Al Tirah

The text in this post is very similar to a post I wrote November 1, 2010. I recently revised it and presented it as a sermon at the congregation I attend. I present the lesson here in its entirety, along with the text I lifted from my previous post. Original lesson inspired by and Fear Monsters from altirausa.com.

What can separate us from our relationship with God? Immediately, most Christians would say, “Nothing,” and go on to cite passages like Romans 8:35-39, where Paul addresses persecuted Christians thusly:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 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.

We quote this. We’ll testify that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, but do we really believe that? Do our lives – our attitudes and our conduct – betray otherwise? Does our fear of the things in this world lead us to act like we actually are concerned that those things Paul writes about really could separate us from God’s love?

 

We look around, and we see several things to fear – some are worthy while others are things we are taught and conditioned to fear by those who seek to benefit from our fears. We’re taught to fear the scary secular progressives who supposedly want to take our right to worship away. We’re taught to fear the scary Muslims who supposedly want to kill us all. We’re taught to fear scary authority figures who supposedly want to take all of our money. We’re taught to fear the scary New World Order that’s supposed to do…something scary. We’re taught to fear the scary immigrants who are supposedly up to something equally as scary. All of this is exacerbated by a fear-driven media we hungrily consume while forgetting the peace we should have in Christ. For, if we live in fear, we have no hope; we have no peace.

Fear in God’s Word

God repeatedly calls upon His people to “Al Tirah” several times in the Old Testament. That is, to “Fear not.” He does this over a hundred times. Some examples of God or one of His messengers telling His people not to fear include Genesis 15:1, Genesis 26:24, Genesis 50:19, Exodus 20:20, Deuteronomy 1:21, Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 8:1, Judges 6:10, I Samuel 12:20, Isaiah 41:13-14, and Daniel 10:12. The list could go on and on. As consistent as the message to “Be holy as I am holy” is this theme of God’s people trusting in Him and avoiding submission to base fears.

Fast forward to the New Testament, and we see Jesus and His disciples playing a similar tune about fear.

  • In Luke 12:4, Jesus says: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.”
  • Luke 12:32: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
  • Paul, in Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”
  • II Timothy 1:7: “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
  • Hebrews 13:6: “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”
  • I Peter 3:14: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.”
  • I John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
  • Revelation 2:10, regarding coming persecutions: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Defined By Fear or Faith?

Again, this list could go on. This is not to say we will never experience fear. Even Paul admits to being afraid at times in II Corinthians 7:5. Rather, this is about what defines us. Despite his fears, Paul still lived a Christian life. He still spread the word. He did not let fear define his attitudes, actions, and outlooks. When we succumb to the fear-mongering marketed by cable news networks, by talk radio jocks, by political figures, then we are allowing un-Christlike influences into our hearts and minds. We become centered around secular concerns, and we begin behaving like Christ never took us from this world at all.

What are we allowing ourselves to be frightened by anyway? Revocation of our freedom of religion? How could we possibly have it worse than those First Century Christians? Last I checked, I haven’t been too worried about being used as a human torch or as lion food. If they could persevere under such religious persecution, surely we could do no worse if we are truly dedicated to God. Do we fear those who can take our money? Since when do Christians care about their treasures on Earth? Money can’t buy salvation. Do we fear those who may kill us? Again, Jesus said not to, for they can’t claim our souls. In the vast majority of cases, what we are taught to fear centers purely around our comforts and conveniences. We fear that being a Christian might one day be truly difficult. That true spiritual living is hard is the point of Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 10:34-39.

Put even more simply, if Christ could face the cross, we can face anything this life throws at us. We don’t have to let fear rule us.

A Personal Addendum

Now I’ve been criticized of being “naive,” “shallow,” “short-sighted,” “stupid,” “ignorant,” and a bunch of other things that basically amount to, “You contradict my favorite talking head,” because of this view. The argument usually descends to something like this: “Well, your mom had cancer, so you should know better than to discount small things that can lead to greater disasters,” or something like that. First, leave my mom out of this. Second, I HAD CANCER TOO, so, you know, you could go there. It would make more sense. It wouldn’t sway me (because such arguments are complete non sequiturs), but it would still almost be more compelling…if it wasn’t so non-compelling.

Cancer may have threatened my life, but it could not threaten my soul. It may have inexorably separated me from an internal organ, but it could not separate me from Christ. It may have made me physically weak, but it could not touch my strength in the Lord. Cancer may have reinforced my mortality, but it could not steal my immortality. Yes, it was difficult at the time, but my refuge in God was stronger. Likewise, no terrorist, political ideology, financial burden, or outside threat can take our hope in Christ. When we let those things insinuate themselves into our being we cease living as those with a hope in Christ, and we become no better than those who refused to enter the Promised Land in Numbers 13 because the inhabitants were big and scary.

Conclusion

We sometimes sing that our God is “Mighty to Save.” Do we really believe He is mighty and can protect us in the refuge of His love? We might be afraid at times, but, if we truly believe in His power and love, if we do truly believe He is mighty to save, we do not have to live in fear.

When news of wars and terrorism assail us, Al Tirah – fear not.

When natural disasters strike, Al Tirah – fear not.

When disease threatens our health and our families, Al Tirah – fear not.

When crime and violence touch our neighborhoods, Al Tirah – fear not.

When markets tumble, and banks collapse, Al Tirah – fear not.

When society seems destabilized and our lives seem chaotic, Al Tirah – fear not.

When our bank balances are low and the pantries are bare, Al Tirah – fear not.

When godlessness and immorality prevail in every corner, Al Tirah – fear not.

With that in our minds, let’s end where we began this lesson:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 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 8:37-39

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