SCRIPTURE: 2 Corinthians 11:23-29
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 15 June 2012
"Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?," (2 Corinthians 11:23-29)
Gary Haugen was one of the professors who taught me during Summer School several years ago. He is the founder of International Justice Mission or commonly called IJM, an organization that works primarily in developing countries in the Third World, to bring about justice amid an environment of injustice. A much sought after speaker all over the world, Haugen's organization has taken heavy risks to penetrate into the respective hierarchies of evil in these countries so that they can rescue young children from slavery, girls from prostitution, and justice for the weak and marginalized in society. Throughout the course, Haugen tells stories after stories of the pain and distress caused by powerful people bullying and torturing the weak into submission. In many of these third world nations, even the police is corrupted. Evidence has to be collected, and the appropriate authorities have to be engaged in order to bring criminals and masterminds of evil to justice. Such attempts to bring about some things right in a world of many wrongs can be very risky, dangerous, and even deadly. In some cases, even if girls are rescued from prostitution, they are eventually forced back into prostitution. They can be rescued once, but the moment they return to the system of evil that they live in, the evil and the powerful will capture them and force them back to prostitution.
A) Playing It Safe
Not many of us are willing to do what Haugen has done. We will very much prefer to sit on our comfortable couches at home, reading our Bibles, bringing in big salaries to fund our own leisurely pursuits. While the workers at IJM are flying to troubled regions saving the weak, many well to do Christians are flying to holiday destinations. By playing it safe, Christians protect their families and loved ones, indulge in the pleasures of life, and trust God to use other people to do the tough work of bringing the gospel to difficult lands.
- After all, other people's faith is stronger than mine.
- My Christian life is just normal, unlike the spiritual giants.
- Surely I am not going to be a hero.
- Here I am, send other people!
Yet, each time the Play-It-Safe Christian goes to Church, he remains unmotivated, unchallenged, unsatisfied. By going through the safe motions week after week, month after month, year after year, they still believe that they are never the called. It is always other people who have a higher calling.
B) Safe But Boring
Each minute we play it safe means a minute we fail to risk it for God. Gary Haugen shares this story of his earlier years as a young boy at the Visitor's Center. He calls it "going on a journey but missing the adventure." He recalls going on a hiking trip with his dad and his brothers on Mount Rainier. The hike began at the Visitor's Center. After a brief orientation at the Center, his dad decided to start the hike. Unfortunately, Haugen preferred to play it safe. Unwilling to risk it, he started to give reasons not to go.
- The Visitors' Center is exciting in itself!
- There are so many exhibits in the center already.
- There is no need to hike outside when one can see all the nice pictures and photos inside.
- It's more comfortable in the air-conditioned environment.
- I'll be all right.
No amount of persuasion could move the stubborn son. Haugen stood his ground. He refused to go. His dad left with the rest of the troop. Initially, Haugen was elated about having it his own way. The exhibits were exciting enough. However, when the minutes turn to hours, the exhibits became increasingly familiar, old, and downright boring. At the end of the day, Haugen became a bored wreck. Upon seeing his dad and brothers return, he was ready to go home, depressed and bored.
In contrast, his dad and his brothers came back with heightened levels of excitement, talking about the wonders of the trails, the beauty of the nature, and the excitement of the hike. Haugen played it safe and ended up bored. His dad and brothers risked the uncertainty and ended up excited.
What a great metaphor for the Christian life. Is our faith about playing it safe, or is it taking risks for God?
C) Faith Is Risking It
I believe that many Christians are bored simply because they have misunderstood what faith is. Faith in God is like using an umbrella. It is useful only when it rains or when the sunlight is scorching hot. By remaining at home and not going out, there is no need to use the umbrella. It is only good to be placed in the storeroom, and soon forgotten.
Faith is risking it. It is never playing it safe. A life that comprises mainly of a play-safe mentality will never require faith. In fact, playing it safe mentality is not only a lack of faith, it is idolizing one's safety above all else.
D) Love the Fountain of Risks
Bob Goff in a recent book called "Love Does," writes about his friend Ryan who risks becoming a fool when proposing to his girlfriend. The "I am in love" feeling is infectious and overwhelming. This love drives everything he seeks to do. In the run up to the engagement proposal, he leaves no stones unturned. He makes plans to have a big dinner at the backyard of his friend. He gets twenty of his friends to serve dinner for two. He arranges for musical equipment. He makes space for dancing. He asks to borrow his friend's boat, complete with arranging the Coast Guard to show up at the appropriate time. When the day arrives, Ryan executes his plan flawlessly and feverishly. The dinner, the music, the dance, the servers bringing dinner, the serenade, the boat trip, culminating with fireworks, watercannons, and the ring of engagement. Ryan has abandoned his own consciousness and chooses to do everything, and anything for his girlfriend. With such a persistent and overwhelming shower of love and attention, how can any girl refuse?
Is your spiritual life boring? Are you risking it for God? What kind of a faith do you have? Is it a play-safe faith or a risk-it-all faith? Next time, before you say "boring," ask yourself, "Are you playing it safe, or risking it all?" The answer will reveal what kind of faith you have.
THOUGHT: "For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it." (John Ortberg)
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