Haunted - Week Four: "Haunted by Fear"
This week we are concluding the sermon series that we've been working on for the month of October--a series entitled, "Haunted." The basic premise behind this sermon series has been centered on the fact that all have something in common: Each of us have things in our past that we wish hadn't happened.
We've all experienced pain, doubt, regret or fear in our past. But for some of us it still feels like it was yesterday. Many of us are haunted by things in our past. We're haunted by regret, doubt, hurt and fear, and sometimes it feels as though we will never be free of the things that are haunting us.
This is not the way God intends for us to live. For God so loved the world that he sent His Son, Jesus, whose first sermon proclaimed that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to set the captives free to bring good news to those who were haunted, wounded, bleeding, stumbling and lost.
And so we have been lifting up this simple, but life-changing idea throughout this entire series: You don't have to be haunted by your past if you trust the one who holds your future. In other words, if you put your trust in God, and believe that God really does have your best interests at heart, you will discover how to be free from the things that are haunting you.
Today we are going to spend some talking about how to be free from the fears that are haunting us.
When I was a kid, I was afraid of going to hell. Some of it had to do with the near constant barrage of fire and brimstone preaching I'd heard most of my life, but mostly it had to do with a pretty awful movie called "The Burning Hell" that I saw when I was like eleven years old.
"The Burning Hell" was one of many terrible "evangelistic" movies that were created in the mid-to-late 1970's. The filmmakers spared every expense to make these dogs. The actors were "Z" list, and included many fundamentalist Baptist celebrity preachers like Jack Van Impe and Jack Hyles, to name a few, who appeared as themselves and who preached fire and brimstone sermons during the movie. Predictably, one of the characters would scoff at the message and would end up either having a vision of hell, going to hell, almost going to hell, imagining hell, having a vision of someone who was in hell, who told them all about hell...
Despite the abominable acting, the laughable special effects, cringe-worthy dialogue and completely wrong-headed, misguided and dangerous theology... "The Burning Hell" scared the hell out of me.
After I saw it, I "got saved" again right there in the church. "Getting saved" is what really Christian-y people call it when you pray what is known as the "sinners prayer" and decide to start following Jesus.
"PleaseGodIknowIamasinnerIknowIneedJesuspleaselethimcomeintomyhearttonightinJesusnameamen." I rattled it off by heart.
When I got home and went to bed, I started having visions of my own about hell. I got saved at least thirteen times before I fell into a fitful sleep. I started sleeping with a light on, but it didn't really work all that much. I got saved more and more each night. Sometimes I would get saved before I went to bed so I would make sure that I was saved before I got saved again. I got saved in youth group meetings, at church pretty much every Sunday morning. I think I must have prayed that prayer about eleven hundred times.
Even now when I think about how scared I was back then of going to hell, I have to resist the urge to pray that prayer just one... more... time...
What are you afraid of? Is there something that terrifies you enough that you want to get your heart right with God, rush down the aisle after church, confess all your sins and dunk your head in whatever glass of water is nearby to renew your baptism? Spiders? The Dark?
If you have some idea, but don't really know what to call it--let me help you. Here's a list of phobias that might cover some of what ails you:
Ablutophobia is the fear of taking a bath. I think that a lot of pre-pubescent boys suffer from this fear.
Ergophobia is the fear of the workplace. I think a lot of teenage boys suffer from this fear.
Philophobia is the fear of falling in love. I think a lot of college age boys suffer from this fear.
Nomophobia is the fear of not having phone service on your smart phone. This is not a joke.
Somnophobia is the fear of falling asleep.
Heliophobia is the fear of sunlight, which affects vampires, really, really, moody girls who study art, and moles.
Chaetophobia is the fear of one's own hair. I mostly resent mine for leaving me.
Oikophobia is the fear of appliances. As in appliances coming to life and taking you hostage, or something.
Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns. Can't sleep clowns will eat me, can't sleep clowns will eat me...
Neophobia is the fear of new things. Seriously, this fear is most widely felt by the elderly and by fans of Star Wars.
Phobophobia is the fear of developing fears... which is just...
There's actually a serious disorder that millions of Americans suffer from that has fear at it's very foundation. This disorder is called Avoidant Personality Disorder, and it is a big umbrella that contains the fear of criticism, fear of disapproval or rejection, the fear of failure, intimacy, the fear of taking personal risk, new activities, ideas, etc.
It's safe to say that a very large percentage of those who are gathered here today suffer from this disorder to some extent--some more than others.
