Sunday, August 30, 2009

Julie & Julia & Jehoshaphat - A Sermon

I was asked by the youth minister of our church to preach for him at the teen service, which we call Breakaway, on August 23. They are in the middle of a sermon series inspired by the blockbuster movie hits of the summer, so I chose Julie & Julia. The text of my notes is below. I didn't follow them verbatim during the delivery, but this will give you the gist of the message.

By a show of hands, is there anyone here who shares an addiction to the Food Network with Susan and me? It started when we were flipping channels and stopped to watch four pastry chefs compete to make amazing cakes on Food Network Challenge – have you seen them? On that show the chefs have made cakes that look like Bart Simpson, the Eifel Tower, Pinocchio, just amazing. We kept tuning in, and now we watch Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Chopped, Throw Down with Bobby Flay, Iron Chef America, you name it. We even watched Melissa D’Arabian become the Next Food Network Star.

All the Food Network stars of today, from Rachel Ray to Bobby Flay, owe a debt of gratitude to Julia Child for her groundbreaking work in television cooking shows. I think even Chef Gordon Ramsey would show her some respect.

I enjoyed seeing Julie and Julia and learning a bit more about the life of one of the pioneers of television cooking shows, Julia Child.

What made Julia Child stand out? Why did she succeed so brilliantly at her craft? There are probably many reasons, but one of the key ingredients, if you will, to her success was her lack of fear.

This is a picture from the movie, a picture of Meryl Streep in the role of Julia Child.

I don’t know if you can read the quotation on the screen. It says, “They discovered I was fearless.” This is a quotation from Julia Child’s book My Life in France, which was the basis for the “Julia” part of Julie and Julia.

She was fearless about joining an all-male cooking class in France when she couldn't speak French. She was fearless about editing – and then practically re-writing – the “French Cooking for Americans” cookbook, a book that took eight years and several tries before it got published as Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She was fearless about cooking on television, when television was still live, and every mistake would be broadcast un-edited to the world.

At one point she does admit, though, that it took her 45 minutes to bone a duck because of fear. That’s when she gives her best advice for working in the kitchen: “Don’t be afraid!” Meryl Streep delivers the line in the classic Julia Child voice: “Don’t be afraid!”

Of course, the movie isn’t just about Julia Child. It is also about Julie Powell, a government worker in New York City who decides to write a blog about her experiences cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s famous cookbook in one year. She is not quite as fearless as Julia, especially when it comes to cooking lobsters. Let’s watch as Julie tries her hand at lobsters for the first time.

Watch the clip at YouTube.

Julie didn’t tackle that task quite as fearlessly as she had hoped she would. But thanks to her husband, who turned out to be not quite as useless as she thought, she did get the lobster cooked in time for her own birthday dinner.

It is certainly not just Julie and Julia who have to face fearful situations. Fear is something we all have to face from time to time. Today I want to dig into scripture and take a look at a man who also had to face his fear. It was not just a lobster in a pot or a duck on the chopping block that he had to face. It was a matter of life and death. It was his worst nightmare. The man wasn’t a cook, he was a king, and his name was: Jehoshaphat.

Jehoshaphat was a king of Judah, and his capital city was Jerusalem. His story can be found in the Old Testament book of Second Chronicles. We’re going to be looking at an incident recorded in Second Chronicles chapter 20. If you have your Bible with you, please turn there.

The screen will have some key ideas from the text, but if you want to read the whole story along with me, you’ll need to turn to it in your own Bible. I’ll be reading from the NET Bible, so the wording may not be exactly like your Bible translation, but I’m sure you’ll be able to follow along.

Chapter 20 picks up in the middle of Jehoshaphat’s life as king. I’ll start reading from verse 1:

Later the Moabites and Ammonites, along with some of the Meunites, attacked Jehoshaphat. Messengers arrived and reported to Jehoshaphat, "A huge army is attacking you from the other side of the Dead Sea, from the direction of Edom. Look, they are in Hazezon Tamar (that is, En Gedi)." 2 Chronicles 20:1,2

Alright, there were some unfamiliar names in there. Let me jump in and boil it down to the essential facts. Jehoshaphat learned from the messenger that:

  1. Three different bordering countries have formed an alliance against you.
  2. They have come together and formed one HUGE army.
  3. That army has attacked from an unexpected direction, and very quickly the enemy has become an imminent threat to the capital city of Jerusalem itself.

