It seems that for now, I cannot avoid the autobiographical. I’ve written drafts for three or four posts but they all fail in several areas; most notably in passion. So my apologies.
We recently sent my oldest to college. During our last night at home together I gave him a final “Dad talk.” I reminded him of just a few things that he already knew but needed emphasis. It didn’t last very long. What I really wanted to do was to send him away with my blessing. I had to wing it of course. No one ever taught me the formality of that process so I laid my hands on his raggedy, adolescent head and waded in. I ended my rudimentary attempt at a Biblical ritual by praying Numbers 6 over him with lots of tears but only a few catches in my throat. In traditional Garrett fashion, he quietly accepted my touch in a humble yet strong way. In what was a very weird, awkward and holy moment I felt as close to Garrett as I can remember. My firstborn, doing exactly what we wanted him to do, was leaving with my blessing to go make his way as a man in this world.
The next day, I left for yet another trip and during our final hug, I whispered, “Be brave.”
He nodded, I got choked up and we parted ways. Of course, I was saying that to myself just as much as I was to him. His Mom and sister bravely took him to college–lots of tears there. Our adjustment at home is new and weird and wonderful because although this is painful, this is what is supposed to be. We WANT him to be brave, to be a man, to do daring and godly things.* And now Kate has to face her remaining years of High School alone. She too needs to be brave right now. Driving a stick, social pressure, her vasculitis, future decisions etc. All of those things are now upon her. Shannon and I are staring down the barrel of all kinds of new frontiers. Everything is changing and we all need to learn to be brave.
As one of those families who has adopted a somewhat gypsy/activist/suburban/missionary/homeowner life, we have had lots of moments where we had to move toward the breach. What I mean is that as we move down (or forward in) the timeline, God continues to bring us to crossroads that will force us to choose. This is a complicated and multi-faceted issue but in the end, we are all forced by the inevitability of time to choose something. Courage is needed because of our inherent desire to avoid pain. It is always some kind of battle. When that battle has a breaking point, that is the direction we need to go toward rather than shun. Our courage is directly tied to the cost of a certain decision and I have chosen the cowardly way far too many times. As I face my embarrassing cowardice I consistently hunt for images and words in the Bible that remind me to manifest courage.
I have been studying the Gospel of Mark for some time now. Yesterday the phrase describing Joseph of Arimathea in Mark 15 just jumped off the page at me. He was a prominent member of the council and he was “waiting for the Kingdom of God.” He had been on the periphery with Jesus. He was soul-kin to Nicodemus–A believer but not ready to pay that real cost of losing his comfortable place and respectable power. But after Jesus died he “gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mk 15:43). I was struck by the proactive statement: “he gathered up.” (Pause to consider) Joseph ends up, by the brute force of time and circumstance to finally have to make a choice between his former life and Jesus. To do so meant a great deal of perceived loss. So he had to get courage and go forward, toward the crossroads and change the course of his life. Many times in the Bible you see the phrase “take courage.” or “be strong and courageous.” The result of doing this is that you become courageous by choosing and grabbing courage in a painful situation.
We live in this awful yet wonderful time. Politics and fury make our world feel like something out of the miserable part of history books. Fear is absolutely rampant. How do we live in hope? When violence and manifest evil make headlines every day how are we to move forward with church planting, prophetic living, loving our neighbors (who are not like us at all anymore) and raising our children to be brave? Should we be positive or cynical? There is a false kind of courage that makes some Christians reactive. Love turns to defense, attacks replace conversation and the fringe-voices that only hold judgment get too much attention. People want to fight or flee. The fight option seems harmful and mean. Consequently, many of us take the flight option. It’s true: we can try to hide, protect ourselves and keep everyone from harm. But the timeline toward terrible things is marching on…we cannot avoid it. Choosing comes upon us all.
What we need now is to gather our courage. God is not weak. He is not inactive. It is in the breach where we find a chance to be change agents! We get the awesome and terrible privilege to stand with Jesus and co-labor with him (I Cor 3:9). We get to share in both his sufferings and his glory (I Pe 4:13). We are ambassadors, agents of reconciliation, healers, pastors, teachers, servants, truth-speakers, prophets, worshipers, and seed-sowers. It takes courage to listen to our enemies, to love those who hate us and wish us harm, to try new, costly endeavors, to learn new work skills or to create something for God. Courage is needed for church planters, leaders, CEOs, moms, students, accountants, service workers and everyone who calls on Christ in every workplace. Only courage will give access to radical generosity, bold leadership and big attempts for the Lord. Courage is required to listen to the Holy Spirit and obey in the small and unknown sacrifices.
The costs are going up for those who follow Jesus. But the alternative is by far a worse option. Don’t be afraid–take courage. I know it sounds trite…it’s easy to say but it is hard to do. But this is the season to go toward the breach.
I remember the first sermon I ever preached. It was terrible. I thought I was going to die in the pulpit of the Algoa Men’s Penitentiary in Jefferson City Missouri.
After 7 minutes of inane gibberish, I just sat down, experiencing my first flop sweat; dizzy with both shame and adrenaline. The first sermon was hard. The second was even harder because now I knew what a bad preacher I was. 27 years later, I make my living by speaking and leading and it brings me joy rather than mind-numbing shock. Yet each time I preach or speak in public I am still required to gather the courage to do my job. To lead my family, to love my aging parents and to participate in this amazing endeavor of church leadership, I am still required to gather my courage to obey my King. Please pray for me. I need it. If you want, let me know how I can pray for you.
As always, if you want to discuss any of this, hit me up on Twitter @MaupinRob, Facebook or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Garrett is studying to become a missionary pilot…he is choosing a very brave pathway indeed…please pray for him.