January 26, 2003
Have you noticed how many things are collapsible these days? High chairs are collapsible. Cell phones are collapsible. Computers are collapsible. Camping equipment is collapsible. Even our economy is collapsible. Today, I want to talk to you about something else that is collapsible because things that are collapsible are pretty unique. When it’s not convenient to use them, we just collapse them and put them away for a more convenient time. Then, when the time arises, we bring them out of the trunk or our closets and set them up and put them there for our use.
There is something that is collapsible that is much more profound than a high chair, cell phone, or even the economy. I’m talking about the collapse of a character quality—the collapse of courage. It’s amazing when you look at life because we make so many decisions based on courage every waking moment. We have the choice to either be courageous and stand up for what we believe or to cower and slither around in the shadows. God tells us, though, that he wants us to be men and women of courage. Courage can be defined as the God given ability to stand.
I’m in a series called “Character Tour.” We’ve been looking at various characters. Today, we will be looking at two characters that really had a bout with courage. Earlier in this series, we discovered that character is an outward reflection of an inward connection. When we look at courage, we see that courage is something that goes from the inside out. The great thing about courage is simply that people like you and me, average run of the mill people, can have superabundant amounts of courage if we go about it the right way.
Speaking of the right way, let’s tour the lives of a couple of guys in the Bible. We are going to take the lens of our camera and really focus on these two individuals because these individuals faced some serious peer pressure. They faced some people who were talking smack about them. They faced some people who wanted to squelch their vision and wanted to dash their dreams.
To understand where I am going and to really get close and personal to these two guys, turn in your Bible to the book of Numbers, Chapter 13. I’ll begin reading in Verse 27.
Before I read in Verse 27, you have got to understand where we are. Anytime you read the Bible, you don’t just take a verse out of context. You have got to realize the context, the historical significance of it. In Numbers 13:27, here is the situation: The children of Israel, God’s chosen people, had been miraculously delivered from Egyptian slavery. God had performed acts and signs and wonders that would just blow our doors off: parting the Red Sea, feeding them from heaven, all of this amazing stuff. The children of Israel were standing on the brink of closing the most amazing and stunning real estate deal in the history of the world—The Promised Land. Right before the title was exchanged, right before they moved in, God did something unique. There was about a million of them there. God called a quick time out and told Moses (I’m not talking about Charlton Heston. I’m talking about the real Moses) to pick twelve leaders. God told him to pick one leader from each of the twelve tribes of Israel and have them do a secret recognizance mission to check out The Promised Land. So that’s what Moses did. Moses, being a stand-up guy, a man of courage, obeyed God and told the twelve leaders from the twelve tribes to go out and do a secret recognizance mission on the land.
They were out for forty days. After forty days, they returned. Don’t you know the children of Israel were so happy? Don’t you know they were so excited? I’m sure the band was playing. They were really fired up. As the spies began to give a report to Moses and the congregation of the Israelites, things started happening. The wheels started coming off of the deal because ten of the twelve spies became what I call “vision vandals.” They became people who just dashed the whole deal.
Let’s pick up their dialogue in Numbers 13:27, because at first they were kind of exemplifying courage, but that is going to change. They gave Moses this account: ten of the twelve spies said, “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey. Here is its fruit.” I’m sure the people were going, “Wow, look at the size of that pomegranate! Look at the cantaloupe! Look at the watermelon! It’s unbelievable! This land is awesome!”
But, between Verse 27 and 28, you can kind of hear them taking their courage and folding it up and putting it away. You can kind of feel it. They could not get off of their “buts.” I don’t say that in a derogatory way. But I will say it again. You better pick this up. They could not get up off of their “buts.” They moved from being courageous—going out in this land and checking it out—to being cowardly. Look at Verse 28. “But the people who live there are powerful,” they said. “And the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw the descendants of Anack there. The Amalekites live in the Negev. The Hittites, the Jebusites, the Amorites, (the termites), the Cannonites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”
“Everything looks cool, but…I like the new business plan, but…that’s sounds good, but…that relationship is great, but…but…but…but….” The transitions—“Moreover, therefore, however,” are vision vandals. They are negative. You deal with it. So do I. It’s part of life. These people were entering the moan zone, weren’t they? They were part of the black tie invitation party, little pity party. “Come on over and pity with me,” they were saying.
