How different would your life be if you were no longer afraid of anything? I’ll tell you: it would be different. My answer to my question is informed by a series of responses by a large group of elderly people gave to a survey asking what their biggest regret in life was. Almost without exception they responded by saying that their biggest regret was that they didn’t take more risks in life. With the benefit of their hindsight they could now see that what they were afraid of when they were younger was never worth being afraid of!
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
Courage is not the absence of fear – courage is doing what’s right and noble, despite being fearful. God knows that we are all subject to various fears at various times to varying degrees. When He says, “Do not fear” – it is not a scold; rather, it is an infusion of His assuring Word into our fearful souls which enables us to be courageous – in much the same way that Christ’s word to Peter, “Come!” had the divine power to obey it infused into it (Matt. 14:29). Most of us fear the same kinds of things: being humiliated, being rejected, being harmed, being a failure, being a loser, and death. How different would our lives be if experience God’s reassurance in these times enabling us to have courage?
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” Isaiah 41:10, 13
F.W. Boreham loved cricket. As a boy in the school class room he would often be caught daydreaming as he imagined himself on the cricket ground enjoying all of the delights of the sport he loved. Having matriculated high school at the age of 15, his father arranged for him to be a junior clerk at the local brickworks. A part of his responsibilities was to make sure that the early morning train out of the brickworks yard had the correct number of carriages with the correct loading. One particularly foggy Kentish morning he and the signalman went over to the tracks as usual and F.W. Boreham confesses in his autobiography that his propensity for daydreaming probably caused him to be somewhat negligent about where he was standing as he checked off the carriages. As the train was about to come past them, the signalman pushed the points lever to switch the tracks for the train – but what Frank Boreham had neglected to notice was that these were double points with a dual lever. As the signalman pushed his lever forward the other lever, which the young Boreham was in front of, knocked him onto the tracks in the path of the oncoming train! It was around 50 yards before the loaded train could stop. Frank’s right leg had been severed just below his knee. It was 1886, and medical treatment for such injuries were extremely crude by today’s standards. FWB contracted septicaemia and was given only a slim chance of survival. Medical staff did their best for him, but eventually they realised there was nothing more they could do for him. They telegrammed his mother to advise her that within the hour her son would die. Frank Boreham’s mother immediately went down to her church and pleaded with God to spare her son. She would later write to her son –
“Then I knelt by myself” Boreham’s mother told him, “and I prayed for you. I told God that if He gave you back to me, I should always regard you as His own, and I vowed that I would never rebel against any use that He wished to make of you. When I rose, I felt that an intolerable burden had been lifted from my heart.” Crago, p. 26
Frank had a sudden and miraculous recovery the very moment his mother prayed and offered her son wholeheartedly to God and His service if He would spare his life. Throughout the rest of life, Frank was never able to play his beloved cricket again. But when he moved to Hobart he got involved in the Hobart Cricket Club and soon became its president. Upon moving to Melbourne in 1916, he became a member of the Melbourne Cricket Club and became one of their most loyal members, never missing a first-class match.
And he said, “O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.” And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.” Daniel 10:19
When F.W. Boreham was discharged from hospital and came home to recuperate, the day came when he could return to work. As he walked from his front door on his way to the Brickworks he had barely made it past his front gate when he lost his balance on the icy pavement, slipped, fell and broke his left leg. He would break this leg another three times throughout his life and would live in the constant fear that this would happen again. Added to this constant fear, Frank was incredibly shy and had to work incredibly hard to be around people. When he wrote his autobiography he would reflect-
Like the medieval saint, we can testify that we have had many and great troubles in our time, but most of them never happened! F.W.Boreham, “My Pilgrimage”, 1939, p.221
Boreham learned that each of his fears could be overcome doing two things: (i) keeping his focus God and living in His presence (Matt. 6:33). In his classic book, A Bunch of Everlastings, he quoted Brother Lawrence to make this point, “Were I a preacher, I should above all other things preach the practice of the presence of God; and, were I a director, I should advise all the world to it, so necessary do I think it, and so easy, too. I cannot imagine how religious persons can live satisfied without the practice of the presence of God: while I am with Him I fear nothing, but the least turning from Him is insupportable” (p. 34); and, (ii) walking in faith rather than according to his natural feelings. To this end he determined to lay down his life and shyness for Christ and try to develop Christ’s heart for people by initiating celebrations with others around significant dates and events in his life. This included his birthday, his ordination as a minister, his induction into his pastorate, his wedding anniversary, and the anniversary of his church.
Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12:7
As someone who battles with shyness, I have learned from F.W. Boreham about how to deal with it and glorify God in the process. Yet, I know that for many of us, fear can be crippling. It’s common for people to fear the unknown. The future is unknown. It’s common for people to also fear change. People bring change. People can be scary. If I could give everyone who battles with fear two gifts, I would want to give them the two gifts that God has given me through F.W. Boreham – a greater vision of the grandeur and beauty of God, and, a holy courage to do what is unnatural but good by choosing not to be intimidated by people.
THE THING ABOUT DRAGONS
There is a classic story about a boy and his dragon. One day he comes into the kitchen and asks his mother whether there is such a thing as dragons. She tells him of course not. But Mum, he protests, they must be real, because there is one in my bedroom. That’s ridiculous his mother tells him. The boy returns to his bedroom and the dragon is now bigger. The boy then asks his mother to come and see the dragon in his room. Shoe comes to his bedroom and refuses to acknowledge that there is actually a dragon there. As she persists in her denial of dragons, the dragon gets even bigger. In fact, the dragon gets so big she has to move around it to vacuum the house – yet she persists in denying its existence. At the end of the day when her husband arrives home from work he finds that their entire house is now missing. A neighbour comes over and tells him that a giant dragon poked its feet through the floor of their house and walked off with it. The father tracks down their house and asks the dragon to return their house, to which his wife joins in the request (finally acknowledging the existence of the dragon), to which the dragon agrees and puts their house and then begins to shrink back to its original size. The moral of this story is that when we avoid and deny our fears they only get bigger and scarier.
The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe. Proverbs 29:25
In the closing book of the Bible, Christ is introduced to His frail and fearful first century audience by telling them fear not!
¶ When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. But He laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, Rev. 1:17
And then His Revelation closes with the best reason ever for not ever being afraid of the dragon again.
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Revelation 12:9
And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, Revelation 20:2
It is my prayer for you that whatever dragons you’ve been afraid of, that you will now get a revelation that Christ is greater, grander and more glorious than any dragon! With your eyes fixed on Christ and your heart set on walking after Him by faith, you no longer have to be a slave to your fears and you can now live with the constant assurance that God is your heavenly father who has adopted you as His child – and He is the kind of Daddy who always looks after His children!
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15
A couple of months ago, a young man was invited to our church. He was not a church goer. But the day that he turned up in our weekly Sunday morning worship service something happened to him. Although English was not his first language, and despite coming from a culture that is famously opposed to Christianity, he heard and understood clearly enough that day – and despite what he had been told all his life – that there was a God in Heaven who loved him and had been directing him throughout his life to this moment. In response to this work of the Holy Spirit he declared his surrender to Christ and was subsequently baptised in our June water baptism service. From that point, each time someone asked him how he had come to Christ, his eyes would water and he would get emotional just at the thought of how Christ had saved him. But all of this could have been derailed if it hadn’t been for the warm welcome, love, and acceptance he found in our church when he first came. It’s the stories like these that make me proud to be the pastor of our church!
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:7
We live in apple orchard country which is why most of us understand what’s involved in harvesting them. Each mature apple tree has low hanging fruit which is the easiest to harvest. The rest of the tree involves a bit more work to harvest – especially the high hanging fruit. In some respects, the above story is an example of harvesting ‘low hanging fruit‘. The idea of harvesting an apple true is a great way to illustrate how our church can become a church that wins.
W – WELCOME
This, and many other stories like it, show how we can win as a church. This particular story is an example of what happens when we pray for God to bring people in, and then He does. But like any prayer we pray, our partnership with God doesn’t end with the “Amen” of our prayer. When Abraham prayed for a son, God came to him and promised him that ‘this time next year, Sarah will give birth to a son’ (Genesis 18:4). I’m pretty sure and Abraham and Sarah didn’t just keep praying that this promise from God would be fulfilled! We too must take the next steps of faith in order to receive from God the answers He has for us. When we pray for God to bring people into our church, and He does, our next step is to welcome them.
