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Accepted

This sermon, preached August 10, 2014, at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, VA. , celebrates the all inclusive nature of God’s love and grace.  Preached by Dr. Bill Nieporte, the sermon is based on Matthew 14:33-44  and is titled, simply:  Accepted

What is our greatest fear?

I saw that bumper sticker again recently.  Perhaps you’ve seen it a time or two.  It reads, “Jesus is coming back soon…and boy is he pissed!”

It’s the fear that when we stand before this angry God there is nothing that can be done so that we might find acceptance.

This sermon celebrates the truth that God’s acceptance of us is on God’s side.  We have nothing to fear in God’s presence.  God loves us.

You can watch the video below.  A podcast can be downloaded at the church website:  Patterson Avenue Baptist Church

Below the video, you will find a copy of the manuscript prepared in advance of the sermon.

At the end of this post, there is a special note about a new book by my friend Steve McVey, titled:  “Beyond and Angry God!”  It comes with my highest recommendation, as does Steve’s ministry at Gracewalk.org

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Accepted
Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

It was my first “business meeting” with the good people of the Morattico Baptist Church on Virginia’s Northern Neck.  The congregation’s history among Virginia Baptist is pronounced.  At one time it was the largest Baptist church in the world.  One of its members, Robert Carter, when he converted to Christianity, emancipated over 500 slaves well before the Civil War.  He did so out of his Christian conviction that slavery was sinful.

The first woman missionary to China from the USA was Henrietta Hall Shuck was from the congregation, a name no doubt familiar to the ladies of our Women’s Missionary Union.  Her father, Addison Hall, was the clergyman attending the gathering of a upstart national Baptist association in Georgia, making the motion that the new denomination call itself “the Southern Baptist Convention.”

They were a people with a great heritage and history.  People with grit and determination.  Folks who took a chance on a newly minted graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  I became their pastor in 1989.

At this first business session with me as pastor, I sat on the front row next to Betty Harcum and Dorothy Harcum, sisters-in-law married, respectively, to Pete and Argy Harcum.

These dear sweat ladies were close friends, and as different as night is from day.  Dorothy was genuine country – plump, happy, never knowing a stranger.  Dorothy was prim and proper, sophisticated and special.  In the seven years  was her pastor, I only saw her once without a long dress, white gloves, and a fashionable hat.

Mr. Fred Swaffin was the chairman of the deacons and moderator of the business session.  Fred owned a furniture store in Kilmarnock and was known to our own Brian Snead, for whom Fred sold mattresses from Blackburn Mattress Company.

Fred stood, said a prayer, and as he finished, I opened my eyes, lifted my head, and saw a church mouse running across the floor behind him.  Now I have shared with you in the past that I am not a of “critters.”  You can add mice to the list with spiders and snakes of the creatures that just freak me out.

You would have thought I was a child in grade school.  There I was, a six foot, two inches tall man weighing just under 200lbs, jumping on a chair, screaming at the top of my voice: “It’s a mouse.  It’s a mouse.”

Everyone gather simply sat quietly, watching the spectacle unfold.  Then Dorothy, with her white gloves and fashionable hat, leaned over to her sister-in-law Betty, and said:  “What kind of pastor did we get anyways!”

I don’t like spiders or snakes or mice.  That’s my list.  You’ve got your own.  No matter who we are, there is something that we fear.  It might be water, or extreme heights, or a doctors needle, or the dentist chair.  But for almost all of us there is something we fear with an irrational sort of dread.

I once shared with you a brief list of the irrational fears – the phobias – that many people must contend with.  There are well over 500 known documented phobias:

Some of these are familiar:

Acrophobia- Fear of heights.
Agoraphobia- Fear of open spaces or of being in crowded.
Arachnophobia-Fear of spiders.
Ophiophobia-Fear of snakes.

These were a few I have not shared with you before.

Porphyrophobia- Fear of the color purple.
Peladophobia- Fear of bald people.
Ephebiphobia- Fear of teenagers.
(and of course,) Homilophobia- Fear of sermons.

We all have something that we fear.

In today’s text from Matthew we see another expression of intense fear, this time from the disciples.

