Category Archives: Fear

Luke 12:13-34: Worry

Anxiety is reaching epidemic proportions in Australia. Beyond Blue says it’s the most common mental health condition in Australia, with two million sufferers– twice as many as depression. One in four Australians will experience some form of anxiety condition. One in three women, and one in five men.

Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. Most of us feel stressed or anxious in a situation where we feel under pressure. But, normally, those feelings pass once the stressful situation is over. Anxiety is when those feelings DON’T GO AWAY – when they happen without any particular reason.

This is the last of our series on FEAR. And, of course, anxiety and worry are CONNECTED to fear. At the risk of over-simplification, anxiety is fear about what MIGHT happen TOMORROW. While fear is about what’s happening NOW.

We’re anxious about all sorts of things. Climate change, terrorism, computer hackers, nuclear attack, housing affordability, unpaid bills, car repairs, work pressures, passing school exams or university subjects, personal health, health epidemics, safety of family. Or, as Charlie Brown says, even our anxieties have anxieties.

For many of us, a big factor is the changes in TECHNOLOGY AND WORK. Work’s no longer something kept at the office and left behind at the end of the day. It’s accessible at the touch of a button – or the tap of a screen – thanks to smartphones, tablets and laptops.

But it’s not just WORKERS of course. A 2017 study found that the average American consumer spends five hours a day on mobile devices. An increase of 20% from the previous year! Which means by the end of this year, it might be something like SIX hours a day! Technology means we’re never disconnected. Social apps are designed to keep you permanently in a state of anticipation. Waiting for that ding or buzz of a new notification. A friend of mine – not much younger than me- recently posted on Facebook, “About to surrender my phone for a few hours to get the screen fixed. I’m genuinely a little depressed about the fact that being parted in such a way makes me MILDLY ANXIOUS! What is this bizarre world we’ve created?”

And our children aren’t immune either. University of Queensland child anxiety researcher Dr Vanessa Cobham says one in 10 children aged six to 11 now meet the criteria for diagnosable anxiety. She says many children are overprotected, pushed too hard, and “relax” with screening devices instead of playing outside with friends. She says “The chance for a carefree childhood is slim. I see it. Many kids aren’t permitted to fail — at anything. They are conscripted into more competitive activities than they know how to handle, tutors are called in to fix what teachers can’t, and pressure from schools to excel really ramps up ahead of NAPLAN for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9”

Max Lucado, in his book Fearless, quotes the statistic “The average child today … has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s.”

Anxiety, in the short term, can lead to panic attacks, heart palpitations, chest pains, light headedness, sleep deprivation. In the longer term, it can lead to a suppressed immune system, irritable bowel syndrome, and increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

But in the midst of all this, Jesus commands us, “Do not worry about your life.” And God encourages us, in 1 Peter 5:7, to “cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” And in Philippians 4:6-7 he commands us  6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And then gives us the PROMISE 7 And the PEACE of God, which transcends all understanding, will GUARD your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

What a great promise for those of us who feel anxious! But how do we DO that? How can we take our eyes off the big monsters in life that loom over us, and instead look to God? How do we make this world SMALLER, and make God BIGGER? Jesus has the answers, here in Luke 12. The Master physician looks at our anxieties, and diagnoses them as having TWO ROOT CAUSES: What you LOVE. And who you TRUST.

Change what you love

The FIRST cause: what you LOVE. The HEART of the problem, says Jesus/ is THE PROBLEM OF THE HEART. You see, anxiety is, at its root, a HEART problem. We LOVE certain things. And then we’re ANXIOUS that we might not GET them.  For example,

  • You’re anxious about unpaid bills, because you love MONEY, and the POWER that comes from HAVING money.
  • You’re anxious about health epidemics, housing affordability, nuclear attack and terrorism because you love SAFETY AND COMFORT – for yourself and for your family.
  • You’re anxious about work pressures and passing exams because you love the ACCEPTANCE AND APPROVAL OF PEOPLE.
  • You’re anxious about mess, or recycling, or a clean house/ because you love CONTROL, and the rest of life seems so OUT of control.

But Jesus says, INSTEAD, it’s all about setting your heart on the RIGHT things. (Treasuring the MOST VALUABLE things.) See how he concludes this section? Halfway through v33?

Provide purses for yourselves that will NOT wear out, a treasure IN HEAVEN that will not be exhausted, where NO thief comes near and NO moth destroys. 34 For where your TREASURE is, there your HEART will be also.

You can work at building treasure in all sorts of ways. Money, power, leisure, family, success, reputation, a legacy, a trophy house, pleasure. But for Jesus it’s not a choice between MANY. There’s only ONE choice to be made. You either open a bank account for treasure ON EARTH. Or you open one for treasure IN HEAVEN. One that WEARS OUT. And one that LASTS.

It’s like deciding between a GOLD necklace, or a gold-PLATED necklace. One won’t tarnish, or wear out, over time. Because it’s PURE. But the OTHER LOOKS precious, but underneath it’s CHEAP, and corrodes, and won’t last. The cheap copper or steel affects the thin layer of gold on the outside. Or it’s like choosing good quality tools over CHEAP ones. Like cameras or guitars or chisels. The GOOD quality tools last longer, work better, and are more enjoyable. The best thing about the CHEAP product is the PRICE, and you forget that pretty quickly.

Jesus says it’s the same with EARTHLY treasure, compared to HEAVENLY treasure. Heavenly treasure is SAFE and SECURE – it can’t be destroyed or corrupted. And it LASTS.  It seems OBVIOUS when you put it like that. But it’s so easy for us to do. To set our hearts on EARTHLY treasure. To work at providing cheap, poor quality, temporary purses. Because those things are easy, and attractive, and immediate, and in-your-face.

How do we make that mistake? Why do we make such a foolish choice? Look at what Jesus says in v34. It begins with a DECISION about where your treasure will be. And then the steps you take to FOLLOW THROUGH on that choice. V34. “Where your TREASURE is, there your HEART will be ALSO.”

It’s a two-step process. FIRST, you DECIDE what’s most valuable- what your TREASURE is. You choose what you’ll worship. THEN, SECOND, Your life choices fall into line on the basis of what you VALUE. Your life will REFLECT that priority. Your heart will go AFTER that treasure. You’ll do ALL SORTS OF THINGS to GET it.

It’s where you’ll find your DESIRES, your PRIORITIES, your ATTENTION. It’s where you’ll invest your TIME and your ENERGY. It’s where you’ll commit the best of your thinking and emotions.

What is it WITH YOU? What keeps you awake at night? What fills your waking thoughts? What do you give your BEST to? What motivates you? What do you LOVE to receive? Many of the things we worry about come back to FOUR treasures: COMFORT, POWER, CONTROL and APPROVAL. What’s your TREASURE? And where is it FOUND? Heaven or earth?

That’s how he CONCLUDES his teaching. But look at how he BEGINS. Back up in v13. What it LOOKS like when someone’s chooses earthly treasure, and then sets their LIFE on ACHIEVING it. V13. Someone interrupts his teaching with a demand. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” It’s easy to see where HIS treasure is. EARTHLY WEALTH. It’s what pre-occupies him. It’s more important to him than FAMILY. He’s risking his relationship with his brother to GET IT. Life is GOOD only when he’s rich.

Jesus responds with a WARNING. V15. Not just to the questioner, but to ALL those listening.

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  LIFE DOESN’T equal POSSESSIONS. There’s more to life than STUFF. It’s NOT true that whoever dies with the most toys, wins. And then to illustrate the point, he tells a story about a rich farmer. Someone else, who, just like Jesus’ questioner, is chasing earthly treasure. V16. A bumper crop. And he’s unprepared for it. His barns are too small. So, v18, he begins a capital improvement program. New barns to store more grain and more goods. Then, v19, he’d be set for life. He’ll take early retirement. He thinks he’s provided a purse that won’t wear out. His wealth gives POWER. (The ability to have OPTIONS. To indulge himself, to take it easy, and to ENJOY life.) And that’s what he plans to do.

