I wonder how much you remember about Lewis & Clark from your school days? Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to find water passage to the Pacific, fifteen months of hard travel brought them to a tiny trickle of water that was the start of the great Missouri River—and the turning point of their mission.
Their journey to date had been marked by deep friendship and upstream slogging, by mosquitoes galore and grizzlies, even by the death of one of their companions. Finally, the most challenging part of their journey was behind them. Or so they thought.
Meriwether Lewis fully believed that when he crested the next hill, he would spy a slope that would gently lead down to the Columbia River, from which they could coast to their destination, the Pacific Ocean.
What they in fact encountered was the mighty Rocky Mountain Range. Stretching almost 2,000 miles north to south and reaching over 14,000 feet in elevation, the Rockies contain the highest peaks in central North America. Up to that moment, no white man knew the Rockies even existed. More significantly, those mountains stood in the way of Lewis & Clark’s mission.
Lewis & Clark had expected to canoe their way forward. But in your imagination, see them staring up at the Rockies, jaws agape and hearts in their stomachs, as they realize their canoe paddles aren’t going to take them up and over.
Courage is fear that has said its prayers.
WWII General George Patton, a different type of hero from a different era, described the choice facing Lewis & Clark in this way:
“Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” – General George Patton
How would they fulfill their mission? Without a map for the uncharted territory in front of them, they could either quit, or say their prayers and find their courage. They found new courage, discovered new ways forward, and in the end, their Corps of Discovery succeeded.
The Corps of Discovery is the best metaphor I know of for the time in which we find ourselves. The landscape for churches in the western hemisphere was already shifting before the pandemic hit. How we respond now, until there is a vaccine against COVID-19, is the big question. It’s time for us to say our prayers and find our courage, becoming our own Corps of Discovery.
That’s what I want to speak with you about this week, the need for us to become bold and courageous. God has always looked for and backed up those who serve him with bold courage. As one of my favorite Bible verses declares…
“The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” – 2 Chronicles 16:9
God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him, so that he may strengthen them—so that he may strengthen you, and us. He’s looking for people who say their prayers and find their courage.
Think about the common denominator in every kid’s favorite Bible stories:
- There’s Noah building the ark, before anyone else thinks rain is on the way. That took tremendous courage.
- We watch as Moses boldly extends his staff to part the Red Sea, not giving in to his peoples’ fears or the Egyptians’ threats.
- We see David courageously run into battle against the giant Goliath with nothing more than a young boy’s sling and a few smooth stones.
- We listen as Elijah boldly challenges hundreds of false prophets to a spiritual show-down that he is courageously confident the Lord will win.
- We hear Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego boldly declare to the powers that be, “We will not bow to your idol. We don’t fear your flames.”
- We see Daniel boldly stand firm in the middle of a lions’ den.
- We watch Esther courageously risk her life on behalf of her people.
- We look on as Jesus boldly drives out demons, speaks life to the dead, then courageously goes to the cross to reconcile us to God.
- We hear the apostle Stephen preach boldly even as rocks whistle toward him.
Those stories of ordinary believers acting boldly and courageously inspire us to follow their example, both personally and as a church.
For this week, I want to zero in on two who were very much like Lewis & Clark—Caleb & Joshua. For this week, we’re going to focus on Caleb. When we meet him, he is 40 years old.
For most people, 40 is let’s begin settling down age. You’ve got a mortgage and maybe a car loan or two. College loans still being paid down. Your kids’ college to begin saving for, along with your retirement. So big risks tend to come off the table. Time to begin settling down.
Not so Caleb. At the age of 40, he’s just getting started. We pick up his story in the Old Testament book of Numbers, chapter 13.
Numbers is an odd name for a Bible book, so let’s get that out of the way. It’s titled Numbers simply because it opens with a census, a counting of the tribes of Israel. We have a national census this year in America that will determine where taxes are allocated.
The purpose of the ancient census was to organize God’s people so that they could strategically advance their mission together. The census resulted in things like the precise formation of how they would move ahead together, with God’s presence literally in the middle of them. There’s all kinds of powerful symbolism for us in their story. For today, let’s focus on one man counted in that census, Caleb, and how he acted boldly and courageously in facing uncharted territory—the Rockies of their day, if you will.
Before this chapter come the dramatic events of the Lord miraculously protecting his people through a series of plagues. He miraculously leads them through the Red Sea. He is leading his people into what for them is uncharted territory on the way toward the Promised Land. As this chapter opens, Numbers chapter 13, the Lord instructs the Israelites to send a representative from each of the twelve tribes to spy out the Promised Land. Caleb and Joshua are two of then.
