Fear of Public Speaking
During one of his standup routines, the comedian Jerry Seinfeld said,
According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. This means to the average person… if you go to a funeral… you’d rather be in the casket… than doing the eulogy.
I can relate. I spent the first half of my life petrified at the thought of having to speak in front of other people. I’m not absolutely sure where the fear came from, but I have a suspicion.
When I was in 5th grade, my family moved from Georgia to Florida. So, I was a brand-new student in a school where I didn’t know anyone. To make matters worse, the school year had already begun, so I couldn’t fly under the radar screen and sneak in. I had to go through the whole, “Class, this is Dale. Let’s make him feel welcome,” routine. We all know how famous 5th graders are for their hospitality to new kids at school.
So, I was the new kid, starting a new school, after the year had already begun.
Here’s the thing: I’m not sure how long it was into the school year, but I remember having to dress up like George Washington to give a biographical report to my new “friends.” I wore a white wig and a ridiculous looking woman’s coat that I think was supposed to look like a revolutionary war coat, to make this presentation. You can just imagine how gracious and supportive a room full of 5th graders was.
I can’t remember in detail the horror I must’ve experienced, but whenever I’ve wondered where my stage-fright came from, I’ve always traced it back to that experience. From that day on, I avoided every opportunity to ever speak in front of a group of people.
Arguing with God
Therefore, you can appreciate how unhappy I was when God started calling me to ordained ministry.
I remember arguing with God as I mowed my parents’ front yard, not too long after I graduated from college. It was a genuine argument. I reminded God about the whole public speaking thing. I told God he must have confused me with someone named Dale Tedler, who was probably a fantastic public speaker.
But, as is usually the case, God got his way, which reminds me of the old saying,
God doesn’t call the gifted, he gifts the called.
The truth is, there’s no one you’ve ever read about in Christian history, or in biblical history, who was just so extraordinary, that God was compelled to call them into service. Instead, God calls ordinary people like you and me, and then he gives us the gifts we need to serve him.
Such is the case with the Apostle Peter.
I know Peter is familiar to most of us, but just as a refresher, here’s a little reminder. Peter was one of the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus. He wasn’t a preacher, or a teacher, or a general, or a politician - he was a fisherman.
Peter’s given name was Simon, but our Scripture this morning tells us this,
Jesus looked at him [Peter] and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
Cephas is an Aramaic word that’s translated “Petros” in Greek… which means “stone” or “rock.”
Peter: Pros and Cons
You see, Jesus knew something about Peter that Peter probably would have never guessed. Jesus knew Peter would become a pillar in the building of the first-century church. In fact, the first twelve chapters of the Book of Acts focus on Peter’s ministry in establishing the expansion of the early church.
Now, to be sure, Peter had some leadership qualities. And yet, the very qualities that make up our strengths can also make up our weaknesses, can’t they?
For example, Peter had a brash personality. Scripture often shows him answering Jesus on behalf of all the disciples. He was the one who drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. He seemed to always be the, “bull in the china shop.” The upside to Peter’s personality was that he was loyal and courageous. The downside was that he didn’t always engage his brain before he acted or spoke.
You remember when Jesus told the disciples they would all turn away from him, Peter was quick to say it wouldn’t be him. Matthew 26:31-33 tell us,
31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
And we know Peter would, in fact, deny knowing Jesus three times.
But God, in his grace, takes flawed, sinful, and ordinary people like you, and me, and Peter, and does extraordinary things with them. The Lord took Peter in his weakness and forgave him. Then, at Pentecost, he poured out his Spirit upon Peter and all those who had turned away from him.
And what was the result? Peter and the others went from cowardly lambs to courageous lions for Christ. They turned the Roman Empire upside-down with the Gospel.
Peter went from a fisherman to an evangelist, an apostle, and a leader of the early church. He went from being rash to being rock solid, from one who disowned Christ when confronted by others to one who gave himself completely for Christ, even unto death.
Through the power of God’s Spirit, Peter willingly took the job of shepherd. When Jesus restored Peter after his denials, Jesus told Peter to “feed and take care of his sheep.” And that’ exactly what Peter did to the end of his life. And, to reiterate, the first part of the Book of Acts is a record of Peter keeping his promise.