But Jesus concludes the story. It’s foolish, v20. Because it’s TEMPORARY. You CAN’T depend on it. V20 “But God said to him, ‘You FOOL! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

He’s set his treasure on earth. And ignored God, and HIS priorities. He’s built his life on a shaky foundation, and it’s all come tumbling down. He NEEDS A BETTER TREASURE.

And so Jesus comes to his LESSON. V22. What the disciples should LEARN from his guy.

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “THEREFORE I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.

THEREFORE, don’t worry. The COMMAND flows from the PARABLE. BECAUSE life is more than possessions, don’t WORRY about possessions. BECAUSE possessions don’t last, it doesn’t make sense to WORRY about them.

And he’s speaking to people who make the same mistake as the foolish farmer. Who think life is only about POSSESSIONS. See the connection they make? “Don’t worry about LIFE – what you EAT. Or about the BODY – what you WEAR.” People WORRY when they decide that life CONSISTS of what they EAT. We could add, “Don’t worry about your LIFE – where you live, your bank balance, how many friends you have, what they think of you. And people WORRY about they decide that the body CONSISTS of clothes. We could add, “Don’t worry about your BODY – the risk of terrorism, the threat of disease, the leaking roof, the broken heater, the chance of promotion, or your next holiday.

Don’t worry, says Jesus, because, v23.  Life is MORE than food, and the body MORE than clothes. Because life is MORE than those things. Or GREATER than those things. And it’s foolish to think that life consists in the abundance of possessions. And to set your HEART on them. Because they don’t LAST.

When Jesus says life is MORE than food, he could mean life is MORE IMPORTANT than food. But that doesn’t really make sense. Because you NEED food to live. I think Jesus’ point is THIS. You have LIFE. God’s already done the HARD thing. He’s given you LIFE. (He’s turned bones, skin and tissue into a breathing, thinking, independent, relational self-aware being.) How incredible is THAT? That’s the REAL miracle. If he can do THAT. (Do the BIGGER thing), then the SMALLER thing of providing food to keep life GOING is EASY. So don’t worry about FOOD, because life is GREATER than food, and God’s already given you LIFE.

Just look at the BIRDS, v24. God feeds THEM and gives them life. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

And it’s the same with the body and clothes. “The body is MORE THAN clothes”. If God’s made your BODY – formed it in your mother’s womb. If he’s made your eyes that are better than the most expensive camera. Your hands that can wield an axe or thread a needle. A heart that beats and lungs that expand without you thinking about them. If he’s already done THAT, then providing CLOTHES for your body is NOTHING. Just look at the FLOWERS, v27. They don’t labour or spin. Or shop, or save. They’re clothed more richly than King Solomon. Then, v28,  HOW MUCH MORE will he clothe YOU, O you of little faith?

You’re more important to God than birds or flowers. He’s given you LIFE. He’s given you a WONDERFUL BODY. So trust him for THE LITTLE THINGS. Trust him for the bills, and your health, and crossing that bridge. Trust him for the plane trip, and your University marks, and your children’s future. Trust him in the face of terrorist threats and housing unaffordability and climate change.

Change who you trust

And notice the connection between worry and unbelief. At the end of v28. “O you of little faith!” When you WORRY about things, you’re NOT TRUSTING GOD. Instead, you’re taking all the burdens onto YOURSELF. And you’re abilities to FIX them. Or DISability to fix them. Which is why you WORRY. Because most of them you CAN’T fix. That’s the SECOND of Jesus’ ROOT CAUSES for anxiety. You need to change WHO YOUR TRUST.

How big is YOUR God? When you worry about leaking taps, or lost keys, or a new dress, it’s squashing God into a tiny box. A box that says he’s too small to do this, or change that, or provide this. Worrying makes God SMALL. How big is YOUR God?

Some of you know Stu’s looking for a new job. And he’s had disappointments, and he’s missed out on some that seemed like a great fit. But through it all, he’s not WORRIED. He’s TRUSTING God. God’s looked after him SO FAR. So, he’ll look after him for the future. And God guides and he provides. All according to HIS perfect plan in HIS perfect timing.

Jesus says that anxiety comes from, 1, loving the wrong things. And, 2, about trusting the wrong person.

Replace it with a better treasure

And so, having put those things into perspective, having shown earthly treasures for the cheap imitations they really are, the logic is obvious. V29, Don’t CHASE after them.

29 And do not set your heart on (or don’t SEEK) what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.

Don’t chase after them, because they’re not WORTH it. AND because God knows that you need them. INSTEAD. Seek a GREATER treasure. A purse that WON’T wear out. Be rich towards God. Build treasure in heaven. V31. But seek HIS kingdom, and THESE things will be given to you AS WELL. 32 “Do not be AFRAID, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to GIVE you the kingdom. Seek HIS approval. Do the things that please HIM, and that build his kingdom. Make THOSE things your top priority. Set your heart on THEM. And EARTHLY treasure will lose its sparkle. Seek JESUS HIMSELF. Connect yourself more and more TO HIM. Make THAT your treasure. And your worry over worldly things will fade.

Sometimes we need to take an old bone from our dog, Charlie. It’s dried out and splintered and dangerous. But he’s very protective over it. One trick is to give him SOMETHING BETTER to DISTRACT him. A FRESH bone – FRESH and juicy and long-lasting.

It’s the same with OUR desires. The ONLY way to stop loving earthly treasure/ is to love HEAVENLY treasure MORE. You can’t just STOP loving ONE thing. You have to REPLACE it with a GREATER love.

Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish Presbyterian minister of the early nineteenth century, preached a famous sermon called “The expulsive power of a new affection.” He said It is impossible for the heart, by any innate elasticity of its own, to cast the world away from it… The heart is not so constituted; and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.

Jesus commands us not to be anxious. And the ROOT of anxiety is a love for the treasures of this world. The only way to be CURED is to love Jesus more. To seek his kingdom more. And as we DO that, we’ll grow to TRUST him more. And we’ll let go of our own power and control. And our confidence in God’s provision will GROW. And our worry will ease. And the promises of Philippians 4:6-7 will prove true. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Luke 12:1-12: Fear of man

Ed Welch, in his book When People Are Big, and God is Small, identifies three basic reasons why we fear other people: because they can expose and humiliate us; because they can reject, ridicule or despise us; and because they can attack, oppress or threaten us.

 

The fear of being exposed or humiliated is seen in Imposter Syndrome. We talked about that a few weeks ago. People who are petrified that work or academic colleagues will find out they’re not capable of doing the job.

And it’s the same fear – a fear of being exposed – that makes people uncomfortable when you stare at them, or invade their personal space. It’s a fear of intimacy that makes people addicts to online gaming or social networking, or pornography, rather than real relationships.

And a fear of intimacy, or being known, is connected to a fear of being REJECTED. That’s the second CATEGORY of fear of man. Fear of being rejected or ridiculed can show itself in an obsession with REPUTATION. And that can drive you to all sorts of poor choices. With how you treat people. How you make decisions, and prioritise what matters most. Giving in to PEER PRESSURE is all about a fear of rejection. It’s a fear that can drive an obsession with fashion, or body image, or dieting, or exercise – all things that affect the opinion people have of you. And a fear of ridicule is behind many people’s fear of public speaking.

Let me tell you how it affects me. I’m a people-pleaser. I love to be accepted and included. I hate to be late, because I hate disappointing people. I like to be seen as competent and helpful – because that affects people’s opinion of me.

And I hate conflict. I don’t even like family board games or card games where there’s the potential for disagreements. All of that comes from a fear of man. Or to turn it around, a LOVE of approval and acceptance.

What’s good about this is it means I’m quick to apologise, and I work hard to mend relationships. I look for the good in people. It means I’m a good listener and slow to speak. And it means I like things to be done WELL.

