Courage

Nelson Mandela said, “Courage is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it.” I like a mathematical comparison: The demand for courage is directly proportional to the potential for danger. In either case, everyday dangers of various degrees and their resulting fears means each of us needs courage. To that end, I offer you three thoughts.

1. Courage must be renewed each day. You may have conquered fear yesterday, but it was back again today. Peter thought Jesus was a ghost walking on the sea, yet he ignored fear and stepped out of the boat. Moments later he sank. At Jesus’ trial, Peter denied Jesus for fear of the authorities. A few months later Peter bravely accused people of killing their Messiah. When arrested, he declared, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29). Years later Paul called Peter out for capitulating to critics of his non-religious diet (Gal. 2). Point being, yesterday’s courage is not enough for today.

2. Courage magnifies other values. C.S. Lewis said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, at the point of highest virtue. A chastity or honesty or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions.” So, for example, when you are determined to be truthful even when it costs you, courage magnifies your honesty. It takes courage to forgive when you feel defensive. It takes courage to be patient with a friend who posts outrage on social media. It takes courage to be kind when you are disrespected, to be self-controlled when you want to let loose.

3. It takes courage to embrace Truth that others reject. As a child, David Nasser escaped with his family from Iran’s revolution. Just after graduating from high school in Texas, Nasser read about Jesus calling Peter to walk on water. He sensed Jesus calling him. He believed, and received baptism knowing it would be an affront to his father. But eventually his family also believed, including his father. Nasser is now on staff at Liberty University. “I am the Truth,” Jesus said (John 14:6). Today, as then, that claim is culturally offensive.

You need courage to renew your hold on virtue each day, not only in ultimate things, but in everyday life. It takes courage to face a health or financial crisis with faith, or to admit fault and make it right with humility. It takes courage to trust again when you know betrayal, or to speak and live truth when the culture knows only feelings.

You have access to courage that is beyond your own capacity. Hear the words of God: “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9). Amen.

What Matters Most

If the events of the last week or two are any indication, the Super Bowl is all that matters to some fans and players.  Clint Gresham played six seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, appearing in two Super Bowls.  Winning one and losing one taught him something.

In 2014, the Seahawks dominated the Denver Broncos in a final score of 43-8.  Gresham puts the win in perspective in a video posted on www.iamsecond.com.  He says, “I can’t tell you how many times I heard my teammates say, ‘I keep waiting for it to sink in that we won the Super Bowl.’ I said it, too.”  After a few months, he began to understand that they really meant, “I keep waiting for this thing to make me happy the way I thought it would and it hasn’t, and now I’m actually kind of scared about that, because I have made this my life pursuit and I got it, and I’m still wanting more.”

The Seahawks returned to the Super Bowl the next year, another opportunity to answer those deeply personal questions.  The loss to the New England Patriots was painful, but clarifying.  Trials tutor life’s lessons more profoundly than success.  Gresham says, “It’s only in your pain that you can grow. For me, it was my faith in God that helped me find peace. Faith helped me to bring gratitude into every moment. When I can be grateful no matter what happens, dealing with anxiety and hardships doesn’t have such weight to it. My Super Bowl experiences taught me that the most important thing in my life is to build a strong foundation on the things that truly matter.”

In church history, Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was trained by John the Apostle.  He refused to worship the Roman emperor.  Eusebius records the proceedings of the trial in 155 AD.  In response to the proconsul’s demand that Polycarp deny Christ, he responded, “For 86 years I have been His servant, and He has never done me wrong.  How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”  He prayed, “O Father, I bless thee for counting me worthy of this day and hour, that in the number of the martyrs I may partake of Christ’s cup.”  They executed him.

Though separated by millennia, Gresham and Polycarp are together with Paul.  “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8).  The trials of life expose what matters most to you.  Except maybe the question is really, Who matters most?

Re-ordered Life

Growing up in the South in the 70’s, it was hard not to notice the catchy tune, “Sweet Home Alabama.” I just turned the radio on, without knowing what the lyrics meant.

Some of those lyrics included, Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers, and they’ve been known to pick a song or two.  This reference to a town in northwest Alabama is about a recording studio and its house band. And that story is really about Rick Hall.

Hall’s success began in the late 1950’s when George Jones recorded one of his songs. Hall went on to establish the FAME recording studio in Muscle Shoals, which was instrumental in the success of many artists. Hall’s studio recorded the work of Aretha Franklin, Duane Allman, the Osmonds, Mac Davis, the Gatlin Brothers, and Tim McGraw to name a few.

Hall tells his story in The Man from Muscle Shoals.  He was born into a poor Mississippi sharecropper family, abandoned by his mother when he was age 4, and began playing in bars as a teenager. In 1957, his hard life became unbearable when both his young wife and his father died within weeks of each other. Depression and heavy drinking set in, and continued despite his later success.

A few years ago, his second wife Linda said, “Rick had every kind of award. But it was not enough. He still needed the peace that only God could give. So I just prayed.” At age 82, Rick Hall received Christ and was baptized. “God was working in my life while I was running from Him. I have total peace of mind now. My relationship with God is more important to me now than having a #1 record. Now I want to introduce other people to that.” He died in 2018 at age 85.

The gospel will re-order your life. Another example is, “I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it…being extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” Then comes Paul’s Damascus Road experience, when he encounters Jesus personally. He writes, “God was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles,” a change quite remarkable given that the man was, in today’s parlance, a religious bigot at best and a terrorist at worst (Gal. 1:13-16).

Here’s the point. Neither your past life nor your age can keep you from the love and invitation of God. “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). It’s humbling, for sure, to admit you were wrong, but when it comes to eternity you have everything to gain. Once that is settled, by faith you enjoy the contentment and purpose that comes with your re-ordered life.