Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
There’s certainly a lot of courageous people in the Bible. After Moses’ death, God commands Joshua to take the Israelites into the promised land – not knowing what to expect. God reminds Joshua that with every step, He will be just ahead of Joshua paving the way.
The dictionary definition of courage is: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. But that doesn’t really do “courage” justice. There’s plenty of people who build up their courage to do really stupid things. And without consulting God on our next steps how can someone really “withstand” fear and difficulty?
Courage is one of those mysterious uniquely human gifts. A gift that is frequently used wrongly when the Holy Spirit isn’t involved. I find when I’m telling myself to be brave it’s a signal that I need to start praying.
Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord. Psalm 31:24
Awhile back I challenged a group of friends and acquaintances to embark on what I called The Boldness Challenge. I asked each of them to make a list of five things they’d like to accomplish. And then, they were to start working on each of them, reporting in occasionally. For some it was digging deeper into their faith. For another it was completing the John Muir Trail. From starting a business to learning to fly, the lists were incredibly diverse! One list included forgiving certain people in their lives. Each person had been putting off tackling a dream or a goal. All of them would need God’s courage to move forward.
I’m so thankful that when I know I’m going to encounter a difficult situation or embark on a new and scary adventure I can count on God for the mysterious courage. The Holy Spirit wells up inside me and gives me the strength to take that step forward.
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17
“We are pretty much the only hope that God has for reaching people who need him.”
On a recent visit with my daughter back in St. Louis, Missouri, she invited me to her friend’s 50th birthday gathering. It was to be just a small group as her larger party had already taken place. My daughter, who is 23, is blessed to have a number of women in her life who are not only mature in their marriages and in life in general, but in their faith. As I sat listening to them, I said a silent prayer of thanks to God. He, once again, put me right where I needed to be.
I listened as these Christian women of varied ages shared memories of shared events and the joy of being disciples to younger women. You see, their church encourages all ages to seek being discipled by more experienced Christians – something I haven’t experienced in the 20 years I’ve been an active Christian.
The birthday girl’s good friend suddenly announced we were to all take turns expressing what we loved about the newly christened 50 year old. She turned to me and said, “You don’t know Renee well so you don’t need to say anything.” I disagreed. I definitely had much to love about this woman that I had just met.
As each woman spoke, I felt the love flow throughout the group. It was sweet and brave and authentic. And at my turn I’m sure they all wondered what I would have to say.
“As a mother I miss my daughter terribly. She’s so far away. She has no family for hundreds of miles. And now with a baby on the way it grieves me that she is alone out here. But I realize she isn’t. I am so thankful she has Renee as her friend and godly counsel. A mother couldn’t ask for anything better besides being here herself,” I said.
You see my daughter’s friend, Renee, has taken her under her beautiful wings. She provides wise counsel about marriage, faith, motherhood and more. I could be jealous when I hear my daughter talk about her relationship with Renee. But my faith progression has brought me instead to a place of thankfulness. My daughter is incredibly blessed to be surrounded by Christian women who are prepared and ready to offer Biblical counsel.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" Luke 4:18
That’s Jesus in the above verse. Jesus our wise counselor setting us free from our prisons. And He trained up His disciples to spread His message of salvation and freedom. Like the old shampoo commercial goes, “and they told two friends and so on and so on.” Which brings us thousands of years later to this little group at a café in Missouri.
Here’s what I noticed about those six women I sat with that night. 1) They didn’t gossip 2) They lifted each other up with genuine compliments 3) They showed love and concern for each other 4) They were confident in expressing their faith and 5) They were eager and willing to take up being disciples.
"Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
These women are living the Great Commission. Teaching and guiding and loving Jesus’ flock. I sat there like a fan-girl marveling at being in the midst of ordinary women who were so extraordinary. Yes, ordinary women. They aren’t pastors or scholars although one is in fact a trained Christian counselor. They are students of Jesus. It gave me hope of what I could achieve with faith and the blessings of God.
I took the opportunity to ask a few of them a Christian counseling question.
“If I find myself in a situation with a fellow Christian who is struggling with an issue, what’s your best advice?” I inquired.
Without hesitation three of the women, including my daughter who herself disciples young women, said: “You need to really get to know the person. There needs to be a sense of trust that you come from a place of love.” And the birthday girl? She emphasized my old favorite, truth plus love. Not being afraid to speak God’s truth into someone from a loving perspective. Remember that Jesus trait of having a warrior spirit? Renee takes it to heart. She knows the end game – saving a soul.
“As you being the process of bringing correction into someone’s life, put yourself in his shoes. If you were the one sitting there, would it be easy or difficult for you to hear what is about to be said? If the person you are correcting acts closed at first it may be that he’s just embarrassed or reacting out of insecurity. Therefore don’t stop the conversation unless you can see that he’s just being combative. You need to be patient and slow in judging their reaction to your correction.”