Jesus had been preaching and teaching and healing.  As the end of the day approached, he told his disciples to get into their boat and cross the sea, saying he would join them later.  Then he went into the hillside to pray.  The disciples dutifully followed Jesus’ instructions and  set sail for the other side of the lake.

For the first part of their journey, everything was fine.  Then darkness came – and they became frightened (Achluophobia is the fear of darkness).  Then a wicked wind began to blow (Ancraophobia is the fear of wind).  With the increased wind came the crashing waves (Cymophobia is the fear of waves).  The waves cause water to come crashing over the boat (Aquaphobia is the fear of water).  The disciples certainly feared that they were about to die (Thanatophobia is the fear of death).

It must have been quite the storm because all the disciples – even those who had made their living on boats as fisherman – were terrified by the wind and the waves and the darkness that covered the sky.

Just then looked out over the water and saw Jesus walking in their direction on the water and over the waves.  Seeing this they became extremely terrified, thinking that he was a ghost (Phasmophobia is the fear of ghosts).

Just then Jesus spoke in a effort to calm their fears. “Don’t be afraid. It’s just me!”

The Bible often speaks those words:  “Don’t be afraid!”

To Abram, feeling fearful of his enemies, we read:  “Don’t be afraid!  I am your shield.” (Genesis)

To Joshua God speaks these words:  ““Don’t be afraid, nor dismayed.  Instead  be strong and of good courage.”

To Isaiah:  “Don’t be afraid! for I am with you.” (Isaiah)

When the disciples are called to mission after the miracle of the amazing catch of fish, Jesus says:  ““Don’t be afraid.  Henceforth you will be fishers of people.”

At the end of the Bible, in the Book of Revelations, Jesus says: “Don’t be afraid!  I am the first and the last.”

The phrase “fear not” or ‘don’t be afraid!” appears 140 times in the Bible.   Obviously God does not want us to be fearful in his presence.

And yet these words:  “Don’t be afraid!” are not addressed at the fears and phobias we have to contend with.  This is not a word from God for me when a mouse runs across my path.  These words in scripture are always addressed toward our response to the reality that God is near.

“What is our greatest fear?

I saw that bumper sticker again recently.  Perhaps you’ve seen it a time or two.  It reads, “Jesus is coming back soon…and boy is he pissed!”

I believe that bumper sticker reveals something about humankind’s greatest fear.  It’s the fear that is there really is a God, he must be sorely angry with us.  It’s the fear that when we stand before this angry God there is nothing that can be done so that we might find acceptance.

Ultimately this type of fear is entrenched in our understanding and experiences with sin.  After Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the “Knowledge of Good and Evil,” what’s the first thing they did.  They became fearful and try to hide from God.  When God went to walk with his creation in the garden in the cool of the evening, he called out to Adam and Eve:  “Where are you?”  In their response we see the first recorded incident of fear.  Adam replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, and I hid, because I was afraid.”

Our ultimate fear is that God might not accept us.  That God is some sort of ogre whose angry with us and will not welcome us into His presence.

Here is our ultimate fear.  It’s the notion that there is something so wrong about us that the wrong somehow overshadows and overpowers the love of God.  There is a belief that religion creates that none of us are acceptable before God.  It is a belief that there is something very wrong with us that makes it impossible for us to experience acceptance before God.  That’s what true fear is all about.

I know what happens sometimes in your thoughts, because sometimes it slips into my thoughts.

You hear a sermon about the grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness of God and you say, “Amen!” but in the back of your minds there is the “Yeah, but look at all the bad things that I have done in my life.”

You hear a sermon in which speaks of the intimate and powerful love of a Deity whom we are privileged to know as Abba, or Papa – and you say, “Amen!” but in the background you are fearful that such acceptance is simply a theological pipe dream.

You hear the good news proclaimed that you are like, loved, accepted, included, and adopted by your heavenly Father, but you are afraid that something you have said or done might actually leave you un-liked, unloved, unacceptable, excluded, and not wanted.

