God Is Strong—Am I?
God Is Strong—Am I?
From the editor:
Here's another great sermon from one of our featured preachers, Francis Chan. A few noteworthy items: Just below this editor's note, Chan offers a short backstory to this particular message. Also, you listen by clicking here.
Introductory remarks from Francis Chan:
This message was especially meaningful to me because courage is something we rarely see in today's church. We have a lot of scared and insecure people in our congregations. And it's no wonder, as so many of us as leaders are filled with insecurity. As I studied for this message, God showed me areas of my life where fear had crept in. I often compare myself to other people who know more than I do or are more gifted than I am. This leaves me feeling inadequate and wondering if I have anything to contribute to God's kingdom.
Do people describe you as "powerful"? Or have you fallen into a rut where you question your worth to the kingdom? We need to constantly remind ourselves to stop looking at the flesh and focus on God's Spirit.
"For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control" (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV). This is a reminder to all believers that the followers of God in Scripture were marked by power and courage. We serve a powerful God. As his children we should be putting on display this characteristic of power.
Rather than merely comforting other believers in their failures, we need to take the next step. Remind them that they have power to get back up and do amazing things by the power of God's Spirit.
You know how we each have our idiosyncrasies? I don't like repetition. I won't watch a movie twice. That's silly to me. So I tend to not repeat myself, even from the stage. If I consider teaching something, I might think, I just taught that eight years ago. They'll remember. And yet that's bad, because in Scripture certain things are repeated over and over and over again. So I've realized that I need to say something over and over again, at least this month. I want to talk about courage, even though I spoke about this not long ago. I'm going to be speaking about it more and more, because I see it throughout Scripture a lot.
I also want to repeat myself on this topic because I may be the one guy that keeps telling you to believe in the power that's in you—the Holy Spirit. We live in a world where everyone's telling you you can't pull this off. We live in a time when people, even in the church, don't believe in the power of the Holy Spirit and what he can do. Sometimes we look at the Scriptures and think, Well, yeah, that was back then. But it's not about back then. It's about always. It's about ever since the beginning of this Book and all the way to the end the followers of God were filled with courage. There was a fearlessness in them. There was a confidence that my God will come through. We grew up with these stories, but some of us lost it in there somewhere, to the point where we come to service and are scared and fearful.
Parents are more afraid than ever. "If I tell my kid no, maybe he won't like me." So we've got these kids running out of control, because we're scared of losing their friendship. It's easier to say yes to everything and let them have what they want. It goes from there to our jobs and economy. We don't even think about doing great things for the Lord.
Yet from the beginning of the Bible and all the way to the end, people are saying, "No, I'm not afraid." Revelation 21 says that those who conquer are the ones God is going to bring with him in the end. He says, "I'm going to be their God, and they're going to be my children." But the cowards, the disbelieving, will end up in the lake of fire. We've got to be bold, courageous people. I want to remind you week after week about how much power is in those who have the Holy Spirit of God.
We tend to become less courageous as we grow older.
How many of you went to Sunday school as a kid? What were your favorite stories from Sunday school? Daniel in the lions' den. David and Goliath. Jonah. Esther. Noah. The parting of the Red Sea. Jesus. Stephen.
I always loved David and Goliath. I loved the story of the scrawny little guy with rocks in his pocket looking at this giant and saying, "I can take him down. I don't care how big he is; I'm going to take him down, because I've got my God."
Daniel in the lions' den is a great story. God shut the mouths of all the lions.
And then there was the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They said, "No, we're not going to bow to that idol. We don't care if everyone else bows down; we're not going to bow down." And the king said, "Then we're going to throw you in this fiery furnace." Remember what they said? "Go ahead. Our God can rescue us. We don't care if you throw us in a pit of fire." Sure enough, the king throws them in this pit of fire. And what happens? A fourth person appears with them in the fire, and everyone says, "Who is that?" Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego come out of the fire, and they didn't even smell like smoke. Everyone's amazed. We love that story.
We love the story of the Exodus, with Moses saying, "Let my people go, or we're going to send plagues on you. This last one's going to be terrible." And he parts the Red Sea so God's people can go through.
Remember the story of Joseph. He was sold into slavery, but he kept believing.
We love the story of Elijah, standing on Mount Carmel against 450 prophets of Baal, and he's mocking them. He was fearless: "My God is going to take you down. It doesn't matter—you can jump and sing all day long, but your god's not going to listen to you. He's not real. My God is the real God."
These are the stories about courage that we grew up with. When I was in high school and I first started believing for myself, I thought, God could use me to reach my whole campus. By the end of the year, I can fill this gymnasium with people. I believed that. I went through the yearbook calling people. I cut class to tell people about Jesus. I believed I was going to change that place.