Ten of the twelve spies were collapsing their courage. Not all of them, but ten of them. They were just freaking out. They were losing it. They saw the external. They saw it from a humanistic perspective. They had seen God do all this unbelievable stuff. God had promised them the land. He had given it to them. All they had to do was claim it, but they collapsed their courage. There’s a principle here. There’s a quick transition from being courageous to being cowardly. It’s amazing how rapidly, in my own life, I can move from being courageous to being cowardly. And you are the same way. It’s those transitions—that “but,” that “however,” that “therefore,” that “moreover”—that change us from courageous to cowardly.
Let’s jump down in Numbers 13:30, because we are going to have some courage here. Two guys in particular, Joshua and Caleb, two of the twelve spies, stood for what they believed. Check out what our boy Caleb said: “Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land for we can certainly do it.’” Come on, guys. Come on, vision vandals. You know vision vandals, don’t you? Al Average, Steve Status Quo, Mary Maintenance. Same old, same old. “We can’t do that. It’s too difficult. It’s too expensive. Let’s form a team.”
Here is something I have found out in my life, and I know you have found it out in your life as well. Courage is a very lonely commodity. Sometimes courage is a lonely thing. You stand alone as peer pressure circles you like a bunch of piranhas. You stand alone at the office. Maybe you tell your peer, “Well, as we go into this meeting, I want you to stand with me because you believe like I do.” Then you stand in the meeting and you look around and the people who said they were going to be with you are not with you. They are not watching your back. They are going along with the crowd. You’ve got peer pressure saying, “What’s wrong with you, man? You’re a joke. You’re not going to play with us? You’re not going to do our deal?” Isn’t it amazing how that happens? So, being courageous is being lonely. We have got to stand, but in reality we are not alone. We have God right there with us, and I’ll talk to you some more about that. But I want you to just put that in your frontal lobe. Jot that down. Courage is a very lonely commodity.
Let’s skip down to Verses 31-32. The vision vandals are still talking. “The men who had gone up with him (him being Joshua. I’m talking about the vision vandals) said, ‘We can’t attack these people. These people are stronger than we are and they spread a bad report about the land they had explored. The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size.’” It’s so bad. It’s so negative.
Here’s another lesson. Negativity is a highly infectious disease. I am amazed at how rapidly I can become negative. It’s just a natural inclination that I have. You know why I have it? I have it and you have it because we are sinners. We have this sin nature. We are drawn toward negativity. Yet, God comes along, and God wants us in the positive realm. Negativity is interesting because we don’t like to be negative alone. Negativity is never alone. It never swims alone. We always like to share it with other people. Then, suddenly, we turn into piranha people. Piranhas are freaky fish. There are a lot of piranha people around your school, around your neighborhood. There are even piranha people in church. Watch out for them.
Here’s what I have learned about piranha people. Piranha people many times are people who have been hurt. If you see a real negative person, look past their negativity. Get inside their scales, and you will see someone who has been eaten up. The piranha people think they can change others.
“I’ll change him.”
“I’ll change her.”
But here is their problem. They go about it in the wrong manner. Because they go about it in the wrong manner, their victims are so chewed up that the last thing the victim is thinking about is changing. The victim is just thinking about surviving, staying alive.
Here’s what the evil one does. He is amazing. He is so crafty, so cunning. He can make you feel like the piranha people are in the majority, but in reality, they are in the minority. Too many times, we make decisions based on the minority, those few little piranha people, instead of the big honking group that wants to go and claim The Promised Land.
Negativity is a very infectious disease. If you don’t believe me, let’s just keep on reading. Numbers 14:1-2, “That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud.” Now these negative piranha people had swam into the entire community. “All the Israelites grumbled (who did they grumble against? Moses and Aaron, the leaders). And the whole assembly said to them (now I cannot believe this, can you?), ‘If only we had died in Egypt or in this desert.’”
“It’s so bad, Moses and Aaron. We should have died when we left Egypt and made our way to The Promised Land. You telling me this is The Promised Land? I thought it was going to be easy, Moses and Aaron. You mean we have got to show some courage now? You mean it’s not just an autopilot deal? You mean it’s not just a neutral situation? You mean I’ve got some adventure out there? I’ve got to stand? I’ve got to be tough? I’ve got to rely on God? I’m not sure about that. I don’t know about that.” They grumbled.
