Would you consider yourself courageous? When many of us think of courage we think of war heroes who are willing to risk their lives for the sake of others. As we celebrate the freedom we have as a nation this coming week, we need give thanks for the courage of so many men and women who have been willing to step out and think of others before themselves. Our freedom to be here today is because others were willing to be courageous and put others first. If you want to read some inspiring stories of courage, check out www.chohs.org (Congressional Medal of Honor Society). The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest award given for courage and bravery and the stories are truly amazing. The last person to receive this medal was Corporal William Carpenter.
Lance Corporal Carpenter and a fellow Marine were manning a rooftop security position on the perimeter of Patrol Base Dakota when the enemy initiated a daylight attack with hand grenades, one of which landed inside their sandbagged position. Without hesitation, and with complete disregard for his own safety, Lance Corporal Carpenter moved toward the grenade in an attempt to shield his fellow Marine from the deadly blast. When the grenade detonated, his body absorbed the brunt of the blast, severely wounding him, but saving the life of his fellow Marine. By his undaunted courage, bold fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of almost certain death, Lance Corporal Carpenter reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
Clearly this is courage and if I were to compare myself to that, I would have to say – I am not a man of courage. In fact, when I think back on being a kid, I had no courage at all. I was afraid to jump off the Washburn’s dock into the ocean, it took me years to learn how to ride a bike because I was too afraid of falling off and I let my fear of failure keep me from stepping out to do things I wanted to do in high school, like audition for the spring musical. I allowed my fear to keep me from moving forward. Courage is not acting without fear – it is acting in spite of our fear. But don’t think that courage is just reserved for great war heroes like Lance Corporal Carpenter, very ordinary people are courageous and their courage, our courage, can change the course of our lives and sometimes change the course of human history. That is what we see in Mary, the mother of Jesus, her courage changed the course of history.
We might not think of Mary as an everyday leader because she has been honor and lifted up for 2,000 years and today there are shrines and churches built in her name. In fact, in Nazareth where Mary was living when God called her, there is the Basilica of the Annunciation dedicated to Mary with dozens of mosaics depicting Mary in many different cultures.
|Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth|
|Mosaic of Mary from Japan|
|Mosaic of Mary from the USA|
|Mosaic of Mary from Spain|
It’s hard to image that a woman who gets this kind of attention was ever ordinary – but she was. Mary was an ordinary person coming from the very ordinary town of Nazareth, a small, blue collar town.
Mary was most likely a servant for one of the wealthy families in the larger city of Sepphoris, or she worked to care for her family while her parents worked in the city. Either way, Mary was just an ordinary girl doing her chores and working in the home when the angel Gabriel came to her with the news that God had chosen her to be the vessel through which the Messiah would enter the world. In the Orthodox Church, it is believed that the angel gave Mary this news while she was drawing water at the well.
|Mary’s Well in the Church of St. Gabriel, Nazareth|
This is the well in Nazareth that has been running since the days of Jesus and so it’s not only a place Jesus would have visited with his mother, but it is the place some believe Mary first stepped out with courage. Luke 1:26-38
As Scottie shared on Mother’s Day, it was dangerous for Mary to yes to God’s plan. By saying yes, she opened herself to being publically shamed or divorced or even killed by her fiancé Joseph. But she did say yes and so we begin to see what courage looks like in an everyday leader. Mary doesn’t take this step without fear, she says yes in spite of her fear and as we examine her life we learn how courage can shape our own lives and leadership.
The first thing we see in Mary is that courage begins with an inward battle. While courage is seen in amazing acts of heroism and bravery, the real battle to be courageous begins by making some simple decisions. Will we do the right thing? Will we do what God is calling us to do? Will we move forward even though we are afraid? That’s the real question for us – will we move forward even though we are afraid. Courage isn’t the absence of fear – it’s moving forward even though we are afraid. If there is no fear – there really is no courage. It doesn’t take courage to do things that don’t have any risk or danger involved, courage is moving forward knowing there are risks and danger.
