Be Strong and Courageous
November 7, 2021 Speaker: Curt Heffelfinger
Passage: Joshua 1:1–1:9
Pastor Curt's portion:
What is some of the worst news you’ve ever gotten? I’ve known my share. You’ve got cancer. Josh is dead. Your jaw is fractured. Nancy’s cancer has won—take her home to die. No doubt you can identify—at least to some degree.
No one escapes bad news in this life. Imagine however Joshua’s dismay dealing with this news in v. 2: Moses my servant is dead. Think about it. Moses. This is burning-bush Moses. This is let-my-people-go Moses. This is Red-Sea-parting Moses.
This is the Ten Commandments Moses. This is the-most-humble-man-on-the-face-of-the-earth [Num. 12:3] Moses. That servant of the Lord is dead. Gone.
And just like that, the assistant becomes the point man for the massive challenge facing the Israelites on the Transjordan. Verse 2. Arise, go over this Jordan, you and all these people, into the land I am giving them.
We don’t have to work that hard to imagine Joshua’s reaction. Three times in these verses God exhorts him, Be strong and courageous (6). Only be strong and very courageous(7). Check out the last in v. 9.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed. Why belabor this so, but that Joshua needed it! And who can blame him? He knew better than most how formidable an enemy the Canaanites posed for the campaign ahead.
The temptations to discouragement must have been huge.2Notice in v. 5b the basis upon which the Lord buoyed Joshua’s faith. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. To what does God point to steady Israel’snewest commander-in-chief?
HIS FAITHFULNESS. I was faithful to Moses in the past; I will be faithful to you in the future. Bank on it. God is faithful—greatly so(Lam. 3:23)—past, present, and future. So now we are ready for the main idea for this 30th anniversary shared message.
Future challenges must be faced by trusting in God’s continual faithfulness to his people. Pastor Jim will tackle faithfulness for the future; I’ve been tasked with God’s faithfulness in the past.
I served this church as lead pastor from ’03 to 2018—half its history. So I do know something—not everything for sure—but a good bit of God’s extraordinary faithfulness to this apple of His eye over the years.
Time fails me to recount the many ways God has proven faithful to OGC. I will limit myself to just one—the most obvious in the text. God has always raised up a man. God, is never outdone by a man’s death, even a spiritual giant. Just because a great leader for God stops living, doesn’t mean that the mighty voice of God stops speaking (v. 1).
When a gifted man of God finishes his course, it doesn’t bring the sovereign plan of God to a sudden halt. God buries His workers, but His work marches on. God always has a successor for every ministry He ordains.
Of course, this emphasis in no way minimizes the necessity of many other servants God uses to partner in the ministry with His man. But someone must lead. Someone must cast the vision. Someone must take the point. And that has been the case at OGC from the get-go. Man #1: Pastor Greg—the church planter in 1991.
Disclaimer—his time here predates me. I know only what I’ve been told. But I do know church planting takes guts. I did it once. It’s not for the faint of heart. God used His man to found this church on a firm foundation in many ways—solid doctrine, property purchase, numerical growth.
But then came the bad news. Please understand, I’m not here to bash anyone. Let me put it this way: Pastor Greg took a different path. The consequences were excruciating. He resigned. A third or more of the congregation left. But God had a man. Man #2: Pastor Tim. I’m looking at him—and Karen, his bride.
Imagine the courage it took for these precious servants to leave behind an engineering vocation for Tim to earn an M.Div. at RTS AND launch his second career picking up the pieces at OGC. And that he did. I did not witness God’sfaithfulness for his entire stewardship, but it was my joy to be his assistant for the last two years of it.
But then came more bad news in this church’s history. In a bizarre twist of hard providence which only glory will sort out, things unraveled in the leadership. Pastor Tim’s stewardship came to an end—a very hard providence for all.
But with Peacemaker Ministries' help we worked through the conflict—perhaps my personal best highlight of God’s faithfulness to OGC. And God had another man. Man #3:Pastor Curt—PC as I came to be called. Give me hours someday and I will sharewith you countless examples of God’s faithfulness during my turn at the helm.
We rebooted the church, revised the MVVs, reconstituted the leadership team, built this building—during a recession no less—and cultivated a culture of peace which even became a book! But inevitably more news came our way. Time for me to leave. Might have been good news for some! But yet another change.