But I need to watch my motivations. Doing things well can be for my own pride, and to fit in, rather than to benefit others. And mending relationships can be because I’M uncomfortable, rather than for the good of the other person. And listening rather than speaking can be SAFE, where I’m not risking disappointing someone, rather than because I want to understand them better.

At its worst, it’s a fear that means I overlook sin and bad behaviour in others, rather than addressing it. I’m tempted to say or preach what’s expected in a situation, rather than what’s true and loving and God-honouring, which might be something DIFFERENT. And I can listen TOO much, and not say ENOUGH, when words NEED to be spoken.

And I don’t think I’m alone. I think MANY of us are influenced in our choices and behaviour by fear of man. For MOST of us, it’s not a fear of physical harm or abuse, but of humiliation or rejection. And what suffers is our ability to genuinely HELP people. Protecting ourselves is more important than showing LOVE to others. And so we choose the option that makes US feel better, rather than serving others.

To fear man less, fear God more

So what’s the solution? What does God say when we’re tempted to fear man? The solution to the fear of man is TO FEAR GOD. If you want to fear man LESS, learn to fear God MORE. Ed Welch says,

“The most radical treatment for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord. God must be bigger to you than people are… Our problem is that we need people (for ourselves) more than we love them (for the glory of God). The task God sets before us is to need them less and love them more.” Edward T. Welch, When People Are Big, and God is Small (p19).

We saw that choice of who to fear in Psalm 34 in the first week of our series.

I sought the LORD, and he answered me; HE DELIVERED ME FROM ALL MY FEARS… 6 This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.  7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who FEAR HIM, and he DELIVERS them.

Fear God, and he delivers us from OTHER fears. Those fears could be of PHYSICAL HARM – like in THIS Psalm. But it might also be the fear of REJECTION AND SHAME. That seems to be what’s going on in Psalm 56. Which is more about the threat of WORDS than physical danger. VERBAL attacks Be merciful to me, O God,..2 My SLANDERERS pursue me all day long; many are attacking me in their pride.

But look at how David DEALS with those words. V3. 3 When I am afraid, I will trust in you. 4 In God, WHOSE WORD I PRAISE, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

He’s confident in the face of the words and opinions of others. As scary and threatening as his enemies seem, ultimately, they can’t harm him. Because he’s trusting God.

And notice, in particular, what it is about God he’s PRAISING. His WORD. His PROMISES. It’s not just choosing who you’ll fear. (God or man). But choosing whose WORDS you’ll listen to. The world speaks to us all the time – the media, advertising, our lecturers, fashion, our peer group. They all tell us how we should live, what we should look like, and how we should fit in.

But the cure for the damage of man’s words is God’s words. Let HIS words guide you, and speak to you, about your identity and your worth and your acceptance. Fill your mind with Scripture, so the words of the world can’t hurt you, or influence you.

I’m NOT a loser, or incompetent, or hopeless. I’m not guilty, or unfashionable, or unlovable. I’m not ashamed, or out-of-date, or abandoned. They’re the words MAN speaks. What I need to hear are God’s words for me, like from Romans 8 that we looked at last week. I’m a child of God. He’s my father. I’m heard and accepted. I have a place. I have an inheritance. I’ve been redeemed. There’s no condemnation for me. The righteous requirements of the law have been fully met in me. THOSE, and many MORE, are the words that will help me not to fear the words and slander and opinions of men.

God knows and cares Luke 12:1-7

Luke 12 is another passage that compares the fear of MAN with the fear of GOD. The context is that, in Ch 11, Jesus has criticised the Pharisees. V43, because they LOVE THE MOST IMPORTANT SEATS IN THE SYNAGOGUE. In other words, their reputation was very important to them. They loved praise and acceptance, and they feared rejection and ridicule. And so they were HYPOCRITES. V39. They were concerned with the OUTSIDE, with appearances. With what PEOPLE thought of them. When they SHOULD have been more concerned with what GOD thought of them.

And so, at the start of Ch 12, Jesus warns his disciples, against the HYPOCRISY of the Pharisees. It’s foolish to care more about APPEARANCE than SUBSTANCE. It’s foolish to act in ONE way before people, because you value their acceptance. But then to live a different way in PRIVATE.

It’s foolish, v2-3, because you can only keep things hidden for so long. Eventually secrets come out.

And that’s ESPECIALLY scary when it’s GOD who calls you to account. Because there’s so much more he can DO to you. V4

4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

The opinion-shapers of our world seem so BIG and INFLUENTIAL. The fashion bloggers, the popular girl at school, the top athlete, the trendy new bar, the work pressure to produce and succeed. Or even governments, armies, magistrates, violent mobs, or criminals, who threaten us HARM.

They SEEM so powerful. But they’re NOT, really. When you look at it from the perspective of ETERNITY. The very WORST they can do is kill you. And that’s pretty rare. Any other harm is better than THAT. Once you die, if you belong to Jesus, then you’re suffering is OVER. And paradise BEGINS.

It makes MUCH more sense to fear the One who has MUCH GREATER POWER over you. Power for eternity. The power to send you to hell, forever. On the basis of your choices NOW.

So it makes much more sense to do the things that please HIM, rather than what pleases powerless man. One commentator on these verses puts it like this, “Let it be your preoccupation to be, through and through, the kind of person of whom Almighty God will approve when that day comes.” Michael Wilcock, BST, 135

Jesus continues, v6. It’s not just about the fearing the One with the biggest STICK, though. God KNOWS and has a plan for EVERYTHING. He remembers even the littlest, least important birds, sold, cooked and consumed by the dozen. THEY’RE included in God’s purposes. So don’t fear that YOU’VE slipped through unnoticed by God. He knows everything about you – even many hairs are on your head. So, v7, don’t be afraid that you’re insignificant to God. You’re worth MORE than many sparrows.

Those are the truths you need to listen to when fears strike. When it looks like you’ll end up like a sparrow, plucked and roasting in a pan. Remember that God’s got a plan – he hasn’t forgotten you. And you’re VALUABLE to him.

Speak up courageously for Jesus, with the help of the Holy Spirit (Lk 12:8-12)

They’re the words that will help YOU to speak words, v8-9. When you’re in a position to speak up for Jesus before others.

For me the temptation is to stay quiet. Because I want to be ACCEPTED by people. The temptation is to value MY friendship with that person more than them becoming friends with GOD.

But failing to acknowledge Jesus before men risks Jesus failing to acknowledge ME on judgment day. That’s the praise I need to value MORE than the praise of men.

The same warning is put a different way in v10-12.

10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

The unforgivable sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. It’s caused lots of confusion and worry. With people worried they’ve committed the unforgiveable sin without knowing it.

In Matthew and Mark, it’s connected with the Pharisees accusing Jesus of using the power of Satan, rather than the Holy Spirit, to drive out demons. In other words, it’s not recognising the work of the Holy Spirit.

Notice the context HERE, though. V12 talks about the not worrying because the Holy Spirit will TEACH and GUIDE you in what you should say. Which will be words that acknowledge Jesus. If you FAIL to speak those words, you’re not recognising the work of the Holy Spirit. You’re refusing to submit to his prompting. If you do that, consistently, across your life, that means you REJECT him. And there’s no forgiveness for THAT attitude. Which, in the end, is the same thing as Jesus not acknowledging you on Judgment Day.

So the big message from Jesus here is: “Don’t fear. Don’t be anxious. Don’t fear harm, or rejection, or disapproval. Instead SPEAK UP FOR JESUS. Live courageously for him. Because God KNOWS and CARES. You’re VALUABLE. And his Holy Spirit will guide and teach and strengthen and embolden you.

