Sunday, March 11, 2012

Be Strong and Courageous - Deut. 31:6

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.”

There is also the story of the little boy having trouble sleeping during a storm. 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.”
Our memory verse for this week is Deuteronomy 31:6. It is also our passage for the day. It says, “Be strong and courageous”. Is there anyone here who needs to hear these words today? No? Nobody is scared of anything? Well, I have done some scientific testing to see what scares people the most. And by “scientific testing” I mean I googled it.
And it did not take long to find out what most people feared the most. I also found in my scientific research that some people have some fairly irrational fears. FDR may have believed that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself but a lot of other people feel differently. Some of the more interesting things I read that people are afraid of are: Abraham Lincoln, chewing gum, lawn gnomes, spontaneously combusting and mermaids and mirrors.
These are intelligent adults who otherwise are very rational people but have some irrational fears. Some more common fears include flying, heights, intimacy, public speaking, rejection and death. The fear of death is understandable to most people. It falls into the category of the unknown. My niece is afraid of clowns with masks because she doesn’t know what is behind the mask. The fear of the unknown can cause all kinds of problems.
Our passage this morning is absolutely perfect for any of these fears, rational or not. God tells us as His children not to be afraid because He is with us and that should fortify you whether you are afraid of the dark or of spiders or of vacuum cleaners (like my niece, bless her heart). But I want to use it specifically today for those unbelievers who are afraid of the unknown of death.
This is the last week we will be focused in the worship service on our goal of furthering the Kingdom. We started several weeks ago focusing on this with the illustration that we all are in a rowboat and we each have two oars. One oar is scripture and the other is prayer and we are rowing toward our goal of furthering the Kingdom of God by praying about the same thing each week and by learning scripture that will help in leading people to a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.
This last verse is also good for that. When people say they live a good life, Romans 3:23. When they say their good deeds outweigh their bad, Romans 6:23. When people say they just want to be happy in this life, John 10:10. There is more than one way to God? Not according to John 14:6. And when people talk about their fear of dying you can now remember to bring up this Old Testament passage. Let’s turn there now to Deut. 31:6.
Moses is speaking to the Israelites. He knows they are about to cross over into the Promised Land and he knows he will not be going with them and so he gives them the best advice he knows to give. He doesn’t say it’s going to be easy so don’t worry about anything. He doesn’t say that they won’t have any problems ever again. He says when difficult times come and the unknown is before them they should not be afraid because God is with them. Do you think Moses knew what he was talking about? Do you think Moses had the experience with God and the knowledge to be deserving of being listened to?
When I was in high school I went with my church youth group to go tubing down the Guadalupe River. Our first day floating the river we were having a great time and we saw some people high up on one of the banks of the river swinging into the river off of a rope. They would swing way out and let go and hit the water with a big splash. That looked like fun so we all paddled over to the bank. I was one of the last to get out of the water and by the time I got up there nobody wanted to go. It was pretty high and everybody was chickening out. So I John Wayned my way up there and said, “I’m not scared! I’ll do it”. I grabbed the rope and got back as far as I could and then took off. I swung way out over the water and way up high and let go and landed in waist deep water from about 20 feet high.
As soon as I hit bottom my left ankle just snapped. They told me later they heard it on the bank. And as I was standing there paralyzed by the electricity of pain rushing through my body I see the last guy who swung off the rope paddling his tube away and downstream. He hollers at me, “Next time go out about 2 more feet where it drops off!” Thanks for that.
I have a really cool scar from the surgery I had right after that trip but the reason I tell that story is to say that sometimes fear is a good thing. We sometimes should have a healthy respect for the unknown. If the guy had told me before I jumped how far to go then I would have nothing to fear because he had done it. He had been there. I could trust him.
And when Moses says to the people of Israel that they should have no fear because God was with them it is said by someone who had knowledge and experience about what he was talking. Moses had a relationship with God. He had talked with Him and walked with Him and God had proven Himself to Moses over and over again.
When Moses says be strong and courageous, those words in the original text mean” to take hold of” or “be secure” like a building on a solid foundation that doesn’t sway when the winds of the unknown blow. It is used in II Chronicles to describe a fortified tower and also used to describe David when he killed Goliath in I Samuel.
Are you a strong and fortified tower today? Are you victorious over the giants in your life today? As a child of God we should be. As a believer, we have the right and ability to be strong and courageous even when difficult times come because we know from our verse today that God goes with you and will never forsake you.
There is a beautiful verse in Isaiah 42:5-6. Listen closely as I read it.
5 This is what God the LORD says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles.
Did you catch that? The same Creator who spread out the earth and gave breath to everything that lives says, “I will take hold of your hand.” That’s how we can be strong. That’s how we can be courageous. Moses isn’t telling the Israelites to be strong because they are so tough. He is telling them to be strong because the Creator is holding their hand.
God is saying whatever happens to you, happens to me. Wherever you go, I go. When somebody hurts you it hurts me but I will protect you and nothing will happen to you that I don't allow.  God is not telling us to grow up and be a man.  He is saying be still and know that I am God.  Don't be scared.  I got this.
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
What a wonderfully comforting verse!  But I do have to tell you that there is a catch.  There really is.  Read it close.  "...for the Lord your God goes with you..."  "Your God"
This verse is a comfort to believers but non-believers have no such comfort.  I told you earlier that in some situations there is good reason for fear.  Unless you have asked Jesus into your heart to be Lord of your life and to forgive you of your sins then death is one of those situations for you.  In fact, it should scare you more than it does.  I'm not trying to scare you into making a decision.  I won't do that.
But the Bible is clear that Hell is a real place and that a decision not to follow Jesus is a decision to spend eternity there.  As we talk to others in our goal to further the Kingdom, we need to always tell the whole truth.  We don't want to scare people but we can't water down the facts either.  That fact may turn some people off but the time will come when, if you care about someone you will tell them the truth.
I would love to talk to you some more about this.  I want to talk to you because I care about you.  As believers and followers of Jesus, we have the ability to be strong and courageous as we talk to others about Jesus, as we face uncertainty, as difficult times come.  But others do not have the same security.  It is your choice.

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