Courage in Christian Ministry, Part 1

Desiring God 2000 Conference for Pastors

Courage in Christian Ministry

I greet you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ who bid us, “Take courage.” It is a tremendous honor for me to be here among you tonight. I thank you for your welcome. I would like you to know that there is no place on planet earth I would rather be than right here tonight among you, if for no other reason than to sing with such boldness the glory of God as reflected in those hymns.

I want to say a word to our host church here at Bethlehem. To so many of us and for so long it has seemed that we are in a desert in this nation. It is very easy to despair when we see the compromise of the church, when we see the fall of historic institutions, when we see the sidelining of evangelicalism, and when we see the arid, vapid, wasteland that is so much of what ought to be the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to say a word of appreciation for an oasis. Even though this is my first time physically among you I want you to know that so many of us draw strength from you, your congregation, your pastor, the ministry of publication and dissemination, and for the focus of this congregation to desire God, and to desire his glory.

One Thing Lacking

I was immediately interested when invited to speak to the issue of courage in ministry, and admittedly perhaps for all the wrong reasons. My first thought in addressing this issue is how dangerous it is, because it is so easy to imagine oneself to be courageous. It is so easy to define the term in such a way that one would appear to be courageous. It is so tempting to think after all that we have done something, when insofar as anything has been done which will last was God’s doing. There is the danger of presumptuousness in even raising the issue or speaking the word. It can be self-serving. On the other hand, to fail to speak to this issue in this day would be cowardice, for it appears in many ways that the one thing lacking among so many churches and in so many ministries is courage.

Yet, it is a word that is almost foreign to our vocabulary. We hear it with somewhat of an antique tinge. We remember there once was a day when men were courageous. There once was a time when courage was a cultural ideal. There once was a day when courage was rewarded and when young children were raised so that they may one day demonstrate courage. Alistair McIntyre, one of the nation’s most well-known moral philosophers has suggested, in his book After Virtue, that we have lost any sense of a common morality. We’ve lost even the comprehension of any shared moral meaning. There are no shared virtues. There is no moral common ground, and yet we continue to use the words as if we share the meaning, when actually we are speaking only to ourselves. That is a rather desperate diagnosis of our contemporary moral crisis. Yet, I believe he is correct.

My prescription for this diagnosis is remarkably different from that offered by Professor McIntyre, but I think his diagnosis is very helpful here. There is no shared moral meaning. If we are going to try to understand what courage means we are not likely to gain resources for this task from popular culture. The air we breathe does not resonate with any substantial meaning behind the word. Courage is the missing virtue. It is no longer celebrated in the culture. These days, we feel no sense of threat, no sense of danger, no need for heroism or for courage. We live in a decidedly unheroic age. Poll after poll in recent years has demonstrated that young people report there is nothing for which they would think to die. There is no cause, no need. Neither God, nor country, nor family, nor any other thing is worth more than their lives. There is no reality, no cause that would summon them to put their lives on the line.

In an unheroic age a word like courage sounds very strange of antiquarian interest. The Greeks and the Romans valued courage. We think of medieval knights of warriors, and kings, and a code of chivalry. We think of a time when men can be named “Richard the Lionhearted.” We have not of late been tempted to name our leaders by any such name. We think of books with titles like Captains Courageous, or The Red Badge of Courage. These days they are no longer in our cultural canon.

A Strange Fascination

Our culture has experienced a moral breakdown. Many are the dimensions and fundamental is the cause. We live in a time when most people believe, whether they would articulate it this way or not, that most individuals make moral choices based on some kind of rationalized, self-interest — rational choice theory or enlightened self-interest. We do that which is pleasing to us, that which is advantageous to us, that which pleases us. It is a postmodern age in which we live. We are told that meaning itself is a matter of relativity and that language itself is indeterminate, so even a word like courage means whatever any one of us or several of us together would seek to make it mean.

Yet, we are still fascinated by the idea of courage. It is a word we cannot shake. Tom Broka writes a book entitled The Greatest Generation: Dealing with World War II. It was just a half century ago. Yet, it seems that it was a world ago, a civilization ago. The book became a bestseller. It speaks of courage, though it rarely uses the word.

