Tag Archives: courage

Courage

Paul Harvey, loved for his heartwarming tales and unique style, told this story: “One summer morning as Ray Blankenship was preparing his breakfast, he gazed out the window, and saw a small girl being swept along in the rain-flooded drainage ditch beside his Andover, Ohio, home. Blankenship knew that farther downstream, the ditch disappeared with a roar underneath a road and then emptied into the main culvert. Ray dashed out the door and raced along the ditch, trying to get ahead of the floundering child. Then he hurled himself into the deep, churning water. Blankenship surfaced and was able to grab the child’s arm. They tumbled end over end. Within about three feet of the yawning culvert, Ray’s free hand felt something hard; possibly a rock protruding from one bank. He clung desperately, but the tremendous force of the water tried to tear him and the child away. ‘If I can just hang on until help comes,’ he thought. He did better than that. By the time fire-department rescuers arrived, Blankenship had pulled the girl to safety. Both were treated for shock. On April 12, 1989, Ray Blankenship was awarded the Coast Guard’s Silver Lifesaving Medal. The award is fitting, for this selfless person was at even greater risk to himself than most people knew. Ray Blankenship can’t swim.”

This Sunday, the featured hymn was written by Lydia Baxter, a woman who was invalid for much of her life. “Take the Name of Jesus with You” is a testimony of courage in the face of suffering and difficulty. During the great Moody-Sankey evangelistic campaigns in the late 19th century, the song with lyrics by Lydia Baxter and tune by William Doane was popular with the great crowds.

The human condition is often one that affords us opportunity to rise above our circumstances. Paul wrote, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” The key is found in those two words: through Christ. The One who displayed the greatest courage in history offers His presence and power to us daily. When we appropriate what Christ gives, we can indeed take the name of Jesus wherever we go.

What a mismatch!

Udonis Haslem has had quite a career. While a senior at Miami Senior High School, he led his team to two state titles. He played at the University of Florida where he was a significant part of four UF tournament teams. After a year of professional ball in France, he signed with the Miami Heat of the NBA. The Heat have won three NBA titles while Udonis has played for them. He now has thirteen years with the team, a remarkable achievement in a not-for-long league.

Before moving to Miami to finish high school, Udonis attended Wolfson High School in Jacksonville. He was a formidable presence in a really good high school basketball program. My oldest son and my nephew were on those teams. They also played on a youth church league team when rules allowed such things.

So use your imagination. Think of your average youth church league basketball team and envision one of those kids dribbling down the court to face a 6’8” guy waiting for him in the paint. David and Goliath come to mind … only every time David shot, Goliath swatted the ball into the bleachers. What a mismatch!

The classic story of the shepherd boy against the giant of Gath is known by almost everyone. What a mismatch! Goliath never had a chance. David didn’t just come to the battle armed with a sling and 5 stones; he came in the power of the God he represented.

Sometimes we can be overwhelmingly intimidated by our opposition. We may feel we have no chance for success. Who wants to go into challenge with no confidence of a positive outcome?

The David and Goliath story reminds us of a great truth. You plus God makes a majority, no matter who or what is standing in your way. When Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” he wasn’t relying on his own might. He knew better. I hope we do, too.

Take a deep breath

Good-bye 2016. You brought a plethora of experiences and events that touched every human emotion. We have known grief, despair, anger, confusion, disappointment, and fear. Our world has been rocked by disaster, violence, displacement, and loss. Notable people died this past year. Some of them had obtained celebrity status. Many perhaps mattered more to some of us because they were family and friends. We can be overcome by all that went wrong, all that hurt us, and all that we would change. We turn the page and engage a new year.

Greetings 2017. We refuse to take our first steps into the uncertainty of the days ahead terrorized by the darkness and destruction of evil. We are a people of hope who know the Creator of life personally, who claim an eternal relationship with the King of kings, who believe that we have a purpose to fulfill and a mission to accomplish. The path we will walk will not be without difficulty or pain. We know that we will need more than inner strength to face what will come our way. We claim the comfort, support, and faithfulness of family, friends, neighbors, fellow believers. Even more, we rely on the One who promised to be always with us.

Let His Word speak …

“Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9); “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your friends, your families, and your homes. The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 4:14; 8:10); “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear.” (Psalm 46:1); “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13); “He who is faithful to all these things says, ‘I am coming soon!’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 21:20)

The upside of giving up

Jesus posed an interesting scenario to those who opposed Him. He told the story of two sons who each were asked by their father to work in the family vineyard. The first son initially refused to stop what he was doing to obey his father’s wishes. The second agreed to the task and then fails to show up. Jesus asked, “Which of the two was obeying the father?” (Matthew 21:28-32)

The first son gave up … gave up his own path, his own desires … so he could find a better path, more satisfying desires. Discovering what you need to do and who you need to be is the upside of giving up.