That fear is often a part of our lives.  The fear that the thing that defines us before God is more about our brokenness then His healing; more about our sin than His grace; more about what we’ve done wrong than about what God has done to redeemed.

So when the trials, troubles, and tribulations of life begin to pile up.  When darkness and despair come over us, when the storm clouds begin to form, when the wind and waves begin to crash against our boat – we look out over the water and see Jesus coming near, and rather than feeling the comfort, care, inclusion, and grace that He brings us from the Father, we are instead smack with an emotional fear that makes us feel unacceptable in his presence.

We are like the young mother I read about recently.  She was examining a toy and said to the salesman,  “Sir, I think this toy is a bit complicated for a little child?”  He responded:  “What you don’t understand is that this is an educational toy.  Its purpose is to help a child adjust to living in today’s world. No matter how the child puts the toy together it is always wrong.”

Yep, that’s how we feel sometimes.  No matter how we put together this thing called life, it’s always wrong.  So wrong, in fact, that if there really is a God, he must be disgusted with us.  There is no way we could ever find acceptance with any sort of God.

Understand that this fear does not arise from God.  God’s word is repeatedly spoken:  “Do not be afraid!”  Understand that this fear does not come to us through Jesus, as He is the one who reveals the nature, character, and identity of God as a gracious and loving Papa.  Where does this fear come from?  It comes from within us, from our own sense of brokenness and our feelings of unworthiness.

But here’s the good news.  Jesus comes walking in the midst of the darkness.  He walks on the raging waters in the midst of life storms.  He walks through the middle of our lives, filled with brokenness, anxiety, and feelings of failure.  He comes to our mucked up and sin ravage lives.  He comes to us when we are most anxious and afraid, and he says:  “Don’t be afraid!”

He comes to us communicate the reality of our acceptance with Him and with the heavenly Father he represents.  He comes to us to be our courage and strength, our security and hope, our resurrection and life.

Jesus comes to us all and he takes our fear away.  He does that for the disciples in the boat.  He does that for Peter as he ventures out to walk on water with Jesus.  He doesn’t just tell them to not be afraid.  Jesus actually takes away the root cause of our fear.  Jesus takes away our brokenness, our frailty, our feelings of being fallen and unacceptable.

He does this by embodying in his presence a reality spoken of later in the New Testament.  The scripture say, “God is love!”  That’s God’s DNA, his root, his identity.  God is LOVE.
Sometimes we talk about God’s love as though it’s just a slice of God’s being.  God is LOVE, sure…but God is also just.  God is LOVE, sure…but God is also (fill in the blank).  The truth revealed in scripture and most fully in Jesus Christ is that LOVE is not just a slice out of the pie of God’s existence, but rather is it the very shell that is the totally of God.  The pie is love and anything else we ever say about God must be viewed through the lens of God’s love.  Everything.  “God is love!”

The scripture says, “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).  Now the idea of LOVE being perfect is a quality that could only be true of God.  God is perfect love.  That love I revealed in Jesus the Christ.  That love is revealed as Jesus enters the brokenness of our human existence to cast out fear and reveal our acceptance.  Jesus does this throughout his ministry – and most clearly at the cross, when he faces the wrath of our darkness and sin, overcoming it completely, so that we might know we are accepted and included.

When Jesus says, “Do not be afraid”, those are not just words.  Jesus comes to make it happen.  He comes to take away our deepest, darkest fears.  He comes to make clear that we are accepted in God’s presence.

Jesus deals with human fear twice in this story.  First, when the disciples feared he was a ghost, waling on the water, Jesus spoke:  “Do not be afraid!”  Then, when Peter ventures out to walk on the water and becomes fearful again., he takes his eyes off Jesus and begins to sink.  But Jesus never takes his eyes off Peter, nor does his gaze turn away from us.  We falter, fail, sin, and sink, but God does not turn away from us.  Jesus reaches out and grabs hold of us, just as he did with Peter.  We are always and forever accepted.
Do you remember the passage from Romans 8 that we read a few weeks ago.  It teaches us that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Paul continues by reminding us that he have nothing to fear… “not danger, or famine, or nakedness, or sword, or angels or demons, or the present or the future, nor anything else in all of creation – not even death.”  We are safe with God in Christ Jesus.  We are accepted in God’s presence.

