Risk and the Cause of God: Today
You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death.
Last week our subject was Risk and the Cause of God. Our main point was that it is right to risk for the cause of God.
It may not be right to risk much for the cause of personal prosperity or public prestige. And not every risk for the cause of God is necessarily right, either. Jesus refused to jump off the temple, and Paul snuck out of Damascus in a basket to escape the governor.
But even so, it is right to risk for the cause of God.
Risk for the Cause of God: Looking Back
When the battle of the Lord is at hand, it is right for someone to rise up with a strategy, put it into practice and then say with Joab: "May the Lord do what seems good to him" (2 Samuel 10:12).
When the good of God's people is at stake, and one life could save many, it is right for someone to take the challenge and say with Esther, "If I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16).
And when the world is without the gospel, and perhaps even hostile to it, it is right for someone to say with the apostle Paul, "I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).
And we looked at one example of what happened once when the people of God refused to take a risk for the cause of God. Caleb and Joshua said the promised land of Canaan was beautiful and rich; it would take a battle but they could conquer it because God was with them. But the people preferred the mirage of Egyptian security. And so they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. And I have asked myself how many of us have been sentenced just to wander through life in boring circles because we refused to take a risk for the cause of God.
Risk for the Cause of God: Looking Forward
My subject today is the same as last week. Only instead of pointing you back to the risk-takers of the Bible, I want to point you forward to some possible risks that God may be calling you and me to take.
Our text is Luke 21:16.
You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death.
The key word here for my purpose this morning is the word "some." "Some of you they will put to death." What this word does is put the earthly life of the disciples in great uncertainty. Not all will die for the cause of Christ. But then not all will live either. Some will die. And some will live. This is what I mean by risk. It is the will of God that we be uncertain about how life on this earth will turn out for us. And therefore it is the will of the Lord that we take risks for the cause of God.
Now what are the kinds of risks that we should be taking as Christians? I want to start you praying and planning by mentioning this morning four kinds or categories of risk that the Bible urges us to take. And keep in mind that I always mean risk for the cause of God, risk for righteousness' sake.
1. For the Sake of Righteousness
First, the Bible urges us to take risks in our relationships when righteousness is at stake.
I have in mind here two kinds of things. One is the risk of admitting that you have a problem and seeking help to solve it. The other is the risk of telling someone else they have a problem and seeking to help them. Both of these are taught in Scripture. The key words are "confession" on the one hand, and "admonition" on the other.
The Risk of Confession
But I'll only focus on the first one this morning—namely, admitting our sins. Proverbs 28:13 says, "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy." And James 5:16 says, "Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed."
But this is risky business. It's much safer—in the short run—to keep quiet about your struggle with lust or homosexual feelings or alcohol or food or anger. And I don't mean to say that every skirmish of the soul should go public. But on the other hand, James does mean something when he says, "Confess your sins to each other." There is a kind of privacy with sin that paralyzes. There is a kind of concealing that can kill faith.
A Personal Example
About a year ago the editor of Partnership magazine called and asked if she and a photographer a could come to our house to interview Noël and me for one of their feature articles. They always feature some smiling pastoral couple on the front of their magazine for pastors' wives.
Noël said she would check with me and let her know. Well, it just so happened that things were not good on the home front at that time. We were upset with each other and there were unresolved tensions between us. And so my response was: No way! I could no more sit down like a model pastor's couple and smile for pictures than I could feel happy about the way things were.
What are we going to do? She expected us to call back. What would you have done? What would the editor think if I called and said, "Things aren't good here and I don't think we should do the interview. It would be too inauthentic"? Would she think we were about to get divorced, and spread the word around the Christianity Today offices that John Piper's marriage is on the rocks?
It may sound like a small thing, but that was one of the hardest phone calls I have had to make in years. But to me righteousness and integrity—the cause of God—were at stake. And so we took the risk. We called off the interview. And that is all I know to this day.
Biblical Authenticity and Confession
Some of you have taken significant risks in this whole area of relationships and are much the better for it today. Others of you are hurting yourselves and the cause of God by bottling up something that someone should know about—some grudge, some failure, some habit, some remorse. May the Lord give us the wisdom to know the difference between an unhealthy indulgence in self-exposure on the one hand and the biblical risk of authenticity and confession on the other.
2. How We Use Our Money
And second kind of risk that the Bible calls us to take is with our money—not with a view to getting rich, but with a view to maximizing our resources for the cause of God not for a thicker pad when you are 65.
The Poor Widow's Two Coins
In Luke 21 just before our text, in verses 1–4 we read this story:
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had."
One way to paraphrase this story would be to say, "The rich took no risk with their money for the cause of God, but the widow did."
Now why did Jesus point this out? And why did Luke think the story important enough to record it for us? I think the reason is simple: Jesus wants his people to take risks with their money for the cause of God.
Freeing Ourselves from Excess Money
In Luke 12 Jesus calls the man a fool who chooses security over risk for the cause of God. The man says, "Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease eat, drink, be merry." In other words, don't risk your ease by giving away your money to spread the gospel or build the kingdom. Keep a very thick pad for years to come. But God says to him, "You fool! This night your soul is required of you" (12:19–20).
