Courage

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you (Dt. 31:6).”

As he was driving out of the crowded parking lot, Cotton bailed out of his car leaving it out of gear with no brake on. As the fight began, the car, on an incline, rolled back through its parking space. The front bumper caved in the front door of my car as it sat in the adjoining space. The momentum kept the car moving and Cotton’s open front door caught on the bumper of another car and pretty well tore it off. When I got to the parking lot Cotton said someone else had run into both of us and sped off. I jumped into my car with the caved in door and sped down route 66 in search of the villain.

When I drove back into the parking lot, with no luck catching the culprit, Cotton was gone and so was most everyone else. The drummer of the band, in which I played, told me that he had seen the whole incident and Cotton had lied. He went on to describe what had happened at the time of the great commotion. He was not about to step up at the time and contradict what Cotton had said and risk the consequences of calling him a liar. I didn’t blame him, no one who knew Cotton would want to be in that position.

Cotton (maybe from his cotton-top hair), was a hard drinker, a hard womanizer, and a hard fighter. He was a frequent customer at the night club where I played in a country band. With Cotton around it was not a matter of “if,” but a matter of “when” he would be in the middle of a drunken brawl before the night was over. With a combination of fear and respect, everyone walked a big circle around Cotton. He was the perfect example of the joke where an Irishman, happening onto a fight, asked, “Is this a private fight, or can anyone join in?”

I wanted to drop the whole thing but knew I couldn’t. The drummer reluctantly agreed to go with me to Cotton’s place of work as my witness to what had really happened. We didn’t know what would happen in confronting Cotton and essentially calling him a liar. We were both shocked when Cotton, after a long and excruciating stare, accepted the story and told me to come back on pay-day and he would give me the money to get my car fixed, which he did.

As a seventeen year old, that was more courage than I thought I could muster up to do the right thing. I might add, our keyboard player had just finished a week of eating soup while his jaw healed from an attack by another night club “cowboy” who thought he had looked at his girlfriend for a little too long. Usually the patrons don’t mess with the band because they want to keep dancing, but not this time.

As important as physical courage might be at times, moral courage is far more important and comes into play on a regular basis. It is very difficult at times to say the right thing, at the right time, regardless of the consequences. In my last job, before retirement, it was easy to be courageous in my Christian witness because the administration and most of the staff were dedicated Christians. Not so some years back where the administration and many of the staff were overtly anti-Christian. While that environment had a negative impact on my witness, I stood firm in some situations which caused a degree of tension giving me a few sleepless nights. I did have some courage of conviction, but I didn’t completely trust God in order to always sleep well. Some courage, but not enough faith.

What tremendous faith and courage Elijah displayed when he had all of Israel witness the confrontation on Mount Carmel. Hundreds of the prophets of Baal called on their god all day to send fire, but to no avail. With a simple prayer God answered Elijah’s entreaty and with fire from heaven burned up the sacrifice. Elijah then had all of the prophets of Baal slaughtered. However, when Queen Jezebel heard the news and sent word that Elijah was a dead man, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life (I Kings 19:3).” It sounds like the evil version of Sarah’s “Mommy Grizzlies.”

What a contrast. How did Elijah lose his faith and courage so quickly? After running and hiding Elijah prayed, “I have had enough, Lord, take my life (v. 4b).” In spite of this lapse (many of God’s prophets had frequent lapses), Elijah was a giant in God’s plan. The great men and women of God seem to tower above us mere mortals in their walk with God, except in pressure times when their faith and courage can wane and then they look like us. It is God that makes the difference, not the person.

Voices are being raised today warning the people of the U.S. that the day has arrived to test the courage of our convictions. Unless the Lord should tarry, or the nation confess and “turn from our wicked ways,” perilous times may be upon us. Dr. Lutzer in his book “When a Nation Forgets God,” draws a parallel between the rise of Nazi Germany and the changes going on in our culture today. It is amazing to read that the use of political correctness in the U.S. today was the exact method used by Hitler to begin a subtle creep of control in Germany.

Dr. Lutzer points out that while we should have the courage to stand for God and against the forces of evil, it must be done “with humility, love, and gracious courage.” As important as are politics and effective argument, “every Christian must regain the high ground with credibility, winsomeness, and yes, with joy.” We are battling against spiritual darkness and it is “only the cross of Christ that can transform the human heart.” Everyone should read this book.

In his play “Julius Caesar,” Shakespeare wrote a most quoted line, “Cowards die many times before their death; the valiant never taste of death but once.” It is often quoted as, “A coward dies a thousand deaths, but a brave (courageous) man dies but once.” Shakespeare was not entirely correct. In his world, as in ours, that is generally true, but for the Christian there is forgiveness. We don’t have to live forever with the haunting memory (historical memory, yes) of failures of courage; Jesus forgives and takes our burden. Peter wept bitterly when he lost courage and denied the Lord. But through forgiveness he went on to be a mighty man of faith and courage.

It takes courage, at times, simply to live life. But the time is coming, maybe sooner than we think, when it will take more courage to die for Christ than to live for ourselves. For some that is happening this very day. They exemplify the Word, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:7).” We are exhorted to, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.” “Do everything in love (Ps.27:1,14).” In the flesh, no. With God, yes.

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