Richard Foth is a pastor, mentor, former Christian college president and conference speaker. He completed his Doctor of Ministry degree at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Among his many activities, he serves as part of the pastoral team at National Community Church in Washington, D.C., where he gave this sermon as part of a series on turning fear into faith. It has been edited for length.
Every morning at my home in Windsor, Colorado, I get up, fix a cup of coffee, and look out to the west and I see mountains. We’re about 10 miles from the Rockies. … There are 96 mountains over 14,000 feet in the continental United States, and 53 of those are in Colorado.
I’ve often thought about those 500,000 or so pioneers that came across on the Oregon Trail between 1843 and 1869. What were they thinking when they saw those? … In the early evening, [the light] illuminates the various ranges, and you realize that there are those mountains and then a valley; those mountains and a valley; and those mountains and a valley and those mountains – it goes on forever. This is not just a mountain; this is a range of mountains.
Fear is like that. Fear is not just a single mountain. Fear is a range of mountains.
Why do we get afraid? Simple. Because we’re human. That’s what humans do. They get afraid. If you read the studies, [psychologists] will tell you that we have never lived in a more anxious age, an age of unspecified anxiety.
We live in a world that is inundated with information. I know too much. I hear too much. I follow too much. If I’m not careful, I get to the place that I’m afraid of what I do know and I’m afraid of what I don’t know. God comes along in the midst of that and says unless we do something purposeful, fear wins. Fear’s natural. It’s a default place. If I don’t choose to do something else, fear chooses me. …
Sometimes I say, “Maybe if I were a disciple, if I just actually walked with Jesus physically, I wouldn’t be scared, because he’s there.” [In Mark 6], Jesus has just fed 5,000 people miraculously with a few loaves and fish. He’s up on the hillside and [the disciples] are going across the lake in a fishing boat, and they’re struggling because they’re rowing against the wind. And he decides to join them.
Listen to what it says: “They cried out because they all saw [Jesus] and were terrified.” They weren’t just anxious. They weren’t just worried. They were terrified. “Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were completely amazed for they had not understood about the loaves and their hearts were hard.” See, they hadn’t even gotten the earlier miracle [of feeding the 5,000] and now he’s walking on the water. It’s just too much. It’s too much knowledge. It’s too much experience. It’s too much wind in my face. It’s just too much.
I love the phrase, “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “It is I,” in the original language, is ego eimi – I Am. “Take courage. I Am. Don’t be afraid.” In the middle of it all is the great I Am. "I Am" is the most secure name in the universe. … When everything else goes up in smoke, he still is. When I don’t know what to do because I have unspecified anxiety, he still is. When specific stuff happens that just scares the bejeebers out of me, he still is. …
The three antidotes to fear are power, love and self-discipline or reason. When power is present, the fear goes away. Here’s Jesus, who comes in and says, “When the enemy comes after you, he’s got to go through me first. He’s going to get some of this if he comes after you.” That’s the God that we serve. Power overwhelms fear.
Love overwhelms fear. What causes a mother, seeing her child in a burning building, to break through police and firefighter lines and race into that building to try to save her child? Love does that. Love overwhelms fear.
Self-discipline overwhelms fear. If we can sit down and think some things through so I can help you understand or you help me understand why I don’t need to be afraid, that overwhelms fear as well.
Fear and faith can live in the same room. If we don’t do anything, fear will choose us. But we choose to trust the great I Am. I choose to believe that God is. I choose to believe that God knows. I choose to believe that God cares. I choose to believe that God will act for his glory and my good. I choose to believe, like it says in Romans 8, that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes. …
Here is a range of mountains called fear. When we trust God, we put our whole weight on him. He carries us over the mountain range of fear because he loves us the most, he is stronger than all, and he has the big picture in his sights.