Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, once said, "Unless there is an element of risk in our exploits for God, there is no need for faith."
There are two words that catch me up when I read that quote. I like thinking about my walk with God as an exploit. Exploit is a much more interesting word than, say, lifestyle or way of life. A lifestyle is what you live in a subdivision, getting here and there in a minivan. It’s about as interesting as watching grits cook. But an exploit -- well, you need to be wearing a pit helmet and hiking boots to go on an exploit. Exploits involve imagination, engender excitement and require risk.
Which is the other word I like in Taylor’s quote. Risk. I like thinking about how my exploits for God require an element of risk. Like there’s some danger involved. Something more than just showing up for church on Sunday and spending the rest of the week trying to be good. Putting an element of risk in our exploits for God is the cure for common Christianity.
The word risk doesn’t show up in the Bible very much. In fact, in Strong’s Exhaustive concordance, it doesn’t show up at all. But did you ever notice that God hardly ever commands us to do something safe?
Moses: throw down your rod. Rod becomes a snake. What does God tell Moses to do? Pick it up. Now, go tell the most powerful man in the world that I said, "Let my people go."
Joseph: Your fiancée, Mary, is pregnant. I know you’ve been thinking about divorcing her quietly and I can appreciate that, what with the scandal of it all and the impact it will have on your business and everything. But you aren’t going to divorce her. You’re going to marry her. And you’re going to raise the child as your own. You get to be foster father to the Son of God.
The Apostles: I want you fellows to go into all the world and preach the gospel, baptizing them into the name of the Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you and I will be with you always, to the very end of the age. And you’ll need for me to be with you because everywhere you go they are going to persecute you. You’ll be thrown in jail and some of you will even be executed.
Paul: Paul I want you to defend this Jesus who you once persecuted. You will be shipwrecked, stoned, beaten, and jailed but I need you to do this.
Jesus: God said, "Go down there and die on a cross."
To us: Take up your cross daily and follow me. How safe does that sound?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a wonderful thinker, who was killed in a Nazi death camp for his beliefs. He said once that, "When Jesus calls a man he bids him come and die." Folks, there isn’t anything God asks us to do that is safe. Faith always requires risk.
Now just in case you are wondering why I asked you to come down here and sit upfront, What does all of this have to do with the fact that tomorrow you start your first week of School to face all those new faces and that demanding schedule and all that homework, just remember that I am a preacher and it might take a while to get there but eventually we will get to the point.
I want you to think about it; where’s the one place you most need your faith to make it?
Not at home, hopefully not here at church, that pretty much leaves one place. In school.
The next nine months are going to put your faith to a major test. And you thought algebra was going to be tough. It’s nothing compared to the test of faith you are about to experience.
If you don’t infuse your faith with the courage to risk great things for God, you’re going to be one bored and boring Christian for the next nine months. And you’ll likely be an easy target for the enemy. So when we talk about developing a faith that’s willing to take great risks for God, we’re talking about something that is immediately relevant to the beginning of school.
But we all possess one thing that keeps us from taking the risk of faith? Do you know what it is?
Just one word: Fear.
Tonight I want to look at the three main kinds of fear that paralyze Christians and Christian churches, and then we will go off to the park for our cook out.
1. Fear of failure
Numbers 13:26 – 33 And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”
You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. The Israelites stood on the boundary of what God had called the Promised Land. God was going to give them a place to call home. A place where they could build their own houses, cultivate their own crops, raise their families and enjoy a relationship with Him. But fear of failure kept them from crossing that boundary and claiming that promise. "We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes," they said. "We can’t do it. We’ll fail."
Fear of failure can kill individual performance. How many books are never written because would-be authors with something to say are afraid to face rejection?
The most popular religious author of our time Max Lucado was turned down fifteen times before someone agreed to publish is first book. Now he’s so popular President Bush invited him to the White House to consult with and pray with him on spiritual matters. I wonder if those fifteen editors still have jobs.
How many athletes never take the field because they are afraid of getting cut from the team? Did you know that Michael Jordan was cut from his eighth grade basketball team?
How many companies are never started? How many inventions never patented? How many social reforms never initiated? How many souls never won because someone was afraid to risk failure?
