Sunday, July 20, 2008

Follow The Leader (mini notes from 7-120-08)

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Split Second Decision Time
Back in high school I can remember being at one of those parties that I really had no business attending-but I did anyway. After a while, the crowd started to get a bit rowdy and my friend and I noticed a fight happening. So we did what all high schoolers did when there was a fight, we watched. But as we got closer, we noticed that the person taking the hits from several guys twice our size was a friend of ours. At that moment we had a choice. We could either be the hero and step in and probably wind up in the ER or worse. Or we could stand by, watch it happen and then offer support after the fact. I wish that I could say that we stepped in and did a Bruce Lee on these guys, but we didn't. We stood by and watched it happen and offered support after the fact. My friend turned out to be fine even though he had a bruised ego. And the whole thing lasted just a few minutes.

And that is how those moments of courageous decision You have to make a split second decision regarding what to do. That lesson over 20 years ago taught me that it's more painful to stay on the sidelines and think "what if" than to get involved.

This split second decision to go the courage or fear route is something that all of us deal with at sometime. In fact, it probably happens a lot more than we realize. It’s those moments where you have to decide do I do the right thing or the easy thing? Do I do the right thing or the safe thing?

In fact I think a good definition of Courage for a believer is doing what's right in God's sight regardless of circumstances or consequences. And there is a pretty good pattern of leaders to follow in the Bible that shows us what that type of courage looks like. Without those before us acting in courage we wouldn’t know anything about salvation, grace and divine forgiveness.

And there is a common theme of courage that runs through our current book of study in Acts. It is full of people who put a human face to courage. People who threw caution to the wind because there was something bigger at stake than their reputations, their comforts and even their lives.

One of my favorite courage stories in Acts 13.

Context- in chapter 13 it says that the church leaders prayed for Paul and Barnabas and sent them out on Paul’s first missionary journey. And in chapter 14 In a city called Lystra, there was a man who had been crippled since birth and Paul sees faith in him and tells him to stand up and he is instantly healed. The crowd sees this and they think that Paul and Barnabas are gods and they make preparations to offer sacrifices to them.

But it says in verse 14 that they began emphatically telling the people to stop, after all they are only humans and then challenging them to turn from their beliefs in many gods to the one God of heaven. And then in verse 19 it says that unfortunately the crowds were persuaded not to believe them and we read “They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city!!!”

He is stoned and left for dead and what does he do?? He gets up, dusts himself off and he goes back for more! Now that is courage! And just two verses later, it says that shortly after they did leave the city, they went BACK again.

We take these stories for granted. In fact it is almost impossible to relate to them - jailed, beaten, left for dead. We don't face these obstacles in suburban America. And yet, there are still plenty of opportunities for us to walk in courage. And there is a lot that we can learn from the patterns we see from the courageous stories in Acts. Here are some common threads.

Their courage came from following the leader.

They had seen Jesus speak the strong truth of God’s message with unconditional love to all different groups of people. They had seen him being chased by mobs, some wanting to worship him, others wanting to stone him. They had seen him say and do unconventional things, when all of the conventional wisdom or the politically correct wind was blowing in one direction, Jesus would stand in the wind and often times walk in the opposite direction.

As Paul letter writes in his letter to the Corinthians- "follow my example as I follow the example of Christ."

Their courage came from being full of the spirit.

What was different about these men and women of the new testament from Acts on? In the gospels they were bickering about position and titles, they were denying they knew Jesus, they were falling asleep at important moments. What changed? Obviously we could say that they had witnessed a resurrection and that would certainly shoot faith steroids in a person quickly. But Acts reveals to us right at the beginning that the spiritual wells where courage comes from at a moments notice came from their wellspring of the spirit of God filling them constantly with his power, courage,love and grace. The spirit is aware of things long before we can be.

There are multiple examples of filling and courage. Here are a few.

In chapter 4, Peter and John are released from jail (a second home to many of the apostles). It says they came together and prayed, "the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly."

While Stephen was standing in courage and becoming the first Christian to die for his faith, "But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

and Their courage came from one another.

The word or a form of the word encourage appears 10 times in Acts. I was thinking about the words en-courage and dis-courage and both have the word "courage" at the end. Dis means "not a part of, to remove" and En means "put into, make, provide with, surround with". So if you are an dis-courager, like a deflating balloon, you are someone who removes courage from a person. An en-courager puts courage into, makes courage, provides others with courage and surrounds them with courage.

The church needs to be this for each other- a provider of courage. One of my favorite verses is in Hebrews 10:23-"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another."