It takes courage to learn to ride a bike knowing you are going to fall down a few times and get hurt. It takes courage to audition for the HS musical knowing you might not get selected or feeling embarrassed as everyone listens to you sing. It takes courage to share our faith knowing people might think we are foolish or crazy. It takes courage to throw yourself on a grenade knowing it will bring unimaginable pain or death. There are always risks and dangers involved with courage and the first courageous step we all take is when we make the decision to move forward.
What’s interesting about Mary is that she not only made the tough personal choices at the beginning of Jesus’ life, but at the end of his life as well. It took courage for Mary to be at the cross as Jesus died. Peter wasn’t there, most of Jesus’ disciples and followers weren’t there because they were afraid, but Mary was there which means that at some point she made the decision to go. At some point Mary said, I’m not going to let my son die alone – I will be there. She made a decision and all courage begins with that kind decision.
The decisions we make determine the kind of leaders we will be. If we choose to follow the status quo and let things slide – we will be ineffective leaders, but if we choose to make bold decisions with passion and faith that we are making the right decisions – we will be leaders who can change hearts and lives, correct injustice and move ourselves, families, church and community forward.
The second thing Mary teaches us is that courage works to make things right. Again, it doesn’t take courage to stand with the status quo and it doesn’t take courage to stand silently along the sidelines as we see injustice or oppression continue, but it does take courage to stand up and work for change, truth and righteousness. Are we willing to work to make things right? Martin Luther King Jr. said, the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
What Mary was being asked to do was help God set things right by being part of God’s plan to bring the Messiah into this world. It was the Messiah who would bring God’s people righteousness, set them free from oppression and begin to bring the values and reign of God’s kingdom into this world. Mary understood that she would be part of making things right when she said, God has brought down the rulers from their thrones, but lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. Luke 1:53-4.
Mary had no position or power as a leader when God chose her, she just had a passion for God and for what God wanted to do in her an in the world. We begin to see why passion is so important to leadership. It is our passion that helps us make these tough decisions and stand up for what is right and for God’s will and purpose in our lives. In many ways, passion leads to courage but courage also increases our passion. They go hand in hand.
The third thing Mary teaches us about courage is that, like passion, courage is contagious. When we make courageous decisions it inspires commitment and courage in those around us. Mary’s courage to say yes to God inspired Joseph to also say yes to God. While at first Joseph wanted to dismiss Mary quietly, after his own meeting with Gabriel, and then seeing Mary’s strength and courage, he also faced the possible shame of a community and made the commitment to stand with Mary and with God.
Mary also inspired commitment in others when she stood at the cross. Mary wasn’t alone there, by her side were two other women named Mary: Mary Magdalene and Mary the wife of Clopas. Along with them was the only disciple courageous enough to get close to Jesus on the cross, John. So Mary’s courage drew out a commitment from others. Just as passion ignites passion, so courage ignite courage. When we are willing to stand up for what is right we often find others willing to make that stand with us. This is very good news for us because when we make courageous choices we will never be alone, there will be others there to help us.
I have seen this principle at work in both of my previous churches. There came a time in both churches when controversy came up about the direction the church should go and when a few people made the decision to stand up for change and growth, others stood with them. Jackie Ross is an everyday leader in Altoona. She is a quiet woman of great faith and her courage to stand up as we reached out to children in the neighborhood and young families in the community inspired others to stand up with her. She led people in the fight to once again be a vital church in our neighborhood. Ed and Nancy Asher were courageous leaders. While very quiet, faithful members of St. Paul’s in Lewisburg, when they stood up and said, we think it’s great to have a ministry to college students through contemporary worship, others stood with them. Billy Graham said, courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened.