Here’s another principle I want you to download. Grumbling is always lobbed at leaders. Grumbling, murmuring, negativity is always lobbed at leaders. I don’t care who you are, where you work, where you go to school. I don’t care if you are a pastor or a president or manager or teacher. You are going to deal with negativity. You are lying to yourself and I would be lying to you if we all said, “You know what? It doesn’t bother me what people say. It doesn’t bother me. It just rolls off my back.” When people say that, you just call them a liar. Just say, “You are lying.” Because it hurts, doesn’t it? We have all been there. It hurts.
Here is another thing about leadership. You might be saying, “Ed, why are you talking about leadership?” All of us are leaders. Leadership is influence. There is one way, though, that you can go through life grumble free. There is one way you can go through life piranha free. Just do absolutely nothing. Just stand there and the piranha people will never come after you, and the grumblers will never grumble about you. They never will if you just sit there. But the moment you start blowing bubbles, or the moment you start swimming, you had better watch out.
One would think that surely this stuff didn’t hurt Moses or Aaron. I mean, come on, Joshua and Caleb, are you kidding me? We are talking about super spiritual patriarchs here. We are talking about acts of God stuff. They were involved. Surely people talking smack about them didn’t hurt them. Let’s keep reading. I think the Israelites must have been a bunch of Baptists, because look what they said in Verse 4: “’We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt. Now let us vote.’ Then Moses and Aaron fell face down in front of the whole assembly gathered there.” The grumbling hurt even them.
If you keep reading, Joshua and Caleb were so ambushed by the onslaught of anger that they just ripped their clothes. They just tore them up. The people said, “We should choose a leader.” They didn’t want a leader. They wanted someone safe. They wanted someone they could control. They wanted a little puppet. They didn’t want a leader. They didn’t want Moses out there. They didn’t want Aaron out there. They didn’t want Joshua and Caleb out there because that’s too much adventure, too much excitement. It’s too risky, too unpredictable. They wanted somebody safe, someone they could control. “Take us back to bondage, okay? Take us back to the sameness. Take us back to that rut. Take us back to Egypt.”
If you keep reading, they didn’t make it into The Promised Land on this try. If you keep reading, you will see that God kept them in the wilderness for forty years. They were right there. They could see it, smell it, and touch it. But God said, “No.” And they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Why did God say “no?” Because of the grumbling. Because of the negativity. Because of the backbiting. Because of the piranhaing. That’s why God said “no.” Negativity will lead to wilderness wanderings. If you know your Bible and you keep reading it, you will discover that all these people died. The negative generation, the vision vandals, 10-12 spies, all those murmuring and grumbling people died.
Let’s push the clock forward forty years because check it out. The Israelites are once again right there on the brink of The Promised Land waiting to claim it, waiting for the title to be transferred. Once again, God does a quick time-out. Take a wild guess who the leaders were this time. You guessed it. That courageous group, Joshua and Caleb, were the leaders. They were the men of courage. What do you think God talked to them about? You guessed it. He talked to them about courage. Isn’t that wild?
Joshua 1, I’ll go through it very rapidly, Verse 6: God says, “Be strong and courageous. Why? Because of the promise. What’s the promise? The land I swore to your forefathers. I’ve given you the land. It’s yours. Just claim it.”
If we could see the land that God has for us relationally, spiritually, morally, and ethically, we wouldn’t believe it. We would go, “God, you want me to claim that kind of land? God, you have given me that much dirt in my life? That’s amazing, God.”
“Be strong and courageous.” Look at Verse 7. Twice he says to be strong and very courageous. Why? Because of the power of God’s word. He says, “Be careful to obey all the law my servant, Moses, gave you. Do not turn from it to the right or to the left that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this book of law depart from your mouth. Meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” (We know what meditation is—hearing God’s voice and doing his word).
That’s one of the main things I love about Fellowship Church. We have a bunch of people who do the word. We do the word. Seventy percent of Christ’s words were words of doing, words of application. Thirty percent were words of information.
My favorite thing in the world, as many of you know, is to saltwater fly-fish. I have a book in my office entitled Saltwater Fly-Fishing. Isn’t that a creative title? Saltwater Fly-Fishing by Lefty Kreh. Lefty Kreh is one of the greatest fly fishermen in the world. Let’s say that today I told you I was going to take up saltwater fly-fishing. I would say, “I’m going to take it up, so I am going to buy this book. The book cost about $19.95.” Let’s say I bought the book, and let’s say I just began to read the book. I read the book over and over, and I highlighted phrases, did word studies, and memorized sections of it. Let’s say you didn’t see me for about a year. Let’s say a year melts off the clock and you go, “Hey, Ed, have you been saltwater fly-fishing yet? Have you been off the Texas coast, maybe over to Louisiana, the Bahamas, Mexico, Venezuela, Honduras? Surely you have been saltwater fly-fishing by now.”