What was Jehoshaphat’s reaction? Well, we don’t have to guess. The next verse tell us that "Jehoshaphat was afraid…" 2 Chronicles 20:3. The verse doesn’t stop there, but I want to talk for a second about feeling under attack and being afraid. I haven’t ever been on a battle field, knowing that any second I might come under enemy fire. But I have had frightening times in my life.

I have had circumstances seem to gang up on me, come at me from an unexpected direction, and threaten to overwhelm me any minute. When I was in grade school and my parents told me they were going to get a divorce, I was afraid. When I was basically fired from my job the week before I married Susan, I was afraid.

Fear is a natural reaction to threatening situations. Have you ever been afraid?

You may not physically be attacked by a “huge army,” but there are lots of intimidating situations out there. At school, at home, at work, even just hanging out at the mall, there can be pressure, conflicts, and even more sources of anxiety.

Fear and anxiety are normal parts of life, but they can be a serious problem when they stop you in your tracks and keep you from pursuing your God-given passions, when they hold you back from being your best.

I don’t have any stories about anyone else, so let me share one about myself. Back when I was attending Chester. W. Nimitz Junior High in Tulsa, Oklahoma, my mom drove me up to the school for a football tryout. One of my clearest memories is sitting in that parking lot with my mom encouraging me to get out, go over and try. But I never opened the door. I never stepped foot on the football field that day, or any day after. Why? Because I was afraid. I was afraid of looking stupid. I was afraid of not making the cut. I was afraid of failure.

Hopefully you haven’t let fear hold you back the way I did, but even if you have in the past, there is a way to move past the fear and push onward. Today we’re going to learn from Jehoshaphat one strategy to get past anxiety and be as fearless as Julia Child. To do that, let’s read the rest of the story in 2 Chronicles chapter 20, starting back in verse 3:

Jehoshaphat was afraid, so he decided to seek the Lord’s advice. He decreed that all Judah should observe a fast. The people of Judah assembled to ask for the Lord’s help; they came from all the cities of Judah to ask for the Lord’s help. 2 Chronicles 20:3,4

Skip down for a second and look at verse 13 as well:

All the men of Judah were standing before the Lord, along with their infants, wives, and children. 2 Chronicles 20:13

The first thing Jehoshaphat did was assemble the people of Judah. He didn’t have to face the army alone, and he didn't. He called for help from everybody who was willing; men, women, and children pitched in with Jehoshaphat to seek God’s help.

It is all too easy to think that you are out there alone, and that you have to face your fears "mano a mano." But that just isn’t always the case. Sometimes it is, but whenever you can, you should face your fears with your friends and your family by your side. And if they can’t help, you can ask a teacher, or a pastor, or a counselor, or someone.

Asking for help to face a threatening situation is nothing to be ashamed of. Julie’s husband helped her cook the lobster. Julia’s friend Avis helped her get her cookbook published. Jehoshaphat’s people helped him face the huge army. If your friends can help, let them. Ask them. And if they can’t, find someone who can. Let’s read on, back in verse 5:

Jehoshaphat stood before the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the Lord’s temple, in front of the new courtyard. He prayed: “O Lord God of our ancestors, you are the God who lives in heaven and rules over all the kingdoms of the nations. You possess strength and power; no one can stand against you. Our God, you drove out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and gave it as a permanent possession to the descendants of your friend Abraham. They settled down in it and built in it a temple to honor you, saying, 'If disaster comes on us in the form of military attack, judgment, plague, or famine, we will stand in front of this temple before you, for you are present in this temple. We will cry out to you for help in our distress, so that you will hear and deliver us.’ Now the Ammonites, Moabites, and men from Mount Seir are coming! When Israel came from the land of Egypt, you did not allow them to invade these lands. They bypassed them and did not destroy them. Look how they are repaying us! They come to drive us out of our allotted land which you assigned to us! Our God, will you not judge them? For we are powerless against this huge army that attacks us! We don’t know what we should do; we look to you for help." 2 Chronicles 20:5-12

Jehoshaphat prayed. Prayer is a powerful tool for overcoming fear. Don’t skip it. We could spend the whole time we have today talking about prayer, and indeed we could analyze this prayer and uncover some wonderful nuggets of truth in how Jehoshaphat prayed, how he acknowledged God’s power, admitted his situation, and asked for help. That is a great pattern for prayer. If you follow that pattern, you will find power in your prayers , power to overcome fear.

