John Paul Jones, the naval commander who earned his fame in the American Revolution, once found himself in a battle that appeared hopeless to everyone - that is, everyone but him. His ship was in an engagement against two British vessels - each more heavily armed than his own. After four hours of battling, Jones' ship was shattered, on fire, and taking on water. The British commander shouted to Jones to surrender, and Jones' famous reply was, "I have not yet begun to fight!" Jones' crew then went on to lash the two ships together, thus nullifying their superior firepower and mobility, and the British commander surrendered shortly thereafter. So did Jones' boat - it sank from all the damage inflicted on it by the British!
John Paul Jones was afterward quoted as saying, "It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win." As Christians, we have much in common with Captain Jones. Jesus calls us, in Matthew 28:19-20, to "Go and make disciples of all the nations" and He assures us that, in our going, He is with us always. This directive to "Go!" requires us to move from a place where we feel safe and secure with where we are to a place where we can often feel scared, insecure, and unstable - but this is exactly where God most powerfully reveals Himself!
If we are unwilling to take faith-filled risks for Jesus Christ, then we most certainly cannot "win" the battle against the darkness in this world. Hebrews 11 is known as the "Hall of Faith" for its listing of the great giants of faith found in Scripture: Abraham, Noah, Joseph, Moses, and so on. What made these men such giants in the faith? It was their willingness to trust in the Lord to provide for them and guide them as they simply obeyed and followed His commands. It is there in that chapter, in verse six, that we find these words: "without faith it is impossible to please Him."
How are you trying to please the Lord? Is it by the wonderful deeds you perform? Is it by the words you say? Or, is it through faith in Jesus Christ? If it is through faith in Christ, how is that evident in your life? Are you constantly putting yourself in places that are "uncomfortable" or that feel a little awkward? Perhaps you feel that the Lord has laid it on your heart to reach out to a particular person - do you? Perhaps you feel that He is leading you to give more financially to Him in some way - are you? Perhaps you feel that He is leading you to repent and apologize to someone for something you did or said - have you? All of these things can certainly be uncomfortable, but it is a tangible demonstration of your faith in Him, without which it is impossible to please Him.
If you are not taking faith-filled risks for Jesus and His Kingdom, let me strongly encourage you to do so. The Lord works most powerfully when we take the next step without seeing the stairs. Noah built his ark without any rain falling from above, Abraham walked with Isaac up to the top of the mountain without knowing the Lord would provide a ram, and Moses marched the Israelites to the Red Sea without any inclination that the Lord would part the waters for them. The Lord is most evident in our lives when it is most evident that we are following Him.
If the Lord is prompting you to action, then GO! He is with you always and without this faith it is impossible to please Him. Talk to people around you, help those in need, apologize to those you have hurt, and do everything in the name of Jesus Christ. Through your faith in Christ, risk much and win big!
"I just wish Christians would act like Christians" was a statement I recently heard from a friend of mine. He was quoting a former missionary who, he said, repeated this phrase often enough to make an impression on him. What a tremendous statement.
I have been preparing to teach on Matthew 10:1-4 and the lives of the twelve disciples. The more I learn about these men, the more fascinated I become with what happens when a person truly gives their life to Christ. These men, in the purest and truest sense of the word, were transformed by their encounter with Christ - they were not the same. When you know who they were before they became a follower of Christ, and who they were after they met Jesus, they are truly different people altogether.
Let me use as an example two men who are listed there in Matthew 10: Matthew and Simon the Zealot. These two men provide the most fascinating study of all the disciples. Before Christ, Matthew was a tax collector; he was a Jew working for the Romans. Matthew was the ultimate "con artist" in this society, and was incredibly despised by his Jewish contemporaries. Tax collectors were known for their selfishness, their greediness, and branded by Jews as the ultimate traitors. Most anyone would have had a difficult time working with this fellow, but some would have had an extraordinarily difficult time - like Simon, for example.
Simon was known as "Simon the Zealot". These zealots were essentially political anarchists in their society. Those known as "zealots" considered themselves to be the ultimate Jewish patriots. They were committed to overthrow the Roman government by force. They were committed, above all else, to expel their Roman oppressors and to restore the Jews to autonomy. It was actually the work of these "Zealots" that brought about the first Jewish-Roman War that lead to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. In particular, though, these zealots possessed an incredible hatred for Jewish traitors - those Jews who were loyal to the Romans. One group of zealots in particular, the Sicarii, made it their mission to target Jewish apostates who were working with and for the Romans. They concealed small daggers in their cloaks and would specifically target these Jews to be killed.
Now, what are the odds of a Jewish tax collector working for Rome being teamed up with a Jewish zealot targeting tax collectors and there being no bloodshed? It is certainly only possible when the common denominator is being a follower of Jesus Christ. This is what 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 is talking about when it says:
"So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
You see, when we give our lives to Jesus Christ and become followers of Him, we now take upon ourselves HIS agenda, and not our own. We no longer regard people from a worldly point of view, for that point of view died when the "old man" died. In Christ, we are a new creation. Just as Simon & Matthew would have killed each other if they regarded one another in their worldly point of view, so will be the result with us and others if we regard one another from a worldly point of view. Instead, their agenda of selfishness and anarchy was replaced with reconciling others to Christ as they themselves had been. Both Simon & Matthew would die a martyr's death for their commitment to reconciling others to Christ.