Most of us understand this simply because we have been there. We have had to stop behaviors and attitudes for the sake of maturing, growing, and developing. Noah Berlatsky’s son had been deeply involved in martial arts training for several years. One day he told his father that he wanted to quit. As Berlatsky listened to his son’s reasoning, he concluded: “Quitting is one of the most important life skills that you can teach your child. If you’re going to change your life, if you’re going to try something else, you have to be ready to quit whatever you were doing before something else showed up.”

We have had to realize that Father does indeed know best. His work in our lives, in the vineyard where we have been placed calls us to give up selfish desires, goals, and preferences for a higher good. Sometimes we have to give up to grow up.

It happens in our personal lives. It occurs in business. It certainly takes place in church. Are there things we give up so we can gain? Are there things we stop doing, even good things, so we can experience the best things? The first son found the truth and found the way. I pray that we follow his lead.

Weary and wary of the storm

Fidel Lopez and Bennie Newton met on the corner of Florence and Normandie avenues in Los Angeles in the spring of 1992. The backdrop of their meeting was the eruption of the city after the acquittal of the LA police officers in the Rodney King incident. Anger boiled over into the streets. 100 fires were set as businesses and homes were looted and destroyed. Roving mobs attacked vehicles and dragged the occupants out of their cars and trucks.

That’s what happened to Fidel Lopez. His boss had given him almost $3000 to buy drywall and insulation for a project. His truck was surrounded and he was pulled into the street. As the Latino man was being pummeled, Newton, an African-American pastor of the Light of Love Church in South Central LA, pushed through the crowd. He covered Lopez with his own body and screamed at the mob, “Kill him and you have to kill me, too!”

The mob moved on. Newton tended to Lopez until he regained consciousness. Trying to summon an ambulance, the pastor realized that no emergency vehicle was going to respond. He put the injured man into his own car and drove him to the hospital.

When Lopez was released from the hospital, he met with Newton. The minister explained that members of his congregation were collecting an offering to replace the money that had been stolen from him during the beating. Lopez was overcome, “I thank you. You saved my life.” Newton told him, “Out of tragedy, good will come. The storm is over.”

I wish the storm was over. People of God, we have work to do. May we have the courage of Bennie Newton to make a difference in a world still covered with threatening clouds.

Limits

Steve Edington once told a story about a circus bear. Instead of walking on two legs, ride a bicycle, or other tricks, this bear sat and paced in a nine by nine foot cage. He was a showpiece, a marketing tool to attract crowds to the performances. Day after day, he walked nine feet one way, nine feet the other. For hours he would just lay down.

The circus fell on hard times and went bankrupt. No one was interested in a bear which could do no tricks so he was sold to a zoo. The zoo was rather progressive and provided animals with spaces that would resemble their natural habitats. Moats and rock formation kept the visitors at a safe distance. No bars were needed.

Introduced to his new environment, the bear soon repeated his behavior from his days in the circus cage. Free to wander in his expanded confines, the bear never ventured beyond the area of his old nine-by-nine square.

“The only bars left were the ones in his mind and spirit, which proved to be as real as the ones that had been around him.” wrote Edington.

What are the limitations that hem us in? Are they imposed upon us from the outside?

  • You’re no good.
  • You’ll never amount to anything.
  • I don’t know why I bother with you.

Or are they self-imposed?

  • I’ll never be able to accomplish that.
  • I’m scared.
  • Surely there’s somebody better than me.

Where do “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” and “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Don’t lean on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will direct your paths” come in?

 

It’s time for the bear to quit being a prisoner. How about you?

God told me

Did you hear the one about the preacher who reported to his flock that God told him that he needed a new $65 million jet? Did you hear that his last name is ‘Dollar’? It made the news last week. It seems that his old jet is just worn out and he needs another one. Jesus wants him to have it. He wants 200,000 people to give $300 a piece so he can purchase a Gulfstream G650 to “cover the world with the Gospel of grace.”

Now, why didn’t I think of that? I need to get some new dreams. I’m not living large enough.

