New - Week Three: "New Challenges"

Today we are continuing the sermon series that we started two Sundays ago--a sermon series that will take us all the way through the month of January.

The title of this series is "New" and it is centered on how we can begin the new year with a new focus, a new outlook and a new way of seeing ourselves and others.

Transformation is in our DNA--we were created to grow and to change, but the best kind of change leaves a mark.  And this is where our imagery of tattoos comes in...

There is a moment during the tattoo process when fear can get a hold of you.  You might even say to yourself, "What the heck have I just done, and now there's no going back?" 

Interview people with tattoos...  ask them about the fear, and how they overcame it. 

So this is a real thing, but once you're done and you stand up to admire yourself in the mirror... you realize something.  You made it.  You endured the pain.  You had a vision and now that vision is imprinted upon you.  

And you didn't die.  ALTHOUGH you might die if you get a tattoo and your spouse or significant other wasn't involved until it was all over.  

All of this got me thinking... 

Fear is powerful.  

Fear can paralyze you and keep you from moving toward transformation.  It can keep you from experiencing the kind of change that can mark you for good, and inch you closer to being the person God dreams for you to be.  

Fear can keep you small.  It can keep you from living the expansive, full life that Jesus came to give.  It can keep you hidden when what you have to offer, who you are, your thoughts, ideas, gifts... need to be shared.  

But as a follower of Jesus, fear has no place in your life.  In fact, the Apostle Paul who wrote like half of the New Testament once wrote that there is "no fear in love," and that the "perfect love" of Jesus casts out all fear.  

And yet despite all that we know about fear, and all that we have been told, come to believe, or at least say that we believe about Jesus... 

So many of us are still so afraid, aren't we?  

Today we are going to focus on one very important idea that I want to make sure you hold on to for the entire sermon... 

We are made new when we learn to let go of our fear. 

Our conversation partner today comes to us from the prophet Isaiah chapter 49 verses 1-7.  Recap the background

Listen to me, you islands;    hear this, you distant nations:Before I was born the Lord called me;    from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;he made me into a polished arrow    and concealed me in his quiver.3 He said to me, “You are my servant,    Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”4 But I said, “I have labored in vain;    I have spent my strength for nothing at all.Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,    and my reward is with my God.”
5 And now the Lord says—    he who formed me in the womb to be his servantto bring Jacob back to him    and gather Israel to himself,for I am[a] honored in the eyes of the Lord    and my God has been my strength—6 he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant    to restore the tribes of Jacob    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
7 This is what the Lord says—    the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation,    to the servant of rulers:“Kings will see you and stand up,    princes will see and bow down,because of the Lord, who is faithful,    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
The speaker who is speaking here is the One who has been chosen to stand as the True Israelite, the one who will demonstrate to the nations what it means that God chose them, and for what.  

The speaker is often referred to as the Suffering Servant in other passages, so it was not a huge leap for early Christian writers to see the Christ prefigured in this prophetic work.  

The Suffering Servant relates how God has revealed to him that what he is called to do is fairly unbelievable and amazing.  In fact, at one point God says to the One, "it is too small a thing" that you be focused solely on this one little group of people... this is so much bigger than that.

And then... and then... God says to the Suffering Servant, "The One who calls you to courage is the One who holds your future----and Oh, my... what a future it is! 

What is so amazing about this passage is the timeless nature of what it contains.  You see, there are always troubles in the world in every place and time.  And this passage acknowledges that indirectly.  There are islands, nations, kings and princes who are waging war, oppressing the poor, striving for supremacy... and Israel got caught up in that.  

But what the speaker here in this prophecy wants known is simply this:  God has all of it under control, you don't ever have to be afraid.  

No matter what is going on in the world around us... or in our own hearts... we don't have to be afraid.  God has got this.  

At this point you might be pumped up, excited, ready to charge hell with a squirt gun, but more than likely you are thinking to yourself... "Yeah, okay."  It sounds nice when you're sitting here in the safety of the church sanctuary but what happens when you have to take the show on the road, so to speak?

So how do we do this?  How do we let go of our fear?  How do we step courageously into  transformation and the change we so desperately need in order for us to become the people God dreams for us to be?

I think it comes down to asking three very important questions.... 

First, ask "Who is making me feel afraid?"  

Far too many of us worry incessantly about what other people are thinking of us, and so our fears become almost completely other-focused.  

Brene Brown says that your path away from paralyzing fear begins when you stop focusing on what you think people are saying, imagining, thinking about you.  When you stop worrying about that and begin instead to focus on the feelings that you have in common with them... that's when things can change.  

Story of how someone tried to bully me... I  got it wrong at first, but it changed. 

Second, you need to ask "Why am I feeling afraid?"

What are the stories you tell about yourself?  Is it because you feel like you fold under pressure?  Lack the ability to make a good decision?  

The stories you tell are vitally important.  It's the difference between operating from a sense of scarcity or abundance.  

When you live in scarcity you can easily grow selfish, overly cautious, immobilized, etc.  

When your stories are stories of "lack" there will never be enough in your life.  

Third, ask "What is keeping me from letting fear go?"  

So many of us get into ruts in our life.  We develop habits that keep us moving in the same direction even when we believe deep down inside that there needs to be a change. 

Hebrew word for repentance--teshuva.

There is comfort in the familiar, isn't there?  But what we might need is some discomfort in our life to break free from fear and embrace new challenges that can change us forever. 

The most powerful words in all of the Bible:  Fear Not

We are made new when we learn to let go of our fear.  


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