A succession process began with a very clear goal—a peaceful, unified passing of one of these. And yet againGod had a man. Man #4: Pastor Jim. And now I’m looking at him and Angela, his bride. And you have been God’s man for over three years now witnessing a new season of God’s great faithfulness.
May there be decades more. According to Lifeway Research in 2019, approximately 3,000 Protestant churches were started in the US, but 4,500 Protestant churches closed. And then came the pandemic. Thirty years, church! Two splits. But four men. OGC’s lampstand still burns. Oh my, how God has been faithful in the past. How will He work in the future?
Pastor Jim's portion:
III. God will guide us in His Word
Have you ever thought about Joshua being the most relatable Biblical character thus far? Joshua is the first person who is primarily led by the written Word. Look at verses 7 and 8: Only be strong and courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. (a way of referring to the first five books of the Bible) Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. The Book of the Law shall not depart from our 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. - Joshua 1:7,8
God’s Word does so many different things. It shows us our sin, it points to God, it shows us grace, it makes us wise, and it prepares us for Jesus’ first coming and His second coming. There, five sermons right there. But, in the context of Joshua’s call, I think the emphasis is on the way that the Word of God makes us wise and causes us to prosper.
Now, because of some really bad theology out there, I need to define what it means to prosper. There is one camp that believes adherence to the Word along with enough faith earns you happiness, health and wealth. If you are experiencing any trials in your life, it’s because you are doing something wrong. I have said this a few times, but while my wife was in the middle of chemotherapy someone told me her cancer was a result of our lack of faith. Not cool.
Because of that, Christians have let the pendulum swing all the way to the other side throwing out prosperity altogether or creating this irreconcilable difference between grace and obedience. We don’t need to throw out prosperity, we just need to properly define it. To prosper is to thrive at what God has called you to do.
Grace and obedience were never meant to stand as conflicting values. It is only in the realm of our obedience to God’s Word that we fully enjoy and truly prosper in what God has called us to do. God called Joshua to enter the promised land. God called David to reign as king. God called Jeremiah to preach for much of his life and never be heard. God called Stephen to die. And God hasn't stopped calling his people to hard things in the modern world.
Some of you might be familiar with a man named Wang Yi. Gods call on his life is to pastor a Reformed Christian church in Chengdu, China. That call has placed him in prison for almost a decade. When confronted by the government and asked to stop, he wrote, “I firmly believe that Christ has called me to carry out this faithful disobedience through a life of service, under this regime that opposes the gospel and persecutes the church. This is the means by which I preach the gospel, and it is the mystery of the gospel which I preach.” And do you know what God had used to guide him? His word
This is a man with a family who depends on him. And do you know what they have to guide them through the uncertainties of this trial? Scripture.
God has different calls on all of us. God guides us into our calls and through our calls with his word. We hide the word in our hearts that we might not sin against God and that might know how to glorify him with our lives.
Where are the places you go when you are afraid? Why do we cry out to the Lord for a sign and ask Him to speak, yet avoid the place He has already spoken most clearly? Is God’s Word our constant and primary guide or the last resort after all other avenues have been pursued?
What would it mean for us to take God’s Word just as seriously as Joshua? Even when it’s scary...even when it will mean people make fun of you or even hate you. When is the last time you curled up next to the fire with a little Leviticus or Nahum? I had lunch with an older brother this week and it was such a joy to see all the underlining and highlighting in his Bible. The edges of some of the pages were a bit darker because of how many times he’d flipped them.
So, many Christians are hindered in their ability to be guided by God’s Word because, if we read the Bible at all, we only read the New Testament. Maybe only the gospels. I heard one pastor compare the makeup of the Bible to the Avengers. The Avengers is made up of around 25 movies that tell one story. What happens, though, if you go see Infinity War and Endgame without seeing Guardians of the Galaxy or Iron Man? You may know how the larger story ends, but it still doesn’t all make sense. In the same way, the Bible is 66 books that makeup one story. And this story is actually real! And every book adds something to the story that will guide us in our call.