In terms of cultural heroes we have gone from George Washington, George Patton, Douglas MacArthur to Hawkeye Pierce. You’ll forgive me for not thinking that is moral progress. In the midst of a narcissistic culture we honor stuntmen rather than heroes. We are a cynical people. There are so many dimensions to this in an age so influenced by feminism courage is written off as a masculine, patriarchal virtue, something to be put aside and put behind us.

There have been prophets, men like C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton who have warned us that the human imagination itself requires a notion of courage. As Lewis indicates, you cannot write a decent story without some measure of courage. There has to be some moral meaning. Something must be at stake and someone must be willing to fight for that witch is at stake. For most of human history courage has been among the most honored and cherished virtues and qualities. It has been a necessity of culture and civilization.

Courage in the Ancients

In antiquity, the Greeks and the Romans honored their heroes who demonstrated courage as a primary virtue. They understood that courage was not fearlessness, but it was the right action in the face of fear. Courage was measured, because it was equal to the threat. A coward was undone by fear. He did not rise to face the danger. The courageous one was not the man who did not fear; he was the man who came above his fear and invested it.

The ancients were focused on the ideal of courage within the context of physical danger on the battlefield, courage in the face of war, in the defense of the homeland, in defense of the family, and in defense of honor, which is quite an outdated notion in this culture. The constitutions of Crete and Sparta required courage for citizenship. The ancient Greek philosophers listed courage among the four cardinal virtues. The others being temperance, justice, and wisdom. Socrates, speaking through Plato, defined courage as clear headedness in the face of danger. It was no denial of reality or of reason. Socrates warned that true courage is not ignorance of the danger. It is not a miscalculation of the danger. It is a clear-headed, rational choice to face the danger.

Aristotle, on the other hand, defined morality in terms of the mean. It was a middle ground between two excesses, between two vices. For Aristotle courage in the face of physical danger was to avoid either cowardice or rashness. Aristotle described three men: the coward, the rash man, and the brave man. He says:

The coward, the rash man and the brave men are concerned with the same objects, but are differently disposed to them. For the first to exceed and fall short while the third man holds the middle, which is the right position and rash men are precipitated in wish for dangers beforehand, but draw back when they are in them. While brave men are keen in the moment of action, but quiet beforehand.

McIntyre says that the word means very little to us. Our moral vocabulary has been stripped bare. The cupboard is empty, there is no shared meaning. Thus, our review and recitation of what the ancients thought about courage is absolutely worthless.

Virtue Ethics and Evangelicals

There is a decline in academic circles in what is known as the study of “virtue ethics.” I want to suggest to you that for us, for evangelical Christians, for biblical Christians, we ought also to have very little concern for virtue ethics. The whole idea of a virtue ethic was an ethic in place when there was no biblical authority. The culture would honor certain virtues. That culture is no more. The inadequacy of virtue ethics comes at the matter of definition. The ancients understood that the virtues had to be interlinked. That is, courage, justice, temperance, and prudence all needed to be mixed together. To lack any one of these was to create a situation of imbalance in which there could be no true courage.

What about evangelical Christians? How’s the church to understand courage in a day of cynicism, and irony, and apathy in the culture? How are we to understand courage, when in academic circles we have the hermeneutic of suspicion, and deconstructionism, and the corrosive culture of the popular media surrounds us and is in the very air we breathe? When our political culture has been so debased that courage is an unutterable word? In the absence of virtue among leaders who didn’t fight, didn’t play by the rules, and didn’t inhale, it is hard to imagine how the word might be rescued.

Yet, it is a part of our vocabulary. It’s a part of the church’s vocabulary. By it, I want to suggest to you tonight, we mean something different than Aristotle meant. We are concerned with something greater than Socrates or Plato could understand. For we understand courage in a very different context.

Take Courage

In John 16:33, the Lord said to his disciples:

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33, all Scripture references are from the NASB).