Lessons from Peter
Well, what do we learn from Peter’s call and ministry?
We’re reminded vividly, that God takes the weak things of this world and does supernatural and amazing things with them. The Apostle Paul reminds us of this in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31,
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (Emphasis mine)
Peter could boast in the Lord for what God had done in and through him. Peter was a weak thing, a foolish thing, a lowly thing. And it was this same Peter who God used in a mighty way for his Kingdom. The Bible is filled with many stories of those the world considered weak, and foolish, and lowly. And yet, those are the very people God called and used.
The Apostle Paul was feeling very weak when he asked God to take away his thorn-in-the-flesh, which was some sort of physical difficulty he had struggled with for a long time. And Christ himself responded to Paul by basically saying, “no.” But, in 2 Corinthians 12:9, Christ added these comforting words,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
When God uses the weak, foolish, and lowly people of this world – the ordinary people of this world – to do extraordinary things, guess who gets the glory? It’s God who gets the glory because it’s God who does the work in and through those same faithful, yet ordinary, people he calls to serve him.
How About You?
So how about you? Is there something you feel God’s been calling you to do, but maybe you’ve been afraid to do? Maybe like I did, you’ve been arguing with God, telling him he’s got the wrong person? Maybe you feel a little too ordinary, a little too weak and lowly.
If that describes you, I would ask you to hear those words once more that were spoken to the Apostle Paul. I repeat them to myself on a weekly basis. Christ said,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
And when you remind yourself of the sufficiency of God’s grace in your life - that his grace is enough for you - then you can respond the way Paul did in the very same verse. Paul declared,
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
Trust in God to give you the gifts you need for what he’s calling you to do. And since I’m sharing old sayings with you, let me share one more,
God wants your availability, not your ability.
Let God take care of the ability part. He’s calling you and me to make ourselves available to what he wants to do in us and through us. Thanks be to God.
Our Good Shepherd
Memorizing Psalm 23
The summer between my 10th and 11th grade year of high school, I took a 3-week trip out west with eight friends and three teachers. For three weeks we hiked up and down mountains, camped in tents, and fished for food. It was great.
Only one night during those three weeks, on the way from one site to another, did we stay in a motel. One of the reasons why I’ll never forget that night is because it was that night a friend helped me memorize the 23rd Psalm. I had a Sunday School teacher who had memorized it and I had always admired him for that. It inspired me to do the same.
So, with our motel Gideon’s Bible, over the course of a couple of hours, my friend helped me memorize Psalm 23. I’ve remembered it ever since.
The Comforting Power of Psalm 23
Psalm 23 is one of the most widely recognized Scriptures in all the Bible, right up there with John 3:16.
I’ve read it to the older members of my church who are homebound. I’ve read it to our folks who’ve been in the hospital or in hospice care. And, of course, we often read it together at funeral services.
It’s very familiar to many of us and can be a great source of comfort when we need it most. In fact, I would encourage you to take the time to memorize Psalm 23. It’s such a blessing to place God’s Word deep in our hearts and minds so we can recall it during tough times.
Written By A Shepherd
Psalm 23 was written by a shepherd, a shepherd who was also the son of a shepherd. King David was often called the “Shepherd of Israel.” He certainly knew what he was talking about as he referred to shepherds and sheep.
I think it’s important to remember that shepherds were the lowest of the low in the social circles of their day. That fact ought to amaze us because it was to shepherds that the angels came to announce the birth of Jesus. And it was a lowly shepherd boy who was chosen by God to be King over Israel. God doesn’t look at people the way we often do.
It’s also fascinating that God chose the metaphor of “shepherd” to describe himself in his relationship with us.
So, what was the job description of a shepherd?
A shepherd would actually live with his sheep 24 hours a day with unwavering devotion, day and night, both in fair weather and bad, to nurture, guide, and protect his sheep. The shepherd would assume full responsibility for the needs and safety of his flock, even risking his own life for their protection. (Holman OT Commentary)
Isn’t it awesome that the King of the universe, the Creator of all there is, chose to call himself a shepherd? But David points out that the Lord isn’t just a shepherd, or even the shepherd, but he’s my shepherd. He’s your shepherd. He’s our shepherd.