God’s good plan (Romans 8:28-30)

There’s one final passage I want to look at briefly. It’s too good to ignore. The last part of Romans 8. We looked at the START of Romans 8 last week. V28-30 talk about God’s good plan for us. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

We’re tempted to fear BAD THINGS happening. But God ALWAYS works everything for GOOD OUTCOMES. To make us into the likeness of Jesus, and ultimately to bring us to glory.

Nothing can harm us (Rom 8:31-39)

And so, with THAT truth firmly set in place, from v31, it means that NOTHING can harm us. “If God is FOR us, who can be AGAINST us?”

And if you’re tempted to think, in the middle of a difficult situation, that God’s not really FOR you, remember this, v32, if God gave you his own SON, how will he not also give us EVERYTHING?!

And if you’re tempted to feel guilt from man’s accusations. V33 GOD has justified you. There’s no higher court to appeal to. You’ve been acquitted in the SUPREME Court, there’s no legal avenues left to accuse you.

And if you’re tempted to feel condemned and abandoned by man. V34. The risen Jesus is on your side. Your big brother, your legal representative, speaking up for you to the Father.

Which means, v35, that NOTHING on earth can separate us from Jesus’ love. Not trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword. Or, v38, death, life, angels, demons, present, future, powers, height, depth or ANYTHING ELSE in ALL CREATION. You’re SECURE!

Which is not the same thing as saying those things won’t HAPPEN to you. But that IN them, you’ll remain LOVED and KEPT by Jesus. Or look at v37.

37 No, IN all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

The Christian will STILL endure persecution, famine, danger and sword. Even DEATH. But we OVERCOME them. Actually we HYPER-overcome them. It’s a rare word. Most translations say “we are MORE than conquerors.” It COULD mean we beat them COMPLETELY. But I wonder whether Paul’s not saying something DIFFERENT. Those things might beat you, but you do something BETTER than conquer. You ENDURE, and you grow like Jesus, and you’re KEPT and you’re LOVED. Which is BETTER than conquering!

They’re the words we need to speak to ourselves. God’s words to replace the words the WORLD speaks to us. No wonder we can sing along with David from Ps 56

3 When I am afraid, I will trust in you.  4 In God, WHOSE WORD I PRAISE, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

Let me finish with one final story. It’s taken from an ancient manuscript called the Martyrdom of Polycarp, written, by eyewitnesses, towards the end of the second century. And it describes the death of Polycarp, a leader of the early church.

As Polycarp was being taken into the arena, a voice came to him from heaven: “Be strong, Polycarp and play the man!” No one saw who had spoken, but our brothers who were there heard the voice… The Proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On hearing that he was, he tried to persuade him to apostatize… “Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.” “86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

And then he was burned at the stake. More concerned with the opinion of his Lord than acceptance from man. Even his own life. Trusting the words of Jesus.

4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

Romans 8:1-27: Fear of death and judgment

Woody Allen once said, “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” We laugh… slightly nervously. Because, for MANY of us, death is one of our greatest fears.

For some, it’s the fear of the UNKNOWN. We fear what we can’t PLAN for. What we can’t CONTROL.

Others fear death because they fear the PAIN. From the car accident, or the cancer, or old bodies slowly wearing out. It’s the PROCESS of dying many people fear.

And then there are others who fear death because of what’s on the OTHER SIDE. They fear facing JUDGMENT. Meeting God, and having to account for how they’ve lived.

And fear of death shows itself in lots of OTHER ways. Phobias like claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), or agoraphobia (a fear of open or unknown spaces) can come from a fear of death. As can a fear of heights, or bridges, or snakes.

And it’s a fear of death that drives many people to an obsession with exercise, or healthy eating, or hypochondria. Or with using psychics or mediums to contact people who’ve died. They want to control it, or conquer it or abolish it.

And our fear of death is seen in the way we KEEP DEATH AT ARM’S LENGTH. We hope that if we don’t have to SEE it or THINK about it, it won’t AFFECT us. Think about the number of figures of speech we use to DISGUISE death. “Passed away, passed on, passed over, eternal rest, asleep, deceased, lost her battle, slipped away, gone to a better place.”

In fact, a whole INDUSTRY has grown from our fear of death. The funeral industry exists so we can keep death at a distance. We pay someone else to make death THEIR problem.

But not thinking about death is a dangerous game to play. Because the reality is there’s no escaping it. You can’t STOP it any more than you can hold back the tide. And every other society before ours recognised that. Perhaps it’s the medical and health advances in the last 100 years that have fooled us into thinking we’ve beaten it. But all they do is DELAY death. And leave us unprepared to face it. C.S. Lewis, the Christian author, wrote

“There are three things we can do about death: to desire it, to fear it, or to ignore it. The third alternative, which is the one the modern world calls ‘healthy’ is surely the most uneasy and precarious of all.”

Death is painful, and there’s separation and loss and loneliness. But it’s a reality. Death is a part of life. And it’s a fool’s paradise to pretend otherwise.

Steve Turner has written a poem called Death Lib. Part of it goes like this;

The liberating thing about death

Is in its fairness to women

its acceptance of blacks,

its special consideration for the sick.

And I like the way

that children aren’t excluded,

homosexuals are welcomed,

and militants aren’t banned.

Con men can’t con it

Thieves can’t nick it

Bullies can’t scare it

Magicians can’t trick it…

The thing about dead

Is we’re all gonna be it.

Death’s the schoolyard bully who threatens EVERYONE. And NO ONE can hide from him.

So what can we do in the face of death? How can we prepare for it? How can we overcome our fear of it? And the fear of judgment that goes WITH it? One place we can look is in Romans 8.

Romans mainly addresses the question of SIN. How our rebellion against God separates us from him. And what God’s done to bring us back. But along the way, it addresses DEATH and JUDGMENT. And what Jesus has done to DEFEAT them.

The chapters leading up to Romans 8 describe God’s wrath against mankind’s sin (1:18-3:20), and how death entered the world through one man’s sin (5:12-21). Death came to EVERYONE (5:12) because 6.23 says that the wages of sin is death. So death REIGNED (5:14).

But not only death. 5.16 describes how JUDGEMENT AND CONDEMNATION followed that one sin (5:16). God’s just punishment for our sin is eternal separation from him.

The conclusion to all this, at the end of chapter 7, is that, without Christ, we’re WRETCHED. Hopeless and helpless. And the question is asked, “Who will rescue us from this body of DEATH?” (7:24) The chapter finishes with the wonderful answer, “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (7:25). He’s the answer to the problem of sin, death and judgment!

No fear of death or judgment

And so we come to Chapter 8 that explains HOW Jesus rescues us from this body of death. What he ACHIEVES. And how that addresses our FEAR of death and judgment. And what it does is give us a number of PICTURES. Images that we can focus on when we’re tempted to FEAR. Or DOUBT.

Because when the non-Christian thinks about death. OTHER pictures come to mind. And perhaps for YOU, fear of death and judgment make you picture the same things. And so we connect death with BLACKNESS. Uncertainty. And despair, and failure, and hopelessness.

Or sometimes it’s pictures of FALSE hope. Of balloons and doves and wishful thinking.

Or even images of PURPOSE and USEFULNESS. Think of all the people who start CHARITIES because someone they know has died of cancer, or committed suicide. And that’s WONDERFUL. And that work can GENUINELY influence future lives for GOOD. But it can’t bring back the one they love. So, instead, focus on THESE pictures. And let them lead you from FEAR to FAITH when you’re faced with death.

The FIRST fear that’s answered is our fear of JUDGMENT. V1

8:1 Therefore, there is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life SET ME FREE from the law of sin and death.

Picture 1: Declared not guilty

The law might condemn us as guilty. Because we’re just not, naturally, able to KEEP it. We’re GUILTY. But it’s possible to be SET FREE from condemnation. Declared INNOCENT. That’s the FIRST picture. The verdict delivered – NOT GUILTY. And so we don’t need to FEAR JUDGMENT.