Perhaps we ought to do some self-examination of our old and new self in Christ. Are we truly a new creature? Are we reconciling others to Christ, or are we still working toward our own agenda? How do we know this? Do we get along with others? In other words, if we claim to be Christians, then we most certainly ought to look and act like Christ.
It happens far more often than it should that people walk away from the church or from Christ altogether not because of Christ, but because of His followers. Are we able to set aside our own agenda so that others - including those that once were our enemies - may be reconciled to Jesus Christ? If not, then perhaps we need to evaluate the depth of our devotion to Jesus Christ. How much of us does he really have? We can often say that we are "just being real", when we are just being real fleshly. Maybe instead of just "telling it like it is", we are really telling it like it is from our selfish point of view, with no regard for how Christ might "tell it". Ravi Zacharias, quoting an old proverb, has said that, "When you are bumped, what you are full of spills out." When you are bumped, what spills out? Is it selfishness? Is it your own agenda? Or is it Jesus Christ?
May we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, act like disciples of Jesus Christ. Simon and Matthew were called by Jesus to follow Him and devote their life to reconciling others to Him - and so are we. Next time someone irritates you, or rubs you the wrong way, or disagrees with you, or is just plain mean to you, remember that the old creature is dead if you are a Christian. May our attitude be reconciliatory, may our actions be reconciliatory, and may our entire lives be reconciliatory. Jesus demands it and our mission cannot be complete without it.
James Madison once wisely declared, "If men were angels no government would be necessary." Madison recognized that men are no more than flesh and blood. They are prone to being wrong, selfish, and unwilling to yield. Yes, we are a stubborn breed. And yet, even as fully as we understand this about ourselves, and as deeply as we know it to be true, we still spend so much time trying to be right. This stubbornness is not limited to just our feelings and opinions, but often extends to concepts far more serious. As humans, we view everything through the filter of our own experiences, interpretations, and observations - including our concepts of "justice". This is why it is so important that we establish our source of justice and our standard of righteousness in this world as being in Christ alone, rather than in ourselves.
As Christians, we derive our understanding of justice from God's Word, the Bible. John tells us in I John 1:9 that "God is faithful and just" and will forgive us of our sins. God is a just God, and it is His justice that we must seek to uphold. In fact, one of the reasons for Christ coming to Earth was to "declare justice to the nations" - in other words, to establish to humanity what justice really is. This was prophesied in Isaiah 42 and fulfilled in Matthew 12:18-21.
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”
To highlight this point, I'd like to look at the human institution of slavery. Slavery was once viewed as no sin at all, in fact it obtained worldwide acceptance. However, as time went on, it came to be viewed as sin to the point where, in 1865, the US government adopted an amendment to the Constitution - the 13th amendment - which outlawed slavery. Now slavery was a sin and punishable by law. What was once viewed as "justice" suddenly and unequivocally became "injustice".
A great-great-great uncle of mine, William Porcher DuBose, is an Episcopal theologian who also served as a Chaplain in the Civil War. He grew up in a wealthy Southern family of slaveowners. He saw no evil in slavery, having been raised around it. However, after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, his eyes were opened to see the evils in the institution. He later wrote of this experience:
"The South received and exercised slavery in good faith and without doubt or question, and, whatever we pronounce it now, it was not a sin at that time to those people. Liable to many abuses and evils, it could also be the nurse of many great and beautiful virtues. There are none of us now who do not sympathize with its extinction as a necessary step in the moral progress of the world. It was natural that we who were in it and of it should be the last to see that, and even be made to see it against our will. Knowing as others could not, and loving the good that was in it, it was not strange that we should be more and longer than others blind to its evils, and unconscious of the judgment which the world was preparing, finally and forever, to pass upon it. Now that the judgment is passed, we join in it. Slavery we say, is a sin, and a sin of which we could not possibly be guilty."
Here was a man who, like all of us, had his sense of justice shaped, to a very large degree, by his life experiences and interpretations of those experiences. And it took, for him, a grizzly and unwelcomed defeat, in every sense of the word, for it to become evident that he was wrong. Perhaps for us - because we are human and fallible, and our scope is incredibly limited - justice becomes this system of "trial and error". We may truly believe that something is pure and righteous, and be vigilant in our efforts to convince others to side with us. And it may be, due to this stubborn and selfish nature we inhabit, that certain actions or institutions are permissible and implemented - and we can actually see, touch, and observe the evil and injustice that we were previously blind to - before we recognize them as "injustice".
This is one of the many reasons that is imperative that we draw close to the Lord. We may be sincere, and sincerely wrong. The only way that we can keep our sense of justice in line with the author of justice is to seek Him for help and guidance. Scripture tells us clearly that God is just and that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to proclaim justice to the nations and bring justice through to victory. In those times when the limitations of your humanity become evident, and you are swimming in a sea of confusion having to do with very real issues, know that you serve a God who is just and who gives us His Spirit to help guide us in all truth. Seek Him and draw close to Him through His Word, through prayer, and through your local body of Christ.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.