Pastor Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Community Lutheran Church; Message on Joshua 1 & Acts 4; Date: 1 February 09

For more sermons and other writings check out pastor’s homepage: http://www.geocities.com/mayeredgar

 

 

Imbalanced Boldness

 

The nation’s greatest leader had just died. His name was Moses and the Bible says about him – Deuteronomy 34:12: “ … no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all IsraelMoses had been a rock. Everyone had relied on him and his leadership but now he was dead. What was the nation going to do without him? Where would the mighty power or awesome deeds come from now? The next leader Joshua was new in the job and inexperienced. Yet – precisely in this uncertain time – God said to him – Joshua 1:2-9 – I quote from the Bible: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them … I will give you every place where you set our foot, as I promised Moses … No one will be able to stand up against you … As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people … Be strong and very courageous … Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go

Moses the great leader was dead. Yet, Joshua and the nation of God were not to shrink back – not to pull their head in – not to delay – but cross the river Jordan and take the land which God had promised to them. Yes – there were dangers to face – many unknowns: hostile people and warfare – but they were to go forward – without Moses – and they were to do so with boldness. God hammered this point with Joshua, saying – again and again: “ … Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people … Be strong and very courageous … Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go

Only a few months ago – as a church congregation – we “crossed the Jordan” in one of our worship services. Up front there was blue fabric representing water and then a passage way through the water – our “Jordan crossing”. In the middle of the service we got up from our pews and – one by one – walked through the crossing because we wanted to declare our desire for God. We wanted to step out into all that God has for us.

But – back then – did we think about any boldness that would be required in the new year? As a church we do want to take new territory – expand the kingdom of God – preach with greater power, heal the sick, bring people to faith, see families restored, prosper in the midst of the global financial crises – but how do we feel about God’s insistent message to Joshua: “ … Be strong and very courageous … Do not be terrified … [Be bold] … “? Are you brave? Am I brave?

Maybe it’s not immediately clear in what sense we are meant to be strong and courageous. So far – for most of us – church has been a risk-free enterprise. Here in Toowoomba there is no risk of dying for our faith. No risk of losing our jobs or homes because we confess Jesus Christ. Church has been a safe environment – with viable numbers and an attractive program. What then could it possibly mean for us: to be bold, to be strong and courageous – as we step out into something new as a church.

Let me share two experiences of Rees Howells who was born in a Welsh mining village in 1879. God put a call on his life where he was to serve him (in preaching and prayer) but not earn a wage and not ask anyone for donations.

[Abbreviate and retell this section from Norman Grubb: Rees Howells Intercessor, Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press 1952, 159-160:] “On one occasion he only had a few days in which to get 20 pounds … There was another student, a Cambridge graduate, who had been saying openly that he had never prayed a prayer that had brought a direct, definite answer. So Mr Howells invited him to join in this prayer for 20 pounds. He had never heard of praying for money like that and expecting it to come. They were to pray for two hours one afternoon, each in his own room. The young man was exhausted at the end of it! He had never known time go so slowly; he said the two hours were like two months! Mr Howells did not pray through in the afternoon, so suggested that they should go back for a further two hours in the evening. ‘What!’ exclaimed his friend, ‘four months’ hard labour for 20 pounds!’ However, he agreed to try again if Mr Howells thought he could be of any help. Before the end of this second period of prayer, Mr Howells went to his room, and said, ‘You don’t need to pray any more, I am through.’ ‘Have you got the money?’ he said. ‘No, but I have got the faith, and the money will come.’ … Two days later Mr Howells received two 10 pound notes … he went to his friend’s room and held them up for him to see … “

This is getting closer to living with a sense of courage. What if you need money (like Rees Howells) – in a few days – but are not meant to earn a wage or petition anyone. You are meant to pray and rely on God for his provisions. Would you have the courage – would I have the courage – for this kind of faith adventure when it involves hard cash and payment deadlines. [And by the way, did you notice the principle by which Rees Howells prayed until he had the faith for receiving the money. When the faith came – the boldness and certainty of faith – he knew that God would give according to his faith.]