For the next 40 days, they discover amazing possibilities—great cities that they could inhabit; verdant farmland growing luscious produce; everything they could dream of. But they also see risks. The people in that land are many, and they’re big. The cities are fortified, not going to be easy to take. The Promised Land mission might not work. So understandably, fear roars up. Not fear that has said its prayers, just fear, period. We pick up the story in verse 27 as the Israeli spies report back to their nation regarding what lies ahead:
This was their report to Moses: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak! The Amalekites live in the Negev, and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country. The Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan Valley.”
Now we hear from Caleb.
But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!” But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!” So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!” – Numbers 13:27-33
Only two of twelve say their prayers and find their courage to advance into an uncharted future. They believe the Lord will give them what they need. They believe that the Lord who has brought them through everything thus far will empower them to handle what lays ahead.
But the majority shrink back in fear. They yield to discouragement. They see the obstacles as bigger than the Lord and their all-important mission, one that when carried out brings blessing to generations. All of that is taken off the table due to fear that hasn’t said its prayers.
For Caleb & Joshua, this was a Lewis & Clark “facing the Rockies” moment. They were either going to quit with the rest, or recommit to moving ahead with bold courage.
Church history is filled with a cloud of witnesses like Caleb. One of them in our nation’s early history is George Liele.
George, like Caleb, was born a slave—Caleb born into slavery in Egypt, George Liele in colonial America. Like Caleb, George was a believer. George’s slave master was a British loyalist, who when talk of war kicked up in the colonies, freed George and entered the British military to fight against the colonists.
Living in the American South, George Liele found himself at a decisive moment like Caleb did, like Lewis & Clark did. If he gave in to fear and stayed, he would likely be stolen back into slavery—along with his wife and children.
So he made a courageous yet unthinkable decision to us, moving to Jamaica and signing on to become an indentured servant. There, he boldly shared his faith with Jamaicans. He gathered and grew a congregation, and together they managed to pool enough money to buy a piece of land. In time they had enough money to build a chapel.
Together they, like Caleb, faced obstacles and challenges in growing a church in a difficult environment.
Slave owners feared what might come of slaves learning the fullness of what the Bible teaches.
On numerous occasions, George was jailed on trumped-up charges like inciting rebellion—which he had not. But like Caleb, he courageously advanced, letting nothing stop him. They continued to baptize new believers and organize new churches across the island—including churches where in the same congregation were slaves, freedmen, and whites, worshiping and learning side by side. And this in the 1700s!
Popular history has largely forgotten George Liele: he’s buried in an unmarked grave. But in heaven’s eyes, George Liele and his peers are heroes. They’re part of the great cloud of witnesses described in Hebrews chapter twelve, cheering us on to run the race set before us with perseverance, with bold courage.
Adapted from Soong-Chan Rah, “Prophetic Lament” (IVP Books, 2016), pages 101-103
We also need to acknowledge the downside of failing to act courageously. After Caleb speaks up courageously, we read this in Numbers chapter 14…
That night all the members of the community raised their voices…and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness!…And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt”…The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.” – Numbers 14:1-2, 4, 26-30
That entire generation who shrank back in fear, with the exception of Caleb & Joshua, missed their moment and died in the desert. It was another 40 years before the next generation said their prayers and found the courage to advance together.
God is always looking for people who will courageously believe him. Around 180 A.D., early church father Tertullian wrote this:
“[The Lord] 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…A Christian is fearless.” – Tertullian, c. 180 A.D.
As Romans 8:31 declares, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us! On and on, the Scriptures declare that to be a Christian is to say your prayers and find your courage! God’s intention has always been that we trust him as we advance into the unknown. The future is unknown to us, but the Lord is already there!
If courage is fear that has said its prayers, Caleb models it. George Liele exemplifies it. You and I are called to be bold and courageous in our day.
If you ask me what it will look like for us as a church to move ahead with bold courage, three things are crystal clear to me right now.
First is prayer.
Caleb & Joshua heard from the Lord, and followed his leading. For us today, the Lord’s leading comes through His Word rightly understood, and His Spirit speaking to a listening church. If most of the Israelites failed to hear what the Spirit was saying in Caleb’s day, that should move us to pray as our first and ongoing action moving ahead.