Rick Renner, Sparkling Gems from the Greek
Isn’t this the reaction we worry about the most when we need to speak truth to our Christian friends or family members? A fear of making someone angry or embarrassed? But here lies the reason why “Wise Counselor” sits at the end of our faith progression. Without love, without a sense of serving God, without courage, without knowledge of the Lord’s will, we will probably fail at being what our friend, child, sibling, co-worker, or sister in Christ truly needs.
So, when Jesus asks us to “follow” He isn’t just offering Himself up to save us from eternal damnation which by itself is a pretty amazing gift. He’s saying “join me in a journey.” He’s saying, “we’ve got work to do together.” And if we stop partway on the journey and decide we are “fine” where we are at, we miss the opportunities He wants to put in front of us to free more captives.
I don’t know about you but I need wise Christian counselors in my life. And if I could be like Renee and be a blessing in other’s lives, I know it’d make Jesus smile. My imperfect progress, as my friend Betsy likes to say, is still progress. I want to know and live out having the mind of Christ. I’m not where I was when I started and I still have a ways to go. Thankfully, I can trust that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are my guides and cheerleaders.
When we started this journey, I invited you to say a prayer of confession I found in Sparkling Gems from the Greek. And true to God’s ways He put another in front of me to close out this series. Please join me in this prayer and confession. I pray that you seek love, humbleness, courage, and wisdom on your journey.
“Lord, I ask you to help be kind and patient when it is essential for me to bring correction. Help me to not be offended if the person I’m trying to help doesn’t respond at first the way I wished he would have. Help me put myself in that person’s shoes and to sympathize with how he might feel. I ask You to give me wisdom to know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. I also ask that You give the other person the grace to hear what I am telling him so he might see that I have his best interest at heart and that I am only trying to help him. I pray this in Jesus’ name!”
“I confess that I have the mind of Jesus Christ! When it is needful to me to speak correction to someone else I do it with love, kindness and patience. I refrain from allowing anger to rise up inside me. I am careful about the words that come out of my mouth, and I refuse to participate in vain arguing. I remain in control of myself as the Holy Spirit works mightily inside me. My words bring life to all who hear and receive them! I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!”
When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” Matthew 3:21
During my senior year of high school, I decided to try and live out my dream of becoming an astronaut. I met with an Air Force recruiter and was excited to take off on this new adventure. And then I told my parents. It was my father that said to me, “You are a lot like your mom and your mom couldn’t handle the military. She dropped out after about a week. You two don’t like to be told what to do. So, it’d be best to drop this idea.”
From the outside I exuded confidence. But on the inside, I was terrified about what people thought about me. I always obeyed my parents out of fear of the repercussions. And so, I gave up my dream. I assumed everything my father said was correct.
Imagine if Jesus had so little courage.
His own family thought him a little wacky. I mean if you announced to your family that you were the Messiah…. But unlike me, He knew where His identity resided – in God.
So often when we think about courage and courageous people we think of military and political warriors. And while we can be eternally grateful for people that go off to war to fight for our freedoms and people like Martin Luther King who make big waves in Washington DC, if we stop there we might be inclined to not step up to the plate when it’s our turn.
Jesus wasn’t a military warrior. He didn’t fight to change laws. He didn’t work hard to get elected to lead a nation. But what He did do, from the first day He declared Himself the Messiah, was choose to lay aside any and all standing with man to serve God. He knew from that day it would be soon to die on the cross.
“His was the courage of the mind, the heroism of the heart. It was a sober and reasoned thing. He deliberately counted the cost and paid it.”
Charles Jefferson, The Character of Jesus
In other words, He knew without a doubt who He served and who had His back. Every single decision He made, the words He spoke were for the glory of God. He knew people would hate him. He knew people would misunderstand Him. And He knew He still needed to speak.
In my BSGs study on Revelation we recently looked at chapter 11 in which two witnesses are assigned by God to give some final admonishment to the people. A final plea to turn to God. Throughout their 3 years on earth the world attempts to destroy these witnesses through any means possible – they are true “warriors for God.” And until God said it was time to go, they were protected. We were asked that week who are powerful witnesses in our present generation? Who would you name?
Although I don’t know him personally, I do believe one such powerful witness is of the famed Duck Dynasty clan, Phil Robertson. This rough looking, old man has been much maligned by our media and culture. But to hear his salvation story can only show God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness.
You see, Mr. Robertson was a child of the 60s. When he went off to college in 1964, he had a wife and child at home. The message proliferated at college was of the “sex, drugs and rock n roll” variety. No rules, no obligations. He took to that message like a duck to water and was frequently drunk, doing drugs, and cheating on his wife. When he graduated and got a job this lifestyle continued. He also felt his family was holding him down. And so, they left him one day. For two weeks he partied until the cows came home. Then he realized he was miserable. He had not only lost his job as a teacher but also a bar he owned.
