My wife and I have binged our way through several seasons of "The Great British Baking Show" on Netflix. It is light and positive entertainment. The contestants, judges, and hosts are genuinely kind people. It's a breath of fresh air, or should I say, fresh baked bread.
While not a baker…although I am a huge fan of baked goods…I have learned a few things about baked goods.
For cakes and pastries, you have to get your layers right; you have to get your structure right in order for the dessert to hold up. Under-proving and overworking are bad things to do to dough. It's the stability and correct implementation of the little things that maintain the integrity of the bake.
To put it another way, as any good baseball or football coach knows, if you're going to be successful, you have to master the fundamentals of your game. Little things lay the foundation for success. Repetition. You do the right thing the right way over and over again. Soon, it's like second nature. You ignore or neglect the fundamentals at your expense. It makes sense.
Jesus affirms this principle in Luke when he says that whoever can be trusted with small things can also be trusted with big things. You work on the basics, day-in-and-day-out in your life, and you've built a structure out of which rises a God-serving and God-honoring life.
That's what we talked about last week. As people chosen by God to follow Jesus, it's essential to build the fruit of the Spirit into our lives. As Paul says in Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Obedient to Scripture, every day, we choose to reflect these character qualities in our lives. And as we do, these habits of the heart become like second nature. We set the structure upon which to build a Biblical faith. Getting these things right helps us to live faithfully for Christ.
Getting the small, but essential, things right is important for facing
difficulties in our lives.
If you are loving and joyful and peaceful and patient and kind and good and faithful and gentle and self-controlled, you have filled a reservoir of Biblical obedience from which to draw when troubles or difficulties strike. You've gotten your structure right.
So, here's the ground we covered last week.
We want to be strong. We want to have courage. We want to be of good cheer. Not many people want to be ruled by or overcome by their fears. Are you with me on that?
But here's what happens. We want to be mighty, but sometimes we come up short.
Here's why I think we sometimes fall short of mighty. I think some of our negative choices are driven by fear. I think some of our unhealthy interactions are driven by fear. I think some of the reactive ways we treat each other are driven by fear. None of us would ever consciously choose to be miserable or afraid. You would have to be very psychologically damaged or emotionally frail to ever choose misery. That would not be a structurally sound thing to do.
So, what is it we need to know? How is God shaping our attitude?
Before Christmas, Christian author Trillia Newbell shared a passage from Lamentations 3:22-23 and a simple observation. The passage:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
The simple observation:
"This will be true for 2021, too. Grateful."
Being motivated by goodness rather than fear is always a good thing. Now,
let's move on to the Biblical truth behind our fearlessness. God make you
mighty, men and women of Covenant Church…
One of my favorite, singular, most encouraging passages of Scripture is from the Gospel of John, chapter 16, verse 33 in the King James Version:
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
What does it mean to be courageous? What does it mean to be of good cheer as we begin a new year still stuck in the lockdowns, shutdowns, and slowdowns of a pandemic?
For a lot of people, a new adventure; a change in life direction; a challenge to the status quo; a disruption; a loss; things that bring a dust-up to the smooth, steady, calm way you think life should go; is accompanied by some sense of fear and trepidation. Are you with me on that?
So, what do we have to say about courage and fearlessness and risk-
taking? Isaiah 41:1-13 is a great place to start.
First, let's begin with Isaiah 41:1-13 to get the big picture:
Listen to me in silence, O coastlands; let the peoples renew their strength; let them approach, then let them speak; let us together draw near for judgment.
Who stirred up one from the east whom victory meets at every step? He gives up nations before him, so that he tramples kings underfoot; he makes them like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow. He pursues them and passes on safely, by paths his feet have not trod. Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he.
The coastlands have seen and are afraid; the ends of the earth tremble; they have drawn near and come. Everyone helps his neighbor and says to his brother, “Be strong!” The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith, and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, “It is good”; and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved.
But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish. You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”
Now, let's draw our focus on Isaiah 41:10:
fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
In that one verse, there are two commands to not fear and five foundations of fearlessness.
First, the commands. When the Bible commands something, it's not a suggestion or an option. The verse opens with "fear not." Command. Next, is "be not dismayed." An alternate translation is "do not anxiously look about you." Command.
As always with the Bible, there are reasons for commands. Commands aren't just floating around out there in the ether. There's a reason and a purpose for them. Commands are rooted in reality. The 10 commandments are boundaries set by God for our edification and protection. If there's a barrier in front of a cliff with warning signs not to step outside the barrier, it's probably a good idea to honor the warning. In other words, if God commands us to do something, then there are good reasons to do it. And we discover the power in those commands when we understand and believe those reasons.
I think an appropriate side note is this observation by R.C. Sproul:
The greatest weakness in the church today is that almost no one believes that God invests His power in the Bible. Everyone is looking for power in a program, in a methodology, in a technique, in anything and everything but
that in which God has placed it - His Word.
We don't need gimmicks or packaged programs to show us the way. All we need is the Word of God.
So here are the five reasons for the foundations:
"For I am with you" - "Do not be afraid, for I am with you."
"I am your God." - "Do not be dismayed, for I am your God."
"I will strengthen you."
"Surely I will help you."
"Surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
And now, here are the five foundations for fearlessness:
God is with me.
God is my God.
God will strengthen me.
God will help me.
God will uphold me.
When God calls you to be free from fear, He calls you to be free from fear.
It means what it means. Free from fear when you have to take a test. Free from fear when you sit down for an interview. Free form fear when you speak out against abortion…when you have to deal with the sin in your life…when you strike out on a risky new venture…when faced with an operation or illness…when you lose a spouse or a friend…when God commands you to be free from fear, He does not leave the command hanging. He puts a foundation under the command. Five foundations. Remember, Biblical commands always come with foundational support.
Fear not, God is with you;
Fear not, God is your God;
Fear not, God will strengthen you;
Fear not, God will help you;
Fear not, God will uphold you.
Those foundations from Isaiah 41 are keys for overcoming our fears. Verse 9 is the preamble for these foundations in verse 10:
you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
What do you hear there? We hear that fearlessness flows from believing that God is your God and He is with you and will strengthen you and help you and uphold you, and when you know this - when you see this promised in Scripture, it will build your faith and intensify your fearlessness. Amen?
To that end - building your faith and intensifying your fearlessness - next week we'll gather four glimpses of God's greatness.