What if I said, “No, but let me give you the historical context of the fly rod. Let me tell you what the word “ocean” means in Latin. I have got this entire chapter by Lefty Kreh memorized. You see, when you cast, you should….” You would say, “Ed, that’s fine. But you need to fish. You need to do the stuff. You need to go out there and cast and catch fish.”
I meet a lot of people who say, “Wow, I’m in this Bible study. I’m in that Bible study. I’ve memorized that section, and I know this.” That is great. We have to have Bible study. But we have got to do what the Bible says. If I just did what I already know, then I would be way ahead of the game. Some of the stuff we need to do in the Bible is the stuff called character development. We need courage to come from the inside out. So, God says, “Hey, Joshua and Caleb, be strong and courageous because of the promise. Also be strong and courageous because of the power of my word.”
What’s the power of his word? It’s doing the stuff. It’s living it out. It’s application. In Verse 9, God hammers this again for the third time—the trifecta—he says, “Have I not commanded you, be strong and courageous.” Like, “Joshua and Caleb, one more time now, be strong and courageous.” Why? Because of God’s presence. What does it say? “Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
That is a great thing to understand about courage. God is going to be with us. He is there with us. I don’t care how far away you are. I don’t care if you are on a business trip alone. I don’t care if you are on an athletic team and you think you are alone. I don’t care if you are in the neighborhood alone. I don’t care if you are at this or that function and you think you are alone. God is with you. He is right there motivating you. He is stimulating you because the Bible says that God is like a lion. That’s one of his descriptions—a lion. Talk about a courageous animal—a lion! Once we receive Christ into our lives, we have the lion inside of us. We can tap into that kind of courage, that kind of octane, to be the kind of courageous people that God desires.
Some of you are saying, “Ed, you don’t understand. I’m basically a coward. I succumb to peer pressure and I am the worst at this. Surely, you have got to be talking to these special people written about in history books; Joshua and Caleb type people, Moses and Aaron type people, Debra type people. Not me. I’ve messed up so much.”
Let me tell you something. I don’t care how far you are away from God. I don’t care how many times you have blown it. God can take you, remold you, remake you, and give you an incredible quotient of courage. When I think of this, I think about Simon Peter. Simon Peter was coming up to Jesus and talking all this smack, “Jesus, I’m courageous and I will never back down. I’m the man.” Jesus called him “The Rock.” I am sure people starting laughing because Simon Peter was anything but the rock. Then Jesus said, “Simon Peter, you are going to [diss] me three times before the rooster crows in the morning.”
Sure enough, he did. Talk about someone who blew it! Talk about someone who took his courage and collapsed it. That’s Simon Peter. The Bible says that after Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again, what happened? He found Simon Peter. He called Simon Peter. He reinstated him and forgave him. Simon Peter then became one of the most courageous men to walk on the face of the earth.
This stuff is for all of us here. We are all average people. We are all ordinary people. We all serve an extraordinary God who gives us an extraordinary amount of courage that will come from the inside out and will be displayed in every realm of our lives.
We need courage in three different realms. Let me go through these realms right quick. First of all, we need spiritual courage. We desperately need spiritual courage. Whenever I think of spiritual courage, I think about David. David obeyed God in the private places. He was courageous when just a few people saw him, and because of that, God promoted him and gave him public courage when he fought Goliath.
Speaking about Goliath, I have always wondered what it would have been like if like Michael Buffer, one of these high priced announcers, had been there the afternoon that David fought Goliath. It might have sounded something like this:
“Welcome to the Valley of Elah Arena for this afternoon’s world heavyweight biblical championship. In this corner, fighting out of the Hebrew camp, he wears a white tunic. He’s a shepherd boy, a poet and a musician. He stands 5’8” and weighs 145 pounds — David! His opponent, standing 9’9” tall, weighing 439 pounds, hails from Gath. He brings the record that is undefeated into this ring. Let’s put it together for Goliath! This bout is brought to you by the King of Kings Productions. Let’s get ready to rumbllllllle! (Ding, ding, ding.)