Welcoming people to church involves acknowledging them with a greeting (such as, “Hello”, “Hi”, “Welcome”) and doing it with eye contact. We don’t need to give them 20 questions – we just need to let them know they are welcome, and that we accept them. When God answers our prayers to bring people to church, and all we have to do is welcome them, we are, as they say, picking the low hanging fruit – an expression which means this kind of outreach is relatively easy. I think everyone in our church can be a part of this.
For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me Matthew 25:35
I – INVITE
He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where He was staying, and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour…(46) Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” John 1:39, 46
Metaphorically (using words as pictures) the fruit that is notlow hanging and involves a bit more effort to reach and is little harder to pick. We continue to pray for God to help us to reach these people and again the answer to those prayers will involve us inviting people to church. This may come after we’ve shared our story with them, or after they’ve shared with us about some of the challenges they’ve been facing in life. While I would love for everyone in our church to be an inviter, I understand that this is not always easy for everyone to do. But there are some (and perhaps you’re one of them) who find inviting people to church, or an event our church puts on, to be an easy thing to do. According to one study I saw, around 70% of people would say yes to an invitation to attend church if they were invited. I would love to see our invite rate improve. Perhaps for those of who feel more comfortable welcoming people to church than inviting people to church, it might be nice to pray for our inviters to be bold, attractive, winsome, and effective as they invite their friends, family, and work colleagues to church.
And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. Luke 14:23
N – NUDGE
There are some people who seem to be so hardened to Christianity, that it seems they could never turn to Christ. These are the people who are unlikely to just turn up at church – even in answer to prayer – or ever accept an invitation to come to church. Their unwillingness to even discuss the matter might even arouse a hostile response from them, “Don’t you dare ever talk to be about religion!” Maybe they were hurt (or worse) by some ‘Christian’ or perhaps they had a negative experience with a church, or maybe they are defiantly living a life so opposed to Biblical standards that they resent the God of the Bible. Possibly the best way to reach such a person as this is to nudge them.
He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me… Jesus (Luke 20:3)
There are several ways to nudge a person who is this resistant to the Gospel. The first way is to put ‘a stone’ in their shoe, so to speak. This can be done with an appropriate question that gets them thinking and even questioning their views about life, the world, and the existence of God. The second way is to provide them with an inexplicable act of kindness. The third way is to let them observe your life over a longer period of time as you deal with life’s highs and lows – and even tragedies – so that your faithful, consistent witness, throughout it all bears a clear testimony to the presence of God in your life. Nudging someone toward Christ can take years. Many years.
One of the best examples of this that I am aware of relates to someone no one ever thought would ever turn to God. In the middle of the twentieth century, Professor Antony Flew, along with some other secular humanists (atheists) produced The Humanist Manifesto in which they argued against the existence of God and the need for all humans to behave ethically despite this. Many years later, Prof. Flew toured America promoting atheism in public lectures and denouncing Christianity in particular. He and his fellow collaborators, including Prof. Bertrand Russell, thought that all Christians were fools and morons for believing in God. As part of his USA lecture tour he agreed to a series of public debates about the existence of God with a Christian. His debating opponent was Professor Gary Habermas. As the debates got underway, Flew realised that Habermas was more than his equal intellectually. In fact, Dr. Habermas challenged Prof. Flew’s atheism in ways that Antony Flew had never considered. This was a significant stone in Professor Antony Flew’s shoe! After each of these debates Gary Habermas would take the aged British academic out for dinner. Prof. Flew was surprised by the kindness of Dr. Habermas. As they talked over their dinners, Antony Flew got to know Gary Habermas and discovered that for several years he had had to care for his very ill wife (this was something the sceptical atheist Chicago Tribune journalist, Lee Strobel, also encountered when he interviewed Gary Habermas for a story he was writing and ended up featuring Habermas’s story in the movie about Lee’s conversion, The Case For Faith). These very personal exchanges between Flew and Habermas revealed that Habermas’s faith in the God of the Bible was not some cold, formal, religious duty, but a personal relationship with this God that enabled him to be sustained throughout life’s tragedies. Dr. Gary Habermas and nudged Prof. Antony Flew!
