God would bring them home,
and repeatedly said, “Don’t be afraid, for God is with you.” Here’s one
example:
Isaiah 41:10
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
You can see on the top of your outline all the references to Isaiah and
Jeremiah—these and many other verses repeat this theme. Don’t be afraid,
for I am with you. I am with you in exile. I am with you in turbulent times. I
am with you when your whole world seems to go upside down. I’m still here.
 
ILL: While we were in Kenya a few weeks ago, our driver, Sammy, lost
his 2 year-old son, Uriel, to malaria. It was very sudden and unexpected;
 the malaria moved to the brain and he died before his mother could
even get him to a hospital. When this happened, we were in Homa Bay;
Sammy’s family was in Nairobi. Sammy has driven every one of our
teams who has been to Kenya; he is like family to us, like a member of
our team. Imagine getting that call. We were sorry he was away from
home, but glad that we were there. And when we left, we knew Sammy
wasn’t alone; God is with him.
Three years ago when I was in Kenya, Grace, who runs Spring of
Hope there, had just lost her husband to malaria. Willis was a high
school teacher. He made about $400 a year. At the time, Grace made
about $130. I asked her, “What will do? How will you live with ¾ of
your income gone?” She smiled at me and said, “God is with me. God
will provide.”
And God did. A family in our church heard Grace’s story, and has
been underwriting her salary with Spring of Hope, sending $500 a
month ever since.
Life is hard—but God is with us. Grace inspires me to remember that in the
midst of the turbulence, I am not alone. God is with me.
“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.”
 
Conclusion:
ILL: In March of 1999, six guys went snow camping. We drove to
Sherman Pass; at 5500 feet it’s the highest drivable pass in the state.
From there, we skied in about 5 miles, to a cabin near Snow Peak at
about 6400 feet. My sons Jeff and Michael were with us—Jeff was 15
and Michael was 10 at the time.
In the middle of night, it’s pitch dark in the cabin, and suddenly
I hear Michael yelling in fear, “Where am I? Where am I?” Since he
woke me out of a deep sleep, I couldn’t think of anything else to say
but, “You’re right here, son.” He said, “Okay Dad,” and immediately
went back to sleep. Obviously it wasn’t the brilliant answer that
reassured him; it was simply my presence.
My father is here; I’m not afraid.
Don’t be afraid, for God is with you. He is with you always. He is with
you when everything goes wrong. He is with you when He calls you to a new
challenge. He is with you in the midst of turbulent times. He is with you
always.
When you came in, you were given a rock. In the Bible, when God met
someone, they often took rocks and built an altar to mark the spot. “God met 
me here.” We’re going to build an altar today—an altar of rocks that
represent our fears that are overcome by God’s presence. Take a moment and
write your fear on your rock—and then write, “God is with me.” And when
you’ve done that, come up here and drop your rock. Together, all our rocks
will make an altar that mark this spot: God met us, and reminded us that He is
with us.
When you’ve dropped your rock, return to your seat, and we’ll close
with prayer.