Thursday, February 24, 2005

Courage

Deuteronomy 31:6-7 (New International Version)

“6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."
7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, "Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance.”

In last night’s men’s group at church I was hoping we’d get to the meat of what John Eldridge has been leading up to for the first seven chapters of “Wild at Heart.” While I think we got close I don’t think we quite got there.

I believe he was right on target when he noted:

“Above all else, a warrior has a vision, he has transcendence to his life, a cause greater than self-preservation. The root of all our woes and our false self was this: We were seeking to save our life and we lost it. Christ calls a man beyond that, “but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35). Again, this isn’t just about being willing to die for Christ; it’s much more daily than that.”

This is what I took away from what Eldridge said. Men must live for something, for principles higher than themselves, transcendent principles. To me, this is, or should be, the essence of a Christian man’s daily life. The operative word in this declaration is the preposition “for.” That’s the critical word. Sadly, though, all too often we Christian men are known more by what we stand against or what we want than what we stand for.

In our discussions I posited the following idea – Christian men must embrace Christ and the cross, but they must also understand that it is not an empty embrace. That is, there are principles of life that we must also embrace along with the gift of life we have been given at this crossroad in our lives.

I think I caused some confusion in saying what I said, and in the course of our discussion the subject got away from us. Given more time I think I would have made the observation that I see too much using of Jesus and the cross as tools or vehicles to get what we want out of life. I’ll repeat a story that was recounted to me long ago to illustrate. Evangelist Iverna Tompkins described a series of meetings she was speaking at somewhere in the southeastern United States. The meetings had gone well, or so it seemed. She’d focused on the benefits that Jesus would bring to anyone who would embrace Him. “He’ll heal your body, he’ll take care of your finances, he’ll fix your broken marriage.” I believe those are true statements. So did Iverna. But on a one day break from the meetings she had an “encounter.” Along with some friends she visited a historical site, some old slave markets in the city. She listened intently as a guide described the obscene language and transactions that once took place there. Human beings were sold into a life of bondage. Those who sold them would describe for prospective buyers the merits of a purchase. “Here’s Joe…..He’s strong. He’ll chop your wood…..He’ll pick your cotton…..Look at ‘im…..Look at these beautiful white teeth, the strong muscles…..Does anybody here want to buy Joe?” Iverna recounted how as she listened she was transported and saw herself holding Jesus by a chain and proclaiming, “Here’s Jesus…..He’s strong…..Look at ‘im…..He’ll heal your body, he’ll fix your broken marriage, he’ll take care of your finances…..Anybody here wanna’ buy Jesus of Nazareth?”

That, I submit, is the crisis Christian men are facing today. We need life that is meaningful and all too often we’re settling for a safe life, a self-centered life, a life, a compliant Savior to do our daily bidding. There is in this life an alarming lack of danger, adventure, and transcendent principle. When you unmask it all there’s nothing left but “me” at the center of it all.

This all flies in the face of everything Jesus taught and lived for. Jesus had stern words for those who followed Him only for what they could get from Him. In one case, after a great miracle, a group that had been recipients of His goodness found him after a search:

John 6:22-26 (New International Version)

“22The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

Jesus the Bread of Life

25When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”

His message was clear, unmistakable – “You don’t want to follow me, you just want what I can give you, nothing more.”

And how about these startling words:

Luke 6:46-49 (New International Version)

The Wise and Foolish Builders


“46Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. 48He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”


That’s a far different call than self-interest! It’s a call to dig deep and lay down our lives on a solid foundation, an altar of sacrifice. That’s what I believe is the necessary foundation to the transcendent Christian life. Our modern problem is that we’ve all too often staked our claim to life on shifting sand of “gimmee’ what I want first and then I’ll follow.

If you read the gospels enough you will see that Jesus used the categorical imperative to address those who would follow Him. His was the language of “follow Me!” and “go ye,” and “Do!” Again, this all too often flies in the face of modern schools of thought. In them, we are the passive participants, mouths open, receiving and not giving.

The crux of the modern problem is that while God is looking for active participants in His works of grace too many men are looking for a handout. God has laid out a path of adventure for those who would follow Him, but men in the modern church have all too often settled for the life of passive wimps who expect what amounts to nothing more than Christian welfare.