He says, “Take courage. Be courageous. Be not afraid.” These phrases and the strains of these commands are written in the warp and the woof of Scripture from the Old Testament throughout the new. Is courage a biblical virtue? Of course it is. It is a virtue far more substantial than the secular notion of virtue as courage, for it is established in God himself and in the Lord’s command to his people. Thinking of the span of biblical history we think of warriors, patriarchs, prophets, and mighty men of valor. We think of the apostles in the early Christian martyrs. We not only know that the word courage is found in scripture in many forms, but we also know that courage is demonstrated by God’s people again and again. We are reminded that God requires courage of his people.

The language of both the Old Testament and the New, the Greek and the Hebrew, resounds with the idea of courage. In the Old Testament, the word ḥǎzǎk is a frequent word, which means, “be strong,” “be courageous,” or “be brave.” In the New Testament, there several words, like tolmaō, which means “be brave,” or “be bold,” or “be courageous.” Then there is tharsos, which means “courage” as in Acts 28:15. There is tharreō, which means “be courageous,” and there is tharseó, which means “be courageous.” There are different words, different forms, different tenses, but they have the same thrust: Take courage.

It is interesting in making a distinction between the secular virtue ethic of courage and the biblical notion of courage that in the New Testament, for instance, the normal Greek word for courage is avoided rather than employed. The most common Greek noun for courage, andreîos, does not appear in the New Testament except in one verbal form in I Corinthians 16:13 translated uniquely, if memorably, in the King James version as this: “quit you like men” — which to a preschooler was quite a conundrum.

Courage Through Redemption History

In a broader sense, courage is a hermeneutical key to understanding the flow of biblical history and the experience of God’s chosen people. Let us review something of what biblical history tells us in terms of why courage is required of God’s people. We look in the Old Testament and in the New. It’s not only the language, it is the narrative that reminds us. We think of Abraham’s courage to trust, to leave his homeland, to go where he knew not, and to put everything he had at risk. It was the courage to obey.

Recently I was reading a work by a seminary professor who teaches at Princeton Theological Seminary, and this tells you something of what has happened in the last a hundred years at Princeton. He wrote of the event where Abraham is called to sacrifice Isaac as the origin of the Old Testament biblical tradition of child abuse. There is a lesson there, he suggested, and it is the lesson that sometimes “religion,” as he says, “can lead one to abuse one’s own children.” In Abraham, we see demonstrated the courage of a man who was promised by God a legacy of descendants who would outnumber the stars of heaven. All of that seemed to be realized long after the age of childbearing for Abraham and Sarah in this youth named Isaac, the son of his love. He was called to sacrifice this son, and he demonstrated that he is willing to do so.

Why is that courage? Why is it courage and not child abuse? Why is it courage and not neurosis? Why is it courage and not irrationality? It is because Abraham knew the God who had called him out of Harran. He trusted this God and obeyed him. In Genesis 15:1, the Lord instructed Abraham not to fear because he said, “I am a shield for you.” Abraham demonstrated courage, not because he was in himself courageous, but because he knew the one true and living God, and he trusted the God who had called him and was faithful to his promises. And he trusted God. Thus, this is defined as courage.

We think of Moses, who had courage to confront Pharaoh, a courage to speak. Let us be reminded that with Moses, the story does not begin well. The first response demonstrated by Moses as he is called out of the bush that was burned but not consumed was hardly a response of courage. It was the stuttering and stammering refusal of a man to do what God called him to do. Yet, by God’s grace in Moses was summoned a courage to confront Pharaoh — not once, not twice, but repeatedly. The courage to confront is something desperately lacking in ministry at the end of the 20th century, and in the beginning of the 21st. You know who Pharaoh is, where he lives, and what he demands, and you know what it is like to have you and your people confronted with the demand to make the same number of bricks without straw.

The question is, do you know what it is like to confront Pharaoh and say, “Let my people go”? The courage for confrontation at the end of the 20th century, in the beginning of the 21st century, is a courage for God’s people to stand over against not just Pharaoh, but an entire culture of toxicity, of rebellion against God, and God’s law, and God’s command, and God’s Word. It is a requirement that we be able to arm our people to say to the culture, “Let my people go.”