But here's the thing. This is a learned behavior. There are very few inherited traits that contribute to this kind of disorder. It is learned through childhood rejection, peer pressure, disappointment that is amplified, and a host of other ways. In fact, we are only born with two inherent fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. Some fears are instilled in us for our good, but mostly they are variations on the theme of those original two fears.
We don't have to live in fear, though. God doesn't want this for us.
In Romans 8:15 we have the following bit of wisdom from the Apostle Paul:
15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
I love the image that this verse brings up for us. This is a verse about what it means to be part of a family--a family with a loving parent who cares for us and protects us from all harm. Paul is encouraging us here by saying, "Listen, if you are a follower of Jesus, you have this incredible Spirit of God within you that brings you into the household of God as His child. You don't have to live in fear, you don't have to be a slave to the fears that are haunting you. You don't have to live that way any longer because in Abba's house, where you now live, there is no room for fear."
Listen to me... In Abba's house there are no slaves to fear.... If you are part of the family--you don't have to be afraid. It's like being tucked in at night and knowing that your parents are in the very next room, and there is a warm light on somewhere that erases all of the shadow and you drift off to sleep with smile on your face because you know that you are safe. In Abba's house there are no slaves to fear.
And this is the point where many of you are getting pumped up because these words are like music to your ears. You have never heard someone tell you this before and it is firing you up. It's okay to shout a little if you want.
But there are some of us in here who like the sound of all of this, but want just a little bit more. You might be asking today, what can I do to be free from the fears that are haunting me?
Well, I think there are two basic steps that you can take to be free from your fears. First, you have to UNLEARN WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT FEAR.
Half of spiritual maturity is learning what we don't know--spending time in Bible study, prayer, going to church, listening to sermons, reading books that inspire us... learning what we don't know. But the other half of spiritual maturity is unlearning what we think we know. Like I said earlier, so many of our fears are learned for one reason or another. And these learned fears need to be unlearned if we are going to move forward in hope.
Faith, you could say, is unlearning the worries and fears that keep us captive.
I looked up what the therapy for Avoidant Personality Disorder entails. If you are a counselor trying to treat someone for APD, you have to work overtime to earn their trust, because trust is the key. If the person suffering from severe APD doesn't trust you as their counselor, they won't be able to move on.
Along those lines, let me ask you a question: Do you trust God? Do you trust your Abba--your Heavenly Father? Really? Do you really and truly trust that God loves you beyond love and gave everything in order to restore your relationship with God? That kind of love--the sacrificial love of God--is perfect. and in 1 John 4:18 we read this incredibly encouraging word: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear..."
Unlearn what you think you know about fear. Trust your Abba with all of it.
Second, if we are going to be free from the fears that haunt us, we need to LEARN TO FACE THE FEAR. There is an old story that has been told and retold about the ways that lions hunt. In a pride of lions, it's the female lions that do the hunting. The male lion may hunt on occasion, but typically provides the fear instead. The roar of the male lion is louder and more impressive than the female, and so it is he male lion that roars and makes a ruckus behind the prey, which causes the poor animal to rush away from the roar and into the waiting ambush of the female lions.
The moral of this story is simple: run towards the roar if your facing lions. You have a much greater chance of outmaneuvering one solitary, lazy male lion whose making a lot of noise than a whole bunch of lean and mean female lions.
In other words. Run toward what scares you. It's probably not that scary. And the more you do this, the more you begin to realize that more often than not the things that are causing the most fear are much less frightening than we make them out to be. And to run away from them might be more dangerous.
There is a powerful thing that happens in our brains when we begin to learn important lessons like this. It's called synaptogenesis. Scientists have discovered that when we learn a lesson over and over agin it actually stimulates growth in our brains and makes that area "larger." They performed an experiment with people who tapped their fingers over and over again in patterns over a period of several days. Their brains expanded in the area that controlled the tapping.
If you make a habit of trusting God, of running toward the roar... you soon learn lifelong lessons that are hard to lose.
Besides, when our fears lose their power over us they can be kind of fun. Why do you think we go to amusement parks and ride roller coasters? Why do we flock to scary movies, or haunted houses during Halloween? Why do we drive really fast sometimes? Or eat the three pound steak at that restaurant where eating it means you get your photo on the wall, and possibly a heart attack?
Because, the alternative to fear is boredom. Do you really want to live a less-than life? Do you want to spend your spiritual life sitting on the couch? Or do you want to run toward the roar? Lion chasers choose fear. Every time.
You don't have to be haunted by your regrets. You don't have to be haunted by your doubts, your hurts... You don't have to be haunted by your fears. This is not the way that God wants you to live. You were meant for so much more than this beloved.
If you don't want to be haunted by your past, you need to trust the one who holds your future.