Pastor Luis unpacks how courage is birthed in a heart aligned with God's purposes.
We launched into this idea of pursuit because we’d like to explore, challenge, and encourage ourselves to consider the different things we are chasing in our lives. So we launched into this idea that we must discover a promise worth our pursuit. There is a promise to pursue. Every single one of us has been endowed with a longing that we long to see happen. The closer we get to that place of owning the dream of a desire, goal, resolution, or aspiration, whatever name we want to put to it, every single one of us has a pursuit. In fact, life as a whole is many pursuits linked up together. The new year gives us an opportunity to clarify, reestablish, or recommit to some core dreams that we long for. If we’re in a place where we’re edging towards what we sense God is asking us to pursue, then we sense something inside of us that is meant to engage our energy and our capacities. When we come to this place, we discover that what is most needed is not ability or knowledge, those are necessary, but it is courage. Any pursuit worth our engagement will always call us to a place of courage. Courage inherently means there are fears.
It inherently means that there are things that we are afraid of. What I would like us to settle into with these remaining moments we have here together this afternoon is that God longs to meet us in our fear. If any of us have tasted, acknowledged, or recognize the fears within us, we also recognize the sacred ground in which God longs to step into our lives, meet us there, and lead us through them. But it requires something of us. It requires us to own our fear. It requires us to invite God into our fear. Oh! That’s so challenging. It’s so challenging because a lot of times a pursuit that we long for has a dynamic to it. It is something that we long for. It is something that we are afraid of pursuing. If we are honest about the dreams within us, they are dreams we long for and dreams that terrify us. It’s a universal human condition. I think in many ways good desires and dreams pull us toward the noble, the virtuous, and the beautiful. They pull us towards the endeavors that make heroes of us.
They elevate us toward the highest of human expressions. If that’s the truth and they pull us up to the highest level of what it is to be human, then they also expose us to very deep and real fears. It has an ability to open us up to what fear longs to whisper inside of us. It speaks of pain and shame. It speaks of vulnerability, loneliness, rejection, isolation, the possibility of being humiliated, of being embarrassed, missing the mark of letting others down, letting ourselves down, maybe even fearing becoming a letdown. Many times we insulate ourselves. Some of our resolutions aren’t that popular. Not because they don’t exist within us, but because we fear. We fear whether or not they’re actually even possible.
The good news is God longs to meet us there. When those fears pop up and we have something we want to pursue and the fears start coming, one of three things occur. One of them is that we choose to either numb it, deny it, or own it. Only when we own it, do we have the ability to step through it. To numb it and deny it, well there’s no courage needed. But to own it and step through it, is the definition of courage. Courage is the ability to be strong in the face of fear, pain, or grief. By definition that’s what it is. This is why we are so inspired by the stories we see, read, and watch. It’s not lacking in fear. It is the ability to remain through and step into and walk through it. That, in many ways, is where faith plays such a lucrative role. God longs to meet us there. God longs to lead us through them.
He longs to do something that is altogether beautiful. In my case, I have many fears I can speak of, but one of them sticks out in my mind. It has to do with the academic arena. My journey is very intimately intertwined with failure and pain. My story in many ways is connected to it. The journey of my faith began on the ashes of failure and pain. It would be in academics where I’ve experienced this the most. I was never strong academically. My strengths were more of the social kind. I was not an extraordinary athlete, but they definitely were easier for me. Maybe we remember classmates we had along the way, who it seemed like they didn’t try. In fact, they tried not to try. Yet, they would finish in the top ranking of the class. Some of us remember their names and are imagining them right now. We must forgive them. Some of us are those people and if that’s the case, God bless you. Indeed, He has blessed you. Obviously, I didn’t get that blessing. I was not given that inheritance of a gift. I remember from the earliest moments of my academic career, stepping into an environment in which the language spoken was very different from the language I learned at home. Having learned Spanish, occasionally called Spanglish, as the primary way of communication and stepping into an environment in which all of a sudden I need to learn something brand new.
I remember sitting in a room that was separated from everyone else in which an adult was trying to educate me in this language. Having such a challenging time understanding and yet felt embarrassed that I needed to learn it. I remember sitting in class being taught something over and over and not getting it. Going to the library, testing the patience of my tutors, who seemed to be creative in how they taught and letting them down. I remember reading words in a book in black and white letters. Seeing these words in a book and finding almost anything outside of that book far more fascinating than what was inside the book. I remember having a challenging time stringing words together in an understandable manner. In an academic setting to stand up before a group of people and have to communicate. I remember it causing me to feel so nervous, shy, unsure, and soft-spoken. I remember as if it was yesterday being 17 years old. Being called into my school advisor’s office and told in very real terms that it was impossible for me to graduate high school. I remember receiving my transcripts after the whole ordeal was said and done. I was ranked 446 in my class, which may or may not be good, except there were 336 students in my class. How do you do that? I excelled at failing.
