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COURAGE IS DOING WHAT YOU ARE AFRAID TO DO!

(AN INDEPENDENCE DAY SERMON)

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, July 1, 2012

“But the fearful...shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).


Next Wednesday will be Independence Day, the Fourth of July. I can think of no better way to celebrate that occasion than to remind you of some great men in history, and exhort you to follow their courageous examples. More than anything, we need heroic men and women to stand up for Christ in these dark and evil days. May this sermon challenge you to do so!

One of the most inspiring statements that I have ever read were these words of President Theodore Roosevelt.  He said,

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again; because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

Roosevelt contrasted the man “who strives valiantly” with “those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Thus he contrasted the man of courage with a cold and timid man.

What is courage? Someone said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the conviction that something else is more important than fear.” Eddie Rickenbacker was an American fighter ace in World War I and a Medal of Honor recipient.

During World War II Captain Rickenbacker was shot down over the Pacific Ocean. For weeks nothing was heard of him. The newspapers reported his disappearance and across the country thousands of people prayed for him. Then suddenly he returned. The Sunday papers headlined the news, and in an article, Captain Rickenbacker told what had happened. “And this part I would hesitate to tell,” he wrote, “except that there were six witnesses who saw it with me. A seagull came out of nowhere, and lighted on my head – I reached up my hand very gently – I killed him and then divided him equally among us. We ate every bit, even the little bones. Nothing ever tasted so good.” That seagull saved the lives of Captain Rickenbacker and his companions. It was through this experience that he became a Christian. He told Billy Graham, “I have no explanation except that God sent one of His angels to rescue me” (Billy Graham, Angels: God’s Secret Agents, Doubleday and Company, 1975, p. 4).

It was Captain Eddie Rickenbacker who said, “Courage is doing what you are afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you are scared.”

Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Courage is an inner resolution to go forward in spite of obstacles and frightening situations; cowardice is a submissive surrender to circumstance. Courage faces fear and thereby masters it; cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it.” The Apostle Paul said, “Stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong” (I Corinthians 16:13).

But courage is not held up as a virtue in our day. Somehow, in the last hundred years, modern Christianity has not produced many courageous men and women. Speaking with great insight regarding modern man, the poet William Butler Yeats said,

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
   (“The Second Coming”).

We see that being played out in nearly every area of life today. The radical abortionists in Washington speak out with passionate intensity, while the “best” lack all conviction, and walk weakly and fearfully through the halls of Congress, lacking all conviction. Radical professors in our colleges spew out their vile propaganda on a daily basis, while those who hold traditional views meekly hold their tongues in fear. Radical Muslims speak out with “passionate intensity,” while conservative Christian preachers too often are timid men, who dare not raise their voices to proclaim the truth.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

This is the age of Robert Schuller, not the age of Martin Luther. This is the age of Joel Osteen, not the age of John Wesley. This is the age of John Piper, not the age of John Knox. This is the age of “positive thinking,” not the age of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” This is the age of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, not the age of William Jennings Bryan and Theodore Roosevelt. This is the age of Michael Moore and Nancy Pelosi, not the age of George Washington and Patrick Henry. This is the age of Bill Clinton, not the age of Winston Churchill. This is the age of John MacArthur and R. C. Sproul, not the age of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. This is the end of our civilization, not the birth of this once great nation. This is an age of cold and silent youth, not the age of flaming patriots, world-conquering missionaries and martyrs. God help us!

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Dr. A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) was called a prophet in his own lifetime. In an essay titled “We Need Men of God Again” Tozer said,

      If evangelical Christianity is to stay alive she must have men again, the right kind of men. She must repudiate the weaklings who dare not speak out, and she must seek in prayer and much humility the coming again of men of the stuff prophets and martyrs are made of...
      And when the deliverers come – reformers, revivalists, prophets – they will be men of God and men of courage. They will have God on their side because they will be careful to stay on God’s side. They will be co-workers with Christ and instruments in the hand of the Holy Ghost. Such men will be baptized with the Spirit indeed, and through their labors He will baptize others and send the long delayed revival (A. W. Tozer, D.D., “We Need Men of God Again,” in Of God and Men, Christian Publications, 1960, p. 16).