How precious and comforting those words must’ve been for the people of Israel, generations later, as those appointed to “shepherd” them, betrayed them.
Take in these words from Ezekiel 34:7-10,
7 “‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. (Emphasis mine)
God takes this very seriously. That’s why Jesus picked up this theme about bad shepherds when he said in John 10:8, 10,
All [shepherds] who ever came before me were thieves and robbers…
The thief [false shepherd] comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
Our Good Shepherd
Therefore, in light of those bad, untrustworthy, and false shepherds who were stealing from God’s people and leading them astray, here’s what God said in Ezekiel 34:11-12, 14-16a,
1 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.
14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, (Emphasis mine)
That sounds like Psalm 23 in action, doesn’t it? That sounds like the ministry of Jesus in action, doesn’t it?
Jesus emphasized this role of a good shepherd when he said he came so the sheep “could have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus said he was the good shepherd and that he lays down his life for the sheep.
Isn’t that the kind of shepherd you want watching over you, leading and guiding you, protecting you, caring for you?
The Shepherd We Need and Want
The good shepherd leaves 99 of his sheep that are safe and secure so he can go out and find the one sheep that’s lost and in danger. And then he celebrates once he’s finds it. Don’t you want that kind of shepherd?
Our Good Shepherd meets our physical needs. Verse 1 says, we will lack nothing. Our Good Shepherd meets our emotional needs – Verse 2 says, “he leads me beside quiet waters.” Our Good Shepherd meets our spiritual needs – Verse 3 says, “he refreshes my soul.” Our Good Shepherd meets all our needs, our needs for living each day, our deepest needs. Verse 3 says, he guides us along right paths (v. 3). Even when we walk through the darkest valleys of our lives, we don’t need to fear because he has promised to be with us during those times (v. 4).
And best of all, God promises his sheep that our relationship with our Good Shepherd is not temporary, but eternal.
Verse 6 says,
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Isn’t that the kind of Shepherd you want guiding you, feeding you, protecting you, seeking you, sacrificing for you, knowing you, and healing you as you travel through this life? Isn’t that the Shepherd you want to call upon when you’re too scared and too panicked to lie down and rest in green pastures?
Isn’t that the Shepherd you want leading you down the right paths of life, giving you his living water when you’re thirsty? Isn’t that the Shepherd you want protecting you as you travel, as Amazing Grace puts it, “through the many dangers, toils, and snares” of this world? And isn’t that the Shepherd you want at the end of your life, as you prepare to cross the waters of death?
David reminds us that that Shepherd is not just a shepherd, or just the shepherd, but he’s your Shepherd. And Jesus reminds us that he is that Shepherd, the Good Shepherd.
Hebrews 13:20-21 puts it this way,
20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (emphasis mine)
This very same Good Shepherd (great Shepherd) can be your Good Shepherd if you’ll answer the call of his voice to trust and follow him, wherever he leads you.
Freedom in Christ
Galatians 5:1 - It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Memorial Day is a special day in the life of our country, a day in which we remember those who died while serving in our armed forces. We can’t imagine all we the freedoms we now enjoy because of the ultimate sacrifice so many made on our behalf.
The sacrament of Holy Communion celebrates freedom of a different kind, one more significant, for no sacrifice was as great and all-encompassing as Christ’s atoning death for us.
I love celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion, because in it, we get a beautiful picture of the Gospel.
We enjoy precious freedoms as Americans because of the sacrifices of men and women through the centuries. And we have precious freedom as Christians because of the work of Christ. And in Galatians 5:1, Paul highlights that freedom.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Emphasis mine)
Freed to be Free
The freedom Paul’s talking about is our freedom from the burden or oppression of legalism, which Paul calls “slavery.” You see, it’s not the Law that Paul says is bad. When we understand God’s Law correctly, it’s good, even beautiful. That’s because God’s Law…
But the way it was being used by the Legalists in Paul’s day was enslaving the Christians in Galatia. It was like a giant weight lying on top of a person, crushing them bit by bit by bit. And because of this oppressive legalism, the Galatian Christians could not enjoy their freedom in Christ. They couldn’t enjoy being liberated from their sin because they couldn’t keep the Law well enough for the Legalists.
