Courage to Stand Out

Lately, I have been focused on the book of Isaiah and the book of Matthew during my times of study and reflection.  Many think or assume that the book of Isaiah is just an ancient book about an ancient kingdom and that it is not relevant to us today. On the other hand, many scholars will tell you that many of the prophets writings though already fulfilled in many cases, will have a future fulfillment. It is possible that we will see them within our lifetime. For example, as I read Isaiah 5 a couple of weeks ago, I could not help but see some of those very things God had pointed out among the Jewish people were also very prevalent in our world and in our nation. God was loving and patient with His people during the time of Isaiah but eventually, when they did not turn back to God; He acted.

     His people would begin to fit into the culture of the people around them. Honestly, isn’t that the tempting and easy thing to do? It is much harder to hold ourselves accountable and guard our heart by following God’s guidelines while others pressure us to go along with them. God loves His people so He would send prophets to encourage them to return to Him and His ways. They were warned about fitting into culture and worshipping false gods of the neighboring people groups. When they returned to God all was well. Then there were the times after many warnings and a refusal to return to God and His ways; they ended up in captivity to another nation or some other punishment. It was easy for those people to blame God when they ended up serving as slaves to other nations! But realistically it is not God who is to blame. 

      The people were given guidelines to live by, not to hold them back but for their protection. They were told if you follow these precepts, you will be blessed and enjoy life and then very clearly they were told the curses that go along with disobedience.  These precepts were taught to each generation from childhood. (Deuteronomy outlines the law and the blessings and curses can be found in chapter 28)  God spoke to them in Deuteronomy 30 an said in verse 19-20  “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.” 

       If we look objectively, it was not God who put the Israelites into captivity. They put themselves in compromising situations through their disobedience many times to fit in or make alliances with enemy nations and the result of their compromise was captivity and loss. Fitting in is always easier than standing out!  This is still true in our world today. When you stand out from the ‘norm’ of culture in years past you might have been labeled as different, peculiar, odd, weird and similar labels but over the last few years it has escalated to being labeled as a hater. This is true from political points of view to religion, marriage, abortion and list could go on and on. Once upon a time civil debate was a welcome exchange of ideas where people discussed differing opinions intelligently and those who were not swayed by the preponderance of the evidence presented would agree to disagree agreeably. Not so much today! Todays debates more resemble duels of words with the intent to eliminate the opponent. 

         How do we find the courage to stand out? To hold fast to our beliefs as the world often runs in the opposite direction from the beliefs and morals we hold? How do we respond when despite our outrage over a captive lion being wrongly killed; we are even more outraged over Planned Parenthood employees talking about illegal selling body parts of aborted babies for profit over a lunch?  How is a lion worth more than a human baby? A life is a life! How is it if you are pro-life it is twisted to say your are anti-choice? Most pro-lifers will tell you they are all for choice and there were about a dozen of choices that could have prevented that unwanted pregnancy before it ever happened. When did it become almost a crime to stand out in how we live or to have an opinion other than the ‘vocal majority’? When did we decide to just give in to those who are “vocal”?  How did one lady’s offense at prayer in school win out when statistics say at the time 78% of the nation identified with some form of Christian religion?  How did we get to a time where we allow life to happen to us or around us? 

     As I ponder these things, I can not help but think about John the Baptizer, Jesus and the disciples! Their goal was to follow God; to please the Father; to love Him completely and to love others. They stood out in their culture and there was no doubt that they were different. People knew everywhere they went that they were not like others around them. Had they just fit-in, they would have never found themselves persecuted, imprisoned, beaten, and even martyred. Maybe that is part of the problem…do we keep quiet or conform to the world out of fear? Are we just to busy with living life? 

      Christ drew people to Him by the way He lived and loved, as should we draw people to Him by loving like he did.  Jesus also drew large number of religious leaders that hated Him, were threatened by His faith and how He loved and followed His Father. We should not be surprised when that happens to us. Religious leaders of His age labeled Jesus and if we all out follow Him, we will also be labeled by some. He was labeled possessed of the devil, crazy, a rebel; just to name a few. He suffered immeasurable pain and grief to bring us access to the Father and to bridge the separation that came through sin; to restore that which was lost in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. He bought us the chance to have right relationship with God the Father. Can I/we do more to stand for Him resulting in people being drawn to Him? Are we fitting in or are we standing out? Are we allowing life to happen to us or are we happening to life by being a living demonstration of His love, mercy and grace to those around us?