The disciples discovered they were accepted by God in Jesus while being tossed about in the darkness while adrift on a stormy sea.

This theme is repeated over and over again throughout the gospel stories.

The lepers on the side of the road, abandoned by friends, family, and even their religion, discovered in Jesus that they were still accepted by the God of heaven.

The blind man sitting alone the side of the road begging for a piece of bread met Jesus, was given sight, and learned that he was accepted by God.

Those identified as demon possess, agonizing with the out-of-controlled thoughts of a tortured mind, met Jesus and found out that they, too, were accepted by God’s grace.

The sinful, the broken, harlots caught in adultery, Samaritans, gentiles, Roman officials, and dreaded tax-collectors – they all (an everyone else Jesus met) encountered the truth.  God accepted them.  Noting they could do could make God love them any more…or love them any less.  They were loved with a perfect love –a love that would cast out all fear.  The only thing that could prevent a person from experiencing God’s acceptance and escaping the fear of judgment is not believing it was so.

That’s true today as well.  Jesus comes to each of us, to lives still ravage by our rebellion and sin.  He tells us we are forgiven.  He tells us we are loved.  He says to us, “Do not be afraid!”  His hand reaches out and grabs hold of us when we sink.

The only thing that can keep us locked in fear is not believing in the reality of God’s acceptance of us in Jesus Christ.

Did you read about the retired man in California? One day he began to tie helium filled balloons to his lawn chair. He wanted to take a ride. After he tied a few balloons to his chair it started to lift off the ground. So he called his neighbors to hold the chair down. He tied on more, forty, fifty, sixty helium filled balloons. While the neighbors were still holding the chair the man strapped himself in and told them, “Let go.”

He expected to float up in the air about l0 feet. He had a sharp pointed stick to pop the balloons so that he would come gently back down. They let go and the chair soared up with the man ~ 30 feet, 40 feet, 50 feet … right on above the house and trees and out of sight. About that time over at the Los Angeles Airport, the air traffic controller received a report. “This is Captain Jones flight 411. I’d like to report that I’ve just passed a man in a lawn chair at 3,000 feet.”

Now the man eventually came down safely. Reporters asked, “Why did you do such a thing?” He gave a great answer. He said, “You have to do something.”

Well, you don’t have to do anything to be the recipient of God’s gracious acceptance of you in Jesus Christ.  That is a done deal.  It was accomplished completely by Christ Jesus the Lord.

But you’ve got to do something to experience that.  You’ve got to do something to know the joy of living a fear free live.  Let me put it this way:  You can’t sit there in the boat.

The boat is not the safe place we think it is. We’ve got to step out of the boat and step onto the raging waters.  That’s the only safe place to be.  The safe place is on the sea because that’s where life is lived and that’s where Jesus is.  Sure, you might sink on occasion.  No doubt about that.  But Jesus will be there to grab hold of you.  He won’t let you go.  Even when our faith fails, Jesus doesn’t.

“Do not be afraid!”

We will always find acceptance in the grace and love of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

Beyond an Angry God: You Can’t Imagine How Much He Loves You
by: Steve McVey
publisher: Harvest House Publishers, published: 2014-08-01
ASIN: 0736959823
EAN: 9780736959827
sales rank: 12966
price: $7.56 (new), $8.65 (used)

How would your life change if you really believed and could even feel that God is absolutely crazy about you?

Steve McVey’s penetrating new look at the transforming power of God’s grace leads you to that change. Steve unpacks the biblical revelation of the Trinity as a loving relationship, and he highlights the goal of history: God intends to include us in that circle of love! Steve answers troubling questions that can keep you from fully sensing God’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness, such as…

  • Why does God look like a bad cop in the Old Testament and a good cop in the New Testament?
  • At Calvary, was the Father angry at the Son? Is He ever angry with me?
  • Why do I sometimes feel separated from God, abandoned, guilty, and ashamed?

Theologians have described the Trinity as perichoresis–a dance. Are you ready to be swept into the Father’s embrace?

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