Friday, August 11, 2017

Be Courageous (Joshua 1:1-9) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Two little brothers walked into a dentist's office.  One said: “I want a tooth taken out and I don't want any gas because we're in a hurry.”  The dentist said: “You're quite a brave young man.  Which tooth is it?”  The boy turned to his smaller brother, and said: “Show him your tooth, Tommy.”

A common fear - going to the dentist.   What are you afraid of?   Is there something you are genuinely afraid of?  Psychology tells us that fear is an innate response to physical and emotional danger.  If we didn't feel fear, we couldn't protect ourselves from legitimate threats.  Fear is a survival instinct.  Fear is a gift of our Creator.   Only a fool is never afraid.  So fear plays a positive role in our lives.  There are times we should be afraid and react accordingly.

But sometimes we fear things that aren’t a threat to our lives or welfare; we turn away or flee or hang back for no good reason.  Psychology recommends that confronting our fears is the best way to conquer and get past them.  If it’s public speaking, practice it, if its fear of heights, get on an outside elevator, if its fear of dogs, get a puppy.

Fear and courage is something the ancient philosophers pondered about.  The 5th century Greek philosopher Plato identified wisdom with one’s mind and courage with one’s heart.  The value of courage was revered.  You may not be as large as a lion, but you can possess the courage of a lion.  In The Wizard of Oz one of Dorothy’s companions is a cowardly lion who desperately desires courage.  The wizard pretends to give courage to him, but the irony is that he possessed it all along.  The wizard helped the lion find what was inside him all the time.  I believe God does implant courage in our hearts, that is part of what it means to be made in God’s image, but I also believe we must pray to God for courage in certain situations.  And speaking personally I know God will grant it when you need it.

According to scripture, the antidote to fear is courage.  What is courage?  The ability to act or do something in spite of being afraid.  The ability and willingness to face or confront that which frightens you.  Though frightened, rather than being paralyzed, you find the courage to act. 

Fears can be real or imagined.  Common fears are fear of the unknown, the fear of uncertainty, the fear of violence, the fear of dying and the fear of death.   Yes, life is no place for cowards.   A life well lived requires key virtues: wisdom, kindness, self-control, and courage.

We think of physical courage, like the courage to rescue someone from a burning car or house or to rescue someone who is drowning.  We think of moral courage like the courage to speak up for what is right despite criticism and opposition, to speak the truth when others are silent, to take a stand, when others shy away.  And then there is spiritual courage.  To courage to believe and trust in God, even when things are collapsing around you.  The courage to trust in God's love and mercy, amidst disappointment and loss.  The courage to doubt your doubts and to believe even with unanswered questions.  Yes, courage is an essential quality for life.

In our O.T. Lesson we learn that the great prophet Moses, who by the power of God had led the Israelites out of Egypt, has died.  After wandering around in the wilderness of Sinai for 40 years, the people are poised to enter the promised land.  The Lord decides to call a successor.

God calls Joshua.  Joshua is overcome with fear at taking on such a daunting task.  Who wants to follow in the footsteps of the great Moses?

Seeing the fear in Joshua's heart, the Lord speaks to Joshua: “My servant Moses is dead.  Now proceed to cross the Jordan you and all this people into the land that I am giving to them as I promised to Moses.  As I was with Moses so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous, for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them.  Only be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Did people in Jesus day have to deal with fear in their lives?  Of course.  Jesus knew this and spoke directly to them.  We read many stories where Jesus said to his followers: “Do not be afraid” or “fear not.”  In fact, those words occur in the entire bible 365 times.  God knows that we must learn to face and conquer our fears, if we are going to be able to lead full lives and obey his call upon our lives.

Who comes to mind when you think of courageous people?  I think of the men and women of our military who put themselves in harm's way and police and firefighters and lifeguards who put their lives on the line every day for you and me.

I also think of Rev. Sarah Stephens, a Presbyterian Pastor, who graduated from Princeton seminary 10 years after I did. She has spent the last three decades of ministry on three continents.  God didn’t call her into parish ministry, which can be dangerous enough, but into the arena of human rights advocacy, with an emphasis on combating human trafficking.   She was hired by the International Catholic Migration Commission, and was assigned to Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo.  She learned about the scale of human trafficking in the region.  She worked to create shelters and other social services for survivors of trafficking and to address legal and economic issues affecting them.  She often put herself in harm’s way.

She said:  “We worked with many wonderful Albanian colleagues to reduce human trafficking and reduce stigmatizing those who were trafficked. We were able to educate people and governments that exploitation includes not just women, but men and children.”

There are times when out of obedience and love for Jesus, you must find courage, the courage to speak up for Jesus, for your faith, to let others know you are a follower of Jesus, that you are doing something because you are a Christian and Jesus is the Lord of your life.  The courage to say something rather than being silent, to intervene in someone's life, to be frank and honest with someone.  Saying to a friend, or family member: “I must tell you that I think you are making a major mistake.  I think you are on the wrong path. I know this may upset or offend you.  I have to be honest with you, because I care about you and value our friendship.”

I like what a preacher said to one of his members: A young man had gone bankrupt due to a failed business venture.  He told this preacher he had lost everything.  The preacher replied: “Let me correct you.  You haven't lost everything.  You had something before you had a business.  You had a dream and you had the nerve to try to make it happen.  You haven't lost that.  Nobody ever loses courage.  Courage isn't something you lose because courage is always an option.  Courage is a choice.  And by God's grace, it is always there for you to choose.  My friend, God wants you to choose courag.  Will you choose it?

I believe the story of Joshua inspires us when we face times of fear.  It tells us that God is present with us, that God goes with us, when we are called to take on some project or task or mission or assignment.  God says to us: “Be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  This is God’s promise to you and to me.

Pray for boldness.  Courage is not the absence of fear.  Courage is acting, doing something, despite being afraid out of love: your love God, your love for some person, your love for the truth.  Following Jesus requires courage and courage comes from trusting in Him.

Scripture says: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of courage, of love and of self-discipline.   Amen!

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