Welcome to Christ’s Community Church. Today we’re on part two of our series “Rethinking the Church” and I believe as we’re beginning this New Year that God wants to impart to his people, to his church, a courageous Spirit. And I believe that it would bring great joy to the heart of God if we would courageously seek him and ask him what he would desire in our church and in our lives.
Now last week, we looked at a few examples of God’s miracle working power in the early followers of Christ and I asked you to consider what happened to the power of God in his Church? The apostle Paul told us, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). It’s God’s incomparably great power for us who believe. It’s God’s power in us, to empower us to minister to others, to make a difference in this world, and it’s not just me, it’s not just a select few, it’s us, it’s the Church, the body of Christ!
And so the question I’d like to ask this morning is, “Are we fully living out the prophetic role God has called us to as his body on earth?
You know, today in America so many churches like ours are blessed with wonderful people and comfortable places to meet. And I thank God for the atmosphere of worship, the wonderful music, the social connectedness, and all of that stuff, but I wonder if we might have lost our focus. As we gather together, we’ve become so good at creating comfortable, uplifting, and even pleasurable environments, but has that begun to overshadow the central things? Is it possible that our focus on Jesus death and resurrection has become unclear as we coordinate the music, the sermon, and the fellowship times to make sure that we’re entertained and that visitors feel good? Are we worshiping God in spirit and in truth? Are we courageously speaking the truth? Are we leaving room for God’s word to transform us into the image of Christ?
As we’re “Rethinking the Church” we need to remember that church isn’t about what you or I can do, but it’s about what Christ has done. All the wonderful relationships, the sermons, and music aren’t entertainment; they’re merely vehicles which are intended to bring us into God’s presence. When we gather together in Jesus name, God’s presence is here, and so God’s presence should be central to our worship. And it’s the powerful presence of God that transforms us, it’s meant to bring light to our eyes, illuminating our minds, and showing us the difference between the wheat and the weeds in our lives. That’s why God’s word is called a refining fire, because it purifies. But it’s also called a sword and both of these are tools that are used to separate things, dividing the pure from the impure, and yet these aren’t things that we naturally seek. You know, we long for comfort and pleasure in life, in our jobs, and in our homes, but the Bible challenges us to things that are uncomfortable, things that we naturally resist, and I believe God is calling us to a new level of courage. To set aside comfort and popularity to proclaim fearlessly and courageously the cross of Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection.
Like the Apostle Paul, you may remember his boldness writing to the church in Corinth. This was a church that he’d started, he planted the church, he loved the people, and yet no sooner than he left did false teachers come into the church discrediting his teaching. And so in second Corinthians, in this letter, Paul countered their accusations against him, boasting a little, but his list of credentials would silence any doubt to his apostolic authority. In Chapter 11, he reestablished his credibility by listing the trials he’d courageously endured in his service for Christ; for his church, and for his people, something that the false teachers would never do. And so in verse 23 he says,
“Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
In contrast, we have things so easy, and it’s natural to become sidetracked and lose sight of our priorities in our American church culture with the fancy stage lighting, smoke machines, choreographed worship teams, and messages that comfort instead of challenging. But Paul runs down this list of trials that he’s faced and concludes saying, “I face the daily pressure of my concern for all the churches.” And so I wonder what it would look like, if we could look at our problems, and consider them in light of those who are facing a Christ-less eternity. Might the shadow of eternity increase our concern for one another, and not just for our church, but our neighbors and for those we haven’t yet met.
Consider Paul’s situation when he wrote the letter to the Philippians. He was under house arrest for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and in spite of the fact that he was facing an uncertain future, and even the possibility of execution, even though he was in the middle of a significant trial, he said in Philippians chapter 1,
“I want you to know…that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:12-14).
I’ve been praying that we may be stirred from the deepest part of our souls to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. I pray that we would be more concerned about the presence of God than the perfect sermon outline, than every song perfectly tuned, and everyone’s cup brimming over with fresh Starbucks coffee. I pray that we would be less concerned about our temporal problems and more concerned how our lives would impact the eternal kingdom of God.
Paul says, “because of my chains others have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” My prayer is that you would courageously crush under your feet whatever you’ve been struggling with, whatever has caused fear in your life, or whatever may have derailed you from achieving God’s purposes, and that that very thing would propel you to step out fearlessly. You see, Jesus came so that we could have life and have it to the full, but our spiritual enemy came to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). The Bible tells us that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). And his greatest weapon is the lies that he uses to create fear and insecurity in our lives, paralyzing us and keeping us from being effective for the kingdom of God. But today, I proclaim in Jesus name, that together we’re standing firm against the devil’s schemes and we are becoming a courageous and fearless church! Amen?