It should be a very short bout, sports fans, because this Hebrew hick, this little hillbilly, this little boy is fighting this great behemoth, Goliath. Goliath has never been beaten. He has ripped people in two before. This should be horrible. I can’t believe he is out there! Wait a second. This kid seems to be throwing rocks. Is he skipping rocks? No! He’s taking rocks, he is putting them in a slingshot, wait a minute. He shot the slingshot toward the behemoth. The stone has hit Goliath! He staggered…he is down on one knee…he is down! (Ding, ding, ding.) The winner and new world heavyweight Biblical champion, that courageous kid from Canaan — David!”
David was the man who stood for God. Because he stood for God in private, he stood for God in public. It was all about courage, but next we will discover it was also about vision. Vision and courage are the chips and the hot sauce in the Bible. They are inseparably linked.
It really hurts my spirit when people say, “You know, Christianity is kind of reserved for those people who are weak; those people who need some kind of psychological crutch; those people who are quiche eaters; those people who are kind of soft. That’s what Christianity is reserved for.”
I really laugh when people say that, because they are intimidated by the courage of Christians who are courageous enough to tell the truth about their condition before a holy God. At least we are courageous enough to admit the fact that we are sinners in need of a Savior. So, just the opposite of what these people say is true. The Christians are the ones who are courageous. The people who are talking the smack are shallow, superficial, and scared little boys and girls. What are they scared of? The courage of Christ. They see Christ, and Christ intimidates them. He scares them. They want to run from him. So, don’t let anyone ever tell you that Christianity is for scared people.
I’ve been praying this week that many men here at Fellowship Church who have been kicking tires, checking it out, will say, “God, I want to have the spiritual courage right now to tell the truth about my condition, and establish a personal relationship with you.” Do it. Stand up. Spiritual courage is worth it. We need spiritual courage just to spend time with the Lord everyday. We need spiritual courage to carve out time to pray and to meditate.
We also need something else—Number two, if you are keeping score—we need ethical and moral courage. We need that. Every time I think about ethical courage, I think about Joseph. Joseph was a young guy who was sold into slavery. His brothers totally messed him around. Joseph was promoted, amazingly, by the grace of God, from slavery to the head of Potiphar’s household. Potiphar, in that culture, was like the head of the CIA. Potiphar’s wife was awesome looking. I am talking about a biblical babe. She was all messed up and tempted him day in and day out, trying to seduce him over and over again.
Joseph kept his distance until, one day, the temptation became so great that he turned and ran. He had the spiritual courage to say, “No,” to that temptation. Because of that courage, what happened? He was thrown into prison—into the pit. God, amazingly, promoted him later, from the pit to the pinnacle of Egyptian leadership. You want to talk about why? Yes, it was by the grace of God. But it was because of Joseph’s supernatural courage, his ethical courage. We need ethical and moral courage to resist the “greener grass syndrome.” One example is to live a sexually pure life as an act of worship before God. Worship should transcend everything we do, say, touch, and feel. We need ethical and moral courage in the business world because when we say, “Well, it cost me $1,500,” when in reality it cost $800, that is not courage. We need courage to stand for what we believe. When everybody else is going one way, we need to say, “I’m going to go God’s way.” We need ethical and moral courage.
We also need ethical and moral courage in the classroom. Cheating is applauded these days. What can you do to get by, to make the scores? A lot of people cheat. You have got to realize that Jesus is right there with you when you are taking the test. He is right there watching you when you are writing the paper. We need to hang on to that ethical and moral courage at all times – including the classroom.
Third, we need relational courage. Courage to speak the truth in love. Courage to ask for forgiveness in a difficulty in marriage. Courage to forgive our spouse. We need courage to stand and build-in time to spend with our kids. Courage to teach them about Christ. Courage in our schedules to make church a priority. Courage needs to be everywhere, in every slice of life. It needs to transcend everything we do, say, touch, and feel. We need courage.
As you look at your life, though, do you really have courage? It should come from the inside out. Do you have courage? When peer pressure begins to circle, when the crowd is going one way, what do you do? I’ll tell you what God wants you to do. God doesn’t want you to fold your courage and put it away for a more convenient time. You know what God wants from you and me? He wants us to take out our courage by his grace and power, open it up, and say, “Here is where I stand.”