I remember that became the place in which my journey of faith began. That place opened me up to life. If it opened me up to life, it also wrote something on my soul. I remember it was as if somebody took a permanent marker on the whiteboard of my heart and wrote words. I remember those words. I could feel those words. They spoke of shame, failure, and being incapable. I can feel it even now. It wasn’t a conscious decision to grab these and own them for myself. But I remember this being a part of my journey. Even though I had gone through undergraduate and completed my degree, it was about 15 years after that moment in which I was given the opportunity to sign up and enroll in a graduate program.
I had gone through the process of being accepted. I was excited and driving towards the first course. I remember stepping into the classroom, sitting down and all of a sudden, what I was excited about this dream of pursuing, this opportunity before me, became something very terrifying. There were moments where I felt positive. I remember sitting there and for the first time the professor spoke and I understood. I thought, “progress.” I remember reading the books, enjoying, and understanding them. In fact, I found what was in the book more fascinating than almost everything outside of the book. That’s progress. I can tell you that the first assignment when it required me to put words into writing and submit it to be evaluated? It was as if every word that I wrote echoed something within the chamber of my being: remember Luis, remember the shame and failure, remember you’re not capable. I remember writing, deleting, rewriting, deleting. I remember my poor wife, looking at her, would you please help me? Will you please rewrite this entire paper? Make it acceptable.
I remember going through these moments where I would seek to numb that fear. I certainly sought to deny it. But I can tell you, it was only when I owned it and invited God into the very pit of it, that I was able to move through it. I can tell you that it was in that place that I discovered, for me, right now, that’s what courage looks like. Especially in world-class cities such as ours, academic courage is not our issue. It was one of mine. Some of us here are not even sure God exists, but we’re here. Our fear is not so much whether or not God exists. It’s that if He does exist, God is set against this. Oh! That is our fear. Others of us fear that we’re destined for destruction because that is the story our life has told. It is the narrative we have inherited. Others of us fear committing because we see so many other things we’re going to miss out on. Some of us fear that our weaknesses will get the best of us or that the brokenness in our path will become the brokenness of our future. Fears are real. They are real, there’s no way around it. A pursuit that is worth our energy will be a pursuit that will challenge us to face, step into, and step through them.
That’s why I think it’s so good for us to know and understand that God longs to meet us right in that sacred place and lead us through them. This is the beautiful story God has been writing throughout generation after generation. Even though the words in these ancient documents we read are ancient, they are of people that no longer exist. They are words meant to highlight, not the people that no longer exist, but the God who interacted with the people who no longer exist. The way that God interacted with those people is the way He longs to interact with us. The way God moved in their lives is the way He longs to move in our lives. He longs for us to have a courageous pursuit.
I think one of these incidents is pretty clearly defined in this passage. It’s in Joshua 1:6-9. We’re told in verse six to be strong and courageous. This is a conversation between God and Joshua. “For you shall cause people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.” We may not be aware, but this is on the backside of an amazing promise God has given to Joshua. What God is saying to Joshua is ‘it is time for you, Joshua, the promises there that are ignited in your soul. I know you’re afraid, but you must be strong and courageous because this endeavor involves you. It is not only about you. You shall cause your people to inherit this land. Your pursuit will bless many people if you step out of your fear and into courage. It comes up to being careful and to do according to the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left so that you may have good success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on a day a 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.’ Some of us may be very familiar with these words. We would if we were to literally interpret them, falsely conclude that the secret to success is perfect behavior. That’s what it seems God is saying to Joshua. ‘You will succeed when you keep this completely and step forward without dividing to the right or left. If you do that Joshua, everything is yours.’
Some of us think, ‘Yeah, that’s right and I’m trying to measure up.’ Others of us think that’s devastating, ‘I can never measure up.’ What’s actually happening in this passage is that God is choosing to create an emphasis. It’s almost as if it’s an accent on what it looks like to build a successful life. It’s not literally about every dot and title. It’s almost as if God is saying to Joshua, listen, I want you to know my word. You know the words fear to speak. Choose to hear my Word. You know the power of fear speaks into your soul, choose to experience the power of my Word that wants to speak into your soul. Know it, let it know you. Seek your soul in it. Marinate in it and let it impact the way you think, the way your attitudes come out, your affections and your desires, let it impact your words, indeed even your actions. Do that Joshua and you will experience success. Not success by the way we define it, which is, we get what we want, how we want it when we want it.