Dr. Tozer’s message was called “We Need Men of God Again.” Amen! We need men and women of courage and conviction in this dark and evil hour. God, send us men and women of courage again, in this hour of weakness and fear!

“But the fearful...shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death”
       (Revelation 21:8).

Our text is most illuminating. It gives a list of eight categories of sin that lead to “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). What is the first sin in this dark catalogue of wickedness? It is not murder. It is not idol worship. It is not whoremongering. It is not sorcery. It is not lying, nor is it even unbelief. It is fearfulness. Fearfulness is the number one reason people go to Hell! Fearfulness is the most common characteristic of those who will burn eternally in the Lake of Fire. They will go there because they were too fearful and timid to become real Christians!

The Greek word translated “fearful” is “dilŏs.” George Ricker Berry said it means “timid, cowardly” (A Greek-English Lexicon). Matthew Henry said, “The fearful lead the van of this black list. They durst not encounter the difficulties of religion.” Dr. John Gill said they are “such who are of cowardly spirits, and are not valiant for the truth, but who, through fear of men, either make no profession of Christ and his Gospel, or having made it, drop it, lest they should be exposed to tribulation and persecution: these are they that are afraid of the beast [Satan], and live in servile bondage to him” (An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume III, p. 858; note on Revelation 21:8). J. A. Seiss translated the Greek word as “cowardly” and said, “Not the ‘cowardly’ who shrink from the conflict with sin, ashamed or afraid to avow and maintain their faith in God and his Christ” (The Apocalypse, Zondervan Publishing House, n.d., p. 491; note on Revelation 21:8).

Timid and cowardly people are afraid that they will lose something that seems important to them if they wholeheartedly trust in Christ. They would rather live in slavery under Satan than take the risk of trusting Christ. They are like the Israelites who wanted to go back to Egypt and be slaves to Pharaoh rather than take the risk of following Moses through the wilderness.

I have often been puzzled when I read that Moses “feared [and] fled from the face of Pharaoh” when he first left Egypt to dwell in the land of Midian (Exodus 2:14-15) – and yet, we are told in the Book of Hebrews, “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king” (Hebrews 11:27). “Moses feared [and] fled from the face of Pharaoh,” and yet “he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king” (Hebrews 11:27). After thinking about this for a long time, I think I know the answer. Moses feared, but he faced down his fears, and obeyed God anyway. As Eddie Rickenbacker put it, “Courage is doing what you are afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you are scared.” Or, as Dr. King put it, “Courage is an inner resolution to go forward in spite of obstacles and frightening situations.” Whatever you may think of Dr. King, he certainly went forward “in spite of...frightening situations,” even spending time in jail, and finally being assassinated, for his convictions. Whatever else he was, he was not one of “those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” He would not have a monument in Washington D.C. if he had given in to his fears. “Courage is doing what you are afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you are scared.”

On May 10, 1940 Churchill was made Prime Minister by the King. Hitler’s army was already in France, just ninety minutes from London by airplane. England was paralyzed by fear, knowing they were about to be attacked by the most fierce tyrant in the world.  Churchill left Buckingham Palace and got into his car. His bodyguard congratulated him on becoming Prime Minister, but said, “I only wish the position had come your way in better times, for you have an enormous task.” Tears came into Churchill’s eyes, and he said, “God alone knows how great it is. I hope it is not too late. I am very much afraid it is. We can only do our best.”

“I am very much afraid.” “We can only do our best.” “Courage is doing what you are afraid to do;” not the absence of fear, mind you, but going ahead and doing what you are afraid to do – that is courage! Dr. King and Churchill both had that quality, and it made them stand head and shoulders above these modern politicians, these “cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

I have always admired President Nixon. He was a poor boy from a low income family who became one of the most influential leaders of the twentieth century. I understood him very well. Billy Graham said he was the only introverted politician he had ever met. His awkwardness came from a deep-seated fear of failure. But he faced down his fears time and again. I admired him because I knew that this was a truly courageous man, for “courage is doing what you are afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you are scared.” Nixon said, “Nothing great can be accomplished without taking great risks...In determining what risks to take, you must never be obsessed by what you might lose. You must always keep front and center what you might gain” (In the Arena, Simon and Schuster, 1990, p. 197). That was his way of giving a maxim that Christ put this way,

“Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke 9:24).