Consider how nerve-wrecking this can be. [Abbreviate and retell this section from Norman Grubb: Rees Howells Intercessor, Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press 1952, 162-164:] “ … [Rees Howells and his wife were preparing to leave as missionaries to Africa] There is always a tendency to keep money, so as to get out of God’s testings,’ said Mr Howells, ‘and we tried our best to do it this time! Anyway, we had to spend the money, and all the people of the place thought we were well supplied. So we were, up to that week, and we thought money would be sure to come the day before we leave for London; but the last post came and no money, and our train was leaving before the post next morning. We thought it would be very hard to say good-bye to my uncle and aunt and little Samuel, but the burden for the train money made the parting a little easier! … Next morning, it was not so hard to part with our parents, because we had to walk to the station without the money! We felt sure that it would come on the station platform, but no, the time came for the train to leave. What were we to do? There was only one thing possible. We still had ten shillings, and we must go as far as we could with it, then our extremity would be God’s opportunity. We had to change trains at Llanelly station, about twenty miles from our home, and wait there for a couple of hours, so without letting anyone know, we only booked as far as that. There were many people at our home station wishing us all the good things, but what we needed was money to go to London! Many also came as far as Llanelly, singing all the way. The thought that came to me was, ‘I’d sing better if I had the money!’

… now the time for the train had come. The Spirit then spoke to me and said: ‘If you had money what would you do?’ I said: ‘Take my place in the queue at the booking office.’ ‘Well, are you not preaching that My promises are equal to current coin? You had better take your place in the queue.’ So there was nothing I could do except obey. There were about a dozen people before me. There they were passing by the booking office one by one. The devil kept on telling me, ‘Now you have only a few people in front of you, and when your turn comes, you will have to walk through. You have preached much about Moses with the Red Sea in front and the Egyptians behind; but now you are the one who is shut in.’ ‘Yes, shut in,’ I answered, ‘but, like Moses, I’ll be gloriously led out!’ When there were only two people before me, a man stepped out of the crowd and said, ‘I’m sorry I can’t wait any longer, but I must open my shop.’ He said good-bye and put thirty shillings in my hand! It was most glorious, and only a foretaste of what the Lord would do in Africa, if we would obey. After I had the tickets, the people who came with us to the train began to give gifts to us, but the Lord had held them back until we had been tested. We were singing all the way to London

Would you and I have the courage to live like that? No money in the pocket but queuing to buy a train ticket to London (and then Africa) with everyone watching and therefore the ever-present risk of acute embarrassment. Who would be so bold? God said to Joshua – and God is saying to us and every Christian – Joshua 1:2-9: “ … Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people … Be strong and very courageous … Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go

We are entering into a season where we will need courage, if we want to go forward. Only two months ago – in November – I finished preaching the six-part sermon series on healing. For more than a year we had been wrestling with what the Bible says about healing – Matthew 8:16-17: “ … [Jesus] healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.’” James 5:14-16: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him … and the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well … “ Matthew 10:7-8: “ … [Jesus] gave them authority … to heal every disease and sickness … [and he said:] ‘As you go, preach this message: The kingdom of heaven is near. Heal the sick … ‘“ John 14:12: [Jesus said:] “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these … “ – and – according to the truth of these Bible verses – there were some notable healings among us – even tumors disappeared – Bronte: silenced by autism spoke her first word (joy) – but now we find out that Greg Storey is diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas which has spread into his liver and the question is whether as a church we are ready for the magnitude of his sickness. Would we be so bold as to believe in his healing by the prayer of faith?

I have Greg’s permission to speak openly about his condition and what is involved for us as a church. We need to think this through. How bold do we want to be? There is a part of me that all of a sudden is getting very nervous. Let me explain.

