Take courage! I like that phrase from the Scripture lesson this morning. Take courage. It is an action, something we do. Evidently, courage just doesn’t happen. Courage doesn’t come naturally or easily. When we don’t take courage, we experience the opposite. Be afraid. withdraw, retreat, give up, resign yourself to whatever is happening.
Take courage was urged by the prophet, Haggai. In all my years of preaching, this is the first time I have preached from the book of Haggai. Haggai was a prophet who lived in the last part of the Old Testament period. He was with the people who went back to Jerusalem following their captivity in Babylon. Babylon (Iraq today) had conquered Judah and taken many of the leaders to Babylon. Seventy years later, when Persia (Iran today) conquered Babylon, King Cyrus allowed the Jews to return home to their homeland.
What a joy that must have been, to return home, back to the homeland, back to their farms, back to the temple. As Solomon’s temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians, they decided to rebuild the temple. However, there were problems. They lacked funding, they met with opposition from the local residents and opposition from the Persian government and there were voices of discouragement, folks who realized they could not possibly rebuild a temple as glorious as the previous temple. The previous temple had been built by King Solomon, who had all kinds of tax revenue. In fact, Solomon’s heavy taxation of the people led to the revolution which divided the kingdom into two: the northern kingdom called Israel with its capital in Samaria, and the southern kingdom called Judah with its capital in Jerusalem.
So, there they were. The old-timers remembered the previous temple and knew they did not have the capability of replicating it. Haggai asked, 2.3, “Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?” They had lost their enthusiasm for reconstruction. They did not want to do what God was calling them to do. They would rather give up than forge ahead. They didn’t have the resources or the inner strength to stand up to the opposition of the local people and the Persian government.
Therefore, preached Haggai, take courage! 2.4-5, “Take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.” Don’t lose heart. Don’t give up. God is with you. God will act. God will handle the opposition. 2.6, “For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.” We know about shaking. We had an earthquake last week. The earth is not stable. Our lives are not stable. There is little in life that is absolutely sure. And, the Lord likes to shake. When we get complacent, God shakes us up. When we get discouraged, God shakes us up. When we get lazy, God shakes us up. “Come on now, pay attention,” says the Lord. God wants us not to depend on our accomplishments or count on our achievements. God wants us to have faith in him, to depend and trust in God.
Therefore, take courage. Courage requires an action. Take courage in God’s presence. Take courage in God’s goodness, and work on behalf of God’s purposes. Two weeks ago, I preached that God is ahead of us, calling us to follow. Last week, I preached “Run, run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” Today’s message is: Take courage, face the future and do God’s work. Don’t shirk. Don’t fear. Don’t give up. Take courage.
Are there life changing decisions you need to make? Is there anything in your future you fear? When faced with important decisions, discouragement, weariness, despair, change, there are several postures open to us:
1) We can look backward and lament the passing of the good old days. Like the old-timers in Haggai’s time, we can long for the splendid temple of the past. Of course, we forget that the good old days are often not as good or golden as we remember them. As I said two weeks ago, you can choose to live your life by looking in the rear view mirror. Do you believe that the best days of your life are in the past? Do you believe that the best days of our church are yet to come?
2) We can deny the future, deny that change is required, deny the task that faces us, cover our eyes, pretend it is not happening, and glibly retreat into the lounger, turn on the TV and drink beer.
3) We can retreat into fear, wring our hands, despair, feel sorry for ourselves, give in to hopelessness, be afraid.
4) Or we can take courage. Resolutely face the future, believe in God’s promises, roll up our sleeves, get involved, and do God’s work. Take courage is an action.
Two examples of courage. It was a cold day in Minnesota, when 14-year–old Michael Dowling was caught in a blizzard in the winter of 1880. He stumbled through the snow for hours, finally seeking refuge for the night in a haystack. In the morning his legs and hands were frozen. Sixteen days later both legs and one arm were amputated. But he refused to pity himself. “I won’t be laid on the shelf for the rest of my life,” he vowed. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, or retreating into a shell, he took courage. With an artificial arm and artificial legs, Michael Dowling became Superintendent of Schools, Education Commissioner for the United States, President of the Minnesota Bankers Association, Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives, and a world-wide spokesman for the care of the disabled.
On one of his world travels, he found himself trying to talk to an extremely bored Sultan about the needs of the handicapped. Dowling tried his best to penetrate the Sultan’s indifference, but to no avail. Finally, Dowling quietly sat down and removed his right leg. Then, his left leg. Then he reached over with one good arm and removed his other arm, and tossed all three limbs on the floor in front of the Sultan. When Dowling reached for his head, the Sultan sprang from his chair! Dowling got his attention! With a sense of humor, Dowling courageously lived his life to the fullest in spite of his handicaps.
The second example of taking courage. A week ago Friday, Ellie and I attended Patsy Moore’s Memorial Service at the First United Methodist Church, Palo Alto. We knew Patsy for 37 years. 17 years ago, when I was pastor, I recruited Patsy to be the Special Events Coordinator. She coordinated weddings, memorial services, banquets, etc. She coordinated over 500 weddings! The previous week she and a neighbor were taking their daily walk when she tripped on an uneven sidewalk. She fell forward, hitting her head on the pavement. The paramedics were called and she was taken to Stanford Hospital. She slipped into a coma and a few days later when she came out of the coma, she was paralyzed from the neck down. She was breathing with the aid of a ventilator. Several vertebrae in her neck were irreparably damaged. She could not talk, but was able to mouth words and was understood much of the time. On Thursday, her doctor sat down with her and explained there was nothing that could be done. She would remain paralyzed for the rest of her life.
As they talked, Patsy took courage, and with faith in the future, believing in eternal life, she asked for the ventilator to be removed and to allow her to die. The doctor told her to think about it for a few days. On Sunday, her oldest son arrived from the Philippines and, with her family, Patsy took courage and reaffirmed her decision to end her life. When the pastors came to visit later that day, she asked, “When will my service be?” She was the planner, ever the coordinator, and she wanted to know the plans.
While on the plane from the Philippines, her son wrote her a letter. He read the letter to her. She listened with her beautiful, affirming smile and said, “Read it at my service.” He did, and what a glorious service was held in celebration of her courageous, faithful life, a woman who trusted in God. There were over 600 people there, followed by a buffet at her home. She was a woman who was not afraid of dying. Christians know there are options worse than death. Christians know that death is not the end. We believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
Michael Dowling, with one arm and no legs, took courage to live. Patsy Moore took courage to die.
Take courage! As you face the future; when you make life changing, difficult decisions, take courage!
© 2007 Douglas I. Norris