But through the years people calm us down. We start to lose that courage. We get knocked down here and there, and people tell us we can't pull it off. Our faith and courage subside. But that's not right. That's not how we want to live. It's rare for someone to put an arm around you and remind you of how powerful you are, how powerful your God is who dwells inside of you, and what you can do. We become more and more cowardly, and we call it being responsible: I'm just being a good steward of my life, because God wouldn't want me throwing it all away. I'm just being careful.
People say to me, "Why do you spend time speaking to youth?" I say, "Because they still believe that God can do anything, and they live like it. They're looking for 40-year-old guys with kids who'll still do crazy things. They need to see us believe that God is still God, not just when we were little kids but when we're 40, when we're 80." God's done some amazing things throughout time, but you can probably think of times when your dreams were squashed, when you felt that God wanted you to do something, but things didn't happen the way you thought they would. And pretty soon people started talking you into being more responsible, and eventually you said, "Yeah, I can't do anything great."
When I was in high school I was going nuts for Jesus, but then I started getting more educated. When you do that, you meet people more educated than you are, and you start to feel dumb compared to them. You think, I don't want to say anything, because that guy's so much smarter; just listen to him. The more you learn the more you realize how much you don't know, and there's always someone better than you. You start believing that God can't do anything great through you anymore. Is that how we want to live? It doesn't make sense. We're children of God.
A guy in our church bench presses 1,150 pounds. It's a world record. He's the strongest man in the world. Anyone who's bench pressed is going, "I don't even get that. That doesn't make sense. That's not humanly possible." Amazing. You know what's more amazing? His wife bench presses 405 pounds. I will never come close to doing that. I'd never even try that. They have kids. I don't know them, but my guess is that they're not picked on a lot. It'd be weird if they were scrawny. That would look weird.
We're children of the most powerful being in existence, and it looks weird when we're scared. From cover to cover, this Book is about one being who can do anything, who's confident, who says: Look, I'm the only one who holds the keys to life and death and everything else. From beginning to end this Book is to show off God's power, so when his children are weak and scared, it doesn't make sense. We've got such a powerful God.
The more I read the Scriptures, the more I pray, "Lord, I want to walk around like a child of God, who's fearless and courageous." Followers of Yahweh are marked by this power and confidence that my God will come through. As I grow in knowledge, I want my courage and boldness to grow with it, not the opposite. When's the last time you did something absolutely insane in the eyes of everyone else, but you had the confidence of knowing that that was what God was calling you to do?
God requires us to be courageous.
Tertullian, an early leader in the church around 180 A.D., once wrote:
The Lord challenges us to suffer persecutions and to confess him. He wants those who belong to him to be brave and fearless. He himself shows how weakness of the flesh is overcome by courage of the spirit. This is the testimony of the apostles, and in particular of the representative administrating Spirit. A Christian is fearless.
Author and pastor A.W. Tozer writes :
We may as well face it: the whole level of spirituality among us is low. We've measured ourselves by ourselves until the incentive to seek higher plateaus in the things of the Spirit is all but gone. We've imitated the world, sought popular favor, manufactured delights to substitute for the joy of the Lord, and produced a cheap and synthetic power to substitute for the power of the Holy Ghost.
I want to look at the story of Caleb and Joshua in Numbers 13. God had just led the people of Israel away from the Egyptians. He threw all the plagues on them, and then Moses goes to the Red Sea and the army is chasing them, and he divides the water. The Israelites go through, and they're in the desert as God takes them to this Promised Land. God says: Okay, we're here. This is the Promised Land right in front of you.
So what happens in Numbers 13 is they send some spies to scope out the land. They pick 12 guys to go. In verse 25 they come back after spying out the land:
At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, "We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan."
But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, "Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it." Then the men who had gone up with him said, "We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are." So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, "The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them."
So you've got these 12 spies that come back, and 2 of them, Joshua and Caleb, say, "We can do this thing. Let's go. God already split the Red Sea. He killed the firstborn of all of Egypt. He can pull this off." But the other 10 said, "Man, did you see how big those people were?" And they stir up the congregation with: "Let's be good stewards of our lives. If we die out there, what's going to happen to our kids? We need to be responsible. We can't win this thing. They're way too big. Let's just calm down. We got this far; let's just be glad we're still alive." And all the people follow the ten. They don't listen to Caleb or Joshua. Everyone is discouraged. Everyone stops believing.
Chapter 14 has God's response to that. Verse 26 says this:
And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, "How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. Say to them, 'As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.' I, the Lord, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die."
And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing up a bad report about the land—the men who brought up a bad report of the land—died by plague before the Lord. Of those men who went to spy out the land, only Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive.
So God was not pleased. He's never been pleased with cowardice. He's never been pleased with people who don't believe he can come through and that he can do anything.
Are you going to be cowardly or courageous?
My question to you is, who do you resemble? Do you resemble Joshua and Caleb, or do you resemble everyone else who is looking at the problems in life? Are you looking at God's calling for your life, or are you listening to those voices telling you you can't do anything great?