The result of these little stones in Flew’s shoes was dramatic but not immediate. The last book that Antony Flew wrote before he died was a book in which he renounced atheism as wrong and extolled the God of the Bible!
While I think everybody in our church can make visitors/new attenders to our church feel welcome, I realise that not everybody can invite someone to church. Let’s pray for our inviters! And, I acknowledge that only a few in our church can be good nudgers. Let’s pray for our nudgers! By welcoming, inviting, and nudging, we are learning to become a church that wins.
Bruce Hills tells the story in his book, Inside Out – A Biblical and Practical Guide To Self-Leadership, of a story he read in Gordon MacDonald’s book, Ordering Your Private World (1993, 103), who had borrowed it from a book he read by Polmar and Allen’s in their biography of Admiral Hyman Rickover, “the head of the United States Nuclear Navy from 1949-1982” (2017, 13). He writes, “By all accounts, Admiral Rickover (1900-1986) was a controversial man. He personally interviewed and selected every prospective officer to serve on a US nuclear vessel. Interviewees would often leave the Admiral’s office ‘shaking in fear, anger, or total intimidation.'” Bruce goes on to describe the time that a future US President was interviewed by Rickover after applying for an officer’s position on a nuclear submarine.
To do so, he too had to be interviewed by Rickover, whom he’d never met before. Carter wrote:
…we sat in a large room by ourselves for more than two hours, and he let me choose any subjects I wished to discuss. Very carefully, I chose those about which I knew most at the time – current events, seamanship, music, literature, naval tactics, electronics, gunnery – and he began to ask me a series of questions of increasing difficulty. In each instance, he soon proved that I knew relatively little about the subject I had chosen.
He always looked right into my eyes, and he never smiled. I was saturated with cold sweat.
Finally, he asked a question and I thought I could redeem myself. He asked, “How did you stand in your class at the naval Academy?” Since I had completed my sophomore year at Georgia Tech before entering Annapolis as a plebe, I had done very well, and I swelled my chest with pride and answered, “Sir, I stood fifty-ninth in a class of 820!” I sat back to await the congratulations – which never came. Instead, the question: “Did you do your best?” I started to say, “Yes, sir,” but I remembered who this was and recalled several of the many times at the Academy when I could have learned more about our allies, our enemies, weapons, strategy, and so forth. I was just human. I finally gulped and said, “No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.”
He looked at me for a long time, and then turned his chair around to end the interview. He asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget – or to answer. He said, “Why not?” I sat there for a while, shaken, and then slowly left the room.
President Jimmy Carter in the background with his former Naval Commanding Officer, Admiral Hyman Rickover
DID YOU DO YOUR BEST?
Bruce Hills, having retold this story of Jimmy Carter being interviewed by Admiral Rickover, writes, “That same question, ‘Why not’, shook me to the core.” But as Jimmy Carter discovered, when we look back, we can then see how we might have done better. But that’s the key to it: looking back. But life doesn’t afford us the luxury of hindsight in advance!
Last month, I was privileged to be the guest speaker at Catalyst in Ipswich, Queensland. One of the things I really enjoyed about being at this wonderful church was their multiple services. I have rarely ever preached any message twice. Whenever I am invited to a church, even if I am asked to speak on a particular topic, I always prayerfully consider what should be said and how it should be presented for that church. With this in mind, it has been said that every preacher always has three sermons: the one they prepare; the one they preach; and, the one they wish they’d preached! This brings me back to my time at Catalyst, a 900 member church, which has two multiple services on a Sunday morning. I preached my heart out in their 8:30AM service. I then had 30 minutes before the next service started at 10:30AM. In the break in between the services I had time to self-evaluate the message I’d just given. I saw several ways I could have done better and made some of the points clearer. At the 10:30AM service I preached my heart out again – but this time had the advantage of learning from my inadequacies in the first service. (I wish life was more like this!) I later overheard the pastor of Catalyst, Pastor Carl, tell someone, “Andrew did well in the first service, but he did better in the second service!”
