Brave or Stupid, You Tell Me
--Pastor Jamey Nichols
Classic parental sayings have become fodder for stand-up comedians. One frequently caricatured expression has earned its place in the parenting hall of fame. “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, . . .” And you know the rest. The primary principle undergirding this ubiquitous admonition lands somewhere on the continuum between calculated risk and blatant stupidity. Is cliff jumping adrenaline rushing, memory making fun? Or, is it reckless, foolish behavior wherein someone is bound to get hurt? Somewhere in between, perhaps? No doubt, the “cliff jumping” reference has little if anything to do with actual cliff jumping (something which, by the way, I have done with my friends). It’s understood as a metaphor for any activity the kid is considering, or has done, and which the parents deem foolish.
In adulthood, risk taking has a whole different feel to it. A young couple takes out a mortgage for 30 years, even at the risk of losing their jobs. Colleges happily take borrowed money from young adults to pay for an education with no guarantee of a job upon graduation. And don’t forget ventures such as marriage, starting a business, or even pulling out onto the roadway. Are not these all risks of varying types? Though blind, Helen Keller saw things very differently. She wrote, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men, as a whole, experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Another way of looking at it is to ask the questions, “What’s the worst that can happen—death? Isn’t that already inevitable anyway?”
In Christianity, there is something we call “stepping out in faith” and it, too, involves risk. In their book, The Faith of Leap, Frost and Hirsch elaborate the idea that the dominate western version of Christianity isn’t fond of “stepping out.” In fact, I dare say that very few people I know (yours truly included) would have boarded a ship, as did our Pilgrim forbearers, and set sail across a vast and moody ocean to a place we’d only heard about. “Nope. Not me. Too risky.” And, like David, who among us would have thrown caution to the wind by standing up against Goliath? “God will handle that. Why risk health and well-being to silence an oversized blow-hard. It’s best to walk away from bullies. After all, the odds being what they are . . .” And what about simply following Christ? How many of us would have left our careers as did Peter or Matthew to follow a man only claiming to be the Christ? He hadn’t died and rose again at the point they took the leap.
Have Christians become gutless? Have we donned our spiritual bike helmets, put on our safety glasses, and blanketed our faith journey in bubble-wrap to the point that we are super-safe, super cozy, OSHA certified Christians? Sure, we claim to love Jesus just don’t ask us to stand up for Him, to face a blasphemous giant, or risk our security at any cost. Many of us perspire at the simple thought of telling people about Him. “Too risky. What will they think?”
Maybe this is one reason American church attendance is in decline. The adventure has gone out of the Christian faith. All that remains are protected, risk-free, love-only-no-judgment zones where well-coiffed guests sit quietly with hands in laps until the clock says it’s time to rise and depart. To what adventurous end?
No wonder our college kids are walking away from church in a mass exodus not seen since the Exodus. At least online, FPS games gives a sense of community adventure. And for a break, Millennials can catch the latest Marvel adventure or the newest Game of Thrones episode. In front of a screen they can embark on adventure, even if it is vicarious and risk-free.
Yes, there are times we are called upon to show great courage. Sadly, most of those are unchosen calamities. Our faith gets exercised when something tragic from the outside pays an unwelcomed visit (think cancer, car accident, tornado). In such moments, we rise up in faith and courage. We find ourselves praying with fervency and wrestling with God. It even helps strengthen our faith. Do you notice the content of our prayers during such times? They are for deliverance from peril, or they are thanksgiving for . . . safety. Oh, how we love safety. And yet, the precarious times of life are those about which we often say we most closely felt God’s presence.
I think this is part of the reason I’m so fond of Mike and Ana Palmiter (Kenya) or Matt and Patrice Zimmerman (Uganda). They’ve sold their belongings and taken their families to another continent in answer to God’s call. How can I not admire three single ladies like Becky Postema (France), Brenda Vander Schuur (Guinea), and Ellie Cecil (Honduras) who have demonstrated their love for those who don’t know God by striking out away from the security of their families and jobs to live thousands of miles from home? These are willful decisions that are risky. I don’t think any of us would call their choices “stupid,” but I do think many of us would balk at the idea of imitating them. I also think many of us may end up dying with vapid, insipid tales about the faith adventures of our own lives.
God may not be calling you into missions work overseas, but I do know that God is calling you to something risky. In the course of life, have you heard from Him at times but felt too uncomfortable to answer, “yes.” Christian living is a faith-full, risk-laden adventure for God. We have a Prayer of Courage every Sunday in our bulletin because wimpy Christianity isn’t biblical Christianity. Reward follows risk, and great reward follows great risk. What I am trying to say is that if left unchecked, security and sensible thinking can trick us into a spiritual coma rendering us impotent to make a substantial impact for the cause of Christ. Are we like those who merely have Christ on our lips but not in our hearts? Pray it isn’t so.