It does not seem to be good pastoral practice to raise expectations of divine healing when the medical opinion – and medical experience – suggests a more dire outcome of the disease. Why risk raising the expectations of Greg and his family – and risk raising the expectations of a church – when hoping for a miracle cancer cure looks so much like setting everyone up for failure. The other day I shared this predicament with some of my colleagues in Toowoomba and I shared my own nervousness and the need for boldness. After the meeting one or two other pastors came up to me and spoke to me with measured words of balanced reasoning. One pastor told me that he also had a church member who had suffered from cancer and that it was such a great witness to the family to watch him die as a Christian and don’t I think that this was also of God? I replied: “Sure. But what about having faith for more? What about having faith for the cancer to be healed

Then this same pastor queried me about putting it on people that they may not have enough faith for being healed. I responded by saying: “Put aside for a moment the problem of how people might deal with the challenge. As a theologian you have to admit that the Bible is absolutely clear about the importance of faith and the failure of faith which can frustrate God’s good intentionsI cannot recall a single instance where God put any pressure on any sick person but the disciples were clearly told – many times – Matthew 17:20: “ … [You couldn’t heal the boy] because you have so little faith … “ Then the community – and as a church we are such a community – the community and its lack of faith is sometimes clearly identified as the problem – Mark 6:5-6: “Jesus could not do any miracles there … And he was amazed at their lack of faith

Are we bold enough to go there? Do we have the courage – do we dare – to face the truth about how much – or how little – we trust God and how much – or how little – God can achieve through us by faith (cf. Hebrews 11).

It would be so much safer and less people would get upset with Living Grace (and me), if we agreed to be more balanced and reasonable. Why not simply say: “God, we pray for healing but we want your will to be done and not ours”? Isn’t this a good prayer. It seems so submitted to God – and let’s us off the hook (let’s me off the hook) but it’s not faith. It is unbelief because God has already declared his will and his declared will is to heal – Matthew 8:16-17: “ … [Jesus] healed all the sick … ” James 5:14-16: “ … the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well … “ Matthew 10:7-8: “ … [Jesus] gave them authority … [and said:] ‘ … Heal the sick … ‘“

There was one time when Jesus prayed – Luke 22:42: “Father … not my will, but yours be done … “ but even in this instance, Jesus knew very well what God the Father wanted. It was only that he was anxious about getting arrested and tortured and for that reason he prayed to be spared. Yet, he knew that he was meant to die as the sacrifice for our sins. He knew the plan and had himself announced the meaning of his death only a few hours earlier, saying to his disciples at dinner – Luke 22:20: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you … “ Therefore, when he prayed: “ … not my will, but yours be done … “, then this was not the model prayer for Christians who choose to bypass the radical promises of the Bible. This was not the model prayer for Christians who choose the comfort of praying without the need for boldness: “God, whatever you want

Can you see how this kind of talk can get me into trouble – and you? Then, someone always points out that the apostle Paul himself was suffering from a “thorn” in his flesh which could have been some kind of sickness. Therefore – so goes the argument – not every sickness is meant to be healed. However, this is what the Bible says – 2 Corinthians 12:7 – I read what Paul writes about his thorn: “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations [Paul had just shared how fourteen years ago he had been taken into heaven] there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment meThe thorn was a messenger of Satan – not a direct blessing from God – and was only allowed to remain with Paul (as some sort of blessing in disguise) because it kept him humble: “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations … ” Therefore – and this is my take on this – most of us should be quite safe. We are not in the same league of Paul and his surpassingly great revelations and therefore the normal rule of thumb applies to us: Messengers of Satan have no business tormenting Christians. 1 John 3:8: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work

Please, don’t think that I have all the answers. I don’t. We must all die and therefore at some point there will be a sickness unto death but in the case of Greg – at the age of fifty-two – this seems to come before his time and with a young family depending on him he needs to live. What I do know – what I am certain of – is that if we had brought Greg to Jesus two thousand years ago when Jesus was walking the earth in human form, then Greg would have been healed. Jesus never said “no” to a single healing request. He would have restored Greg’s body.

Today the problem is that Jesus wants to work through us. When he ascended into heaven, he commissioned us: “You go and preach the kingdom and heal the sickwhich means that now we are the ones praying for Greg – we are the ones laying hands on him – with the consequence that the outcome is not quite the same as if Jesus himself did it. Our healing success rate is not quite the same as the 100% of Jesus.