If you “play it safe” and don’t risk your life for Christ, you will lose your life, become a “cold and timid soul” in this world, and a lost soul in eternity! It is only by risking your life on Jesus Christ that you become the human being God meant you to be!

One of the highest tributes ever paid to President Reagan was a remark made by his son Ron. You must understand that Ron rebelled against his father, and became a sad little liberal who never did anything with his life. But here was the tribute he paid to his father. He didn’t mean it as a tribute, but it was nonetheless. Ron Reagan said of his father, “You’re never going to figure him out; that’s the first thing you’ve got to understand.” That said more about the son than it did about the President, for you see, Ron was a “cold and timid soul who [knew] neither victory nor defeat.” President Reagan, on the other hand, was a man who had the courage to do what he was afraid to do. The President once said, “A hero isn’t braver than anyone else: he’s just braver five minutes longer.” No wonder he faced down the Soviet Union and won the Cold War against Communism. He was just brave five minutes longer than they were! He once said that his strategy for the Cold War with Communism was this – “We win and they lose!” He had the courage to do what he was afraid to do!

I have given you stories about Dr. King, Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Although these men were not known as Christian leaders, I am convinced that God gave them special courage to protect the Western world. I could have given one story after the other of great preachers and missionaries to whom God gave the gift of courage that lifted them above “those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

I was once introduced in a meeting by a pastor who said, “Dr. Hymers is an absolutely fearless man.” I know he meant that as a compliment, but it wasn’t true. You will never meet a man who is more insecure and fearful than me. I have never had any confidence in myself. If you want to think like a psychologist, you could say it came from the way I was raised. I always knew that if I failed there was no safety net – there was no one that would help me have a second chance. But God gave me a promise in the Bible that seemed to be especially written for me. It is my life verse, and it says,

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me”
       (Philippians 4:13).

As a young man I knew that I had no strength or ability of my own. I knew it then, and I know it now. Inside I am a fearful, timid person, with no confidence in myself at all. But I have thrown myself on the mercy of Jesus – and He has never failed me. Never! He has brought me from defeat to victory so many times that I now know, within myself, that He will never fail me! And I can say for certain this morning,

Mercy rewrote my life,
Mercy rewrote my life.
I was lost in sin,
But Jesus rewrote my life.

There are some of you here this morning who are afraid to trust Jesus. I’ve heard you say, “I’m afraid I’ll have a false conversion,” or, “I’m afraid I can’t be saved,” or “I’m not able.” These are fears that will hold you back and, at last, these fears will turn you into a “cold and timid soul who knows neither victory nor defeat.” But remember, “Courage is doing what you are afraid to do.” I know you are afraid to trust Jesus. I understand that completely. But face down your fears and do it anyway! As Eddie Rickenbacker said, “Courage is doing what you are afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you are scared.”

I have been reading John Bunyan’s (1628-1688) testimony, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. Bunyan went through many years of fear and doubt. The Devil nearly tore his mind apart. He had no rest or peace year after endless year. Finally one day he said,

I was as one dead before death came, and as if I had felt myself already descended into the pit. Methought I said, There is no way, but to hell I must; but behold, just as I was in the midst of those fears...that word fell upon my mind, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” At this I became both well in body and mind at once, for my sickness did presently vanish, and I walked comfortably in my work for God again.

A little later he fell into despondency again. He said,

After I had been in this condition some three or four days, as I was sitting by the fire, I suddenly felt this word to sound in my heart, “I must go to Jesus.” At this my former darkness and atheism fled away, and the blessed things of heaven were set in view...Blessed be God for having mercy on me.

John Bunyan was saved by going to Jesus. Will you have the courage to do what you are afraid to do this morning? Will you go to Jesus and trust Him now?

While I sing that little chorus, please go to the back of the auditorium and Dr. Cagan will take you to the prayer room.

Mercy rewrote my life,
Mercy rewrote my life.
I was lost in sin,
But Jesus rewrote my life.

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Revelation 21:3-8.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (by Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910).