Many, when asked about different fears, rank the fear of public speaking right up there with the fear of death. Now that I have encountered both, I would agree that they both elicit about the same level of fear. So this morning I would like to teach on and have a conversation about fear; let’s just not call it public speaking.
Fear is the emotion that arises when we feel threatened by a physical or emotional or even spiritual danger, whether real or imaginary. Since we live in a dangerous world, fear is a universal and inevitable part of the human condition. Some people experience fear relatively rarely, and for others it is very common. Some primarily experience fear acutely, while others experience it primarily as chronic, low-grade anxiety. Some typically react to fear actively with a fight response, while others react passively, with flight. Some experience fear that is rooted in past traumatic events, others concerning present shocks, while still others primarily about future threats. But regardless of these differences, we all experience fear--and we must all grapple with how to understand and respond to it. We must learn to live victoriously over fear.
To begin this conversation on fear, let us start with a story from early in Jesus’ ministry. After a full day of healing and teaching on the Kingdom of God, and planting the seeds of faith in his growing crowd of followers, Jesus was ready to move on from where he was teaching. Although Matthew and Mark both tell this same story in their Gospels, let us pick up on the story in the Gospel of Luke: Chapter 8, verse 22:
“One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.
The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”
In hearing this story, I want you think of the storms in your own life. During the midst of your own storm, where are you in the boat with Jesus. Are you with the disciples, scared, calling out for Jesus, lacking in faith? The disciples were veteran fishermen and had spent much time on the water, but they seem to have never experienced this kind of storm. Their boat was being swamped; as they bailed out two buckets of water ten more were pouring in. They were yelling to each other, “Quick! Quick!” It was a scene of chaos and they had begun to panic and were fearful of their own death. In Mark’s version of the story, Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” While the disciples were struggling for life and death, what did Jesus do? He was sound asleep on a cushion in the back. Can you believe he could sleep in the midst of the storm and the yelling disciples?
During your own storms, are you yelling for Jesus, in a panic, wondering why he has not woken up and saved you from your strife? In the midst of the storm there is great contrast between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus was calm and in control. The disciples were panicked and fearful. When they were scared to death, they remembered Jesus, woke him, and cried out to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” They surely did not remember the Psalm that says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” The disciples, instead, got upset and complained to Jesus.
Life is much like sailing at sea. When there is smooth sailing under a blue sky we think life would be that way always or wish to have it that way. But we often face the storms of life unexpectedly. The storms come without warning and cause troubles and fear in our lives. We feel left alone, struggling all by ourselves, and God seems far away. However, even in the storms, I have learned that our Lord is present.
I hope, in telling my own story, my own testimony, of God’s faithfulness and His presence in a hurricane in my life, that you will believe more deeply and will see that by throwing your weight onto the Lord during your trials, even when you think that He is sleeping, that he will be faithful and will take all things, even those that may be meant for ill, and will use them for good. As Paul says in Romans, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” My hope is that through hearing my story that you will be able to cry in your trials with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him.”
My story begins at the end of last summer. At that time I was living for myself and had finally reached the point where I saw that the path I was on was one of death and that I desperately wanted a path that moved towards life, and life to the fullest. I sought out men in Raleigh who could help guide me and instruct me on how to find this life. I began to study the scriptures and learn about this man, Jesus. I began a relationship with my savior; with no idea how desperately I would need him.
This savior, who has power over nature, as seen in the story of the calming of the sea, existed before time began. Before the creation of the world, He knew me and knew that I would, one day, need Him. And last summer He started a good work in me that would come to pay dividends. When something happens in life, all you have is just what you have right then and nothing more. By the grace of God, I had begun to build a faith that would help me get through and survive my storm.
On January 2nd of this year I awoke at 4am, ate a light breakfast, and loaded up for a day of duck hunting. Little did I know that this day would turn quickly from a day of quiet anticipation into the bloody hell of a warlike nightmare.
Two cars were filled with dogs, gear and still-sleepy hunters: my brother-in-law Will Teague, my father, my uncle Lawrence Davis, Butler Bennett, Bo Bennett and his son Butler, my cousin Linwood Davis and me. We pulled away from our cottage at Bath and drove to a friend’s farm at Pamlico Point. Pamlico Point is an isolated peninsula jutting out into the Pamlico Sound between the Neuse and Pamlico rivers. It is not near anything, but it is one of the best places in North Carolina to hunt for ducks.
When we arrived at 5am we were met at the gate of the farm by two guides. Charlie, one of the guides, led us a mile or so down the dirt farm path to a barn where we unloaded our gear and dressed for a morning of duck hunting. It was windy and cold, about 20 degrees. Here at the barn we split up into groups to be taken to the blinds. My Uncle Lawrence and Butler were in a blind together, as were my dad and Linwood, Bo and Butler, Jr., and Will and I. The others were taken to their blinds while Will and I awaited our turn. Will and I were to be hunting from the farthest blind, the best place to hunt, because this was Will’s first experience hunting. As we waited the sky began to light up as the sun began to rise. Ducks were flying overhead and I anxiously awaited the beginning of the hunt.