Actually, I do need some new dreams. It wouldn’t hurt at all if I lived larger. I’m not talking about the ridiculous or absurd. Prosperity theology like the good reverend is pushing does ensure prosperity … for the peddlers of same. I am referring to the impact each of our lives can have when we open ourselves to new possibilities, new challenges.

In 2000, Bruce Wilkinson published a book about the prayer of Jabez. Jabez is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 4 as a very distinguished man who petitioned God to bless him and enlarge his territory. Much was made of the book, both positive and negative. Some claimed it was similar to prosperity theology. Others would agree with the author who posted an article on allaboutprayer.org which read, in part: “Jabez wants to succeed and increase his sphere of influence. The prayer reminds us that everybody struggles with choosing to rely on himself or God. Jabez challenges each of us to ‘attempt something large enough that failure is guaranteed, unless God steps in’ (Wilkinson).”

Are we willing to “expect great things from God; attempt great things for God” like missionary William Carey once said? Jabez also asked God to keep from all harm so he would not experience trouble and pain (2 Chron. 4:10). While it would seem that you cannot do great things without trouble and pain in this world, Scripture says that God granted the request of Jabez. Will He do the same for us?

Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (4:6,7).

While it may not mean that a $65 million jet will be parked out on the front lawn, it might suggest that God wants to do something mighty in us as well as through us. Expect … attempt, it’s a matter of trust. “For I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13)

Please get it right

Did you happen to see Russell Crowe’s “biblically inspired epic” entitled Noah? The movie had so many rewrites that the final version left most people scratching their heads. Scott Franklin, who produced the film, said, “Noah is a very short section of the Bible with a lot of gaps, so we definitely had to take some creative expression in it. But I think we stayed very true to the story and didn’t really deviate from the Bible, despite the six-armed angels.”

Really? Leave it to Hollywood to produce movies with the generic disclaimer: based on a true story. Evidently that gives you license to push your own agenda at the expense of the truth. Everybody loves a good story, but it seems in vogue to take the Bible as a source and then disregard it.

Louis Zamperini died at 97 this past July. This amazing man survived. He survived the reckless years as a youth on the streets of Los Angeles. He survived the crash of his B-24 bomber while on a rescue mission. He survived 47 days at sea in a life raft before being captured by the Japanese. He survived the torture and degradation inflicted by his Japanese captors. He survived the anger, the bitterness, and the determination to return to Japan and hunt down his tormentors. He survived posttraumatic stress disorder and heavy drinking. He survived the impending doom of a wrecked marriage due to his fits of rage fueled by his alcohol binges and horrible memories.

His wife Cynthia was desperate to help her husband. A young evangelist was in Los Angeles for a series of services. She had gone, hoping for encouragement and fortitude while she listened to Billy Graham preach. She asked Louie to go with her, but he refused. She didn’t give up, either. She finally convinced him to go with her.

His life changed that night. He found Christ. The drinking stopped; the rage dissipated. He still wanted to return to Japan, but not for revenge. He wanted to find the Japanese soldiers and officers who had cause so much pain for him and too many others so that he could offer his forgiveness.

Books, movies, documentaries … all were written or planned, but the story could not gain enough traction. Then Laura Hillenbrand, the author of the best-seller Seabiscuit, found an old clipping about the famous racehorse. On the back of that newspaper there was a story about young phenom who had run in the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany, Louie Zamperini. A phone call started a relationship that became another best-seller, Unbroken. With the resulting success, the movie rights were snapped up by Angeline Jolie. The film was finished in time for Zamperini to see it, albeit twenty minutes at a time.

The story of Louis Zamperini is a tale of unbelievable courage. It is a story of triumphant faith. Please, Hollywood, get it right.

Further Up and Further In

cs-lewis-02

C.S. Lewis died the same day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Now, fifty years after his death, Lewis is as popular as ever. His Chronicles of Narnia series has been made into major motion pictures and books like Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and The Abolition of Man continue to be widely read across the globe.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of his passing, Westminster Abbey in London added a memorial stone in his honor to Poet’s Corner, placing him among the likes of Shakespeare, Milton, Keats and Chaucer. I’ve read and been influenced by much of what C.S. Lewis wrote.  But I can only quote one phrase of Lewis’s from memory: “Further up and further in!”

In The Last Battle, the final book of the Narnia series, Lewis draws his readers and his characters into his vision of what the fulfilled Kingdom of God might look like. Aslan, the lion and God-figure in the series, races through the open fields of a transformed Narnia encouraging everyone to explore this new world more fully by shouting, “Further up and further in!” As the characters venture further into the new world, they discover that everything they see is continually being transformed and renewed into a markedly better version of itself. And the farther they’re willing to go, the better it gets.