The final thing we need to learn from Mary is that courage expands our life and our influence. Fear keeps us from trying new things, moving in new directions and leading causes that can improve our families, nation and world. Fear limits us, but courage expands us. When Mary said yes to God – her world expanded. Literally, she travelled beyond Nazareth to Bethlehem, to Egypt and to Jerusalem. Mary experienced things she never would have experienced if she had played it safe. Mary’s life and influence not only expanded during her lifetime, influencing all those around her, but think of the impact she has had in our world. I’m not sure there is another woman who has had a greater impact on our world than Mary and somehow Mary knew this would happen. In Luke 1:48 Mary said, from now on all generations will call me blessed. She knew her courage to say yes to God would influence others and expand from generation to generation. Even today she remains a model of faithfulness and obedience and right now she is being lifted up as a courageous leader we can learn from.
So how can we become more courageous? Let me share 3 thoughts from John Maxwell’s The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader.
#1. Face our fears. What is it that is holding us back in certain situations where we might feel the need to move forward? Is our fear of failure keeping us from new relationship, new jobs or new opportunities to serve? Is our fear of feeling out of place keeping us from joining a bible study or small group? Is our fear of looking foolish keeping us from serving in mission? We are going to need some help building a ramp for someone in the church and I’m going to tell you right now, I will look foolish swinging a hammer, but if I can help – I’m going to go. A friend of mine is an outstanding doctor but it took courage for him to join a team who worked on mission team installing dry wall. In fact, we had to tell Tom that 12 nails in a six inch section of dry wall was probably more than enough. But he was doing it and that took courage.
What fear can we face this week? Can we do one thing this week that takes courage? It doesn’t matter what it is, the more decisions we make that take courage the more courage we find to do more.
#2. Face that person. You know that person, the person you are wrestling with right now, the person you need to forgive, the person you need to iron out a difference with. We all have these people in our lives. It might be a spouse, or friend or coworker that we know we need to confront or confess to and while it’s scary, awkward and uncomfortable – can we face our fear and face that person this week. Can we speak the truth to them in love this week?
#3. Taking the BIG step. Maybe the big step in a relationship, in our job, or in the church, but after some honest evaluation, seeking input and advice from others and through lots of prayer can we take the BIG step and say yes to our future. I remember a meeting we had at our church in Altoona and what’s interesting is that I don’t remember what the decision was, all I remember is Don Steele saying, it’s time to take the BIG step and do this. We will be going out on a limb and the limb might come crashing down – but at least we will go out with a bang. I don’t remember the decision, I just remember Don’s courage leading us to make the decision. We did make the decision and the limb didn’t come crashing down.
Taking the BIG step is often just taking the NEXT step. While some decisions seem more serious and risky than others and so require more courage – the reality is that it is just the next step God has for us. So what next step or big step do you need to take?
When I preach I always tell myself I can’t say anything that I’m not willing to do myself, so I had to ask myself, what is the next step or BIG step God is calling me to take. So here it is, and once I say it and it’s out there, there is no turning back. We have been talking a lot about our mission and partnership in Sierra Leone and I’ll be honest, the thought of travelling there scares me and I don’t want to go – but like Mary I am hearing God asking me, will you go? Will you let me use you? So I’ve made the inner decision and today I’m making this commitment that when a trip to Sierra Leone is planned – I will go. While it is a BIG step for me, I know it is just the next step in God’s plan for me and for us as a church.
Now let me ask you – what courageous step do you need to take? Can you hear God saying what he said to Mary, the Lord is with you – have courage – Go!
Leadership Principles ~ COURAGE
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands
in moments of comfort and convenience,
but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened.
Rev. Billy Graham
1. Identify people of courage in your life.
What do they teach you and show you about courage?
How has their courage influenced you?
2. Face your fears.*
What fear is holding you back in your relationships, your job, or your service to God? Name the fear and explore how and why it limits you. What are you missing because of it?
What one fear (large or small) can you face this week?
3. Face that person.*
Who do you need to talk to this week? What relational issue do you need to resolve to find greater peace or purpose?
4. Take the BIG step.*
Are you ready to take the big step and make a change in your life? Listen to God through prayer. Seek wise counsel from faithful friends. Evaluate all your options. Name your fears and then take that BIG step.