And so, here's what I'd like for you to do today, I want you to consider what your greatest fear is? What is that thing you feared more than anything else in 2016?
Maybe, you might say, "I fear failure, I fear conflict, or I fear rejection, or I feel like I'll never measure up no matter how hard I try, I don't feel like I'll ever be good enough.”
And I’ll be honest, for me that’s mine, that’s my fear. For my whole life, I can remember feeling as if no matter how hard I tried I could never measure up to my sisters. I would never be good enough or smart enough. And even now sometimes I still wonder if I have what it takes, especially when it comes to being successful as a father, in business, or in ministry. And so sometimes I still wrestle with self-doubts.
But here’s what we need to understand; the Bible tells us in 2 Timothy 1:7,
“God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Whatever it is that you fear, it’s your spiritual enemy trying to talk you out of following God’s plan, by telling you that you can’t do it, you’ll never measure up, and if you try you’re going to fail. And so, what you need to know and understand is that God is not behind that. He hasn’t given us a spirit of fear, but he wants to give you a spirit of courage, using that very thing that once held you back as a spiritual springboard to achieve your greatest potential.
Now the Old Testament tells us about a guy named Benaiah. And he was a guy that, if you’re not paying attention when you’re reading the Bible, you’re going to miss him. But Benaiah was one of King David’s mighty men, one of the top five soldiers in Israel, a general in the Israeli Army, and the best of the best. He was honored, because he was courageous and his story is found in second Samuel chapter 23, where the Bible says,
“Benaiah son of Jehoiada was a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, who performed great exploits. He struck down two of Moab's best men. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. And he struck down a huge Egyptian. Although the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, Benaiah went against him with a club. He snatched the spear from the Egyptian's hand and killed him with his own spear” (2 Samuel 23:20-21).
Now I love that kind of Bible story! But there's a little sentence that’s so easy to miss if you're not paying attention. The end of verse 20 and it's so easy to read right past this. You know, it’s like, “Oh, by the way, Benaiah, this mighty warrior, followed this lion down into a pit on a snowy day.” In other words, this wasn’t the best strategy, this wasn’t the best day to try wrestling with a lion. You know, they’ve got great big claws and he’s just wearing moccasins… this is before Nike high tops with grippers, and so this is like crazy courageous! But Benaiah was the kind of guy who goes after a lion, follows him into a pit, knowing that only one of them is coming out. You see, people of faith, people of courage, people like Benaiah will chase after lions. They won’t let their fears stop them from doing what God has called them to do.
And so here’s what I’d like you to do, think about your greatest fear, what is the lion that you need to chase?
Today we’re talking about being courageous. We’re talking about living by faith. No more excuses of why we can’t do this or that, no more regrets, and some of you, God is calling you to push through your greatest fear... Some of you, there’s a ministry, there’s a divine burden inside of you, God is birthing something so big that you just can’t stand it! Some of you, you’ve got a heart for this certain part of the world and God is sending you. Some of you, God is calling you to volunteer your gifts right here in Emmitsburg, but there’s always excuses as to why you haven’t done it yet, there’s this inner struggle, this turmoil, this fear keeping you from chasing that lion. You see the need, the opportunity is there, you know you could do it, yet there’s excuse after excuse as to why you don’t. What is God calling you to do that fear has paralyzed you from pursuing?
Today, I want to show you two important qualities of a courageous church. Two thoughts that I pray would inspire and encourage you to serve with passion. The first thing is…
You see, the challenge for many of us is that we’re looking at the lion when we should be looking at God. Some of you, you’ve allowed yourself to be focused on what you’re afraid of and your fears are growing, their overwhelming you, instead of redirecting your attention to the one that can overcome your fears. You see, when we stop making excuses and start looking at the source of our strength all of a sudden what seemed impossible becomes possible. You see, courageous people don’t look at the lions, they look at their God.
I love the example of Daniel, because he was a man who also confronted a lion face-to-face. The Bible tells us about this in Daniel chapter 6 when the King under the compulsion of his advisers threw Daniel to the lions. The next morning he went to check on Daniel and the Bible says:
“When he (King Darius) came near to the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?" Daniel answered, "O king, live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me…” (Daniel 6:20-22).
Now what’s interesting is that King Darius asked Daniel about his God. In other words, he was saying, “I don't know him. He’s not my God, but what can your God do?” And I think there are so many people who profess to believe in God, yet when they think of God, he’s someone else's God and not their own God. You know maybe their mother’s God or their friend’s God, but it’s impersonal, it's someone else’s God. But when we shift from “what can your God do”, to “here's what my God can do”, suddenly everything changes!