And that verdict is available to a certain group of people. Can you see who are they? There in v1? Those who are IN CHRIST JESUS.

Picture 2: One with Jesus

The idea of being JOINED TO JESUS is one that’s been explained a bit in the previous chapters. Like ch 6 v3. When we trusted Jesus, God CONNECTED us to him. 6:3 describes it as being BAPTISED INTO CHRIST JESUS.

And then, because God sees US AND JESUS AS ONE, our assets are JOINED. His RIGHTEOUSNESS becomes mine. And my SIN becomes HIS. 5:19 puts it like this

19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the OBEDIENCE of the one man the many will be made RIGHTEOUS.

Adam passed on his sinful nature to us. Because we’re all members of the human race. But Jesus passed on his righteous obedience to us when God joined us to him. His CREDIT becomes MINE, and my DEBT becomes HIS.

It’s like when Caron and I got married. She’d worked for a few years before, and had saved $25,000. I’d only been teaching for a year, and pretty much had NOTHING in the bank. But when we were joined together in marriage, my poverty became hers. And her riches became mine. From my point of view, it was a great deal!

When we’re united to Jesus. His INNOCENCE becomes OURS. And our GUILT becomes HIS. And that’s the guilt he was punished for. Our death becomes HIS. And his LIFE becomes OURS.

Back over in Ch 8, it goes on to describe how he sets us free from condemnation. 8:3

3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he CONDEMNED SIN IN SINFUL MAN, 4 in order that the RIGHTEOUS REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW MIGHT BE FULLY MET IN US,

Jesus condemned our sin, and replaced it with his righteousness. He paid the price for it. He bore the punishment for it. And so we ESCAPED condemnation. We’re DECLARED INNOCENT.

And that means the fear of JUDGMENT is gone. We don’t FEAR, because our fate doesn’t depend on our performance. Instead, we’re CONFIDENT, because we’re depending, instead, on the perfect performance of Jesus.

What a DIFFERENCE that makes to life! Instead of FEAR, there’s FREEDOM and CONFIDENT JOY. The Muslim obeys God out of DUTY, and of FEAR, out of COMPULSION. It’s ultimately from selfishness, because he follows the pillars of Islam to earn his standing before Allah.

And it’s not much different for the Mormon, or Jew, or ANY religion, really, who works through a to-do list to avoid judgment.

But for the Christian who’s IN CHRIST, we’re free to obey out of GRATITUDE AND LOVE. To RESPOND with obedience. Rather than compelled out of FEAR to obey.

Being set free from the fear of judgment doesn’t just change how you think about DEATH. It changes LIFE. It changes EVERYTHING!

Picture 3 – Resurrection

Another way of describing being joined to Jesus is that his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, lives in us. And that means our lives begin to be INFLUENCED by his Spirit. V4 describes it as LIVING ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT.

And because Jesus HIMSELF lives in us, we have a new nature – HIS nature – that WANTS to please God, and a new POWER that’s ABLE to do it. That’s what verses 4 to 9 describe – how the Christian lives according to the Spirit. And can actually KEEP the righteous requirements of the law.

And then we come to v10 and 11. The Spirit of the risen Jesus living in us affects our LIFE. But he also affects our coming DEATH.

10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

Notice carefully what it’s saying. Our BODIES are headed for death. But we have the Spirit of GOD in us – the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. And so he’s THE INTERNAL POWER SOURCE who’ll raise OUR BODIES from the dead.

Many of you know I like bike-riding. And there’s a new type of bike that’s getting popular. It’s called an e-bike. Or ELECTRIC bike – a normal bicycle, but it’s got a built in battery and electric motor, to help you up hills.

I was riding up a hill the other day, and another cyclist rode past me. Which is not that unusual. Except he was OLD, and wearing a SUIT. He stopped at the lights at the top of the hill, and when I eventually caught up to him I realised he was riding an E-bike. With an extra energy source. “Cheat!” I thought, as the lights turned green, and he cycled off into the distance ahead of me!

But that’s what it’s like for the Christian, compared to everyone else. We have the inbuilt power source of God’s Spirit – the God who raised Jesus from the dead. He’ll give LIFE to our mortal bodies.

 

 

Picture 4: Sonship

That’s ONE way God’s Spirit gives us confidence in the face of death. But there’s ANOTHER way TOO. He confirms that we’re God’s CHILDREN. Look down to v13.

but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs

Here’s how the process works. God fills you with his Spirit. And by that power you start living according to the Spirit (v13). That lifestyle shows you that you’re being LED by the Spirit of God, which means you’re a genuine SON of GOD (v14). Or as v16 puts it, the Spirit TESTIFIES to us that we’re God’s children.

Which means you don’t need to FEAR him (v15). You don’t need to fear him NOW. And you don’t need to fear DEATH OR JUDGMENT THEN. Instead you can enjoy the relationship between a Father and a son. And you can be confident to call him Abba, or Daddy (v15).

There’s a famous photo of John F. Kennedy Jr, son of the president John F. Kennedy. It shows him playing underneath the president’s desk, in the Oval office. The most powerful man in the world, but this little boy had the confidence sit there, and PLAY. With no fear. Because he called him DAD.

And that’s the confidence WE have. God’s Spirit, the Spirit of SONSHIP CONFIRMS that we’re his children. And he’s our Father. And so there’s no need to FEAR his judgment.

Picture 6: A glorious inheritance: redeemed bodies

There’s one FINAL picture in this section to help us face the fear of death. From v18, there’s a description about OUR FUTURE GLORY.

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with THE GLORY THAT WILL BE REVEALED IN US. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for THE SONS OF GOD TO BE REVEALED.

What we are NOW doesn’t measure up to what God has planned for us. At the moment, everything is BROKEN. Death infects everything. V22 describes it as creation groaning like in the pains of childbirth. And v21, waiting to be set free from its bondage to decay. And brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

You see, God has a plan to renew EVERYTHING. And that’s because he’s going to gloriously renew US, his CHILDREN. And we need a glorious, new Creation to LIVE in.

And because we have God already living IN us, we live with a DEPOSIT of that new freedom ALREADY. An in-built adoption certificate. A window into eternity.

And we can TASTE it, and EXPERIENCE it. And confidently and patiently HOPE for it. Even though we experience death and loss because we’re part of the world. V23

we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we WAIT EAGERLY for our adoption as sons, the REDEMPTION OF OUR BODIES. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Rather than facing death and judgment with FEAR and DESPAIR. Or perhaps IGNORING it and pretending it won’t happen, like the WORLD does. We can face it with CONFIDENCE, because of the work of Jesus. Because we are IN HIM, and his credit is ours. And we have his Spirit in us, EMPOWERING life and obedience in us. And affirming that we’re God’s CHILDREN, and guaranteeing our glorious inheritance.

Fill your mind with THOSE pictures, and have CONFIDENCE, not FEAR.

Psalm 34: Fear of the Lord

Fear can make us do desperate things. Fear strengthens a father to lift a car off his trapped daughter. Fear of dying keeps a sailor lost overboard treading water for 24 hours before he’s rescued. Fear of flying makes someone sit on a train for two days to attend a friend’s wedding. Fear of losing control causes a wife and mother to nag her husband constantly, and refuse to allow her children outside on their own.

Or here’s another example of fear making someone do desperate things. Fear of SAUL makes David run to the PHILISTINES. Look at the sub-heading to Psalm 34. “David wrote the Psalm after pretending to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away”. It’s a summary of 1 Samuel 21.

Saul’s king of Israel. But God’s chosen DAVID to replace him. Saul’s jealous, and wants David DEAD. So David’s running for his life. He stops to visit the tabernacle and Ahimelech the priest. He gives him Goliath’s sword for protection. And then he heads off.

But look what FEAR does. He’s so scared of Saul, he heads to the LAST PLACE Saul would look. GATH. One of the five Philistine cities. The people David’s been fighting. In fact, Gath is GOLIATH’S home city. Their champion, who David killed, and whose sword he’s carrying.

