Monday, August 25, 2014

Leaving Behind the Cowardly Lion Within

My youngest son stood half hidden beneath a natural arbor of overgrown bamboo.   Milk carton bucket in hand, his eyes focused on the thick, gray stepping stone beneath his feet. 

“Did you get the eggs?” I yelled across the yard.

He responded with a reluctant shake of his head. 

“Why not? What’s wrong, Emerson?”

Immediately, his face crumpled into tears.  “Because I’m scared there might be a snake!”

I gave a great sigh and marched to the hen house, flung wide the door, and gathered the eggs myself as I forced myself to speak calmly and softly about how the sunlight beaming inside made it impossible for a chicken snake to hide.

Courage, it seemed, was the topic of the month.  As a mother, I knew this sudden fear had nothing to do with snakes and everything to do with starting school a week earlier.

The first hint of his fears about Kindergarten manifested themselves in a more than usual fear of wasps.  Then, he began dissolving into tears over pool noodle light sabers, a party game he didn’t know how to play, and now snakes. 

Perhaps this personal issue with courage in my household over the past few weeks has made me more in tune with those in Scripture who altered their actions because of fear.

One instance involved King Ahaz, an evil king if there ever was one, a king who likely invoked fear in all his subjects.  Scripture says of him, “Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He followed the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, engaging in the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree” (2 Kings 16:2-4).

A man who would sacrifice his own flesh and blood was not to be trifled with.  Although he did not persecute the prophets as would his grandson Manasseh in 2 Kings 21, I imagine he did not treat with favor those who disagreed with his plans and philosophies. 

When King Ahaz decided to alter God’s plan for His holy temple, surely everyone knew a king did not expect to be contradicted, and he wasn’t.

Scripture records in detail Ahaz’s decision to create a new altar of sacrifice, one modeled after an altar to a pagan god: “Then King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria. He saw an altar in Damascus and sent to Uriah the priest a sketch of the altar, with detailed plans for its construction. So Uriah the priest built an altar in accordance with all the plans that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus and finished it before King Ahaz returned” (v. 10-11).

Uriah the priest had a choice—be courageous and stand against what he knew to be wrong or give in because he feared the king. 

He chose fear. 

Uriah built the altar, perhaps hoping that by giving in to this one whim of the king’s, he could positively influence the king down the road.  Or maybe Uriah thought this wasn’t that big a compromise.  Or perhaps it was just as simple as Uriah being more scared of telling the king 'no' than of disappointing a God he couldn't see with his physical eyes. 

But this one compromise and lack of courage began an avalanche, one small snowball transforming into something much more that would eventually bring down an entire kingdom: 

When the king came back from Damascus and saw the altar, he approached it and presented offerings on it…As for the bronze altar that stood before the Lord, he brought it from the front of the temple—from between the new altar and the temple of the Lord—and put it on the north side of the new altar.  King Ahaz then gave these orders to Uriah the priest: ‘On the large new altar, offer the morning burnt offering and the evening grain offering, the king’s burnt offering and his grain offering, and the burnt offering of all the people of the land, and their grain offering and their drink offering. Splash against this altar the blood of all the burnt offerings and sacrifices. But I will use the bronze altar for seeking guidance.’ And Uriah the priest did just as King Ahaz had ordered” (2 Kin. 16:12-16).

Again, Uriah stood by, saying nothing, as King Ahaz took over the role of the priest, offering his own sacrifices on his own altar, something God specifically forbade back in Numbers 18:7.  Uriah said nothing as Ahaz displaced God’s holy altar in favor of his pagan one.

All the while, Uriah simply remained silent, compromising more and more until he went down in history as the man who “did just as King Ahaz had ordered.”

The odd thing is that the prophet Isaiah called upon Uriah to serve as his witness, calling him a “reliable” or “faithful witness” (Is. 8:1-2).  Based on these words, it seems, then, that Uriah was a good and faithful man at one point in his journey, one who simply compromised, likely because he feared man more than he feared God.

It all boils down to courage.

Jesus warned his disciples, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). 

Uriah--along with more priests and prophets than I can count in Scripture—compromised his convictions.  He lacked courage.  But honestly?  How many of us Christians today find themselves compromising our own convictions.

Perhaps it’s that we think in compromising on one small thing, we will win someone to the Lord.  Or perhaps it is a fear of offending someone or even a fear of being rejected.

Many Christians around the world do live in fear for their lives.  But for those of us who need not fear death just for speaking the name of Jesus, we may think courage is not needed. 

Nothing could be further from the truth.  If anything, I find modern Christians to be needing a huge dose of courage.  In our physical security, we have become so fearful of what others will think of us that we have become too scared to open our mouths and share the gospel with our neighbors and friends. 

This is a call for you and me to become courageous followers of Christ.  May we refuse to compromise the truth found in the Word of God.  May we bravely speak the truth in love to those around us.  May we have the courage to share Jesus with everyone we meet.

Let us take the words of one of my favorite hymns to heart:

Be strong in the Lord, and be of good courage;
Your mighty Defender is always the same.
Mount up with wings, as the eagle ascending;
Vict'ry is sure when you call on His name.
Chorus: Be strong, be strong, be strong in the Lord;
And be of good courage, for He is your Guide.
Be strong, be strong, be strong in the Lord;
And rejoice for the vict'ry is yours.


So put on the armor the Lord has provided;
And place your defense in His unfailing care.
Trust Him, for He will be with you in battle,
Lighting your past to avoid every snare.


Be strong in the Lord, and be of good courage;
Your mighty Commander will vanquish the foe.
Fear no the battle for the vict'ry is always His;
He will protect you wherever you go.

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