I think Eldridge was right. Men in the modern church need a real infusion of courage, the same kind of courage God called upon from Joshua as he was about to embark on the adventure of his life:

Joshua 1:6-9 (New International Version)

“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

By this time I’ve said enough to get myself in real trouble. I’m glad I have. If what I’ve said has provoked you I believe I’ve done my job. From this point on, dear reader, the choice of which path you’ll take in life is yours.

4 comments:

Jim Baxter said...

Your message is excellent and badly needed to call the warrior spirit forth in the body of Christ. It is an appropriate time to share my brief testimony. Agape' Jim

+ + +
My brother and I joined the U.S. Marine Corps
right out of high school and went away to World
War II. Our mother, a True Believer, wrapped us
in Psalm 91 and claimed God's promises over us.
He went to the Paramarine/Raiders and the 5th
MarDiv and I to the OSS and the 2nd MarDiv. We
both went through combat and returned home safely
after the war.

In 1950, with the outbreak of the Korean War, we
were both recalled to active duty with the 1st
Marine Division. Our mother again wrapped us in
Psalm 91, gave each of us a small New Testament,
and again sent us off to war with the Lord's
blessing.

As a 12-year-old, I had accepted the Lord but had
never been well disciplined or obedient. I wanted
to play patty-cake in the sand piles of the world.
At 25, when I went to Korea, I started reading the
little New Testament my mother had given me.

At the Inchon landing, and for the next two weeks
of heavy combat as a rifle-squad leader, I read a
few Bible verses every day. I loved my brother
Marines who suffered and died alongside me. As the
death and destruction grew more intense - and as I
stood on the brink of eternity - I did not like
what I saw.

As my outfit, Fox Company [F-2-1], attacked up the
streets of Seoul, I was hit with a machine-gun
bullet. I made it behind a burning police sub-
station in the middle of the street. My corpsman,
Chico, dressed my wounds and as sniper bullets
crashed into the street beside us, he laid on top
of me - covering me with his own body - and yelled
in my ear, "You've had enough!" Other riflemen
nailed the snipers and as Chico left me to help
other Marines lying wounded in the street, he was
hit by two bullets that blew the shinbone out of
his leg. I never saw Chico again.

Several Marines threw a wooden door on the ground,
rolled me on it and ran me down the street under
heavy fire. It was a fearsome ride. I was placed on
a DUKW, given a shot of morphine, and dreamed a
beautiful restful sleep to Kimpo airfield and the
flight to Japan.

At Yokosuka Naval Hospital for three months, I
proclaimed my loyalty to Chico, my corpsman. One
night, the Lord came to me. I saw the blood running
down His forehead, into His eyes, and down over His
cheeks. I looked into His blood-filled eyes. He
spread out His bloody hands and said, "I did this
for you."

I was willing to be loyal to Chico - but had not
been willing to be loyal to the Lord. The Lord said,
"Come and follow me. I will make you a man. Put
away childish things." I knew what he meant.I said,
"Yes Sir."

With the Lord as the Lord of my life, I re-joined
my outfit and went back into front-line combat for
another five months before returning home. My
brother came home with frostbitten feet and I came
home with a tender rear-end. Our mother cried with
joy unspeakable.We were both baptized and have been
His loyal Marines ever since. Everyday we say, "Yes
Sir," to the Lord Jesus - our CHAMPION and HERO.
My Lord and my God.

Winston Churchill once said, "Courage is the most
important virtue because it makes all other virtues
possible." As a senior in high school ready to join
the Marine Corps, I thought his statement was good.
The sequence sounded right.

As a 26-year old veteran of front-line combat in
two wars, I came to understand that Churchill was
not accurate. Courage is not the prime virtue. It is
faithfulness/loyalty/commitment that is the prime
virtue. It is being faithful that makes all other
virtues possible, including courage. The Corps has
it right: semper fidelis. Always Faithful

"Moreover, it is required of stewards that a man be
found faithful." I Corinthians 4:2

+ + +

Tom Reindl said...

Ahhhh Phil :) You're speaking my language. And you are right. I will admit that three years ago, this post might have offended me. Thanks for writing what needs to be written

Bob said...

Great stuff, Phil. I borrowed a chunk for my post today (properly attributed of course).

John Schroeder said...

It is very easy to offer someone some self-help advice. It is very hard to ask someone to come to a God that wants to tear off their skin. That; however, is our call. I have done a whole post on this related topic, with quotes from you, here