The Courage to Lead

The courage of confrontation for Moses was also the courage to lead. And for Moses, this was no easy task, and he led no easily led people. Without reciting the twists and turns of the leadership tradition of Moses, just imagine Moses as a management expert writing the bestseller on leadership. It might be called Wilderness Leadership: The Courage to Lead a People Who Are not Willfully Led, by Moses. I’m sure no pastor here understands this particular conundrum and situation, the challenge that comes when the task of leadership requires one not just to confront Pharaoh but to confront one’s own people.

In many ways, Pharaoh is easier, is he not? You could leave his palace. It’s something else to have to confront your own within the congregation. And yet, it is an indispensable task of leadership. It requires courage to answer a call, courage to answer a bush that burned and was not consumed, courage to lead a people not only in an exodus but in years of wilderness wandering. When you review the history of the church, does that not strike a chord? In many ways, true ministry is about the demonstration of courage in leading a people through wilderness, like Moses, and it involves the courage also to prepare one who would follow in leadership by God’s call.

When I go back and look at the accounts in Exodus and Deuteronomy in particular, and in the opening chapters of Joshua, I am amazed at the provision God made for his people for a successor, and of the care with which Moses faithfully invested his successor with the authority God had given him. He told the people that they must follow this one whom God had prepared to take them into the promised land, Joshua. All of this reminds us that ministry and leadership is perpetually about courage.

From Where Does Courage Come?

Joshua needed courage for the conquest. When we look at Joshua chapter 1, and I’m going to invite you to look regularly at these texts with me, we notice something missing from any secular notion of courage. Joshua 1:6 says:

Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

The story of Joshua is not about Joshua’s courage because Joshua knew Joshua. It is about the courage which was God’s gift to Joshua and God’s demand of Joshua, and this courage came because Joshua knew God. He knew God’s promise, he knew of God’s provision, and he knew of God’s word. In Joshua 1:8, he says, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night.” Brothers, who are pastors, dare we think we may be courageous while being absent from living in the Word? Joshua was called to meditate on the book of the law day and night. Why? So that he would be careful to do all that is written in it. “For then,” the Lord said, “you will make your way prosperous and then you will have success” (Joshua 1:8).

“Be strong and courageous,” the Lord said, “have I not commanded you?” (Joshua 1:9). There was no earthly call or command that summoned this kind of courage in Joshua. It was the call of the one true and living God, the God who had led the children of Israel out of bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt and even now had kept them alive through the years of the wilderness wanderings, providing manna in the morning, sufficient for the day, protecting them from their enemies. And now, the Lord will give them the land which was promised to them and Joshua is to be the leader.

But Joshua is to demonstrate courage because he lives in the word, because he knows who has called them, because he knows that the Lord has given them the land before they seize it. I think so many ministers fail to demonstrate courage because we think we have to do this thing, but there is not one of us sufficient for this task. There is nothing in us that should make us courageous. Our courage comes because we know God and we know that he is the sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient one. We know that he is the one who says, “My word never returns to me void” (Isaiah 55:11). We know that he is the one who says, “Is not my word like a hammer that shatters a rock?” (Jeremiah 23:29).

If we believe it is our task to summon courage from within, we will fail miserably, for there is nothing in us to bring out courage. The true minister of the gospel looks in the mirror of God’s word and understands that we are evacuated of anything that qualifies us for this. But God nonetheless says that he has given the land to us. Too many ministers live as if we are defeated until we win the victory. When the Lord spoke to Joshua he said, “You put your foot where I’ve commanded you and the land is already yours. You’re not going out to fight for it as if you are going to earn it that way. You’re not going out to claim it as if it isn’t already yours. I have given it to you. You take it in my name.”

The Courage to Confront

Joshua demonstrated courage to lead as he had demonstrated courage to follow and courage to venture. “I will not fail you nor forsake you,” said the Lord God. He said, “Do not tremble or be dismayed.” This is a good verse for us to remember in ministry for there is so much that would seem to be worthy of causing our trembling and our dismay. I know so many pastors who are dismayed, perhaps they use the word depressed. But the word of God summons us not to depression, not to discouragement, not to dismay, but to dispatch, to do what the Lord has called us to do, knowing that he will give us the victory insofar as we demonstrate courage. It is because he gives us even as he requires it of us.