Jesus said, success is like when somebody chooses to build their house on a rock, they hear my words and choose to live by them and allow my words to overpower whatever fears and insecurities are within them and they build their life on my words. It’s like they hit bedrock and they build their house. He says, “The storms will come, the winds will howl, the floods will rise but that house remains standing.” Jesus did not say, success with God meant no turmoil, pain, persecution, or degree of failure. It’s almost as if what He was saying was, ‘Listen, you can have a house that’s built on rock and a house that’s built on sand, right next to each other. Both are exposed to the elements, both experience real life. What is the difference? One house is resilient such as a successful life is one that is able to endure. One that is able to experience the very bitter pill of pain, rejection, failure, isolation, and all that this life has and not be destroyed, but be repaired and become whole.
Success is a life defined by wisdom. It’s a soul that is able to sense and be awakened by the sweetness of God’s tenderness and love. Especially in the toughest points of life. ‘Have I not commanded you, be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, do not be dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ The phrase ‘be strong and courageous’ is repeated three times, Joshua needed to hear it. We might think, why would He say it three times? Because Joshua was not strong and courageous at this moment. If anything, he would be filled with deep fear. Why? He was being asked to take people who had been accustomed to captivity and lead them toward independence and freedom. He was being asked to take a group of people, made up of shepherds, and step into an arena with a trained military that had far greater resources than they. Joshua was being asked to step out of following the greatest leader Israel knew, Moses, and to step into his shoes and become the leader Israel needed.
Just one of those would be overwhelming. But all three at the same time is exactly where Joshua was at. Be strong and very courageous are the exact words he needed to hear. The pursuit, as worthy as it was, elevated his fears. We know this. We know that Joshua was afraid, but he did not allow his fear to overcome the invitation God had for him. We know this because 30 years later he had been given one of the greatest honors by his own people. We’re told in Joshua 24 at the end of his life, Joshua, the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord died at 110 years old, after a long, healthy life. They buried him in his own inheritance at Timnath-Serah, the land he conquered, which is in the hill country of Ephraim north of the mountain of Gaash.
Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua. The people had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel. Why would this be the greatest compliment given? Because what the author is saying is that Joshua was life from the moment God stepped into it and challenged him to pursue it. His life ended up being altered, where it was no longer about Joshua. The impact of his life impacted his family, tribe, and his nation. Every step of victory he took was a victory that his people took. Joshua was connected, forever celebrated, like the one by whom God was able to fulfill a promise, unlike any other. This account is certainly worth investigating for its own right. But it also gives us something of a template, I believe. It modeled something for us, by giving us this footprint to step into. One of the things Joshua and this account show us is that the pursuit of courage worth engaging in will require courage.
We will discover that it is birth in a heart aligned with God’s promises. It is there, in the heart, that it is given birth. That is where it rises up, in a heart that is aligned with what God longs to do in this world. Any person who says, “I’m going to line up with what you want to do, God, and I’m going to do my best. I’m going to invite you into my life. I’m going to invite you into my fears.” Do you know what starts to arise? Something that maybe we have never experienced before, maybe even generations prior to us have never experienced, exhibited, or modeled. There is a degree of courage and it is there. Solomon said the wicked flee when no one pursues. The wicked are opposed to God’s purposes, but the righteous are aligned with His purposes. It’s almost as if Solomon is surprised. Take any person from any background, any place, and line them up with what God’s doing. They become bold, like a lion. Courage becomes their defining factor.
If alignment is where it’s born, then that would assume a couple of things. I think it’s good for us to consider this in the opening weeks of our year. It assumes daily exposure to His word. I just want to encourage all of us to consider a verse a day, because we find ourselves far too busy for anything more. But if we expose ourselves to His word, then we start giving Him access to our hearts. Not for fear to be the loudest voice, but for the courage to be the strongest impact. His Word is filled with many points. When He says I will step into those and guide you through them. To be able to nourish ourselves, to be able to receive a daily sense of His promise over our lives, to be able to connect with the overarching story He longs to write. To become increasingly familiar with who He is. To be reminded of His goodness.
It is to indeed know what the bedrock looks like. The alignment assumes daily exposure. Do you know what it also assumes? It assumes a growing relationship with God. I say growing because many times in our lives we might think that there’s only one step and that is to step into a relationship with Him. Like any other relationship, it requires intention, devotion, a sense of affection. and a sense of priority. In our case, a relationship with God is possible because of what Jesus did through His life, death, and resurrection. It is because of that, that we are able to receive new life breathed into our souls. The experience and locking that happens and then a strengthening that occurs. It is in relationship with God, not in behaving, but in relationship with God, that turmoil turns into shelter. It is in our turmoil we discover Him who says, “I am your shelter.”
It is in relationship with God where fear turns into courage, shame turns into grace, and acceptance. It’s in a relationship where pain turns into comfort and challenges become the groundwork before strong character is built up within us. It’s relationship. Maybe this is why the most famous story Jesus ever told involved a son and a father. The story spoke of a son who abandoned his father and decided to indulge in all the lowest of desires. After indulging in them for a period of time, he shipwrecked his life and was filled with pain. It was not, ‘how can I behave myself back in?’ It was not, ‘how can I measure up to be back in?’ It was, ‘how can I reconnect with the father I left?’ He courageously, one step at a time, went forward.