In her book, God But I’m Bored, Eileen Guder wrote, "You can live on bland food so as to avoid an ulcer; drink no tea or coffee or other stimulants, in the name of health; go to bed early and stay away from night life; avoid all controversial subjects so as never to give offense; mind your own business and avoid involvement in other people’s problems; spend money only on necessities and save all you can. You can still break your neck in the bathtub, and it will serve you right."
Fear of failure can destroy individual performance.
Christians that are afraid to fail have forgotten something about the character of God; we serve a forgiving God. Failure does not intimidate him.
If Paul is right in Romans 5 when he writes that Christ died on a cross for us when we were sinners how much more will he forgive us now that we are his children, his church, and his bride?
Guys I don’t want you to get to the end of another school year -- or the end of your life -- and look back with regret on the things you didn’t even attempt because you were afraid to fail.
Try out for the team. Go for that part in the play. Aim for all A’s. Run for office.
Invite your friends to church. Take a stand for Christ. Pray in public. Say no when everyone else is saying yes, or yes when everyone else is saying no. Make this school year an exploit for God.
2. Fear of criticism.
Do you remember the story about David and his brothers?
David was incensed that no one was taking up the challenge of Goliath. So he volunteered to go. That’s when his brothers began to criticize him. Why you’re just a boy. You just came to see a fight. Go back and tend the sheep."
Remember Nehemiah when he was rebuilding the wall? The enemies stood around and insulted the work and the workmen. Nehemiah just kept on building.
They laughed a Noah. They complained to Moses. They made fun of Elijah. They threatened Peter and John. They killed Jesus. We are always going to have critics.
Teddy Roosevelt once said, "It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
This school year don’t let people who stand around the outskirts of your life frighten you with their criticisms. You see not only s God forgiving but in Joshua 1:1 - 9 we see that He is also encouraging.
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
God is always with us, not only encouraging us to take a stand but giving us the power to take that stand. You are not alone.
3. Fear of success.
Matthew 25, we read the parable of the talents. Remember that one? There was the five talent man, the two talent man and the one talent man. The first two doubled their investment. The third man hid his. Why?
Well, he says he was afraid. The master who gave him the money called him something else. He called him a wicked and lazy servant. Lazy. I think that man was afraid of success. Afraid of the responsibility it would bring.
Some of you have the ability to run for class president, but you are afraid that it would bring extra criticism. Some of you want to go out for the football, basketball or baseball team but you are afraid of the practices. It’s not that you are afraid that you will fail as much as you are afraid that you will succeed.
Don’t be afraid of success. Don’t be afraid to set high goals and give everything you’ve got to reach them. You serve a forgiving God, you serve an encouraging God, and you serve a demanding God.
God wants you to give your best and most to everything you try. Whatever you do, do it all in the name of the Lord. He wants you to shine like stars in the universe. He wants you to be a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden. He wants your light to shine in the darkness. He wants you to be conformed to the image of his cross-bearing son.
God wants you to be a success.
I wanted to close tonight with a look at a great risk taking character in scripture.
Matthew 14:28. The disciples are going across the lake. It’s late at night. Jesus comes walking by them -- walking on the water. They see him and think he’s a ghost and cry out in fear. He says, "Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid."
Then in VS. 28 Peter does something crazy. He says, "Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
Have you ever wondered what the other apostles thinking? "Peter, you’re nuts! What, did you miss your medication again?" They’re thinking it’s the same old Peter they’ve always known, impetuous, thoughtless, and foolish.
But I believe that Jesus thinking? "That’s my boy."
Lord if it’s you, tell me, and command me to come to you on the water. Lord, command me to get out of the boat. Command me to do something risky, to live my life for you like it’s an adventure.
And what happened next? Peter gets out of the boat, places his feet on the waves and then goes under.
Did that make him a failure? I don’t think so. I think in that moment, if you’d asked Jesus, "Who are you most proud of, Peter, or the other eleven who stayed in the boat?" He’d just smile and say something like, "Well Peter means rock. And he did sink like one didn’t he?
To me the most important part of the story is that Peter is the only one who had the faith to try something bold, something risky. For him, discipleship is an exploit, an adventure. Sometimes, you just gotta get out of the boat.
That’s what I want to encourage you to do this year. I want you to make your faith risky, adventurous, I want you to get out of the boat.