I’m asking you to pray. Jump in on the Tuesday morning prayer call 8-8:15. Just try it. I’ll email the link today. Pray as a family. Pray in your small group. Start a weekly prayer group.
The format for our Tuesday group is a great place to start. It’s not complicated. It is powerful and encouraging. The leader reads a Scripture and then we pray. That’s it. We pray for one another. We pray for the church. We pray for the Lord to lead us and protect us. We pray for greater fruitfulness.
What if one small group prayer time multiplied to two, then those two multiplied to four, and so on? All of the great moves of God have come in response to God’s people beginning to pray together. So join me in the Tuesday 15-minute prayer call, add prayer to your small group, or start your own group. But let’s pray. Because as we do, the Holy Spirit will speak across the congregation. He will make the way ahead clear.
The second thing that’s crystal clear is that courage moving forward means trying new ways to advance our unchanging mission.
If the pandemic is to us what the Rockies were to Lewis & Clark, it’s time we lay down our familiar canoe paddles and start learning how to be mountain climbers. If they could do it, and if Caleb and Joshua could do it, we can do it.
Outreach methods that worked in the past were already fading into history before the pandemic. It’s time for us to get ahead of the learning curve.
When my wife and I first moved here, the cutting edge for churches was—ready for this?—Yellow Pages ads. Everyone used the Yellow Pages. Today, no one uses the Yellow Pages. There’s no such thing as printed Yellow Pages.
Or consider, right here in Fishers, Marsh and Aldi. Both companies share the same mission: sell groceries. But one failed to change with the times. You can now drive past empty Marsh stores and their empty former headquarters off I-69.
Whereas Aldi came into the same environment and is rocking the same mission by trying different strategies like focused selection of products, good prices, and taking care of their employees. What’s not to like? Marsh failed, while Aldi took bold and courageous risks and is thriving.
We readily admit that business insights can only take us so far, because the mission Christ has entrusted to us is far more important. Not everyone needs Aldi. Everyone needs Jesus.
So courage moving forward will take prayer. It will take trying new ways to advance our unchanging mission.
Get the Right Mindset
Third—and I believe this is the most important shift for us—is that it’s time we see ourselves as our own Corps of Discovery.
When a church starts, it’s always with an entrepreneurial mindset. Over time, the mission takes a back seat to maintenance. But with the pandemic, it’s being broadly acknowledged that every organization is now functionally a start-up. That’s not all bad. Not at all. It’s an opportunity for us to get nimble. Experiment. See yChurch as our own Corps of Discovery.
What I mean by that is that Lewis & Clark made explicitly clear that what they accomplished was not all about them. It took a team, all adopting the mindset of adventuring. They flattened the leadership structure. They shared decision-making. They stuck together but without getting stuck. They pressed forward.
Likewise Caleb and Joshua. They were effective because:
- They sought the Lord, saying their prayers and finding their courage.
- They were effective because they found ways to advance their mission as they went, different methods according to what presented itself along the way.
- And they were effective because the whole group, when they were ready 40 years later, moved ahead together. What kept them together was their commitment to the mission and each other.
I’m asking you to make a similar commitment today, a threefold commitment:
- Prayer: I will pray that we discern the Lord’s leading moving forward.
- Experimenting: I will support trying new methods to advance our mission.
- Mindset: I will see the yChurch family as our own Corps of Discovery.
That’s the commitment I’m asking you to make. It’s a recommitment to “engaging heart and mind in celebrating Christ, connecting people, & contributing meaningfully.” It’s a worthy mission. It’s one you’ve already been giving yourself to. And now that we’re in uncharted territory, I’m asking you to recommit yourself to one another, and our mission.
Would you allow me to pray for you? Let’s bow in prayer.
Lord God, we thank you for Caleb—for his bold courage at 40, and courage just as strong at 85, asking permission to take new territory. Make us Calebs, Lord!
Fill us with courage. Speak to us, Holy Spirit, enabling us to discern your leading for this church, in these times, this season. Give us hearts and minds to adventure and experiment courageously and together.
We praise and thank you for those who brought us the good news of Jesus. Forever we will thank you!
We thank and praise you for sending Jesus to forgive our sins and bring us into your family. We thank and praise you for bringing us together as yChurch. We recommit ourselves to you, to the great mission you have given us, and to one another.
Lord, we love you, we love one another, and we love your mission of making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching obedience to all you have commanded. Toward that end we pray and renew our energies. Amen!