Let’s read on, picking up in verse 18 (we’ll back up and get the part we skipped in a moment):

Jehoshaphat bowed down with his face toward the ground, and all the people of Judah and the residents of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord and worshiped him. Then some Levites, from the Kohathites and Korahites, got up and loudly praised the Lord God of Israel. 2 Chronicles 20:18,19

Praise is often overlooked as a weapon against fear, but it certainly is one. According to Psalm 100:4, we enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and enter His courts with praise. What does that mean? It means that when we praise God, we get close to Him. We can feel His presence with us, we can draw on His power within us. How can we praise God? There are lots of ways. Singing is an obvious one, and one that you can do much more often than just on Sundays in Breakaway. Sing praise to God when you’re alone, let Him hear your heart through your voice. You can also praise through writing. David wrote lots of psalms, most of which are brief poems expressing praise to God for how he worked in David’s life. Your writing don’t have to be perfect, just write down your own thoughts about God; it doesn't have to rhyme or be poetic to be praise. You can tell your friends about how great God is, that is definitely giving God praise. Tell your Christian friends, tell your non-Christian friends, just tell everybody.

Jesus isn’t ashamed to call you His friend, so don’t be ashamed to let people know that He’s your friend too. Let’s read on, this time we’ll read verses 14 through 17 and then skip to verse 20.

Then in the midst of the assembly, the Lord’s Spirit came upon Jachaziel, son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph. He said: "Pay attention, all you people of Judah, residents of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says to you: 'Don’t be afraid and don’t panic because of this huge army! For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them as they come up the Ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the ravine in front of the Desert of Jeruel. You will not fight in this battle. Take your positions, stand, and watch the Lord deliver you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Don’t be afraid and don’t panic! Tomorrow march out toward them; the Lord is with you!'" 2 Chronicles 20:14-17

And then verse 20:

Early the next morning they marched out to the Desert of Tekoa. When they were ready to march, Jehoshaphat stood up and said, "Listen to me, you people of Judah and residents of Jerusalem! Trust in the Lord your God and you will be safe! Trust in the message of his prophets and you will win." 2 Chronicles 20:20

If you follow the Jehoshaphat’s example and you assemble your support group, and you pray for God’s help, and you praise God from your heart, then you should be ready to listen to God’s advice, because odds are He will speak. He might speak through a godly friend, like he did through Zachaziel. He might speak through scripture, like today when we read and learn something from the Bible. He might speak directly to your spirit, communicating in your heart and guiding you spiritually.

God’s message to you, however He sends it, will help you face and overcome your fears. When you listen to God’s voice and you trust it, you will win. God told Jehoshaphat to take his own army, march out to face the invaders, take his position, and then stand and wait for God to fight for him. He was willing to hear that message and to obey it.

What is God telling you? Whatever his message to you his, listen and obey it. And you will win. That leads us to the last piece of the plan found in verses 21 and following:

He met with the people and appointed musicians to play before the Lord and praise his majestic splendor. As they marched ahead of the warriors they said: "Give thanks to the Lord, for his loyal love endures." When they began to shout and praise, the Lord suddenly attacked the Ammonites, Moabites, and men from Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. The Ammonites and Moabites attacked the men from Mount Seir and annihilated them. When they had finished off the men of Seir, they attacked and destroyed one another. When the men of Judah arrived at the observation post overlooking the desert and looked at the huge army, they saw dead bodies on the ground; there were no survivors! Jehoshaphat and his men went to gather the plunder; they found a huge amount of supplies, clothing and valuable items. They carried away everything they could. There was so much plunder, it took them three days to haul it off. 2 Chronicles 20:21-25

Skip down to verse 30.

Jehoshaphat's kingdom enjoyed peace; his God made him secure on every side. 2 Chronicles 20:30

When you follow God’s advice, you can enjoy peace. In other words, you can live fearlessly.

I want to draw your attention to verse 22. Notice when God intervened. Scripture says that when the people began to praise God, God attacked the enemy and defeated them. The people didn’t wait for God to act before they praised Him. They praised Him first, and then God defeated the enemy. In your own life, don’t wait for God to fix everything in your life before you praise Him. It might just happen that at the very moment you start truly praising God and giving Him glory, God will start fixing your life.

Do you want to enjoy peace and live fearlessly? Jehoshaphat gives us one possible strategy for achieving that goal. Let’s look once again at the whole strategy.

There it is, step by step. Assemble your support. Pray for help. Praise God in advance. Listen to godly advice, and ultimately Enjoy peace.

I have a basket of apples up here at the front, each one a reminder of Jehoshaphat’s strategy for living fearlessly. If you’re facing fear in your own life, I encourage you to take an apple. But even more, I encourage you to apply the APPLE strategy.

Take an apple. Eat an apple. Live the APPLE strategy.

Bon appétit!


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