Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Courage to Believe

TITLE: Courage to Believe
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 18 May 2010

"You are always righteous, O LORD,
when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease?" (Jer 12:1)

During times of hardship, injustice and disappointment, how do we continue to be courageous? How do we maintain a brave disposition when all the odds seem to be against us?

A story was told during WWII about the ruler of Denmark, after the country was overrun by the hated Nazi troops. The Danish head, King Christian X became upset when the Nazi flag was raised on one of the official government buildings in Copenhagen. He ordered the Germans to remove the flag immediately. The soldiers replied that as conquerors of Denmark, they do not take orders from the Danish. Instead, they give orders. When King Christian X retorted that a Danish soldier was on his way to take the ‘filthy flag’ down, the Nazis threatened to shoot anyone who attempts to touch the flag. In a remarkable display of courage, King Christian X then challenged the Nazis to shoot him, because he was going to personally take down the flag. This example of courage inspired many Danish people during one of the lowest points in their history.

A) Jeremiah’s Plight
The Prophet Jeremiah is one of the most courageous men in the Bible. Called the ‘weeping prophet’ by many, Jeremiah lived through turmoil and distress, during one of the most depressing times in Jewish history. He began his ministry since the days of King Josiah (640-609BC). His ministry continued during the reign of 4 other kings, namely Jehoahaz, Jehoakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, to the fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah began his ministry on a high note (King Josiah’s reforms), and concluded with a miserable end (Fall of Jerusalem). Through it all, Jeremiah remained faithful. The passage above is part of Jeremiah’s prayer and tussle with God over what is happening. In times like that, we understand why Jeremiah complained about why the wicked and the faithless have all the good stuff.

Jeremiah’s ministry started positively, with God anointing him on his lips (Jer 1:9). He gave God’s warnings to Israel to repent (Jer 2-4). He warned them about the false religions, that they are worthless (Jer 7). He warned Israel about the punishments (Jer 8-10). Yet, people plotted against the prophet (Jer 11:18). Not only were the Israelites unfaithful to God, they planned evil against the prophet of God. Nothing seemed to be going right for the prophet. It was one of the hardest places to ‘do the right thing.’ How could anyone NOT weep?

B) Is Doing the Right Thing Worth It?
As I think about life in our modern society, how easy it is to become discouraged when things do not work out as we expect. We become depressed when even our Plan Bs and Cs fail. Our desire to ‘do the right thing’ in our offices, our social circles and our family interactions, diminishes especially when we see good ideas that do not bear fruit. There is a Chinese phrase [好心没好报];, which literally means ‘kindness does not beget good results.’ I suppose Jeremiah must be feeling this way, when despite all of his good intentions, not only do the Israelites ignore his warnings, they want to hurt him as well.

Last month, there was a report by USAToday, about a woman assaulted by an attacker in New York City. A homeless man, Hugo Tale-Yak came to the aid of this damsel in distress. In doing so, the Good Samaritan was fatally stabbed by the vicious attacker. What is even more troubling is that for more than one and a half hours, none of the passersby along the street called for help. People simply minded their own business. Is it worth it, to save a woman’s life, and losing one’s own? Does it make sense for Hugo Tale-Yak?

Chances are, there will be people who dismiss this homeless man as having ‘nothing to live for’ in the first place. Others may claim ‘not to know’ thinking that the man was simply ‘sleeping on the streets.’ Still some might be afraid whether this man sprawled on the ground can still hurt people. Whatever the reason, this incident is troubling. More troubling is that there are many instances which reflect a similar behaviour. Think about an innocent person being bullied inside a subway train. Think about a physical bully happening on the streets. Think about an unreasonable act of verbal abuse at the shop counter by an irritated customer. Is it worth it to risk one’s life, to stand up for the right thing?

Recently, I watched the local news on Canadian TV about another Good Samaritan recovering from stabbing wounds obtained while trying to help a total stranger, fend off another violent attacker. In the interview, he showed viewers the deep cuts and slashes on both his face and his body. The stitches he received highlight a brutal and senseless assault on him, while trying to save someone totally unrelated to him. Is it worth it? Remarkably, the man replied that if he is in a similar situation next time, he would do it again? Why? It is because he has been brought up to do the right thing.

I sat there amazed. How rare it is for a person to stand up for what he believed in, even if it means endangering his life. CS Lewis once said:
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” (C.S. Lewis)
This man passed the test of what he believed. What about us? How authentic our faith is, will be made known during moments of trial and tribulations. Will we pass the test when our faith is under pressure?

C) Courage Under Pressure
Many of us live in a cosy comfortable environment. As we climb the social strata, we rise in better living conditions and material gains. The question is, what about our inner selves? Are we growing inside, even as we accumulate outside? Are we progressing internally, even as we are prospering externally? There is a good chance, that some of us are having ‘stunted’ growth. Stunted in the sense that we develop a lop-sided growth. We are good at collecting and receiving stuff; but poor in giving away things to the needy. We are stunted when we say one thing and act another. We are stunted when we claim to have courage, but fail to exercise it when the need arises. Our growth is stunted when we become hearers only, and not doers of the Word. Stunted growth is a classic form of self-limitation because of fear, doubts and a lack of faith.

When our deep beliefs are questioned, how we respond reflects the kind of faith we have. Is it a full faith, or a half-way faith? Is it an All-weather-proof faith or a fair-weathered faith?

Continuing our earlier story, King Christian X of Denmark proceeded to remove the German flag. Confused, and fearful of punishment for shooting a king, the Nazi soldiers meekly proceeded to remove the flag. It was a small victory for the Danish king, but a big one for morale.

However, this is not the only story about this courageous king. Another time, the Nazis were trying to round up more Jews to be exterminated; they ordered the Danish Jews to wear an armband to distinguish themselves from the rest of the conquered Danish population. In a courageous show of defiance, King Christian X took an armband and wore it prominently on his arm. Furthermore, he hopped onto a horse and rode through the streets of Copenhagen, declaring that all Danish citizens were equal, and the armband symbolized the Star of David. It is because of courage like this, that Denmark was one of the few European countries to have a very low number of Jews massacred by the Nazis. Compared to more than 3 million Jews murdered in Poland, only about 60 Jews were killed in Denmark.

D) Believing Requires Courage
What is the lesson for us? Simply put, when our faith is under threat, let our courage do the walking. Let our faith and courage do the talking. Let us walk the talk, even as testify about our faith. Let us maintain a firm exercise of our faith courageously. It is better to die with courage, then to live in fear.

My readers, have you been depressed lately? Have you encountered disappointments? Perhaps there is a time to hide behind our closets. Perhaps there is a time to cover our heads and sleep away our troubles. Perhaps that is the preferred way to approach life for the moment. Avoidance.

Consider this. Maybe, it is time to take courage. It is time to live by faith. It is time to take up the Cross of Christ, and courageously follow Christ. Maybe, living by faith may look difficult, but when it is practiced, we bury our fears and let our faith do the work. The time to do the work of Christ is always right now. Faith is the courage to believe. Belief is faith courageously practiced during times of testing.

Thought: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” (Winston Churchill)


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