God's Call to Persistent Courage

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Thursday, December 9, 2021
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God's Call to Persistent Courage


Here’s an image you should see: T.rex is sporting a Christmas jumper at a natural history museum in London. The animatronic dinosaur is wearing the largest garment the sweater company has yet completed, requiring staff one hundred hours to complete. The company’s director said, “We’ve never done anything like this. My dad’s never done anything like this and he’s been in this business for thirty-five to forty years.”

Good things come to those who wait.

A case in point: on November 10, a plumber found envelopes of money stashed in a wall at Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch. Evidence suggests that the money is connected to a March 2014 theft in which $600,000 was stolen from the church safe. Now the plumber has received a $20,000 Crime Stoppers reward for his discovery.

Sometimes the wait is short, as when an outage Tuesday at Amazon Web Services caused chaos for millions of users and companies along the US East Coast but was resolved that evening. Sometimes the wait for good news can seem interminable, as with the rising adolescent depression, anxiety, and mental distress now being reported by the US surgeon general.

Some people even abandon hope, giving rise to the growing euthanasia movement around the world. As a tragic example, Switzerland just approved an assisted suicide “pod.” The company’s founder explained: “The person will get into the capsule and lie down. It’s very comfortable. They will be asked a number of questions and when they have answered, they may press the button inside the capsule, activating the mechanism in their own time.”

The "Overton Window" and social transformation

The “Overton Window” describes how culture changes. Introduced by Joseph P. Overton in the 1990s when he was an executive at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, it shows how policies that seem unpopular or even unthinkable today can become fashionable over time. Sen. Bernie Sanders illustrated this concept when he told the New York Times, “We have come a very, very long way in the American people now demanding legislation and concepts that just a few years ago were thought to be very radical.”

The legalization of same-sex marriage is a prime example. Advocates began by working to normalize homosexuality through media and popular culture, then to legalize same-sex marriage in the states and ultimately the Supreme Court. Now with the so-called Equality Act, they seek to criminalize faith-based opposition.

Rather than giving up or giving in, successful advocates of social change choose to go on despite the odds. Persistence and perseverance can often lead to dramatic, systemic transformation over time—for good or for bad.

Philosopher John Stuart Mill noted in 1867: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject.”

"Well done, good and faithful servant"

This week, we have focused on the need for Christians to choose courageous hope in the face of rising cultural opposition. We have identified the three components of hope, discussed the need for sacrificial faith in helping our nation turn to God and his word, and embraced God’s call to empowering boldness through dependent prayer.

Today, let’s turn for encouragement to this paradoxical fact: our highest sacrifice for Jesus in this world leads instantly to the highest reward in the next.

Early Christians lived in imminent expectation of martyrdom for following their Lord. He warned them, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). They expected to suffer for their Savior as their Savior had suffered for them.

But they knew that the worst this world can do to faithful followers of Jesus leads immediately to the best heaven can do for them. In that moment, we step from this broken and fallen planet into God’s perfect paradise. When we take our last breath here, we take our first breath there. When we close our eyes here, we open them there.

And those who pay any price to serve Jesus hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

"Living here as guests and strangers"

I have been considering this fact for several days after reading a deeply impactful pamphlet by a Christian leader facing suffering and death. St. Cyprian of Carthage (AD 200–258) wrote “On the Mortality” in AD 252 when plague came to his city, encouraging Christians to stay and minister to the sick and bury the dead even at the risk of their own lives.

He exhorted his followers to “be prepared for the whole will of God: laying aside the fear of death, let us think on the immortality which follows. By this let us show ourselves to be what we believe, that we do not grieve over the departure of those dear to us, and that when the day of our summons shall arrive, we come without delay and without resistance to the Lord when he himself calls us.”

With words that could have been written today, Cyprian encouraged such faith “now that the world is collapsing and is oppressed with the tempests of mischievous ills; in order that we who see that terrible things have begun, and know that still more terrible things are imminent, may regard it as the greatest advantage to depart from it as quickly as possible.

“If in your dwelling the walls were shaking with age, the roofs above you were trembling, and the house, now worn out and wearied, were threatening an immediate destruction to its structure crumbling with age, would you not with all speed depart? If, when you were on a voyage, an angry and raging tempest, by the waves violently aroused, foretold the coming shipwreck, would you not quickly seek the harbor?”

He then stated: “We should consider, dearly beloved brethren—we should now and always reflect that we have renounced the world and are in the meantime living here as guests and strangers. Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us hence and sets us free from the snares of the world, and restores us to paradise and the kingdom. Who that has been placed in foreign lands would not hasten to return to his own country?”

"Let us hasten with an eager desire"

Cyprian concluded with this description of what awaits us: “There the glorious company of the apostles—there the host of the rejoicing prophets—there the innumerable multitude of martyrs, crowned for the victory of their struggle and passion ... To these, beloved brethren, let us hasten with an eager desire; let us crave quickly to be with them, and quickly to come to Christ.”

Six years later, an edict issued by Emperor Valerian decreed that bishops, priests, and deacons should be found and executed. Cyprian refused to sacrifice to the emperor, so he was beheaded for his faith.

St. Cyprian was right: you and I are “guests and strangers” in this world. Until “the day which assigns each of us to his own home,” let’s be found faithful to the One who is faithful to us.

What does this invitation require of you today?

Publication date: December 9, 2021

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