But – and this is where the need for boldness comes in – we are meant to grow and become better in healing people. We are meant to become like Christ (cf. Galatians 4:10; Galatians 4:10; 2 Corinthians 3:18) which includes a growing measure of holiness, faith and healing power – a closing of the gap between what people received when they came to Jesus and what people receive when they come to us.

How are we feeling about this? Is it time to pack up and join a more balanced church? God said to Joshua: “ … Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people … Be strong and very courageous … Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you goGod challenged Joshua – and he is challenging us – to do the impossible but the good news is that we are not having to do anything in our own strength. We are only meant to be available so that God can work his power – his might – through us.

God promised Joshua: “I will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be terrified, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you goAnd God is promising the same to us. He is with you. He is with me. Jesus told the disciples not to attempt anything before they had not received the infilling with the Holy Spirit. He said – Acts 1:4-8: “ … Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised … you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit … you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you ...”

And so it happened for them. And so it happens for us. God is with us – never leaves nor forsakes us – as he fills us and refills us with the Holy Spirit. One incident in the Bible explains how this works in practice. Two Christians – Peter and John – had healed a cripple which became the talking point of the entire city. The authorities asked them – Acts 4:7-13: “ … ‘By what power of what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘ … It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed … Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.’ When they say the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished … “

So far so good but then the authorities commanded them to cease speaking in Jesus’ name and threatened them which chipped away at the disciples’ confidence. The whole church became anxious and nervous. Therefore, this is what they did – Acts 4:24-30: “ … they raised their voices together in prayer to God. They prayed: ‘Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth … You spoke by the Holy Spirit … Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain … in this city [people] … conspired against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus

The church prayed. A fearful bunch of Christians – intimidated by threats – and nervous about the consequences of going forward – they cried out to God in prayer. They prayed together. They took courage from meditating on Jesus. They remembered how everyone conspired against him but salvation was won because nothing happened against God’s plan. Then they came straight to the point making this request: “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus

Then God confirmed his promise never to forsake or leave us – Acts 4:31: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness

None of us can be pep-talked into boldness. None of us can “cross the Jordan” and do anything by themselves. Even Rees Howells – in the earlier example story – had to pray for two hours and then a second period of prayer until – so the words of his biography – until “he was through” – until he had the faith for receiving the money which he needed. God asks us to be bold but the boldness is gained in prayer. The boldness which we are to take hold of is not our own but given by God through his Spirit.

In practice this means that we need to pray more. If we – as a church – want to take new territory in 2009 and want to see Greg healed, then we must come together and cry out in desperation the same request as those that have gone before us: “Now, Lord, consider what is before us and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus

Do you agree with this need for church prayer? Let’s be honest. Le me be honest with you. After wrestling for so long with the Bible and the learned opinions of scholars I am convinced about God’s healing will for Greg – it’s in the book – but somehow at the same time – as much as my heart goes out to Greg and the whole extended family – I struggle to have the faith for his healing. I’m not really confident that God is actually going to do it. I know that I need prayer. I haven’t come through yet. I need our prayer watch – the three hours that we want to pray together as a church.

In conclusion, I may add that I remain joyful and secure in trusting that heaven is my inheritance – no matter how much I am currently lacking in maturity. I may be a little disappointed in me as a pastor but none of us has to despair and doubt the goodness of God in his life. We are free – without any condemnation – to give it a go.

Do we want to be in this together? Can we hear God saying to us: “ … Be strong and courageous … “? And then respond to him – by praying together: “All right, Lord, … enable … boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal … ” Can we give it a go? Now that we have “crossed the Jordan” can we go forward and take the land – contend for the healing of Greg and more? Can we grab hold of the promises of God and not rest until the same has happened for us that happened for those in the Bible – Acts 4:31: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldnessNot all Christians want to do this but this morning in our church at Living Grace can I hear a rallying cry of boldness? Can I hear an “amen” from you? Amen.