Tag Archives: courage

The Fear that Takes Away Fear

This upcoming Sunday I’ll be preaching out of Hebrews 11:23-28 and the story of Moses. The story of Moses interpreted through the lens of Hebrews is fascinating because in Exodus Moses is characterized by fear (2:14; 4:13) but in Hebrews he is commended for his courage (11:27). I’m probably like young, scared Moses, but his story tells me that there’s hope I might become courageous yet.

Moses overcame his fear when he “regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt” and when he “saw him who is invisible.” But the defining moment of Israel’s salvation, the Passover, is a story of fear. Those who were saved were saved because they feared and those who were destroyed were destroyed because they didn’t. The issue wasn’t the presence or absence of fear but with where that fear was placed.

Pharaoh had good reason to fear God. He witnessed plague after plague and yet Moses could still say to him in the midst of it “I know that you and your officials still do not fear the LORD God” (9:31). Despite having every reason to fear God they failed to do so.

By contrast when the Israelites heard the command to participate in the Passover meal and apply the blood to the doorposts they obeyed. They feared God and obeyed and, in doing so, they removed any reason to be afraid. They knew that this was the final stage of their deliverance from slavery. No longer would they fear the chains of oppression, abuse, and violence. They also knew that by obeying God by celebrating Passover, they did not have to fear the destroying angel.

The fear of the Lord is the recognition of his awesome and terrible power. Jesus tells us in Luke 12 “do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” God has the authority to throw us into hell and we are wise to fear that awesome authority. But when our fear is well placed, and we obey him by trusting his salvation, all fear is removed.

In the very same passage as the one quoted above Jesus goes on to tell us of God’s particular care. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

No doubt with some reference to the Exodus the writer of Hebrews declares “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). Likewise, John tells us “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

Those who fear God have nothing left to fear. We need not fear what man can do – God is sovereign. We need not fear disgrace – the affirmation of Christ is of greater value. We need not fear any human authority – there is a higher one still. We need not fear death – we have a sure reward. We need not fear the judgment – Jesus has taken it for us. Ironically, the fear of the Lord, when combined with obedience and trust, leads to peace, courage, and freedom.

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Noah, and a word to my High School self.

I originally wrote this blog post in November of 2012 on another site. Tomorrow, though, I’ll be preaching (Hebrews 11:7) on this very same passage, so I thought it worthwhile to edit and re-post in this new space.

“By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.” Hebrews 11:7

When I was in High School, the worst part of the day was lunch time. It was the worst part of the day because I didn’t have many friends to sit with in the cafeteria. I did find some people I sort of knew, but I was always the odd one out and rarely participated in their conversations. After they ate, I would either awkwardly hang around or head off alone to my locker.

In fact, all of Middle School and High School was a struggle for me when it came to social events. I always felt a little out of place, a little lonely, and quite a bit different than everyone else around me. My unease came from an obsession to be liked, or at least not disliked, by my peers.

It wasn’t really until my senior year that I finally began to come to grips with my own identity and began to care a little less about how well I fit in, or didn’t.

I would like to say I had trouble having friends because I was courageously standing up for Jesus but I think most of the time it was just because I was socially awkward.

Noah, on the other hand, most certainly faced criticism because of his faith. In Noah’s time, the world was filled with violence and the people were extremely wicked. By contrast Noah was “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” (Gen 6:9)

God warned Noah that he was going to destroy the world with a flood, something people had never seen before, and instructed him to build a giant boat; an ark. Noah responded in obedience, out of “holy fear.”

Noah displayed faith. As it says in Hebrews 1:1, “faith is being sure of what we do not see.” He was warned of something not yet seen (a future flood), was sure that it would come, and responded appropriately. Noah also had confidence that God would reward those who earnestly seek him (1:6), and in this case that meant escape for himself and his family from the judgment of God.

Noah most certainly faced mocking and criticism. He had already set himself apart as a righteous man, now he was building a giant boat in the middle of his back yard. One of the striking phrases of 11:7 is this: “by his faith he condemned the world.” This is an odd (and probably offensive sounding) phrase. Certainly Noah could not condemn in the sense that God condemns, that is, Noah didn’t cause the flood. Instead, he condemned the world in the sense that by his faith “he showed the wisdom of his own course and the folly of theirs” (Barnes Commentary on Heb 11:7).