Perhaps he thinks he’ll be able to stay anonymous. But he’s public enemy number one, so that doesn’t last long. The king’s servants find him, recognise him – the one who’s slain tens of thousands. Many of them PHILISTINE! And they take him to the king.

David’s jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Things have gone from bad to worse. He was scared of SAUL. But now, v12, we read,

12 David took these words to heart and WAS VERY MUCH AFRAID OF ACHISH king of Gath.

He’s STILL afraid. He’s used to FIGHTING Philistines, but now he tries a DIFFERENT approach on them. V13.

13 So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.

14 Achish said to his servants, “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? 15 Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?”

22:1 David LEFT Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam.

They let him go! Because they think he’s HARMLESS. And, miraculously, David escapes. And he makes it to the safety of an isolated cave back in Israel. And his family, and a whole crowd of distressed and desperate people, join him.

And it may even be in THAT CAVE that he writes Psalm 34.

I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. 2 My soul will boast in the LORD;

And then he calls on those who are listening to join with him.

Let the afflicted hear and rejoice. 3 Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.

HEAR! REJOICE! GLORIFY! EXALT! And then, in verses 4-7, he gives the REASON WHY God should be praised by everyone.

4 I sought the LORD, and he ANSWERED me; he DELIVERED me from ALL MY FEARS.

David’s life is threatened. First by SAUL, and then by the king of Gath. And he’s AFRAID. And, in the face of that danger, he does TWO THINGS. He PRAYS, and then he ACTS. 1 Samuel tells us about his ACTIONS. (He flees, and then he pretends to be crazy.) Psalm 34 tells us about his PRAYER.

He looks to GOD. AND he ACTS. If you’re suffering from fears or anxieties, please don’t hear me saying in this series that all you have to do is hand it all over to God. I’m NOT saying stop seeing specialists, or treatment with counsellors, or taking medication. David’s example, at least, is to do BOTH. Pray AND act. He’s come up with a good plan in desperate circumstances. And God worked THROUGH that plan. And worked miraculously in the Philistine king.

He’s PRAYED. And God ANSWERS his prayer, and RESCUES him, v4. He intervenes. And David’s life is DIFFERENT! He’s SAFE. And he wants to CELEBRATE!

V5-7 We get some more details about the fears God RESCUES people from.

5 Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. 6 This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

One of the fear-idols people have is APPROVAL. We want people to LIKE and ACCEPT and RESPECT us. And we fear NOT RECEIVING that. Did your mum ever say to you as you left the house, “I hope you’re wearing clean underwear. What if you’re in a car accident, and they take you to hospital?!”

That’s the idol of APPROVAL. She’s more concerned about being EMBARRASSED than being physically harmed in a car accident!

But notice what David says? V5. When people look to God for help, he makes sure their faces aren’t covered with SHAME. They won’t be EMBARRASSED. Which might mean he’ll rescue them from the embarrassing situation, or perhaps they won’t FEEL the embarrassment of it. They’ll be STRENGTHENED IN THE FACE of the trial.

That sort of deliverance is a WONDERFUL RELIEF for many people.

That seems to be what’s happened to David. He’s not feeling the shame of his situation. V6 He calls himself “this poor man”. Yes, he’s not the army commander anymore. Or the anointed king. He’s hiding in a cave. But that’s ok! He’s a poor man, who looks to God – that’s what counts. It’s a relief not to have to keep up the performance, but to just leave it with God.

Or V7, here’s ANOTHER fear. The angel of the Lord ENCAMPS around, or SURROUNDS, those who fear him and he delivers them. There’s PROTECTION for those who fear the Lord.

For many people COMFORT or PLEASURE is an idol. And they’re FEARFUL of being in pain, or stressful situations. But God’s angel SURROUNDS and PROTECTS those who fear him. And that’s a great blessing.

At this point I want to stop for a moment and answer a question you might be asking. What about when God DOESN’T protect, or rescue, his people? Christians STILL get cancer, or are beaten up. Or experience tsunamis or bushfires. Or are ridiculed. Or robbed. Why do bad things still happen to God’s people?

The first thing to say is that even DAVID’S experience was that God ALLOWED him to go through difficult situations. God doesn’t guarantee an easy life. Look down to v19. David says it himself.

19 A righteous man may have MANY TROUBLES,

But notice what he adds NEXT.

but the LORD DELIVERS him from them all;

The reality of the Christian life is that God ALLOWS and BRINGS and USES trials. His purpose is to GROW us through them. Like EXERCISE – to strengthen our FAITH. He brings GOOD out of them. James 1:2 says

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, NOT LACKING ANYTHING.

That’s his goal. Same thing in Hebrews 12.

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons… God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. LATER ON, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been TRAINED by it.

And the trouble ALWAYS lasts only EXACTLY as LONG as God WILLS it. Not a second longer. Until his good purposes are achieved. And then he BRINGS it TO AN END. He DELIVERS us from them.

It might seem like the difficulty’s going on FOREVER. But God’s timing’s PERFECT.

But perhaps you’re thinking, ‘But what about when the trial DOESN’T end? Plenty of Christians DIE EARLY. From sickness, or in accidents, or war, or murder, or natural disasters.

At this point it’s good to take a step back, and see the BIG PICTURE. Step back from the tragic accident, or the awful illness or murder of a Christian. Step back and see that life from the perspective of ETERNITY. And you see God’s eternal commitment to the Christian in JESUS. In electing them from before the creation of the world. In redeeming them from judgment. Forgiving their sin. Filling them with his Spirit, the downpayment of eternity. And then bringing them safely home.

Step back from that one tragic event. And see Jesus dying to defeat sin and death. And then CONQUERING death, and reconciling this broken world to himself. The broken world of murder and rape and war and childhood cancer. And beginning its restoration.

That’s the BIG PICTURE.

We even get a hint of that big picture here in this Psalm. Down in v21 and 22.

21 Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned.

David’s not seeing it YET. But one day, evil will be called to account. And judged. Those they’ve hurt will be VINDICATED. There’s COMFORT for victims in that. Ultimately, for David and for us, that’s on JUDGMENT DAY.

And the flip side of that, v22

22 The LORD REDEEMS his servants; no one will be CONDEMNED who takes refuge in him.

David’s thinking of being saved from trouble in THIS life. But God does MORE than that. He redeems us– buys us back – ETERNALLY. From the slavery of sin and death. And when he joins us to Jesus, and FORGIVES us, then we escape any threat of CONDEMNATION. Romans 8:1

there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

So that’s ANOTHER fear we can face with confidence. Many people fear DEATH AND JUDGMENT. SOME people fear it because it’s UNKNOWN and they can’t CONTROL it. Others love COMFORT and they’re scared of the pain of dying, or of hell.

But when God makes you his child through Jesus, and forgives your sin. Then he guarantees you safe passage through death and judgment. There’s no need to FEAR condemnation. (More on that fear NEXT week).

Let’s get back to the Psalm. V8. David addresses his hearers again.

8 Taste and see that the LORD is good;

blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

9 Fear the LORD, you his saints,

(It’s the SECOND of his calls to his hearers. Or instructions. There’s a THIRD call in v11. And after each call, we get an explanation of WHY. So the structure of the Psalm is “call, because, call, because, call, because.”)

He’s just described how God’s heard his prayer and rescued him from his fears. And then, in v8, he applies it to his hearers. “Taste and see that the LORD is GOOD”. Experience him for yourself!

God’s not a philosophy to follow. Or a strategy to practice. He’s a PERSON to have a RELATIONSHIP with. You can’t follow him theoretically, or vicariously (second-hand) through someone else’s experience. There are no GRAND-children of God, just CHILDREN.

And the WAY to experience him is to TAKE REFUGE in him. Which means, when fear strikes, turning AWAY from those things we tend to take refuge in. From COMFORT, or POWER, or CONTROL, or APPROVAL. Take refuge in GOD ALONE.