We think of courage like Elijah on Mount Carmel. It was a confrontation not just with Pharaoh but with the pagan deities of the age. Elijah summoned courage. The word isn’t used there but it is very much present. But if Elijah is a model to us of what it means to demonstrate courage in confronting paganism, he is also a chastening reminder to us of what happens when courage flees. And is it not noteworthy that courage left him right after God had vindicated him? It was at that point he really started counting his enemies, and he recognized just how desperate they were.

I think that is true for us in ministry as well. It is sometimes after God gives us a great victory that we start to count the enemies. We realize they were more numerous than we thought, and many of them are still there and they have our phone numbers and our addresses. Jezebel and her priests are never far from hand. But Elijah was called to confront pagan deities.

Contra Paganism

Just last week, in one of the major newspapers of this country, a major news article dealt with the issue of what it meant to be born again. And the argument was that for most Americans, it doesn’t matter what you actually mean by born again so long as you are. Person after person was quoted as saying, “I’ve been born again. It has nothing to do with Christ and it has nothing to do with the gospel. But I turned over a new leaf, or hiccuped and all of a sudden felt better about myself. But I have been born again.”

We are confronted with paganism, the soft, stupid paganisms offered to us by popular culture, but also surrounding us these days in America are paganisms of a very organized, historic, and well-represented form. In this age of political correctness, we are supposed to pull in the scandal of particularity, the issue of the exclusivity of the gospel, and unlike Elijah, we are supposed to just let everyone get along. The thought is, “He has his truth, she has her, and we have our truth.” But you’ll notice Elijah was not a very good postmodernist. And Elijah probably wouldn’t have made it very well in terms of handling the nightly news. Elijah said, “If God be God, let the fire fall. And if so, let the judgment fall upon the pagans who oppose him and deny him.”

These days, military issues, military heroes, and military metaphors are pretty much out of place. We live in an age of the harmonic, an age of the non-militant, an age that cries peace even where there is no peace. There are many ministers who are just downright embarrassed when looking at the Old Testament and seeing so much about war. The mighty men of valor like Gideon and so many others are not spoken of, along with the warfare in the Old Testament when there was something worth fighting for and something worth dying for.

Some of you may have been following events of the denominations over the last 10 or 15 years or so who have revised the hymnal. One denomination particularly caught my attention when the media picked up on the fact that the committee assigned to revise the hymnal had taken out Onward, Christian Soldiers. They said, “It’s too bellicose, too belligerent, and too military. It’s offensive and it’s simply out of place. What is this about Onward, Christian Soldiers? It sounds like the crusades.”

Here’s one little footnote. In everything that went on at Southern Seminary, we redesigned the artwork. It had been a kind of this free flowing, modern looking thing and we had it redesigned in terms of a shield, incorporating the image of the Holy Spirit inspiring the Word, which had been a part of the seminary seal since 1859. I liked it and we use it, but one of the old faculty members, having seized the faculty journal, recently wrote an article in which he said, “If you really want to understand what’s happened to Southern Seminary, just look at the artwork, look at the logo. It tells you everything. They’ve gone back to the Medieval Crusades.” Well, so be it. We’re staying with the shield.

The Courage to Rule

What about David and his courage to rule? The Psalms are a wonderful place to come to terms with what David understood by courage. He understood the sense of abandonment that sometimes comes to a Christian leader. He asked in Psalm 10:1, “Why do you stand far off?” So many of the Psalms speak of that sense of isolation and even abandonment, and yet in the Psalms there is that triumphant confidence in the one true God. He says, “My glory and the one who lifts my head” (Psalm 3:3), and, “My rock and my fortress and my deliverer” (Psalm 18:2).

When I read the Psalms, I take courage. I take courage from the honesty of the Psalms. I take courage from the passion of the Psalms. Consummately, I take courage from the confident hope of the Psalms, because of the knowledge of the God of glory who will honor his name, and will keep his promises, and will vindicate his people, and will set things aright for his own glory, and not for ours, and not for David’s, and not for Israel’s glory, except insofar as they are a people who are his own possession and we as the church are the purchased possession. Whatever good there is in us, whatever glory comes to us is the reflected glory of God himself, who is to be glorified in and through us.