I've heard those voices my whole life. I've heard everyone telling me, "You can't do it. You can't change the world. There's always going to be poor people out there. You can't rescue every kid who's been trafficked by sex offenders. You're not going to save L.A. You have to be responsible." Meanwhile, in my soul I'm trying to fight for this faith I used to have when I was a kid, when I was younger and believed that God could do anything through me.
Everyone wants to calm us down. We have our dreams from the Lord and things he's called us to do and say, but people mellow us out and say, "You can't do that. You don't need to go to those extremes." It's like a Christian Prozac. Is that what we see in Scripture? No, Scripture is always about being courageous, being insane, believing when no one else believes, praying that our boldness will get even greater. People were astonished by the boldness of Peter and John. They walk out of jail and what do they do? They gather the believers together to pray for greater boldness.
See, my favorite part of the story of the spies is what happens 45 years later. In Joshua 14, it's 45 years later, and Caleb is still alive, just like God said. Everyone else is dead, but Joshua and Caleb are still alive. God predicted this, and God's been right every time so far. So here you have Caleb speaking in verse 7:
I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, "Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God." And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these 45 years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day 85 years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.
Isn't that beautiful? Picture an 85-year-old man getting in front of a crowd and saying that. I so want to be that. Don't you? Don't you want to be the 85-year-old who believes even more than you did when you were 40? What concerns me is thinking of my faith when I was a kid, and now my faith at 40. I'm looking at a pattern, and it's not leading me to where Caleb was at the end of his life.
I believe I'm supposed to live by faith, and I believe the older I get I should take bigger steps of faith. But it's harder once kids are involved. When you're younger it can seem easier to risk for the sake of the kingdom. What are you going to lose? That's why Jesus says it's harder for the rich. They have more to lose. Go to a slum in India and tell them to leave everything, that God's got a better life for them. They'll say, "Okay, great!" Go to Simi Valley and tell them to leave everything. They'll say, "Are you kidding me? You know how much I have?" When you get older you start to think, I don't know if I want to risk everything, because now I've got a wife, I've got kids, I've got a home, I've got life insurance. You're telling me to bet it all, just believing God is going to come through? It gets harder and harder.
I don't want to do that. I want to be 85 years old and bet it all. I want to be 85 and go, "Nothing's changed. God is still God." I want to be Caleb. A lot of you know exactly what I'm talking about, because you've stopped believing. I want to pray for you, and I want you to pray for me. I've got enough people telling me I can't do it. Every once in a while it'd be nice to hear a voice that says, "You have a mighty God. I want to lay my hands on you and pray for you." That's what I want to do for you today.
Some of you moms are struggling with courage. You start doubting yourself. The frustrating thing is you can't make your kids love Jesus no matter what you do. You think if you do everything right then they're going to believe and follow him? I've seen some awesome parents, godly men and women, who've had kids that went the opposite direction. It's all in God's hands. Don't put that pressure on yourself. Don't take yourself that seriously. You pray like crazy for the Holy Spirit to come into your child's life, and you model it in the home. But don't believe the lie that all you're supposed to do right now is raise children. Yes, that's your priority, but God may be calling you to other great things too.
Some of you guys are thinking, I'm not even providing. With the economy and everything else, I can't even focus, and you're telling me to have visions of great things God's going to do. I'm just trying to stay alive. That's no way to live. Where's the faith of when you were a kid who just believed? Some of you guys are in sin. You're in some major sin, and people have told you your whole life, "You don't just change overnight." But then you read the Scriptures and you say, "It seems like some people did. It says here that the Spirit can put to death the deeds of the flesh." Part of you doesn't want to hear these other voices; you just want to hear the voice of God that says, "I can kill this sin. The power of the Holy Spirit can kill it." You want to believe in that, but no one else is encouraging you.
Some of you are in marriages, and everyone's saying, "No, you can't stay in that. That's going to hurt you too much." But you've heard the voice of God saying, "No, stay in it and keep loving." You're worn out and saying, "No one can live through what I've lived through." I want to say, "Yes, you can. You can stay in that relationship."
Others of you are in sinful relationships, and you need the courage to get out. You know it's not right before God, but you don't have the courage. You don't believe that if God wanted it to work out, even if you part for a while and get things right before him, he could restore you. You don't believe you can do anything great, so you want to take matters into your own hands. I want you to believe again that God's a great God.
Some of you have heard specifically from the Lord. You know of things you were created for, but because no one else does it that way, you've backed off. Isn't this Book filled with people who did things unlike everyone else, who stood firm even when everyone else was against them? Caleb and Joshua must have looked like fools for believing. But I'm telling you right now that whatever steps of faith God's calling you to take, I promise you that 45 years from now you won't regret it.
To see an outline of Chan's sermon, click here.
For your reflection:
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? _____________________________
Personal growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ___________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? _______________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? ______________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ___________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? (For help on what may require credit, see Plagiarism, Schmagiarism and Stolen Goods: Tempted to Plagiarize.
Francis Chan is an American Protestant author, teacher, and preacher.