As oft happens, the sermon or sermon series I find myself preaching seems to embody with such relevance what’s happening in the world around us. For example, as we have journeyed through the life of the early church in the book of Acts, I have looked upon the amazing life of a church leader of Damascus named Ananias: a lesser known Christian of the first century church, perhaps, but a hero of faith and courage (in my book, at least).
Ananias was willing to stand and obey the voice of God in the face of fear and potential danger.
Like Ananias, we are navigating through rough waters as a culture and in many ways are woefully unprepared. We have much information (cf. Ananias’s revelation) and such amazing technology at our fingertips that our forefathers could not have dreamed of. Yet we are lacking something far more important: character.
The building blocks of character are many. The four classic Greek virtues include prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude and the three Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love come to mind. The fourth of these seven is also called courage. Now, courage is not a lack of fear. It is the courage to do what’s right in the face of fear. Jerry Root & Stan Guthrie in Sacrament of Evangelism write,
“It’s the habit of saying yes to the right action even at the risk of pain or loss.” Courage never gives up; courage sticks with the task until it’s done. Courage faces one’s fears and does the right thing in spite of it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was just such an example of this virtue called courage. On his last day here on earth Bonhoeffer held a brief service for his fellow prisoners. A contemporary who was there describes the scene. ‘He hardly finished his last prayer when the door was opened and two evil-looking men in civilian clothes came in and said, “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, get ready to come with us.” Those words, “come with us,” for all prisoners had come to mean only one thing the scaffold. We bade him good-bye. … “This is the end,” he said, “For me the beginning of life.” … Next day, at Flossenburg: he was hanged!’ Bonhoeffer and others like him throughout the ages had the courage to stand up to evil in the name of Christ and pay the ultimate price.”
Do we have the courage to lay it all on the line? Do we have the courage to speak up for the biblical model of natural marriage when we know that we’ll be called bigots, homophobes and maybe worse? Do we have the courage to say aloud that abortion is the taking of innocent life when we risk being called antiquated in our views? It takes courage to take a stand and risk unpopularity and ridicule.
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But remember this: if we lose our religious freedoms to stand for and teach a biblical worldview, then we will lose all other freedoms as well. If the church will do its job then the nation will reflect the biblical values on which it was built. I believe there was a moment in the conversation that Ananias knew for sure: the Lord has me covered here. Of all the things for God to ask of me, to minister to Saul of Tarsus! Yet if God calls I will answer knowing I can stand. Courage and strength is in the Lord!
Years ago, in the Los Angeles Times, Paul Harvey shared this incredible 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 foundering 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, 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 couldn’t swim.”
May I suggest that in our culture today not only little girls but entire families are being swept away by the current of casual Christianity, a secular worldview, and a watered-down notion of what it is to stand for truth and righteousness. May the God of heaven raise up a new courageous generation of heroes of the faith who will, as Paul said — after converting to Christianity under Ananias — “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that [their] labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
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Tim Throckmorton is the Pastor of Crossroads Church in Circleville, Ohio. In 2010 he released a DVD project entitled Lest We Forget, followed by a companion book in 2011. His latest book, Jesus Hit Me, was released in the fall of 2013.
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