He begged his wife to take him back. She would, if he cleaned up his act. God softened his heart and Mr. Robertson sought out a Christian mentor. With the strength of God behind him he pulled himself from his old life and began a one reborn.
“And so, I devoted my waking hours to studying the Bible. I pored over the onion-skin pages and began to mark them up. I consumed the Word of God as if it were food and drank deeply from its waters of wisdom.”
Phil Robertson, The Theft of America’s Soul
When I read this, what came to mind were the Navy SEALs that train not far from my house. To be a SEAL, an elite member of the US military, you need to eat, sleep and devote every waking minute to training. Their goal is to be the best soldier possible. But what about us average Christians? What is our goal? Will we be like Phil Robertson and wholly commit ourselves to the cause of God?
Fast forward in Mr. Robinson’s life and we land in the middle of the show Duck Dynasty. It was a reality show following around his family – a family of backwoods hunters and fishermen from Louisiana who own a duck call business. During this show the family became warriors for God. While their producers would almost demand they do or say things outside the morals of their faith, they would stand strong. They were willing to lose all the money offered them. They prayed and spoke of their faith throughout the show. And they garnered millions of fans. And enemies. They were called backward, stupid, far-right crazy, mostly because of their commitment to their faith.
“It’s been 43 years since my encounter with God and I can tell you, I’m not running from anyone or anything; I’m not enslaved to the ‘isms’ of the world.”
Phil Robertson, The Theft of America’s Soul
We can make excuses for why we won’t stand our ground and stand up for God – I might lose my job, I might lose my friends/family, I might be called any manner of names. Doesn’t that all come from a fear of man rather than a trust in God? Phil Robertson wasn’t famous and then got a TV show. He was a man making duck calls who became famous for being funny, principled, a family leader, and God-fearing.
Many of us probably aren’t ready to be a full time warrior for God. We must practice the first two steps so they become a natural part of us. When we can naturally say a prayer for those who would hurt us, when we anticipate and readily step forward to fill a need that Jesus places before us, only then are we certainly more prepared for this step.
I follow a Christian pastor on Instagram. He has a series of YouTube talks where he delves into our culture’s most pressing topics. After reading how he lovingly and with wisdom responds to some of the vitriol he receives I realized, I’m not quite ready yet for the bigger battlefield. I need to chew and gnaw some more on God’s Word. God has been testing me along the way with mini quizzes. Small opportunities to stand for Him. My training to be a Warrior for God continues.
Be on your guard; stand firm in the
faith; be courageous; be strong.1 Cor 16:13
Isn’t it just like us humans, when dealing with multiple leaders, to try and take sides? Whether it be a job, a volunteer position, in our families, a group of friends, or at our churches so many of us seek to align ourselves with the best and strongest. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Survivor, you’ll see how drawn we are to this concept. But alliances and divisions lead to others being on the “out” and others being “in.” And so often if our seeking of alliances has anything to do with our church it only serves to erode our faith.
We see behavior that is ungodly. We, ourselves, take to gossip or manipulation. We celebrate the uplifted position of who we follow and revel in the failures of the “other side.” All along its our own relationship with Christ that is suffering.
When Paul wrote this letter, he was working with the up and coming faith leader Apollos. Within the Corinth church people had created a division amongst the two men. Who was the better leader to follow? It doesn’t appear that Apollos had anything to do with the strife taking place. In fact, Apollos seemed to try and head off any favoritism issues by telling Paul he wasn’t ready to return to Corinth.
In Jesus’ world everyone has the opportunity to be “in.” And as Christians, we are to fight against our tendencies to divide and conquer. We are to be always “on our guard” when we see these types of rifts arise around us. It takes courage to stand up to gossipers and the pull of others to align ourselves with the “right people.” It is faith-strengthening whenever we turn our backs on how the world wants us to act and turn toward how Jesus expects us to act.
A church I was at for almost 20 years was ruined by this type of behavior. It was reduced to almost ashes by people gathering up others to “their side.” And it’s sad to say it started within the pastoral and elder level. What we needed were a few courageous and strong faithful Christians to speak the truth and say “enough is enough.” The destruction of many people’s faith was truly one of the most disturbing things I have witnessed in a church.
“And yet, what are some Churches but semi-religious clubs, mere conventions of people gathered together? They have not in them that holy soul which is the essence of unity.”
We can’t take a stand for our faith if we aren’t willing to step outside of our worldly, envious, fearful ways. When we go along and try to play the game of “who’s the best” and then try to align ourselves with them we fall prey to the devil’s divisiveness.
But when we stand firm in our faith and are courageous against those who wish to divide, God stands beside us cheering us on. And our faith is reignited when we walk with closely Him.