This morning, how big is your God? Is he big enough to shut the mouths of the lions? Is he big enough to crush your fears? Because my God is!
You see, my God is the Alpha and the Omega, he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last. My God is everywhere, he’s all knowing, and all-powerful; with my God all things are possible. I don’t know how big your God is, but my God raises the dead, he opens blind eyes, and heals deaf ears. That’s how big my God is. My God is so good that when mankind was separated from him by our sinfulness, he sent his one and only son, Jesus, born of a virgin, to live a perfect and sinless life. He shed his innocent blood for my sin, and because Jesus died my God raised him from the dead. My God rolled away the stone so that we could know we serve a risen Savior. That’s how good my God is!
As a matter of fact, let me tell you what my God did for me. My God took the most rebellious and selfish guy and revealed himself to me, he delivered me from my sin and saved me. I knelt down one morning and asked for his forgiveness and stood up forever changed. My God transformed me and made me a new creation. My God forgave me, healed me, and delivered me from addictions. My God gave me a new heart, a new passion, and a new life. That’s who my God is!
And I’ll tell you, when I’m overwhelmed, my God is my peace. When I’m weak, he’s my strength. When I’m hurting, he’s my comfort. When I’m lost, he’s my way. When I’m thirsty, he’s my living water. When I’m alone, he’s a friend that sticks closer than a brother. His power is real, he’s living inside of me, and that’s who my God is!
My God said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20). How big is your God?
Now let me tell you, if you know my God, you won't let that lion talk you out of what your God says you can do. You’ll be courageous, you won't look at the lions, but you’ll look to God who says that all things are possible. Courageous people know that their God is bigger than their fears. The second thing is that…
When you’re facing that lion and your problems seem insurmountable, you need to change your perspective. Hebrews chapter 11 describes it this way, "Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Courageous people know that their God is bigger than any problem they’ll ever face. And they know that God has the ability to turn any problem into an opportunity for their good and for his glory.
The apostle Paul shared this perspective in Philippians chapter 1 saying,
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).
And so being courageous in the face of fear is simply a matter of perspective. Our problems, our fears, whatever that lion is that you’re facing, they’re not all-powerful; but our God is! And so every problem you face is an opportunity for God to accomplish something incredible in your life. Paul recognized this and committed his life to helping people grow in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ, so prison wasn’t an obstacle for him, he wasn’t limited by its chains, it was simply an opportunity to write letters to the churches he couldn’t visit.
Now nobody likes living through a crisis, given a choice we’d choose the less painful path, but we need to understand that the goal of faith is not the elimination of risk. You see, there is no such thing as a risk-free faith. When you’re living by faith, the risk increases and your security decreases. And so when God called us to start Christ’s Community Church, I felt insecure, because it increased the risk, it decreased my security, but God called me to chase that lion. We couldn’t consider the limitations, but courageously we seized the opportunities, and God gave me the courage to jump into that pit.
Today God is going to call some of you to increase your risk, to stop considering your limitations, but to live by faith and seize the opportunity. What would happen if we became a courageous church? What if we were united around Christ? What if we believed we were one body? What if we believed that our God is so big that we could actually stand together and make a difference? What if we chased that lion together?
Some of you, God has given you a vision and yet you have all the reasons why you can’t, why you’re not going to, you shouldn’t, or it might not, but I guarantee you Benaiah was afraid. That’s part of the thrill, because when you’re afraid there’s that rush of adrenaline. Benaiah felt that when he faced the Egyptian, he felt it when he chased the lion, and that’s the way we are. If that's you right now, feel the fear and do it anyway! Seize the opportunity! Take the step of faith! Feel the fear and look to your God who says, "All things are possible with Me".
What's God calling you to do today? I encourage you to step out of fear and step into faith. Step out of all of the reasons why you can't and step into faith in a God who says, "You can, because with God all things are possible." We walk not by sight, but we walk by faith. Take that step of faith, do what you can do, and trust God to do what you can’t. You do the believable, let Him do the unbelievable. You do the ordinary, let Him do the extraordinary. Be courageous!
Let me encourage you for a moment as we close. You’re an overcomer, you’re empowered by the Spirit of God, you’re planted at this moment in history, because it was at this time that God could best use you to make a difference. You are not here by accident. Be courageous and step into what God has called you to do. Step out of yourself and into His anointing; for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and a sound mind.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
January 15, 2017
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.