Taste and see that he’s GOOD. That he’s better than the pale, weak imitations we try to protect ourselves with.

Or to put it another way, v9. FEAR the Lord. The Bible uses LOTS of words to describe how we’re to relate to God – obey, worship, love, follow, praise, honour, serve. But more than 300 times we’re told to FEAR God. There’s a good case to say FEARING God is the PRIMARY attitude to God that RESULTS in, or PRODUCES, all the rest. Fear of God includes RESPECT and AWE and REVERENCE. But it ALSO includes LOVE and OBEDIENCE and LOOKING to him and SEEKING him and FLEEING to him.

And it’s interesting that David mentions it fear of God in THIS Psalm, where he’s facing OTHER fears. His point seems to be, “Choose who, or what, you fear. Choose your fear! Fear people or pain and you’re on your own. OR… fear GOD. And he’ll deliver you from THOSE fears.

V9b is the start of the second “BECAUSE” section. Why fear God? Because those who fear him LACK NOTHING. Or v10. Those who seek him LACK NO GOOD THING.

And that’s ANOTHER fear-idol we worship. One reason we worry about money is because we love COMFORT. And PLEASURE. But God promises that when we seek him, we LACK NO GOOD THING. Jesus says the same thing in Mt 6:31

31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But SEEK FIRST HIS KINGDOM and his righteousness, and ALL THESE THINGS WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU AS WELL.

So don’t fear MISSING OUT! You WON’T, when you fear God. He promises to give you all the things you need when you PUT HIM FIRST.

In v11, we come to our third “CALL” section.

11 Come, my children, LISTEN to me; I will TEACH you the fear of the LORD.

Listen, and you’ll learn what it LOOKS like when someone fears the Lord. How you LIVE IT OUT IN PRACTICE. Because true fear of God CHANGES you.

V13, Your SPEECH changes. You won’t tell lies, or speak EVIL. And, v14, your ACTIONS change. You’ll turn away from evil.

We fear disappointing God, and we fear his judgment. So we OBEY him.

But it’s ALSO about tasting and seeing that he’s GOOD. He’s pure and good. So we want to REFLECT him in our speech and actions. His ways bring joy and contentment.

There’s RELATIONSHIP in fearing God. Fear of God drives us TOWARD him, not AWAY from him. Look at what ELSE this Psalm says about the person who fears God.

V1. We PRAISE him   V4. We SEEK him   V5. We LOOK TO him   V6. We CALL to him

V8. We TASTE him and TAKE REFUGE in him   V10. We SEEK him.

So that’s the third “call” or “command” section. In v15, we start the third “because” section. Why taste and see that God is good? Why fear him? Why obey him? Because, v15, his eye is on the righteous. He SEES. And, v16, he sees the WICKED, TOO. He’ll JUDGE them. And, v18, he’s CLOSE to the broken-hearted. And he saves those who are crushed in spirit. Why flee to him? Because you won’t have to travel FAR!

He’s CLOSE to the broken-heated. That’s a wonderful promise because it’s the OPPOSITE of how we feel when we’re crushed. We feel like God’s DISTANT. Nowhere to be found. But that’s when he’s CLOSEST.

He’s close  A. because that’s his NATURE – to protect those who NEED it. HE’s COMPASSIONATE.  And B. Because the broken-hearted are humble enough to TURN to him. They’re DESPERATE. At the end of their rope. The bottom of their hole. They’ve tried everything ELSE, and God’s the only One LEFT.

It’s at THAT point, God is close. And POWERFUL. And COMPASSIONATE. And JUST. And GOOD. And GENEROUS.

So, if you’re facing a fear. Listen to David. Turn AWAY from your fear-idols. Let go of the need to CONTROL, or be COMFORTABLE, or be LIKED, or POWERFUL. Turn away from the empty, narrow, hollow, shameful FEARFUL life you’ve carved out for yourself.

And turn to, seek, and fear God. Those who look to HIM are radiant, and their faces are never covered with shame. Taste and see that he is good. And begin to live the GOOD LIFE he’s got planned for you.

Mark 4:35-41: Why are you so afraid?

There’s a growing crisis in workplaces and universities. Many competent and successful people suffer from IMPOSTER SYNDROME. It’s a secret fear that their lack of ability will be exposed. That they’re not as capable as everyone believes, that their success was due to luck, and they don’t deserve the achievements they’ve received.

IMPOSTER SYNDROME stops people from stretching themselves and trying new things. It stops them going for promotions, or risking anything on a big project. Imposter syndrome stunts teamwork and collaboration, because people are too scared to ask for help, and they don’t want anyone to suspect they’re not competent to do their job.

People can HIDE imposter syndrome in all sorts of ways. They CRITICISE and put other people down to make themselves feel bigger. Or they’re WORKAHOLICS, because they make the amount of work they do a source of validation, and a cover-up for their insecurities.

Others are PERFECTIONISTS. They set incredibly high standards for their work because if they achieve less than perfection, they take it personally and doubt themselves. They micromanage others, or they won’t delegate to others, or they won’t start something for fear of failing.

FEAR governs the behaviour of many people at work.

And, of course, it’s not just at work. Anxiety is the new epidemic. An Australian government health report says that 1 in 7 Australians had experienced anxiety disorders in the previous 12 months!

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Compared to Australia in our parent’s generation, there’s fear about job security, housing prices, the cost of living, economic uncertainty, climate change, environmental destruction, and terrorism.

Max Lucado, in his book Fearless, writes, “We fear being sued, finishing last, going broke; we fear the mole on the back, the new kid on the block, the sound of the clock as it ticks us closer to the grave. We implement sophisticated investment plans, create elaborate security systems, and stronger military; yet we depend on mood-altering drugs more than any generation in history. Moreover, “the average child today … has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s.”

In the Bible passage we just read, Jesus asks his disciples a great question, “Why are you so afraid?” Yes, there are SCARY THINGS IN THE WORLD. But Jesus is WITH them. And he’s got the POWER and the WISDOM and the LOVE to deal with them ALL.

And while much has changed in our world since Jesus’ time, in other ways not much has really changed. There are the same fears, the same dangers, the same things we have no control over. And so it’s a great question for us, as well.

Perhaps you’ve got phobias you can’t conquer. Heights, or enclosed spaces, or flying, or public speaking, or spiders. Or maybe it’s a fear of not being in control. Or of being exposed – being seen for what you really are. Or a fear of not being accepted, or of being ridiculed. Or maybe there’s a fear of what might happen TOMORROW. That’s anxiety, or worry. We’ve ALL got fears. In different combinations, and different amounts. But we ALL FEAR.

But here’s the problem. Our fears impact the choices we make. They LIMIT life. We MISS OUT on things because of fear. We SETTLE for SECOND BEST. We miss out on new experiences. We miss out on the character development that comes from being taken out of our comfort zones. And we miss out on opportunities to help other people.

Jesus cares that we’re scared. And he wants us NOT to fear. In fact, it’s his MOST COMMON COMMAND. Someone’s counted 125 commands of Jesus recorded in the gospels. TWENTY-ONE urge us to not FEAR, or to have COURAGE. The SECOND most common command appears only EIGHT times. Less than HALF as many. If we simply go on the numbers, it’s important to Jesus that we DON’T FEAR.

Over the next five weeks we’re going to examine FEAR. And learn what God wants to say to us about our fears. And about how we can learn to FEAR LESS.

Fear the storm

Have a look at Mark 4 from v35. It’s night-time, and Jesus is in the boat with his disciples. He’s spent the day teaching, and he’s exhausted. They’re travelling across the lake. But part way across, v37, a furious storm blows in. And the wind and the waves are so big, the boat’s in danger of being swamped. And everyone’s BUSY, madly trying to keep themselves alive. Tying down sails, and wrestling with the tiller, and bailing water. Plenty of reason to fear. But Jesus is ASLEEP. At some point, in their busyness, they NOTICE Jesus sleeping. And it BOTHERS them. V38, they wake him up and accuse him, “Don’t you CARE if we drown?”