Charlie, a rough, tough and quiet man finally arrived in his old Chevy pickup as the clouds took on a pink light as the sun foretold its coming. Will and I put our gear in the bed of the truck and hopped up on the tool box, resting our feet on the many bags of decoys. Shortly, we arrived at the number 7 blind, considered the best at the farm.
Upon arrival, as the sun was just cresting the horizon, we loaded all of our gear and jumped into the little johnboat that Charlie polled out to the blind. Since this was Will’s first experience hunting, he had all new gear: a blind bag that I had given him for Christmas as well as a whole new hunting outfit he had just purchased for this hunt. As we left the shore of the dike along-side the impoundment it was light. The wind was quickly pushing the marsh-grass into waves. Ducks were in all directions. This was going to be a fantastic hunt. One we would remember for many years.
As Charlie was pushing us out across the impoundment towards the blind the excitement was rushing through our veins. I couldn’t wait to get to the blind. This was a “once in a decade” event that we’d tell stories about for years.
Finally! We had reached the blind! Will and I unloaded the boat and Charlie pushed off to set out a spread of decoys. The blind faced east-south-east and the wind was coming out of the west. The strong wind made the 20 degree temperature settle into your bones. I stepped into the blind and set my shotgun in the far corner of the blind and turned to get my ammunition pouch from Will’s bag.
Charlie was completing the spread of decoys and I could not see him or the decoys because of the new camouflage grasses that had been tacked to the side of the blind. Therefore, to get an idea of which direction we would be hunting I stood on the seat of the eight foot by three foot blind. From that vantage point I could see all of God’s majestic glory. The sun dancing on the wind-swept marshes of Eastern North Carolina is medicine for my soul, and I was drinking it deeply.
The spread of decoys had been set and Charlie, having finished his job, was returning to the dike and to the warm cab of his truck. I was watching the horizon for any sign of movement. I was not watching Will as he “geared-up” for the hunt. I did not know his gun was loaded and when he asked about the safety on his gun I answered him but was too busy watching for birds to take the time to check. I did not take the time to instruct Will on any aspects of duck hunting.
Will picked up his shotgun and slid his finger over the trigger, thinking the safety is on. BANG! The shotgun fires and I look down. Will, in his surprise jumped back and the gun falls towards me. I see the fire come out of the barrel as the second shot goes off. I hear the percussion of the blast. I watch as thirty steel BB’s travel at 1300 feet per second into the meat of my left leg, just above the knee. I stare for what seems to be an eternity to make sure what I see happening is actually what is happening. I am blown out of the blind and fall eight feet to the wet marshy ground. I try to stand but my leg cannot bare weight. I fall again.
My body is overwhelmed with all of the terror of a shattered limb. I immediately go numb, physically, mentally and emotionally. My mind is so bombarded with a sea of pain and fear that it shuts down all but the most needed functions. I lay limp with my legs in the shallow water of the impoundment. My head and upper body are cushioned by marsh grass. Will jumps to action as I resign to stillness. I feel a puddle of what can only be my blood, my life, filling my waders.
The storm is just starting, and it is building fast. The boat, from our story in Luke, is being blown about and is taking on water quickly. Where is my savior? Is he sleeping comfortably nearby, not bothering to wake and come help?
Time has slowed to a crawl as the minutes of my life empty themselves from my crushed femoral artery. I am bleeding to death and I know it.
While Will comes around the corner of the blind he shouts to Charlie, our guide, to come back to the blind to help. Charlie finally arrives back at the blind and gives his pocket knife to Will. Will then cuts open my waders and my pants. Amazingly, Will is relatively calm at this point. Next, he takes my belt off and makes a tourniquet around my leg. It takes several minutes for my blood to stop flowing out. During the time Charlie was asking what he could do to help. Since there really was nothing he could do, Will asked him to pray. My remembrance of the simple prayer that Charlie offered was that as he prayed the sun crested the horizon and the whole area was bathed in light. As the light descended on us a peace that is beyond all understanding came over me. It was at this point that I knew I was in a situation that was beyond my control. I knew that if I were to close my eyes I would open them again and be in the arms of Jesus Christ. I truly believed that I was not going to get out of this duck impoundment alive. In my heart I thought that death is easy and peaceful; life is so much messier and so much harder.
It was at this point that I got out my phone to see if I had reception. Never before had I had cell service here, so I figured we would be out of luck again. However, when I checked my phone, I had full service, and although the phone was covered in blood I began to make phone calls. My first call, at 7:30am, was to 911. When they asked where I was, I had no answer for them. There was no way for me to explain to them where I was. After a few frustrating minutes on the line with them my phone cut off due to the soaking it had had. When I cut it back on, I tried my dad’s cell phone to let him know what was happening a few hundred yards away from him. It went directly to his voicemail. I called my mom, who, after hearing me call wolf too many times, was doubtful that the event I described to her was really happening. I asked her to call and request a helicopter, which she did. Over the course of the next hour and fifteen minutes I placed many calls, trying to find someone who could help me. The 911 operator said that she had sent an ambulance, but that they could not find me. Charlie, my guide, had radioed the other guide to go out to the main road to meet the ambulance, but in the rush of things, the other guides ran his truck off the path into a ditch. It seemed that the situation was going from bad to worse, and my life was slowly slipping away.