Then a few verses later he says, "Do not be anxious about your life . . . Seek the kingdom of God" (12:22, 31). And a few verses later he says, "Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail" (12:33).
Again and again Jesus pushed his disciples to free themselves from excess money. I don't know what you give away to the cause of God and the gospel. And so I can't be specific with you. But I do know that for most of us it is the will of Christ that we risk giving more than we do to the greatest cause in the world. If you don't at least tithe your income as a family, that would be a good place to start. Does it sound risky? I urge you to meditate on the widow in Luke 21:4.
3. Witnessing to the Grace of God in the Gospel
The third kind of risk the Bible urges us to take is in the area of witnessing to the grace of God in the gospel.
Here in our text, for example, Luke 21:12–13, Jesus says, "They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony."
In other words, Jesus says that Christians will get arrested so that they can witness to jailers and judges and governors. We may not like God's strategy to sprinkle his salt in the tough places of the empire, but he is wiser than we are. And it is clearly his will that we be constantly ready to witness to his grace and glory, even though he goes on to say, "Some of you they will kill."
In other words, if anything ever goes wrong in your life and you wind up some place you never planned, and it seems like a total catastrophe, you can know at least one of God's purposes for having you there. As he says in verse 13: "This will be a time for you to bear testimony!"
I don't need to dwell on this because every true Christian feels an impulse from within that he should speak out about the grace of God in the gospel. So let me just say, Don't wait until it feels safe. The point of this text is that Jesus does not always mean it to be safe. He means for us to take a risk for the cause of God and the good of other people.
4. Ministry Ventures
Finally, the Bible urges us to risk for the cause of God in the area of ministry ventures.
Really this is the sum of the other three areas. When we dream of a ministry that God may have for us, we can think of risks it may cost in our relationships, and risks it may cost with our money or standard of living, or risks it may cost with our reputation or safety as we witness to his grace.
O, how I want to encourage us today to be bold and hopeful in our dreams for ministry and missions at Bethlehem! Can you think of any significant ministry today that began without someone taking a risk? I doubt that God ever so fully guarantees the success of a ministry venture ahead of time that no risk is necessary.
The Story of the US Center for World Mission
I took my four sons to the Twins game last Friday night, and I took a book along to read between pitches. The book I took was The Kingdom Strikes Back, the story of how Ralph and Roberta Winter founded the US Center for World Mission back in 1976.
Well, the Twins game was good. Four home runs. Nine strike outs for Blyleven. A broken bat almost stabbed the pitcher. An overthrow from right field into the dugout. But, frankly, the Twins could not compete with the story of the US Center for World Mission.
Ralph Winter resigned his prestigious professorship at the age of 50 to found an organization to mobilize the evangelical church for the cause of frontier missions. With a gift of $15,000 he offered to pay for an option to buy an 8.5 million dollar campus in Pasadena. They accepted his offer. He had no staff. No fund raising people. Not even any organizational structure yet. Only a dream. And an amazing conviction that someone must do something to get attention for the two billion people lost outside the scope of present mission efforts.
The story of the last ten years is simply phenomenal because God has chosen to bless the risk of one venturesome couple for the cause of God. Doesn't it make you just want to try something daring for the cause of God?
And some of you are! The most recent World Christian carries the story about how Dan Lehn pursued the idea of purchasing a house for International Students until the idea became a reality. That was a risk. And still is. And God is blessing it. God loves to come through when we take a risk for his glory.
Our Future Plans as a Church
So here we are today with David Livingston in our midst as a candidate for a position in pastoral care that is not even in the budget for this year. How do we know we can afford this pastoral addition? How did we know we could afford to add Dean or Char or Steve or Kurt or David Michael or a $20,000 apprenticeship program? How did we know we could make a 35% budget increase three years ago and a 20% increase this year and at the same time get our mission commitment up to 30%?
The answer is that we didn't know and we don't know! And God doesn't mean for us to know beforehand what we can afford in ministry. He means for us to get the world on our heart and to keep on risking for his glory.
I was talking to a board member of another church recently, who said that they were concerned about how much extra work their pastor seems to have to do. But he said the board wanted to wait before they add any other staff because they are not sure about how the heating system will perform this winter so they can know if they can afford it.
If that mentality doesn't change in that church, they are in big trouble. God does not honor that kind of tidy caution for the cause of God. God loves the mission battle cry of William Carey: "Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God." If we wait until we have success in our back pocket, we won't need God any more.
Pursuing God's Cause with All Our Might
So what is the closing word to our long range planning committee—indeed, to all of us whose lives are dedicated to the mission of this church? For now, only this:
Is the vision of God that we savor in worship—holy, sovereign, free, gracious—is this vision worthy of all our might?
Are we committed with all our strength to instilling and supporting and nurturing this vision in each other's hearts and in the hearts of our children?
And are we dedicated with all the power God mightily inspires within us to spread this vision of the glory of the grace of God across this city and to all the unreached peoples of the world?
If so, then let us be done with wavering. Let us put our hand to the plow and stop looking back. What risk have we ever dreamed of that would be too great for this cause? Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God! And may the Lord do what seems good to him!
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