Um… I get sick to my stomach just watching this amazing video!
Um… I get sick to my stomach just watching this amazing video!
Sycamore Creek Church
January 2, 2011
Take Courage, Friends!
Have you ever noticed that superheroes aren’t always fearless? Actually, sometimes they experience a lot of fear. What makes them superheroes is that they do the right thing (most of the time) even when they’re afraid. That’s courage.
Today we continue on in this series on courage. We began the series by looking first at fear and how Joseph overcame fear in the Christmas story. Last week we looked at good fear, the fear of God, and we saw how the fear of God meant a lot more than just fear of judgment. Today we take a look specifically at courage itself. What is courage and how do we get it?
I’d like to begin with a story from the book of Acts. The book of Acts tells the history of the early church. One of the key figures in this story is Paul. We’ll read from chapter 27 where we enter into the middle of a long saga for Paul. He has been arrested and is on his way to Rome where, given that he is a Roman citizen, he desires to appeal to the emperor. Along the way Paul ends up on a boat in the middle of a storm. That’s where we pick up the story.
Acts 27:13-26 (NLT)
13 When a light wind began blowing from the south, the sailors thought they could make it. So they pulled up anchor and sailed along close to shore. 14 But the weather changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (a “northeaster,” they called it) caught the ship and blew it out to sea. 15 They couldn’t turn the ship into the wind, so they gave up and let it run before the gale.
16 We sailed behind a small island named Cauda, where with great difficulty we hoisted aboard the lifeboat that was being towed behind us. 17 Then we banded the ship with ropes to strengthen the hull. The sailors were afraid of being driven across to the sandbars of Syrtis off the African coast, so they lowered the sea anchor and were thus driven before the wind.
18 The next day, as gale-force winds continued to batter the ship, the crew began throwing the cargo overboard. 19 The following day they even threw out the ship’s equipment and anything else they could lay their hands on. 20 The terrible storm raged unabated for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone.
21 No one had eaten for a long time. Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Fair Havens. You would have avoided all this injury and loss. 22 But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. 23 For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, 24 and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ 25 So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. 26 But we will be shipwrecked on an island.”
This is God’s story for us today. Thank you, God!
Sometimes Paul is a little hard for us to wrap our minds around. He definitely comes across as a sort of faith superhero. Here he is in the midst of this horrendous life-threatening storm and he stands up and tells the sailors, “So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said” (Acts 27:25, NLT). Take courage!
Is courage the lack of fear? I don’t think so. This series was inspired and informed by a book titled Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear by Scott Bader-Saye. He defined courage in this way: “Courage is the capacity to do what is right and good in the face of fear” (67). I like that definition. He goes on to say that “the courageous person feels fear but is not overcome by it” (68). It’s not that we don’t have fear if we have courage. We just don’t act on that fear.
I think also that as we act with courage, our experience of fear diminishes. Have you ever heard of exposure therapy? If you’ve got a phobia and go to a psychologist for help, one way they might help you is through exposure therapy. Let’s say you’re afraid of snakes. Well, first you’ll spend some time with your psychologist just imagining a snake. If this is particularly hard, then you might spend several sessions just imagining what you fear. Eventually you move on from imagining to looking at a picture. Then a movie. Then a trip to the zoo. This is a slow process that goes at a pace that is both comfortable for you but also stretches you to be courageous. Over time, as you encounter the thing you are afraid of, your fear diminishes.
In the story above, I think we’re encountering a Paul who has had a lot of exposure to fear. Because he has acted courageously in the past, he experiences very little fear at this point in his life. He believes God. He trusts God. He knows how the story ends. His courage over time has diminished his fear. So how do we do this? A first step is through community.
Courage in Community
In the Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man battles against Dr. Octopus. In one particularly harrowing encounter, Dr. Octopus sets a train full of passengers on a course for destruction. Spider-Man attempts to stop the train and in doing so, he is pretty beat up. When the train comes to a halt, he is passing out. The passengers in the train reach out and grab him before he falls off the train. They carry him to a safe place and lay him down. By this point his mask has been burned and taken off. His identity is revealed to everyone on the train. When he wakes up and finds his mask off, a young boy steps out and tells him not to worry. His identity is safe with them. When Dr. Octopus shows back up, other passengers step in the way to keep Spider-Man safe. In this way, there is a whole community that is helping Spider-Man do what he needs to do. They are helping him have the courage to keep keeping on.
Courage is best developed in a community of people who are going to support you through the risks of exposing yourself to the things that you fear. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he says, “Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (6:2, NLT). When we share each other’s troubles and problems we help one another develop courage.
Bader-Saye says, “If I really believed that if I lost my job or my child got sick, I would not have to respond on my own, then I might fear the future less. If I really believed that the resources of my community were open to me in case of an emergency, then I might fear the emergency less” (73). I love this. This is the kind of church community I want to be a part of. How far along the way are we as a church? I think we’re making good strides, but we also have far to go. We can be more courageous together than we ever could be alone.
This of course means that we have to be open and transparent with one another. We have to share our fears with one another. We have to be vulnerable and authentic with one another. If we pose as someone who is fearless and who always has courage at the right time, then we won’t ever grow in courage. Courage requires that we are honest with others about our fears.