Courage to Defy Rulers

Daniel represents the courage to defy kings, the courage to be faithful in a land of official faithlessness. These days, we are being increasingly told that Christian evangelism is a hate crime. And brothers and sisters, I believe that one day may come — it is not beyond our imagination — when it is politically and legally illegal to evangelize. Let’s face it, this is not an unprecedented situation. In many places in the world today, it is illegal upon pain of death. In the Middle East and in some eastern nations, it is a capital crime to preach the gospel. And yet, Daniel would not bow, nor would Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

I’m reminded of the old southern spiritual:

They didn’t bow, They didn’t bend, They didn’t burn.

I date myself, but as a college student, as one of several students who clustered together because of our common concern and calling, I can remember we were moved by the music of Keith Green. Some of you can date yourselves with me. Do you remember the album “No Compromise”? Do you remember the picture of that one man standing up while all others were prostrated? Do you remember the song? He said:

Make my life a prayer to you I want to do what You want me to ; No empty words and no white lies, No token prayers, no compromise.

Daniel and his friends remind us of the courage that is necessary to defy the regime. Some of you may know that in some evangelical circles there has been a debate just over the past three or four years on whether the American regime is any more a lawful regime. I dare not enter that discussion here. I only want to say this. For most Americans, it is inconceivable that there ever could be a regime here that is not worthy of our allegiance. But we must be wary of the danger of idolatry. For we know no king but king Jesus.

The Courage to Speak Truth

The courage of Jeremiah represents the courage to confront power and the courage to speak the truth to the religious establishment. This is tough. Turn with me to Jeremiah 26:4–14, which says:

You will say to them, “Thus says the Lord, ‘If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law which I have set before you, to listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have been sending to you again and again, but you have not listened; then I will make this house like Shiloh, and this city I will make a curse to all the nations of the earth.” The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord. When Jeremiah finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, the priests and the prophets and all the people seized him, saying, “You must die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord saying, ‘This house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered about Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.

When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the Lord and sat in the entrance of the New Gate of the Lord’s house. Then the priests and the prophets spoke to the officials and to all the people, saying, “A death sentence for this man! For he has prophesied against this city as you have heard in your hearing.”

Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and to all the people, saying, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that you have heard. Now therefore amend your ways and your deeds and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will change his mind about the misfortune which he has pronounced against you. But as for me, behold, I am in your hands; do with me as is good and right in your sight.”

What a remarkable passage. The Lord speaks to Jeremiah and he tells him to go to the temple and cry against the temple. He tells him to prophesy that if they do not return to the Lord as a people, then the temple itself will be destroyed just as was the temple at Shiloh, and the city will become desolate. This was a crime. It was the law that anyone who spoke of the destruction of the temple should be put to death. Jeremiah knows this, but he has been commanded to speak, and so he does. And I take great encouragement from Jeremiah 26:14, which says:

But as for me, behold, I am in your hands; do with me as is good and right in your sight.

I believe a time comes for every minister of the gospel — perhaps several times, or perhaps an enduring time — when all we can say is, “As for me, I’m in your hands. Do with me as is good and right in your sight.” It is a good thing to remember that we are not responsible for our own well-being, nor our own vindication, nor our own safety. If we seek to make ourselves safe, we will be unsafe. If we seek to make ourselves secure, we will be insecure; if we seek to make ourselves well-established and to vindicate ourselves, we will humiliate ourselves. But we, like the prophet Jeremiah, can say even to our enemies, “As for me, I am in your hands. Do with me as you will.”

But Jeremiah said in the next verse that they would give an answer for it because there was one greater than him who would demand an answer. He says:

Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood on yourselves, and on this city and on its inhabitants; for truly the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.”

Then notice Jeremiah 26:16, which says:

Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and to the prophets, “No death sentence for this man! For he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.”

In other words, “Well, if that be the case, then forget we ever raised the issue!” They recognize that he had spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.”