Instead of flourishing and appreciating their new life in Christ, they were suffocating under the weight of the Law, wrongly understood, and the condemnation of sin that came from that false teaching.
They were in a bad way.
And so, Paul wrote to them and declared from the rooftop: Enough! The Law of God should never be used as an enslaving and oppressive weapon!
Furthermore, in addition to the wonderful things the Law does for us, that I listed above, it does something more.
It leads us to Christ. Like a school teacher, the Law teaches us, it shows us our need, it leads us to Christ, and Christ leads us to freedom. That’s why Paul said “it’s for freedom that Christ set us free. That sounds like he’s being redundant, but he’s saying something very important here.
He’s saying, “Christ didn’t set you free so you could remain a slave to sin. He didn’t set you free so you could become a legalist.” Through his work on the Cross, he set you free to become all you were created and called to be in Christ. Therefore, Paul wrote, “Don’t go back to a life of slavery to sin or legalism.
It’s that wonderful, freeing work of Christ on the Cross that we celebrate in Holy Communion.
So, what does that freeing work look like? I want to point out how the Cross frees us in our past, present, and future.
Freed from Our Past
First of all, the Cross of Christ frees us from our past. Here’s what I mean: We no longer need to live under the penalty of sin. We’ve been liberated from the condemnation our sin deserves.
Romans 8:1 says,
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
And that’s true because the work of Jesus paid for, atoned for, our sinful and fallen condition. God no longer counts our sin against us. We no longer have to walk through life like poor Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress did, with a giant bag of guilt and condemnation and sin weighing him down.
And so, when we read the liturgy for Holy Communion, and then receive the Bread and Cup, we ought do so with hearts full of gratitude for Christ’s work on the Cross.
Freed for Our Present
Second, the Cross of Christ frees us for our present. Just as Jesus freed us from the penalty of sin, his Cross also frees from the power of sin in our present.
Now, this doesn’t mean sin no longer has any power over us at all. It still has the power to influence our lives. Unfortunately, we’re not free from temptation. That’s still alive and all-to-well. However, we’re now free from the dominion of sin. In other words, before we were in Christ, we couldn’t help but sin. We had no real power to resist it. But now, because of the work of Jesus, that dominion of sin in our lives has been defeated. We’ve been freed from it.
Not only that, but when we receive the Bread and Cup, we’re actually meeting with our Lord at his Table, in the present. Through his Holy Spirit we’re filled with his grace. That’s why John Wesley called Communion a “means of grace.” It’s a way in which we put ourselves in the way of God’s grace. You see, Holy Communion is a time when we’re strengthened by God’s Spirit and grace to live the life he’s called us to live.
Furthermore, Holy Communion reminds us we’re in this together. It’s not an expression of a Lone Ranger faith. Instead, we gather with all our brothers and sisters in our church family as well the Great Cloud of Witnesses of Hebrews 12.
Thus, in and through Holy Communion we remember the freedom we have from God to become all he created and called us to be, in the present, and in community.
Freed in the Future
Finally, the work of Jesus on the Cross, which includes his resurrection, reminds us that one day we’ll be free from the presence of sin in our lives. Holy Communion helps us to remember forward. It reminds us of a future where our Lord will dine with us at the Heavenly Banquet. The precious meal of the Bread and Cup is a foretaste of the Great Banquet that awaits us.
No longer will we be entangled with sin at all. It will be once and for all done away with. And as we move from this life to the life-to-come, we’ll live in the unveiled presence of our loving Savior. But we don’t have to wait for the coming of Christ’s Kingdom because we’re living in it right here and right now. That’s why Paul could write, “don’t let yourselves be burdened any longer by a yoke of slavery.
Therefore, because of the love and work of Jesus for you…
And the good news we declare during Holy Communion becomes good news for you when you trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness of your sins, when you repent of your sin and leave your sin at the altar, and when you go in his grace to live in joyful obedience for his glory.
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