But if Admiral Rickover had looked me in eye and asked, “Did you do your best?” I would honestly say, “Yes sir!” This is despite my confession that I knew I could do better if I had another go, because even in evaluating my efforts in delivering the message the first time, I really did do my best. I think this principle applies to life generally. Most of us do do our best most of the time – especially when it comes to the important things in life like being a friend, an employee, a team-mate, a wife, a husband, a politician, a sales executive, a medical doctor, or a parent. But life’s episodes don’t come with multiple services where we get to have another go.
Life is a sequence of unchangeable events in which we are usually doing our best with what we have and what we know.
DOING YOUR BEST IS NOT A COMPETITION
For some people the word “best” implies being better than anyone else. But the only best we can be expected to do, is the best that we can do! This kind of best is our best effort, our best attitude, and our best focus. The apostle Paul warns against thinking in terms of a competitive best being equated to ourbest.
Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. Second Corinthians 10:12
Of course, there are times when a challenge from someone we respect is able to bring out our best. I remember being in a church planting directors meeting with David Cartledge who asked about our church in Legana. I shared with him what we had done, and what we still hoped to achieve for the Lord. His parting words to me were, “Andrew, if anyone can do it, you can!” I don’t know if he said that to every young pastor, but his words to me that day filled my motivation tank for at least the next year. I tried harder. I wasn’t trying to compete with anyone else, I was simply trying harder to give my best to the Lord and His church.
WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU HAVEN’T DONE YOUR BEST?
In André Agassi’s book, Open, he describes his demise from world number 4 to world number 140. He has put on weight. He didn’t train much. And his recent marriage to Brooke Shields was on the rocks. His brother suggested that he get a coach to help him turn things around. He took the advice and engaged Brad Gilbert (1994-2002) who began to help him rebuild his game. He also went back to Gil Reyes, his fitness trainer who helped him to rebuild his body. Gilbert told Agassi that he wasn’t worthy to continue playing the pro-tour; instead, Gilbert told him, he had to go back to basics and begin playing club tournaments. Agassi had the humility to accept Gilbert’s humiliating rebuke and did indeed go back to play club tournaments. To his shock, the first club tournament he played saw him losing in the first round! It was then that he realised just how much trouble he was in. He continued to work hard and entered in more tournaments. After he eventually won one of these club tournaments, his brother was driving him back to the motel in the heat of a Californian summer’s day when André told him, “Pull the car over!” His brother asked why. “Because I didn’t give my best!” André told him. “But you won! And we’re still miles away from our motel – and besides, it’s blistering hot out there!” his brother replied. “I did win, but I only did the minimum I needed to do – and from now on, I’m only going to give my best! I’m running the rest of the way back to our motel.” Indeed he did. After the age of 29, when it was usual for most professional tennis players to have retired, André Agassi went on to win another 4 Grand Slam titles (largely due to his next coach, Darren Cahill).
What do you do when you haven’t given your best?
Recognise how you could have done better.
Do better next time.
In life there are times when we know we have not only not done our best, but we have, in fact, done our worst. When this involves hurting or harming others – especially God – we have a serious problem. I think of the young girl who rebels against her Christian upbringing and gets involved with the wrong crowd. In time she learns to drown her guilt with alcohol, pills and needles. But despite her numbness there is still that feint divine beckoning to come home that she feels is the right thing to do. The good news is, for anyone who has wandered, that God’s Word gives the hope that if we: 1) acknowledge what we have done has been wrong; 2) recognise that actions have hurt those we love, or at least the One who loves us more – God; and, 3) ask for forgiveness, then God promises to forgive us and wipe our slates clean.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. First John 1:8-9
There is tremendous power in an authentic apology. It can begin to heal a fractured friendship, a strained marriage, an injured daughter, or an offended father.
GOD’S HELP TO DO OUR BEST
Paul charges his protégés, Titus and Timothy, several times to do their best. His words to Timothy resound in my heart two thousand years or so later and I would covet your prayers to help me to do my best to be your pastor.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. Second Timothy 2:15
The future will reveal that we could have done better – but none of us live in the future; we live in the now, and we do the best we can with what we have and what we know. For me, as a friend, husband, parent, pastor, the good news is that as I strive to do my best, I am not yet who I will one day be, and God’s Word tells me that it is God who works in the heart and life of those who strive to do their best for Him.
for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:13