Notice the focus of their question. His CONCERN. They mistake his INACTIVITY for DISINTEREST. They don’t question his POWER. (They know he CAN do something). And they don’t question his KNOWLEDGE. (He KNOWS they’re in trouble). They question his CHARACTER. His CARE for them.

What does fear do?

And that’s what FEAR does. Fear corrodes our confidence in God’s goodness. We doubt his INTEREST in us. We doubt his LOVE. The thing we fear casts a huge shadow that blocks out all the light. It stands in the way of us seeing God. Fear makes THE THING WE FEAR into an IDOL.

And, secondly, fear SHORTENS OUR MEMORY. We forget God’s goodness and answered prayer and how far we’ve COME. All we can see is the present crisis. That’s FEAR.

Look at how it worked for the disciples. Chapter 4 describes Jesus teaching. But before that, they’ve seen Jesus heal many and cast out many demons. The crowd SO great, 3:9 tells us he needed to hop into a small boat to keep the crowd from pushing him into the lake. Perhaps even THE SAME BOAT THEY WERE IN AT THE MOMENT!

They’d witnessed all that, but in the heat of the moment, fear caused them to FORGET it.

They’d mistaken Jesus’ lack of ACTION as a lack of power, or knowledge or concern. And we often do the same thing. We’re in a difficult situation. And fear is hovering. We’ve prayed and prayed. And nothing happens. And fear and doubt grow. And we begin to question what God’s doing. Or NOT doing.

But God’s answer might be, “Not YET. Keep praying. Learn to TRUST me. Learn to not be fearful. THEN I’ll calm the storm.” His answer might be, “You want the storm to STOP. But I’ve got a DIFFERENT plan. My will is that storm CONTINUES. The storm is MY INSTRUMENT. I’m USING it to work on YOU.”

We shouldn’t be surprised that the Christian life has STORMS in it. Jesus PROMISED it. Shortly before his death, he said to the disciples (Jn 16:33), “In this world you WILL have trouble.”

But then he adds, “But TAKE HEART!” (Have CONFIDENCE, or COURAGE). I have overcome the world! Fear makes the storm bigger than Jesus. But he commands us, “Have COURAGE!” And then he comforts us, and CORRECTS our fears, “I’m not just bigger than the storm. I’m bigger than the WORLD. I’ve BEATEN it.”

So, v39, Jesus stands up, rebukes the wind, and says to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” And they OBEY him. Just as SICKNESS does, and SATANIC FORCES. Because he’s overcome the world. They go completely quiet. In complete submission. Recognising his power over them, even as the disciples doubt it. And then, v40, he turns to the disciples, “Why are you so AFRAID?” You should know better! You should remember.

Fear is the opposite of faith

And then he adds, “Do you still have NO FAITH?” He connects fear with a lack of faith. FEAR IS THE OPPOSITE OF FAITH.

Let’s be CLEAR. There are times when a certain TYPE of fear is WISE. It’s appropriate and right to have a healthy CAUTION and WARINESS in certain situations. It will stop you putting yourself in danger. Fear of lung cancer will stop you smoking. It’s right to be careful as you approach a clifftop lookout. You won’t get too close to the edge. And it’s right to be cautious when you drive on a slippery road. You won’t drive too fast for the conditions. And a healthy respect for electricity makes you call an electrician rather than re-wire your house yourself.

THAT sort of caution isn’t a lack of faith. It’s using the wisdom God’s GIVEN us. And it OPENS UP the world to opportunities. You’re STILL ALIVE to serve God and enjoy his world!

But FEAR is MORE than that. Fear PARALYSES. Fear LIMITS your world. Fear makes you MISS OUT. It stops you climbing the hill, so you miss out on seeing the incredible view. Fear stops you driving on a wet road at all, so you cancel dinner with friends. Fear stops you catching the plane, so you miss the incredible experiences of the overseas mission trip. It robs you of JOY.

And it robs GOD of your service in his kingdom. Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy. And he says, Ch 1 v6, FAN INTO FLAME the gift of God. Work at it. Don’t settle for what you naturally want to do. Step out of your comfort zone. Train, develop, work at your gifts.

And then he says, v7, For God did NOT give us a spirit of TIMIDITY, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

God’s Spirit causes and influences us to POWER, and LOVE and SELF-DISCIPLINE. The characteristics you need to REPLACE fear. To use in scary situations.

And those characteristics have a PURPOSE. V8 continues. “Don’t be ashamed to TESTIFY about our Lord. And join with me in SUFFERING.” Fear RUNS from conflict and suffering. But POWER stands firm in the face of opposition. And LOVE for your enemies MOTIVATES you to SPEAK when it’s easier to be SILENT. And SELF-DISCIPLINE enables your WILL to win the battle over what your FLESH wants.

And, ultimately, it’s FAITH that’s the beginning of all that. A trust that God’s way is RIGHT. And that his promises are sure. And his plans succeed. And that Jesus HAS overcome the world. THAT FAITH fuels the power and love and self-discipline that SPEAKS the GOSPEL and ENDURES PERSECUTION. And the gospel goes out. And God’s kingdom GROWS.

But if TIMIDITY and FEAR rule you, then none of that happens. Max Lucado writes, “When fear shapes our lives, SAFETY becomes our god. When safety becomes our god, we worship the RISK-FREE LIFE. Can the safety-lover do anything great? Can the risk-averse accomplish noble deeds? For God? For others? No. The fear-filled cannot love deeply; love is risky. They cannot give to the poor. Benevolence has no guarantee of return. The fear-filled cannot dream wildly. What if their dreams sputter and fall from the sky? The worship of safety emasculates greatness. No wonder Jesus wages such a war against fear.”

You see, fear makes the DANGER greater than God. It lines the two up, and gives the danger more credit and more power than it deserves. Fear looks at the DANGER through a microscope – makes it BIG. And God through a TELESCOPE – and makes him small.

And when God is SMALL, we don’t TURN to him in our fear. To turn away from him. And turn to OURSELVES. Instead, we respond with anger, or silence, or binges of eating or drinking, vice-like control, or mind-numbing TV or computer games. Fear allows anxiety to dominate and define us.

But FAITH recognises that God is GREATER than the danger. Jesus says, “Take COURAGE. I have overcome the world.” Faith expresses itself in COURAGE. Courage is the strength to act DESPITE the fear. Courage says, “I trust that God will look after me on the wet road, or the plane flight.” Courage says, “Even if something happens, God will be WITH me through it. And strengthen and lead me.”

And courage says, “Even if the WORST happens, and I DIE. He’s with me in THAT, TOO”. Courage allows you to speak Romans 5:9-11 to yourself.

9 Since you have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall you be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when you were God’s enemy, you were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall you be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but you also REJOICE in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom you have now received reconciliation.

Who is this?

So how can we DO that? How can we move from FEAR to FAITH? How can we fan into flame the spirit of courage? Look at how the story finishes. V41.

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “WHO IS THIS? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Their attention turns from the calm sea and still air. And they look at Jesus. And their fear of DROWNING changes to fear of the one who’s SAVED them from drowning. The One who is GREATER than the storm and the sea. Greater than Satan. Greater than their problems. Greater than their doubts.

Who is this? That’s the question to ask. And that’s where the solution to your fear begins.

We need to see MORE OF JESUS. More of his LOVE and his POWER. More of his WISDOM. More of his understanding of our temptations. More of his high priestly representing of our weaknesses before God. We need to see more of God’s purposes to bring all things in heaven and earth together underneath KING JESUS.

We need to see THIS Jesus. The Jesus of Revelation 19!

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.   12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

That’s the One to lead you when you fear the storm.