04 Feb Fresh Courage
February 2, 2020
Calvary Presbyterian Church
Fresh courage. That is our topic this morning, a timely topic, I would suggest since I wonder if anyone would dispute that in our lives, in the church and in our world, we are in desperate need of fresh courage today.
Joshua is going to be our traveling companion this morning, so let’s start with a little context for what we’re reading. Moses, who had confronted Pharaoh, led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, received the Ten Commandments from God on the mountain, and directed the people during their forty years of wilderness wandering, is dead. In fact, the entire generation that came out of Egypt has died, except for Joshua and Caleb.
Moses had been the Hebrews’ fearless leader for four decades. He had certainly endured his share of opposition, but he was still the leader. The one God spoke to, the one who settled disputes between the people, the one to whom God spoke and through whom God provided food and water, life and liberty. Moses was “the man.” And now, he is dead.
What happens when a renowned leader dies? Who takes his or her place? Who fills the shoes of the one who has held everyone’s regard, the one to whom people look for direction and answers?
In our story, God taps Joshua on the shoulder and says to him, “Now you’re the man. The time has come for you to lead these people.” God goes on to tell Joshua that God will be with him just as God was with Moses. God promises Joshua the same promises that had been given to Moses. The Lord tells Joshua that God will give him whatever land his foot touches and that no one will be able to stand against him. God reassures Joshua that he will never fail or abandon him.
How do you think Joshua felt about this conversation with God and about the new job he’s been given? On the one hand, those are some pretty impressive promises God is making to Joshua. On the other, I can’t help but wonder if Joshua isn’t having some serious misgivings right about now. He had seen Moses’ struggles with the Hebrews up close and personal; how often they complained to Moses, chafed at his leadership and at times, were outright rebellious against him. Joshua might have wondered if he was up to the task. Moses was a strong leader; would Joshua be as effective? Leadership transition is hard under the best of circumstances. Forty years of wandering in the desert could hardly be described as the ideal situation in which to replace a leader who had been God’s chosen instrument of liberation.
From the text it seems that Joshua must have been having some doubts because of the way God directs the conversation. After giving Joshua his new job description, God immediately tells him, “be strong and courageous.” A second later God reiterates the point by saying, “Be strong and very courageous,” and before God is finished, God says a third time, “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid or dismayed.” Even for those of us who can sometimes be a little slow to get God’s message, this one comes through loud and clear. As an interesting side note, the injunction to “be strong and courageous” appears a fourth time in chapter one, in the last verse, only there, it is the people who are encouraging Joshua to have courage and be strong.
For Joshua to do what the Lord is asking him to do, he’s going to need courage. God has made Joshua some huge promises. God is going to hold up God’s end of the deal. But there are some steps that Joshua will have to take, as well, and those steps will not always be easy or popular. To succeed, Joshua is going to need some fresh courage.
What is this courage that is talked about so much in Joshua 1? Here’s a definition I find helpful: Courage is “the ability to do something that frightens you.” It is also “strength in the face of danger, pain or grief.” Sometimes the object of our fear is known to us, but often it is not. In Joshua’s case, he was being called to move into an unknown future and to lead an entire people with him. He had no idea what awaited him on the other side of the Jordan River. All he knew was that this was the land God was leading him to enter and that as he headed into this unknown future, God had promised to be with him.
Some of us are petrified about the future. We are so worried about what might happen that our fear immobilizes us, keeping us stuck where we are. We’re in the same place we were when last year began, and the year before that, and the year before that. We’re stuck in dead-end jobs, in self-defeating habits, in relationships that do not honor or respect us, in magical thinking or in victim stories. Without courage, we remain where we are even when we know it’s not a good place for us to be. Our fear has control of us and is running our lives.
We need to hear the word of the Lord, for the promises God made to Joshua are ours, as well. When you hear God calling you forward, you can rely on the truth that there are victories ahead that God has already prepared for you. God promises to be with you. God does not say that there will never be setbacks or difficulties—Joshua and the Israelites will face plenty of those as they move into Canaan. But God works through and blesses their courage.
Notice that the courage God exhorts in us to have is grounded in more than just our own good ideas or agendas. “Be careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or the left….This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night….then your way [shall be] prosperous and you shall be successful.”
Fresh courage must be grounded in the fresh Word that we talked about last week. It is possible to act courageously but foolishly. So, on the one hand, we are not to let fear stymie courageous action but on the other, our courageous action must be in tandem with wisdom and godly discernment.
As I mentioned at the start, I believe courage is sorely needed in every area of our personal and common lives. We need fresh courage in our homes. We need moms and dads who have the courage to raise their children according to the Word of the Lord, to direct their children to develop godly character and to walk along godly paths. It isn’t easy because often, we must swim against the cultural current to train our children in the ways of Christ. It takes courage.
We need fresh courage in matters of community. We need the courage to step out of our comfort zones to influence our communities for good. We can be positive influences by being engaged, by listening—especially by listening respectfully to those who disagree with us—by rolling up our sleeves and working in areas we’re passionate about, by educating others and doing so with love and grace. We can pray and look for opportunities to bring justice and mercy to the places and people who are most in need of it. That takes courage.
We need fresh courage in the church and in particular, in this church. Fear keeps churches, just like people, stuck—stuck in a rut, stuck in the past, stuck in unhealthy ways of relating or working together. It takes fresh courage to actively listen for the voice of God, to look for the places outside our comfort zones where God is inviting us to take bold action. It takes fresh courage to be a place of hope and healing for people who are hurting, for people on the margins, for people who look, act, and think differently than you do. It takes courage to make the kingdom of God and this community of saints a priority in your life, when there are nearly countless demands on your time and energy.
It takes fresh courage to believe God for big things. I believe God has gathered us here because God wants us here, not for our own comfort or purposes but because God has work for us to do, work that God wants to use to make an impact on people both inside the building and outside it. What are you believing God for? What might happen if together we had the courage to trust God for a pivotal year in the life of our church? Following Jesus takes courage, and being the church God wants us to be takes courage from all of us—courage to discern and to move forward into the unknown future of promise God has prepared for us. We’ll talk about some of the specifics of this in the congregational meeting later this morning.
As we consider how God might be inviting us to have fresh courage, listen to the words of Psalm 91 and the promise of God to you:
You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
2 will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
4 he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
6 or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
10 no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
14 Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
15 When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
16 With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.