It takes courage to be a Christian. We like to tell people that following Christ is easy.  It’s not. Surrendering your will to someone else is never easy.

Accepting God’s forgiveness and grace might be easy for some. Responding to an initial experience of the living God is natural. But becoming a disciple, a real follower, is neither natural nor easy. Becoming a Christian is easy; being a Christian is hard.

Anyone can give their life to Jesus. All of us need salvation. Salvation is for those who understand their faults and embrace the mystery of God’s grace. I’m saved. I get it. But following Christ is a different story.

Further up and further in. 

We are changed forever by the experience of salvation. But changed for what? How do we use our experience of God’s grace? These are questions of discipleship. Salvation is the courage to say you’re not good enough; discipleship is the courage to discover that you are.

Further up and further in.

Discipleship requires the courage to say I am good enough. I have a message worth sharing. I know a better way. I have found in Christ a different way to live, an alternative way to see the world.

Further up and further in.

It’s the courage to say to an unbelieving world, I know something you don’t. In Christ I have new vision for my life. What the world says is important is not important. Conventional wisdom is wrong. What everyone accepts as true is not true.  What everyone thinks is past it’s prime hasn’t even begun to flourish yet.

Further up and further in.

Discipleship requires the courage to say I am powerful. I have tapped into the source of energy and wisdom and knowledge and creativity and hope that powers the universe. I know and am known by the One who was before the foundations of the universe and who will endure beyond the end of time. The God who created me knows me personally and loves me. He counts the grains of sand on the beaches and knows the number of hairs on my head.

Further up and further in.

I know what the future looks like. I know that no one is good enough to be worthy of God’s honor and praise. But he loves us anyway. And I know that no one is so bad or lost or broken or dirty or sinful or hateful to be beyond God’s ability to save. No one.

Further up and further in.

Discipleship is the courage to say I am, I have, I do, I know, I’ve found. It’s the courage to claim knowledge and power and truth and strength and energy and wisdom and victory. It’s the courage to say I have all of those things, but it’s no longer me; it’s Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20).

Further up and further in.

Discipleship is ultimately about letting God live more fully in you. And the further you’re willing to go the better it gets. Discipleship is the courage to give thanks to God in every thought and action, in every word and deed. This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for C.S. Lewis. I’m thankful for life restored and hope renewed. I’m thankful for the call to follow further up and further into the mystery and miracle of God’s kingdom.

A Minute with Mark – Courage

Courage. Opportunities to be courageous are seldom planned, more often seized. Most of us wonder if we will respond with courage in a trying moment.

In 1975, the movie “Jaws” was released. Going to the beach after seeing that movie was never the same. As it became obvious that the film was a box office smash, one of the producers of the movie threw a lavish party at his palatial Hollywood home for everyone listed in the credits. After a sumptuous feast, the guests were ushered to the large pool at the rear of the mansion. With dramatic flair, the producer had rigged spotlights to flash over the surface of the water to reveal the presence of two enormous sharks swimming in the pool.

With more fanfare, the producer announced, “I’ll give the person brave enough to swim the length of the pool either one-fifth of the profits from the film or a check for $5 million right now.”

No sooner had he spoken those words than there was a splash at one end of the pool. Someone had responded to the challenge! Horrified and thrilled at the same time, the crowd worked itself into a frenzy as they watched the man flail at the water, trying to reach safety. Finally, the exhausted man was pulled from the water while the sharks lunged for him.

The producer rushed to his side, exclaiming that he had never seen such courage. “I’m stunned that you were willing to do that. I didn’t expect anyone to even try. Now, do you want the share of the profits or a check?”

The man, gulping for air, finally said, “I don’t care about the money. I just want to know who pushed me in.”

There may be times in our lives when we feel we have been pushed into a pool of sharks. Just trying to survive, to reach safety might seem almost impossible. Joshua might have felt that way when challenged to succeed Moses as leader of the wandering Israelites. He was given the huge task of leading his people into the Promised Land. God reminded Joshua of the call he had received and the resources available to him: “Be strong and take courage, do not fear or be dismayed; for the Lord will go before you, and His light will show the way, for the One who lives within you will be strong in you today.”

That’s no fish story. That is the promise of God who calls us to serve Him. The same God who called Joshua may not summon us to such a momentous task, but He will call us to live significant lives. Along the way, we will indeed need to be strong and take courage. He didn’t forget Joshua; He won’t forget you!