Playing it safe ’til He comes

It’s as maddening as it is exhilarating. If you’re on the winning side there’s no greater sight. If you’re the loser, you’d rather stick a needle in your eye than watch as it plays out. It’s football’s Victory Formation.

When the outcome of a football game is no longer in question late in the game, the team with the lead usually goes into an offensive formation that completely protects the quarterback as he takes the snap and almost immediately takes a knee to just keep the clock running. The losing side usually has no timeouts left and no hope of a comeback when the winning side begins this formality.

The Victory Formation is the winning side’s way of making sure they don’t turn the ball over causing a potential miraculous comeback-win for the opposing side. The Victory Formation is playing it safe.

It appears that time may be getting short. The return of the Lord might not be that far away. There are signs all over the place.

Whether that means His return happens next year, next decade or even longer, we’re in the fourth quarter of time.

Because of this perceived shortness of time, many Christians seem content with running out the clock from the Victory Formation while a handful of ministers and leaders continue the trench-warfare that comes with snatching people out of the fire (Jude 1:23).

The hour is too late and the stakes are too high to live out our Christian faith from the Victory Formation.

Sure, it’s a safe way to play the game. There’s almost zero chance you’ll end up losing possession of the football. Might as well take a knee and run out the clock, right?

In Luke 19, Jesus gives the parable of the 10 talents. In the parable, Jesus says a man of noble birth was going away to become king and he gives 10 servants one talent each with the instruction “Occupy til I come.” Occupy meaning put this money to work or continue conducting business until I return as King.

The story continues with the nobleman returning to find one servant who earned 10 talents off the original amount given to him. The next servant had gained five. The final servant hid his only talent in a cloth and did nothing with his master’s money. He played it safe because he was scared of his master.

The telling reason Jesus gave this parable is all the way back in verse 11. Luke says “he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the Kingdom of God was going to appear at once.”

So it’s possible the people had a penchant to play it safe since they thought the Kingdom coming in power was imminent. Maybe the underlying attitude among the followers was one of complacency or worse–safety.

Aslan, the Lion in C.S. Lewis’s classic children’s story The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe represents Jesus. As the inquisitive children ask about Aslan, Mr. Beaver replies, “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Lewis got that one right. Jesus is anything but safe. Following Him is anything but playing it safe. As a matter of fact, Jesus Himself said, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross every day, and follow me. (Luke 9:23)” Does carrying your own method of execution sound safe to you?

It’s not time to play it safe. It’s not time for the Victory Formation. There’s still a war over men’s souls. There is still a battle to fight. There’s still a devil loose.

Yes, we already have ultimate victory. But truly following the King is anything but safe.

Joel A. Barker is a worship pastor, minister of the Gospel, blogger and church-planter-in-training from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Follow his Kingdom Voice Ministry blog at joelabarker.com.

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Chained Yet Free

We have been told since day 1 of Jesus’ ministry that following Him would not be easy. Jesus was very frank about that. In John, He says that the world would hate us because it first hated Him, that we would be persecuted just as he was first persecuted. We see this very present in the early church: Paul was jailed and put under house arrest. Of the 12 disciples, only John died a natural death – in exile on the island of Patmos. The church as a whole endured persecution from the Roman government up through Constantine. From that day onwards, Christians have been persecuted at almost every time in every corner of the world, whether it be Christian missionaries to the Norse, Japanese, Soviets, or, currently, Muslims.

We will be persecuted. It’s not a matter of whether we will be, but when. even today, in the USA, ideological persecution is well under way. But we must remember, God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of courage and a sound mind. In sending out the disciples, Jesus told them to stand firm and be courageous:

What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but not the soul.

Matt. 10:27-28

Peter encouraged the early church with similar words, encouraging them to rejoice in their sufferings:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you, but rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed … [If] you suffer as a christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that  you bear that name.

1 Peter 4:12-16

Finally, James, the brother of Christ, encourages us to take joy in our persecution:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

He also reminds us that we who persevere are blessed:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.

James 1:12

So then, let us be encouraged. Let us not be fainthearted. We serve a God who brings salvation into the world. He is the light in the darkness that shall not be hidden. He is the truth, the life, and also the way. Let us not be ashamed of the Gospel, but be encouraged by the life it brings, boldly going to the front lines, knowing that to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Let us remember and commend those who have gone before us, laying their lives down for the sake of the Gospel, who fixed their eyes on Jesus, casting aside sin and entanglements to boldly run the race marked out for them.

Let us remember our brothers and sisters still living who, even today, are the targets of persecutions. Let us praise God for their boldness and obedience and pray earnestly for their freedom.

Let us also be willing to say, “Wherever you lead, I’ll go,” to be obedient to the Lord’s command regardless the risk, for we know that to live is Christ and to die is gain.

A current medical school applicant, James grew up on the missions field in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated from Liberty University in May 2014 and is seeking, ultimately, to serve as a missionary doctor.  Read more from James at Third Culture Musings.