Now, no one wants to feel condemned, either by God or by others, so there was most certainly a strong reaction against Noah, not just as a “crazy man” but as an enemy of the status quo. People didn’t just think he was nuts, they hated him.

Nevertheless, Noah put his faith in God and withstood the attack of the enemy. He was willing to go against the current (pun intended) and he was rewarded. Meanwhile, his adversaries were destroyed in the flood.

It takes faith to be willing to go against the current. It takes faith to be willing to be left out, or worse, because you trust God’s Word over man’s.

Based on this passage, here was my word to the students in our After School program, but it’s also a message I wouldn’t mind sending back in time to my High School self:

Going against your peers to follow God is probably more difficult at this point in your life than in any other. I get that. But be strong and courageous. God will get you through.

Be willing to stand up for what you know to be right. Be willing to opt-out from what you know is wrong.

At this stage of life, you are forming an identity and you have a choice. Your identity can either be formed by Jesus in obedience to God – which leads to the rewards that only He can give (salvation, eternal life with God after death, life to the abundance now) or you can be “conformed to the patterns of this world”, following the crowd, ultimately to destruction.

It takes faith to choose the former option. You have to trust that God exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Like Noah, it will take sacrifices along the way. But, choosing to follow God, even when it means rejection by the world, leads to a much greater reward.

On Faith: Increasing Boldness

“On Faith” is a series I have been doing at our church’s after school program for Middle and High School students. This week I covered Hebrews 11:29-31.

I began by asking the students, “What is an action that requires boldness?” My favorite answer was this: “Taking on Chuck Norris.” In fact, most of the answers had to do with combat, which is not surprising considering that our after school program has skewed largely to adolescent boys – a fact I contribute to the general awesomeness of the male leaders.

Then I asked, “What is something we do in following Jesus that requires boldness?” The answers were decidedly less violent this time around but still (for teenagers anyway) require a fair amount of courage: Standing up for God when no one else is. Waiting to have sex before marriage. Standing up for someone who is being picked on. Witnessing. Etc.

Interestingly, the stories related in yesterday’s Talk Time had more to do with the answer to the first question than the second – they were stories about battle. But they were also stories about faith, obedience, and courage.

The three stories in Hebrews 11:29-31 all hold together because of their common theme of Israel’s ultimate conquest of the Promised Land. They are also stories of increasing boldness.

The first story is about Israel crossing the Red Sea. The initial response of the Israelites, when the Egyptians approached, was actually fear, not courage, doubt, not faith. God intervened, however, and ultimately turned their fear into faith. Hebrews says that they passed through “by faith.” Still, it’s kind of hard to characterize running away as boldness.

We see boldness more obviously in the story of the fall of Jericho. Here, it’s a smaller group – just Joshua and the armed men. Their actions, walking around the city of Jericho and raising a shout, certainly required faith because, from a human perspective, that’s just no way to take down a city. The boldness here comes from the sheer strangeness of their actions. It comes from doing something conventional wisdom (or peers) say is weird – trusting God.

The third story is the most obvious picture of boldness in faith. It precedes the Jericho story because it’s about one of the citizens of Jericho – Rahab. Rahab demonstrated boldness when she put her life on the line to protect the Israelite spies. She did this because she knew it was actually more perilous for her to oppose the people of God than to risk her life before the officials of the city. Because she spared the lives of the spies, they spared hers and she went down in history as one of the great examples of faith.

There is an interesting observation to be made here about increasing boldness and decreasing numbers. The “least bold” action came from the largest group (the nation of Israel running away from the Egyptians) and the “most bold” action (at least in my estimation) came from a single individual.

Craig Groeschel in Altar Ego (just reviewed) devotes a full one-third of his book to boldness (bold behavior, bold prayers, bold words, bold obedience) and he regularly draws the connection between faith and boldness. He says, for instance, in the chapter on bold words, “You speak boldly about what you believe deeply.” Faith always leads to boldness. Godly boldness (as opposed to human arrogance or recklessness) always comes from deep faith. If you want to be bold, live by faith.