Finally, an ambulance showed up. Paramedics were rushed out to me in the same johnboat that had brought me out. When they arrived and had assessed the situation they knew they were going to have to move me immediately. Unfortunately, they had not brought a backboard or stretcher. The paramedics, the two guides, and Will each grabbed me and lifted me into the johnboat. With each movement lightning bolts of pain shot through my body. Once we reached the bank of the impoundment I was to be moved up to the ambulance in the same way I had been moved to the boat, but this time the bank was slick and I was dropped. Finally, I was in the ambulance and in safe hands. My dad rode with us to the nearby Coast Guard Station where I was transferred to a helicopter.
While I was being rolled to the helicopter, my upbringing kicked in and I called to my dad to get the names and addresses of everyone who had helped, so that I could send them a thank-you note. While flying over Eastern North Carolina on my way to Greenville I flirted with the flight cute nurse. Once in the operating room I joked with team that had gathered to save my life before the anesthesiologist put me under. I woke up two days later, without my left leg. The storm was breaking.
But where had God been through this hurricane? I had survived, but where was He? In the months following my accident different parts of the story would come out showing that He was there all along. Will had taken an emergency medicine class at Wake Forest because he needed two extra credit hours and it was the class that fit his schedule. His quick action, and the skills he had learned in this class, had saved my life. My surgeons would later tell me that once the gunshot entered my leg and shattered my artery I had from five to seven minutes before I would be dead. Will’s tourniquet and the tenacity with which he held it for over an hour is why I am standing before you today. Also, when Will needed something to tighten this tourniquet he said he just reached out and there was a short, smooth, sturdy piece of oak laying next to me. This is not something you would expect to find out in the middle of a marsh, but it had been placed there. Through the storm of that day the Lord had been present and watching over me.
I remained in the hospital for most of the month of January and had eight surgeries, the last one on my mom’s birthday. Hundreds of friends and loved ones came from all over to wish me well. It was this strong community of Christ that would keep my fears and depression away. In the months that would follow my faith would bring me strength to face the daily fears of living. I relearned how to walk and now can get around almost as well as I could before. I have had to cope with the falls, some of which have been quite spectacular, and with the daily pain of getting out of bed in the morning. I have gotten used to people staring and my favorite part of this has been the little children who have come up to me to ask what has happened. One little girl who came up to ask what had happened, after I told her I had lost my leg, replied, “well, I hope you find it!” The most amazing parts of this journey have been the immediate forgiveness and love that everyone has given to Will. We are now blood brothers and best friends. Only through faith in a loving God is all this possible.
So the storms of life will come. We are not exempt from them because we are Christians. We may actually face more storms because we are Christian. Jesus said that in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! He has overcome the world.
Let us quickly go back to the story of Jesus calming the sea. After Jesus had rebuked the winds and the waters they immediately died down and it was completely calm. At Jesus’ command, the raging storm stopped at once and the wind and the waves obeyed him as if nothing had happened. Call was restored and fear was replaced with amazement. The disciples were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” This shows that Jesus is not a mere man. He is God himself. He is the creator God who is above all things. Though he was in the boat in the midst of the storm, he was above the nature. He was in control. In the beginning he created all things by speaking, “Let there be light; let there be sky.” With the same authority, he sustains his creation and commands the nature. He is in control over everything.
In Jesus there is no chaos. Therefore he can bring calmness to the chaos; he can bring peace and rest to our troubled souls. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace for a reason. After the resurrection Jesus came to the fearful disciples, saying “Peace be with you!” If the disciples had known who Jesus was, they did not need to panic. Their lives were safe in him, as our lives are safe in him. Jesus used the storm to train his disciples to know who he was. Jesus uses the storms of our lives to plant faith in us so that we don’t need to panic, but we can live victorious life. It is not too late to cry out to Jesus. We often cry out when we reach the end of the rope. We struggle hard with our own strengths and despair. But whenever we pray, Jesus is willing to help us. The storm training is hard, but we can grow in a closer relationship with Jesus and we can experience the love of Jesus more deeply. Many times I have fallen flat on my face and have wanted to give up. Tears have come with angry and painful prayers but every time I have grit my teeth and gotten back up. This experience has added a depth to my faith that would not be there had I faced no storms. Christian life does not guarantee smooth sailing, but with a God who is in control over all things, we can face the storms of life and be victorious.
But this requires faith. When the storm had subsided Jesus did not comfort his disciples, or offer them sympathy. It is quite normal to show fear in such a stormy sea. Even a warning of a hurricane, down here at the beach, will send everyone scrambling. But Jesus, rather, rebuked them. He asked “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Jesus saw that the heart of the matter was a lack of faith. Fear is the opposite of faith; fear is a display of unbelief.
Then how can we overcome fear? How can you overcome the fear that comes from the daily storms of life? Fear can be overcome only by faith – faith in God. When we believe in the God who created, and is above, and in control of all things we can be free from fear. We can be bold enough to challenge the storms knowing that our security is in Jesus.
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