Jesus says that God’s Word nourishes our soul like food does the body. And just like we enjoy different foods in different ways, we enjoy and are benefitted by different Scriptures in different ways. Sometimes we go to God’s Word like we would a Shake Shack burger. You just dive right in and immediately enjoy it. But sometimes we need to approach God’s Word like a Jolly Rancher. We can’t just bite right in, it takes more time to enjoy. It takes time and meditation as it works its way from the pages (or screen), into our minds, and, finally, down into our hearts. No promise of God will ever nourish us though if it does not leave the pages of our Bible and by way of our minds, make its way into our hearts.
Joshua has to know that God has a plan, that He always keeps His promises, that He will guide us in His Word, and, finally, that God will be with us.
IV. God will be with us
I just spent a whole point of my sermon lifting up the Scriptures as our guide. But, we have to be careful not to turn Scripture itself into a sort of God. The Scriptures point the way. They are signposts, not the destination. God is the destination.
Look at verses five and 9: 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...Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous [there it is again] Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. - Joshua 1:5, 9
So, what does it mean that God is with Joshua? What does it mean that God gives us His presence? The Hebrew word we translate as ‘presence’ literally means ‘face.’ We get the face of God. So, what does it mean to have someone’s face? If someone is right in front of you, what do you have? You have access.
I can’t imagine anything more comforting to Joshua as he is on the cusp of leading an army into war than full access to the God of the universe. God will be with him. He will never leave or forsake him! In Exodus 33 Moses tells God if God’s presence isn’t going with him to the promise land, then Moses doesn’t even want to go! And now this promise is given to Joshua as well!
When David wrote, “when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.” Why is it that he didn’t fear? “Because You are with me.” When Paul was scared to go into Corinth, what did Jesus say to him? “I am with you.” When the disciples were given the great commission, what encouragement did Jesus give them? “Lo, I am with you always.” And that promise wasn’t just for them, but for all of us as well! Jesus is remaking this promise on a permanent basis for all of us who trust in him.
And the reason this is possible for Joshua and for us is that Jesus has secured this access. On the cross, Jesus secured our access to God by giving up His access. He took the wrath we deserve and we get the access of a son to a father. This is why the author of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” - Hebrews 4:16
Here is a simple sign that you are growing in your walk with God: He gets bigger. And by this, I simply mean that He begins to touch every area of our life. We aren’t simply giving God access to our Sunday mornings and maybe our morning devotion, but every area of our life. Just like the Israelites progressively conquered more and more of the promised land, likewise more and more of our lives will come under the rule of Christ.
In C.S. Lewis’ book Prince Caspian, there is this beautiful conversation between Aslan and Lucy as they are reunited. It goes like this. “Aslan,” said Lucy, “You’re bigger.” “That is because you are older, little one.” he answered. “Not because you are?” Lucy replied. “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
So, what does this mean for us? At a high altitude, there are two ways we can read and apply this passage and I think both have merit. First, we can identify with Joshua and his command to be strong and courageous, to obey and to fight. We should process our calling, the anxieties and fears they bring and our call to fight. For some of you, your call is to battle cancer well. For others, it is a call into vocational ministry. For others yet, a battle with addiction. For all of us, it is at least a call to conquer our own hearts and the world with the gospel. God wants us to be strong and courageous, to obey and to fight.
But, there is another way we are called to read and apply this passage. In the context of the whole Bible, we are called to identify with the Israelites. In Hebrew, Joshua and Jesus have the same name, Yeshua, and the same job. God clearly wants us to see that these Israelites are called to follow this Yeshua out of the wilderness into battle so they can take hold of the promised land. If we identify with them, we begin to see that we are called to follow a better Yeshua into a harder fight for a promised land that will never be taken away.
We are that marching army. If we have eyes to see that, everything changes. This is why at the end of every benediction I say, “Church, you are sent.” We are sent into the schools, into the neighborhoods, into the gyms, into the hospitals, into the office, and into our homes.
Some of you are just back visiting for the 30th and if that’s you, I want to say thank you. Thank you for the part you played. Thank you for laying a good foundation for us to build on. It must have taken courage 30 years ago to start this church from scratch. Thank you PC for leading us out of some of our hardest years.
Orlando Grace Church, we have our call. We are here to grow in Christ and fulfill the great commission. Maybe I’ll get to see our 60th anniversary. Maybe not. As PC is always quick to point out, every pastor is an interim pastor. But the church will go on.
Be brave and courageous. We are a sent people led by the better Yeshua and we will enjoy the promised land.