Adrian Rogers tells about the man who bragged that he had cut off the tail of a man-eating lion with his pocket knife. Asked why he hadn’t cut off the lion’s head, the man replied: “Someone had already done that.”
Or what about the story of the little boy having trouble sleeping during a storm. You know what this is like, most of us have been there. After his Mother tucked him in bed, and as she was about to turn off the light, he asked with a tremor in his voice, “Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?” The mother smiled and gave him a reassuring hug. “I can’t dear,” she said, “I have to sleep with Daddy.” A long silence was broken at last by a shaken little voice saying, “The big sissy.”
"Do not fear" or “Fear not” is a common phrase found throughout the Bible. In fact it is found over sixty times from Genesis to Revelation! Therefore, I believe it must be important!
Our Scripture reference is from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy was written by Moses 1400 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. It is the fifth of five books penned by Moses, the first five books are known as the Pentateuch. (Penta – five; Teuch – book, or vessel.) It is a wonderful book written over the span of only a month. It is a compilation of speeches from Moses who lived to be 120 years old. At the end of his life, God appointed Joshua as his successor and our specific Scripture this morning are words of encouragement from Moses to the Nation of Israel and words of encouragement from Moses to Joshua.
We read from the 31st chapter of Deuteronomy verses 6-8. Isn’t it interesting that this very verse was selected by our youth group to be their verse of the week this past week. Little did they know it would be the theme for this week’s message…..but God did. We read; “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them (the enemies of Israel), for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel; be strong and of good courage for you must go with this people to the land which the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it. And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.”
So Joshua is leading a new generation of Israelites into the land God promised their forefathers, (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) into the Promised Land, the land known as Canaan. Biblical history tells us of the covenant God made with Abraham, the father of all nations. We read from Genesis 12 these powerful words from God where He says to Abraham, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house, to the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great.” And then in chapter fifteen God said again to Abraham; “Look now toward Heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them. So shall your descendants be.”
Abraham had never heard the voice of God before, he didn’t see God, yet God tells him to go, and he goes. Abraham had no doubt, he had faith. Abraham was not afraid, why? God said; “Do not be afraid Abraham, I Am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” So what would have been the biggest change from the world he knew and left to the world where he was going? The biggest difference would be leaving an area that was the core of civilization to a place that was just emerging. This new place was not the heart of everything. But because he went, it became the heart of everything. Abraham begins a brand new cycle ordained by God. He goes by faith into an unknown land. Joshua goes by faith into an unknown land. And in many ways, we too go in faith throughout our lives.
God spoke to Abraham and Sarah his wife, “Go to a place you do not know.” God told Moses to go to a place he did not know. And in the scripture we read this morning, God speaking through Moses told Joshua to go to a place he did not know.
Where is your place this morning? Their journey began with hesitation and with fear; and God said, “Go, and do not be afraid.” First hesitation, then fear, then hope. There is always hope, no matter what we are facing. “Be of strength and good courage”, those words spoken to Joshua as he was to lead God’s people to the land beyond the Jordan. Strength and courage are the foundation we need to set out…..to continue….and to ultimately complete our journeys.
Not too long ago, only months ago in fact, we were a church looking for a new home. We have shared the many stories of prayer and seeking God’s direction for our future. God led us from San Juan Capistrano, to Mission Viejo, to Laguna Niguel and eventually to Aliso Viejo to, of all places, Temple Beth El. How fitting that our church would worship God through Jesus Christ in a Jewish temple. After all, that’s where Jesus taught and preached, it’s where Peter preached on Pentecost, it’s where the disciples and apostles spent much of their time. I remember the first time I walked into this Sanctuary. I was hesitant and afraid, yet I knew God’s promise, “Be of strength and good courage.” “This is so different,” I thought. “The sanctuary is not the same at all. It’s certainly not what we’re used to, what if no one comes with us to worship?’ Hesitation and fear. “Is this where you want us to worship for the next two years as we grow Lord,” I asked? So I wandered around this sanctuary from one end to the other praying. There was so much work to be done. After all, this was a brand new journey. As I left, I turned around and saw a picture hanging on the outside wall of the sanctuary, right where it is now. Written in Hebrew, translated in English are these words; “The journey began with hesitation…with fear and with hope. No journey’s destination is known. We are asked to become as Sarah and Abraham. Strength and courage are the foundation we need, to set out…..to continue….and to ultimately complete our journeys.”
Be of strength and good courage. No journey’s destination is known. Think of your own life and the decisions you are facing. Do you trust that God is directing you? Or do you feel separated for some reason. Is there a behavior that is holding you back, a sacrifice you must make if you will? God is asking each of us for our all, scripture is full of references throughout the Old and New Testaments.
Are you facing a particular challenge? Has the economy beat you down? Are you struggling with an addiction or a relationship problem? Be of strength and good courage. Nothing is too big to bring to God, nor is anything too small. One of the things I have noticed in my own life is that we grow through adversity. When we endure, when we trust that God will lead us through the unknown, there is always a story of faith on the other side. Once again this past week I had the honor of being with a group of friends from Atria, an assisted living community in San Juan Capistrano. We meet every Wednesday afternoon to share stories of faith. As we went around the table this week, I heard amazing stories of trust, faith and endurance during a time in each of their lives when they were challenged, when they faced a major illness, a major change or a loss in their lives. And I found in each case, there were two common threads. First, each person had such a story, and second, each person relied on their faith in God through Jesus Christ to help them get through it. And do you know what? They got through it, and we will too.
If there is one thing I can do as your Pastor, I can try my best to be an example to you. Really my job, according to Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, is to equip the saints (that would be you) for the work of ministry, for the encouragement of the Body of Christ. But along with that is to be a Christ like example to you and your families. During those times in my life where I have endured hardships and I have, my story may help you. And I know I will face more in the future, and I will ask you for prayer as you have asked me. You see, we’re in this together, I believe that’s why you called me to be your Pastor, and why God called me into ministry. So we can walk side by side, we can laugh together, cry together and lean into God through fervent prayer. We have in the past, and God willing, we will continue to do so in the future. Strength and courage are the foundation we need, to set out……to continue…..and to ultimately complete our journeys.