If we are honest about our fears with others, then there also has to be some trust that we’ll receive help from others. One of the simple ways we are trying to do this is through these “Skills and Stuff” sheets in the bulletin. This is the last week we’ll be doing this and then what you write down as skills you’re willing to share or stuff you’re willing to loan out to others will be put in our next directory. If you’ve got some handy-man skills that you’re willing to share and there’s a single mom in our church who needs a handy-man, then there’ll be a simple list that can be used to find a handy-man. If you’re a babysitter and someone needs a babysitter, then they’ll know a place to look. You get to share your skills and stuff while others get to receive help in being courageous.
Courage and Prudence
One important virtue that goes alongside of courage is prudence. Prudence is knowing which risks to take. Prudence has to do with wisdom. Not all risks are worth taking, and taking some risks isn’t courage, it’s stupidity.
I took a stupid risk one day. While I was in college I was driving a group of friends around town. As we were driving down a road that ran parallel to railroad tracks, a train came up beside us. I decided that I was going to beat the train to the crossway and so I gunned it. I did beat the train, but my friends were not so happy. It was a stupid risk to take. There was no good that came from taking that risk. The only thing that came from taking that risk was risking my own life and wellbeing and the life and wellbeing of my friends. This was not courage. It was stupidity. Prudence is the wisdom to discern between the two.
We all know about the Incredible Hulk. When Bruce Banner gets upset and his blood pressure goes up, he becomes the Incredible Hulk. The only way to get back to being Bruce is to calm down. In the movie, Hulk, the hulk is on a rampage destroying everything in sight. His girlfriend knows that he must be calmed down and as the hulk is surrounded by a company of military, police, and other law enforcement personnel, she steps out to help calm him down. What all the military forces were unable to do, she was able to do simply by showing herself to him. Was this risky for her? Sure. Maybe he wouldn’t calm down. Was it prudent of her? Absolutely. She knew it had worked in the past. Lives were at stake. She was acting for the good of others. This was a prudent risk to take and it took courage on her part.
One of the best ways to develop prudence is to read the stories of Christians who have come before us. A friend of mine, Josh Hearne, keeps a website called Telling the Stories that Matter. Everyday he writes a brief summary of the life of one of the “superhero” Christians who came before us. He tells us about the risks they took and quite often how it cost them their lives. These stories help us know what kind of risks are worth taking and help give us the courage of the community that has come before us to act not out of fear but for the good of others and for the spread of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Courage: Know the Story
Or course there is a big story here that all of these stories are joining. It’s the story of God’s saving work in the world. This story has an author that has entered into the story. It is a story that we join when we are baptized. When we are baptized we die with Jesus when we go under the water, and when we come up out of the water we join Jesus in his resurrection. We know the end of the story. God wins! Death dies. Evil is no more. Do you trust how the story ends? In the book of Revelation we read about Jesus being the first and last. He says, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last” (Revelation 1:17, NLT). Sometime we say Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In other words, Jesus is the beginning of the story and the end of the story. Do we trust the author?
I began reading a fantasy series one time called The Binding of the Blade by L.B. Graham. The series as a whole has five books, and the first one is called Summerland. Throughout the first book you fall in love with the main character, but at the end of the first book, the main character dies! How could Graham do this? I loved that character! I wasn’t sure that I trusted this author anymore. He was messing with the lives of the people I had grown to love in his story. I wasn’t sure I trusted Graham to make it all worth it. Well, as I continued reading the books, I came to see how his death was necessary. It wasn’t the end of the story. I wasn’t sure I trusted the author in the midst of the suffering, but as I continued the story, I realized that I could.
In this life we are in act four of a five-act play. Act I is creation. Act II is the fall. Act III is God’s work in the people of Israel culminating in Jesus Christ. Act V is the second-coming of Jesus. We’re not exactly sure how we get from act III to act V, but there’s a kind of courage we can have in the midst of act IV because we know act V is coming.
Courage: Join the Story
Will you join in this story? Will you have the courage to say, “I need God. I can’t do it alone. I’m weak and broken, and I need to be saved not just from others but even from myself.” This is the first step of courage, admitting that you can’t do it yourself. You need God; you need God’s son, Jesus Christ. Will you join this story?
So be strong and take courage, all you who put your hope in the LORD!
Psalm 31:24 (NLT)Share on Facebook
I’m not sure how to review this book. It is an audio book, and I listened to most of it over an extended drive one day. I’m not sure this is the best way to “read” and audio book. The problem is that I don’t really remember much about the book. Is the cause of this problem because of the method of reading it or because the book itself is mostly forgettable. I tend to think it is the former, because when I was listening to it I do remember thinking at various times, “That was a helpful thought/illustration/description/distinction/etc.” And yet very little of it stuck. What to make of this?
One piece that did stick was Hybel’s description of the courage it takes to become a Christian. He is reacting to the popular conception that being a Christian is for weak people who need a religious crutch. Hybel’s draws a different picture. He points out how it requires courage to confess the truth about yourself and repent. People who critique Hybel’s and Willow Creek’s approach to ministry usually describe it as feel-good Christianity or self-help Christianity that is shallow and lacking depth. I think the subtitles of each chapter can contribute to this perception (i.e. the chapter on courage is subtitled “Overcoming Crippling Fears” which sounds like it might fit quite well in the self-help section of the bookstore), and yet the content of this chapter on courage was anything but soft. Hybels clearly lays out how we have to repent of our selfishness and our sin. I do wonder whether the courage comes from us or from God. This is a topic I don’t remember him discussion. As well I would like to see Hybels speak more about issues of social justice, but he at least points in that general direction for others to build upon.
I thought about re-listening to this audio book, and even began to do so, but I just wasn’t inspired to keep it up a second time. That’s why I gave it a six out of ten.Share on Facebook