God is With Us [Sermon Notes]

ohc fear notGod is With Us
Teaching Series: Fear Not!
Alice Shirey
Orchard Hill Church
Listen to this teaching online

“Fear not” is one of the primary messages from the angels.

Illustration: Fearful as a little girl

  • When I was a little girl, I was a fearful girl
  • I was a synchronized swimmer
  • One of the most horrifying stunts was called the “chain dolphin”
  • It’s a move where 10 girls float on their backs in the deep end water, forming one big long line
  • You’re to latch your feet around the neck of the person behind you
  • The lead person starts to skull through the water to move the line along
  • Then, at a given moment, decides to dive under water, beginning the chain of everyone getting their head yanked under the water
  • One by one you get pulled under water, facing the bottom of the pool, and wondering when you would come up for air…
  • I was not graceful when I came out of the water
  • I was so scared of this stunt, I could never complete one Chain Dolphin stunt.
  • I would always pull the feet off my neck and swim away.

That situation caused me fear for two reasons:

  1. I had no control over the situation
  2. I had to wait to get what I wanted (oxygen)

These two things are a microcosm of life, aren’t they? We can’t control everything, and we have to wait.

Fear breeds in us the desire to take control of me.

Illustration: Why do you think the parent puts their foot on the “imaginary break” on their side of the car when teaching a teen to drive?”

“Fear breeds control. People who live in fear, rather than in trust, feel compelled to remain in control.”
- David Benner

I experienced fear as a synchronized swimmer and that is why I tried to gain control. I ruined everything in the process.

The more we feel fear, the tighter the grip goes on our own life. And it doesn’t end up well.

This brings us to the story of Mary, Jesus’ mother. We have to understand that she must have felt fear. And when faced with this fear, she had the same two choices and she could either trust God or try to take control of the situation herself.

Luke 1:26-37 – Mary’s Story

A young girl (12, 13, or 14) who is in the engagement period as we know it.

Get it straight: Mary wasn’t an old woman with a halo. She was a young teen. (Luke 1:27b) There wasn’t anything remarkable about Mary, she was a regular peasant girl.

Mary’s family was a part of poor Jews with little or no resources. Nobody would have ever spoken to her in this way (Luke 1:28-29). She must have been skeptical about this greeting because it was not what she was used to hearing. Kinda like those times when your kid comes to you with a very nice respectful voice, giving you a compliment. You’re skeptical and wonder what they want…

Mary knew that this angel was now speaking “Messiah language” to her. (Luke 1:30-33). Mary knew what the angel was talking about.

2 Samuel 7:12-14a

Although she knows what the angel was talking about, she replied with a question (Luke 1:34)

Even though the religious teachers didn’t come often to Nazareth, stories were common in her community and she had a framework to trust in God. (Luke 1:35-37). Still, it had been 450 years of silence from God.

Understand what must have been going on in Mary’s mind. There were all the stories of God’s faithfulness in the past. On the other hand, if she said “yes” then she would be a poor, pregnant, teenage girl. She would have to put at risk her future, finances, reputation, family, really her whole life!

What would you have done in this situation?

Mary surrendered the outcome to God. (Luke 1:38) “And the rest is history.”

When we think of Mary, we think of her as tender, sweet, and gentle as she surrendered to God’s desires. Maybe she was. But the problem is if we attribute those qualities to surrender, as if a wimpy person surrenders.

Mary is not a wimp!

Understand that Mary prophesied that through her son, God was going to raise up the weak and powerless. In her song, she sang about political overthrow.

Surrendering to God isn’t for the weak or the one who has no other choice.
Surrender is what makes a person strong.

“Surrender is the glad and voluntary acknowledgement that there is a God and it is not me. In surrender, I let go of trying to control all the outcomes in my life. I take myself out of the center of the universe and place God there. I yield to him. I do what he says. I remove myself from the driver’s seat. I hand over control to Him.”
- John Ortberg

The truth is, when we read the story about Mary, this was her battle! And, if you’re honest, it’s the battle you’re in as well. The battle of fear breeding the desire to seize control in your life.

Fear has the tendency to push us away from trust and toward the white-knuckled grip of control.

Can you imagine how much energy is wasted in our world over controlling things that cannot be controlled?

Back to the Chain Dolphin story, I tried to control everything.
But Mary did not strive to control everything. Why?

The key to Mary’s courage may be found in the end of my Chained Dolphin story. I was in agony over the whole thing. My mom came out of the bleachers and got into the water, fully clothed! She swam out to me and said to hang on and that I had the breath to do it and power to do it. That comforted me! Knowing that mom was in the water brought comfort and I knew she was with me. I did the Chained Dolphin over and over and over again.

This reminds me of Mary. When the first angel greeted her, he said five critical words: “The Lord is with you.”

Mary knew that the God of her ancestors was with them and kept his promises. Maybe they weren’t safe in the world’s eyes, but they were safe in the eyes of the kingdom. Nothing could ever separate them from God.

If God is with you and God is for you, then what do you have to fear?

As we start through this Advent season, remember this: Jesus got down with us and all of humanity. He came right down to where we live and he said, “I am right here, trust me.”

God was with Mary and now God is with us through Jesus and we don’t have to be afraid.

Maybe you’re fearful of death. Or the finances. Or your family is falling a part. Or you’re spending the first Christmas without a loved one. Or you’re lonely. Maybe you’re just fearful to accept God’s love and grace. Whatever it is that you are fearful of, at Christmas and through Jesus, God is saying to humans that in the end everything will be all right.