Courage to Preach the Gospel

In the New Testament, consider the apostles, though we leave so much unsaid. We have no time to consider the twists and turns of Peter’s own pilgrimage, but we find him in Acts 4 demonstrating what true courage is as he preached the gospel. Notice in particular Acts 4:8–12:

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead — by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Notice what Peter does here. Filled with the Holy Spirit, inspired by the Holy Spirit, courageous in the most biblical sense of the word, he stands before the Sadducees, the priests, and all those gathered. You notice the directness with which he makes his statement answering their question. He turns the tables on them. He is saying, “If you want to know in what power or by what power or in what name I have done this, and if you ask the question, you’re going to get more of an answer than you ever cared to hear.”

Notice the pointed structure of his reply. He says, “By the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom God raised from the dead . . .” Notice he said something between those two clauses. He said, “By the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead — by this name this man stands before you in good health.” Unless they missed the point in Acts 4:11, he says, “He is the stone which was rejected.” We often say it that far, but he adds, “By you, the builders, but which became the chief cornerstone . . .”

He was faithful unto death. We believe in the case of the apostle Peter and from the Lord’s own word to him — though we do not know exactly how and we do not know not exactly when he died, it was still the Peter who trembled and the Peter who denied, who would not even admit to being from the same territory as Jesus — that he died for the sake of the gospel. There is courage.

The Courage to Confront False Religious Authorities

There is courage. Consider Paul the apostle. Look through the book of Acts. When you have time, look at Chapters 22 and 23 and see how Paul faced opposition to gospel preaching. And see how he confronted false religious authorities, and see how he did so pressing his case, allowing no escape clause. He was presenting unto them the claims of the gospel and demanding a response, an answer. This is Paul, who himself was ready to be poured out as a libation at the end of his ministry, as a drink offering.

Or consider Stephen in Acts 7. We are reminded of martyrdom, which was written in the history of the church from its beginning. And let us note that in the case of Stephen, two particular aspects of courage come out, even in the midst of his death.

First, he preached the gospel even as he died. Even as the stones were being thrown, he continued to preach. Secondly, note this: He forgave those who murdered him. This is a courage far beyond any human understanding, far beyond any secular virtue, and far beyond any ancient philosopher’s understanding.

Courage in Ministry

There’s so much more to be drawn from Scripture about courage. This brief survey just demonstrates something of the courage that is exemplified by God’s people, in answer to God’s command, and by the strength of God’s own provision.

But we ask the question, what is courage in ministry? From these scriptural examples, I would like to suggest just a few issues of courage from ministry. I have eight principles.

1. Grounded in Faith

First, in a biblical perspective, courage is always grounded in faith. As a matter of fact, the ancients understood that the virtues were always interrelated and if one were lacking, the other three were inconsequential and inauthentic. In the same sense, I want to suggest to you, that if we read Scripture and come to understand courage in a biblical context, courage never stands alone and courage and faithfulness are always conjoined. It is grounded in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in confidence in God and in the work of Christ.

2. Secured by God’s Saving Work

Secondly, biblical courage is secured by the saving work of God. Read Romans 8. What makes Romans 8 so remarkable in not only the poetry and the moving urgency of the language is the comprehensiveness with which Paul describes the saving work of God.

Nothing can separate those whom he has chosen from his love, nothing. Because having begun that good work, he will conclude that good work and he is our assurance. It is secured by the saving work of God, which means we are not our own security and we cannot be.

3. Focused Upon God’s Glory

Thirdly, in Scripture, courage is focused upon God’s glory as the great end. Courage was not to point to the one human agent or multiple human agents who were courageous, but to the God who gave them courage and gave them victory, whether that victory be the conquest of land or the victory of faithfulness in martyrdom. It pointed to the glory of God. He is the faithful one.

4. Waiting for Vindication

Fourth, courage is confident in eschatological vindication. If we expect vindication in this lifetime in our ministry by our peers, we are likely to be very disappointed. The vindication comes at the end. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Timothy 2:12).

The triumph comes in the triumph of Christ. Paul understood this and tied it directly to the hope of resurrection. The body may be killed, but as Paul said, “To live as Christ, to die as gain” (Philippians 1:21).