Jesus says that the father was always longing for him. He ran out when he saw his son coming and did not lay at his feet all his failures, disappointments, and pains, all the ways in which he was let down. He ended up embracing him. Only the way Jesus said, in the same way, God the Father longs to embrace every single one of us. That embrace clothed that son anew. The son came clothed with turmoil, fear, shame, guilt, pain, and challenge. He discovered shelter, courage, grace, and acceptance. He discovered forgiveness, comfort, and the beginning of his character being restored.
Alignment assumes a growing relationship with God, a healing relationship with God. It also assumes ownership over our interior life. No one else can do this for us, but it assumes that we are challenging, perhaps even spotlighting our attitudes, thoughts, affections, desires, words, and motivations. Because a heart that is tended to, cleaned, and nourished is a heart that grows courage. Courage will always call us. It will call us to create a better future. It is why courage is needed. In Joshua’s case, he was a man born in captivity. He was called to create a future that was better. He was born in captivity and he died a free man. He was born in slavery and he died in true security and independence.
This is the story God longs to write in every single one of our lives. It was a way in which we could say Joshua’s past spoke of brokenness for generation after generation. His future spoke of freedom, an abundance of life, dignity, and confidence. What we have to understand is, it doesn’t matter where we come from. When we partner with God, it will always be possible to create a better future. Rick Warren said it this way, “you, are you. We are the product of our past, but we need not be its prisoner.”
We can change. If we think and sense something within us saying, “yes, maybe others can change, but not you.” Well, we must understand there is no greater lie. If God is involved, every breath we take is a possibility. Every moment we’re alive is a possibility to alter the course of our lives. The story our past tells does not need to be the story our future tells. It does not need to be. If God is involved, this is the beautiful promise. This is the act of God intersecting with real people. Because when we step into our fears, we automatically start to rewrite them and one fear overcome becomes two and three and four. Before you know it, the future we thought we were going to inherit is altogether different from the future we have created. Because God longs for us, He longs for us to be able to say, “you know what, my life, yes, it was met with failure. Yes, it has shame. Yes, it has points of weakness and things that I’d rather not be. Anyone would know.”
When courage takes a hold of our soul, it writes a story we’re celebrating. It writes a story that by the end of our time here on earth, which we never know when that is, becomes a story in which if we could think of it this way. The land we conquer in our lives will be the land others inherit. In future generations, we’ll get to start where we finished. Every single one of our decisions, every single area that we chose to conquer within our own soul and lives, every advancement that we made, is one fueled by courage. It is not fueled by anger, vengeance, or a chip on our shoulder, but fueled by love, in a desire to see something that is hope-filled, faith-filled, and beautiful to occur.
When we step into our future in that way, we start to move forward with God. Some of us start to recognize that there is something of a legacy that He longs to write within our story. There is no story in human history without pain, without failure, without complete disappointment. There are no stories absent of these. The ones that we admire, celebrate, and applaud are the ones filled with courage. They say, somebody stood back up, tried again, forgave again, loved again, risked again, pursued again, remained resilient, and tenacious, continuing to move forward. There’s something within their soul that was just never snuffed out. Because the God who breathed life into the lungs did not allow them to let their fears get the best of them to keep them from a future we’re celebrating. 2018 is a year God wants to write something in our story. I wonder if courage had its way in our lives, what would it write? What would it look like?
If we were convinced of our pursuit and God was invited into it and courage had its way, what would it look like? For some of us, our story would become a story of commitment, the faithfulness of a job well done, investing ourselves in others. Others of us would say, “you know what, 2018 is a year I will courageously invest myself in key relationships. 2018 is the year I will overcome. 2018 is the year I will forgive. 2018 is a year I will heal, I’ll be restored. Courage says I will be patient and steadfast. I will prioritize what needs to be prioritized, it’s that year.
In the end, we will be able to taste and see, not just the words of an ancient document, but on the tablets of our hearts. When courage has its way, it will write something beautiful. It will write something worth celebrating. Maybe that’d be our year. May that be our reality, individually and together. In a moment, we’re going to receive our time of giving and close with a final song. But Lord, I thank you, that you are the one who loves to step into the darker places of our soul. Not with shame or condemnation, but with life and love. I thank you, God, that none of our fears cause you to flee, cause you to abandon or forsake your promises that you will never leave nor forsake us for you will remain with us. I pray you give us the ability to pursue this life, to do it in such a way that it calls the best out of us. That it gives us the ability to own our fears, to invite you into them, to step through them, and that you would have your way in our lives. Give us the capacity to engage in courageous pursuit. We pray for this in Jesus’ name. Amen.