God is saying in Jesus that in the end everything will be all right. Nothing can harm you permanently, no suffering is irrevocable, no loss is lasting, no defeat is more than transitory, no disappointment is conclusive. Jesus did not deny the reality of suffering, discouragement, disappointment, frustration and death; he simply stated that the Kingdom of God would conquer all of these horrors, that the Father’s love is so prodigal that no evil could possibly resist it.”
- Brennan Manning

Presence, Not Presents

Much of Christmas is centered around giving presents.

I challenge you to give the gift of presence to your family this Christmas.

Instead of worrying about what to buy, think about who you can be with. Don’t be concerned with how much money you spend on someone, instead consider the time you spend with them.

A few suggestions for bringing your presence:

Play a game. Card games, board games, whatever gets people involved.

Bake some sweets. It seems to me we have an abundance of sweets at our family gatherings, what if a baking crew was selected at random to bake the cookies on hand? An adult version of Home Economics Class, perhaps.

Do the dishes. Some of my best conversations happen while doing the dishes. The doing dishes part isn’t fun, but making it fun with whoever helps out certainly can be!

Ask good questions. “How’s it going?” is not a good question unless you REALLY want to know the answer. Learn about what others are involved in or what interests they have developed. Ask about their job, what they like or dislike about it. Any question that requires an answer that’s not canned is a good one to me.

Our culture has succeeded at dividing our presence with regularity. Don’t worry about the presents you give, rather consider the presence you can give this Christmas.

Question: Who will you offer your presence to this Christmas? Click here to comment.

Things we do at Family Chirstmas Celebrations [Saturday 7]

Today is the first of many Family Christmas Celebrations that we’ll be attending over the next few weeks.  Here are some of the things to expect when we get all the relatives together.

1.  Food.  Two meals is standard for my side of the family.

2.  Many sweets.  And they are tremendous!

3.  Card games. Pepper and Cribbage are popular choices for competition.

4.  Silly string. Uncle Mark always gifts silly string to Grandma so that she can spray it at everyone.  It was fun the first time.

5.  White Elephant gifts.  The rule for these gifts is that they must be lying around the house.  We draw numbers and let the dealing begin.  Last year’s hot item was a 4-slice toaster!

6.  Avon products.  A staple gift from my grandmother.  Growing up, we always received roll-on deodorant.  Not too great for the armpit hairs.

7.  Photos galore.  Why are family pictures such a tedious process?

Question: What might we see at your Family Christmas Celebration?  Click here to comment.

5 things to help your family focus on Jesus during Christmas

Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birth and this is a message that we cannot afford for our children to miss.  Here are some ways our family makes Jesus the focus of the Christmas Season:

1.  Help someone in need.  There are many opportunities for children to make a difference in the world.  Local service opportunities, making meals, or donating through the World Vision Catalog are just a few options for your kids to choose from to help those in need.  Liz does a fantastic job at asking the kids how they would like use some of their Christmas money to help another person in need.

2.  Read the Christmas Story from the Bible as much as possible.  When the Christmas decorations come out, so does the intentional reading of the Christmas Story.  Each of our children has his or her own Children’s Bible and we enjoy reading the Christmas Story from each one of their Bibles.  There are also many translations of the Bible that you can access and read through sites like BibleGateway.com.

3.  Three gifts for the kids.  Jesus got three gifts.  You are fortunate if you get more, but we’ll stick with three.  Each of our children will receive something to clothe them, grow them spiritually, and something they want.  I’ve heard of other people share that they give four gifts: Something you want, something you need, something you wear, and something you read.  Either of these strategies seem wonderful to me, given the state of our consumer-minded-give-me-more culture.

4.  Attend a Christmas Eve Service.  Our home church does a wonderful job with having Candlelight Services every Christmas Eve.  It is a priority for our family to attend this service together and a strong tradition we share.

5. Birthday cake for Jesus.  We have two kids who have birthdays within a week of Christmas so making a cake for Jesus seems like cake-overload for our family.  Still, making a cake is a great way for our kids to realize the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  And if we make cupcakes, they’re easy to share with the neighbors!

Question: How do you bring the focus to Jesus during the Christmas Season? Click here to comment.

Read more:
- What we told our kids about Santa
- 3 points to a truthful conversation about Santa

3 points to a truthful conversation about Santa

Yesterday, I shared about how we told our kids about Santa.

I used to think there were only two options when it came to having Santa as a part of a Christmas celebration:

1. Either you do it
2. Or you don’t

It turns out, there are more options than that.  As a family we have decided to share the truth about Santa, not take part of his festivities, but to talk about it, laugh about it, and have open conversation.  Santa does not have to be a banned word in our house, as I used to think.  Here is the framework of our truthful conversation about Santa.

1.  Like Buzz and Woddy, Cinderella, or Snow White, Santa Clause is a pretend character.  We can enjoy books and songs about Santa, but we know that it is for fun.

2.  Some people call Santa, “St. Nick.”  This is because a long time ago there was a man named St. Nicholas who gave gifts in secret to families who were in need.  That was very nice of him and we also have the opportunity to give and serve others

3.  You will probably hear your classmates talk about Santa.  You don’t have to get in an argument if he is real or not, you can simply know that their mom and dad have not told them that it is make believe.  You can also share that Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas.

We celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus.  That is very exciting because he is God, coming to earth, to get to know you personally.  Let this be the resounding message you share with your kids.

Question: How do you handle Santa in your family? Click here to comment.