5. Adequate for Confrontation

Fifth, courage is adequate for confrontation with the powers of evil. You say, “Well look what is stacked out there against us. Look at the forces of evil a raid against us.” Yes, look, but look at the God who has called us, the God who has redeemed us. Read Ephesians 6. We are called to a spiritual warfare, those who battle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, and we better keep that in mind. We are not up to this without the full armor of God. But wearing that armor, we as a knight of the Lord’s army will have courage, because we know what armor it is and whose armor it is.

6. Empowered by the Holy Spirit

Sixth, in a biblical perspective, courage is empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is one of the great themes of the book of Acts, in particular. The Holy Spirit filled these early Christians and emboldened them to do what otherwise would be absolutely inexplicable.

7. Valuing Faithfulness

Seventh, courage values faithfulness more than life. If a poll were to be taken here, I pray that each of us would say we know something worth dying for — something for which forfeiting life is an act of obedience to the glory of God. This should be a chastening word for our ministries, lest we value our ministries more than we ought.

8. Enduring to the End

Eighth, true courage endures to the end. In 2 Timothy 4:6–8, Paul writes to Timothy and says:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Paul said, “I’m ready. I’m ready to be poured out (meaning martyrdom here). I am ready to be an offering. I am ready because by God’s grace I have endured to the end.” How many ministries are shipwrecked because though beginning well, they end tragically? Beginning with promise, they end in humiliation. Beginning well, they end in disgrace. May we, with Paul, have the courage to say at the end, “We have kept the faith. We have finished the course. We have run the race.”

Notice the confidence he had of the judgment which was to come and the righteousness of the judge who would judge. The knowledge he had of which he is bold to speak of the crown which awaits him, to be awarded him by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church.

Exemplars of Courage

In Hebrews 11, there is a wonderful passage known to us all. I have a recitation of so many who demonstrated courage. I direct you to the final verses in Hebrews 11:32–38:

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.

What marvelous examples we have been given. When we sing the hymn “For All the Saints,” we sing a hymn of glory and praise to God for what he has demonstrated in his faithfulness to his people. We are thankful for the human instruments the Lord has used, as exemplars to us of what it means to demonstrate true courage.

The world may laugh at courage. A cynical age may deny that that courage is even a reality. We may live in an unheroic age full of irony and pedestal smashing. We may read the ancient philosophers and see what they had to say about courage. But we leave all of that aside to look to Scripture and see true courage established in the faithfulness of God and directed to his glory, as Jesus said:

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.

Questions and Answers

If evangelism might become a hate crime, and if the step toward that would be the accusation that it begets hate crimes, and if you don’t follow the strategy of taking “Onward Christian Soldiers” out of the hymnal to disabuse them of that, then what do you say on Larry King Live or anywhere else when they say, “Why shouldn’t we believe that a call to courage and Christians arming themselves isn’t going to beget the bashing of gays and the attacking of Jews, and so on?” What kinds of things would you say?

That is a hard question. It’s the kind of question one is likely to be thrown on Larry King Live, had anyone there the knowledge of how to ask such a question. The watch word of the culture in this generation is tolerance, and yet it is not a genuine notion of tolerance. It’s not a notion of tolerance as the word would’ve been defined by the founders of this republic. It is a word that is particularly distorted through the lenses of not only postmodernism because that’s a fairly elite stratum of society, but the feel-good, non-confrontational, gelatinous mass of American popular culture, which is threatened by anything that will not tolerate all things.

So what we have is this notion that anyone who holds to a particular truth claim is a dangerous person, an extremist. Intolerance now is related not just to saying that you believe someone is wrong and has the right to be a citizen even though they’re wrong. Now the claim is that you can’t say anyone is wrong. So the price of entry into the cultural conversation today is generally the agreement that everyone is right.

Of course this doesn’t make any sense. When I teach about postmodernism and lecture on this, I always point out that everyone wants a relativist moral maker, but no one wants a relativist banker. We don’t believe in propositional truth as a culture when it comes to the “thou shall not,” except when it comes to counting what’s mine. Then we want it to be right down to the cent with interest compounded regularly. We want to know and be able to see it. Obviously no culture can live with that kind of relativism, but that’s where we are. But I understand the historical roots of the question Dr. Piper has asked. There is an accusation. The strange thing is the memory of the American people, of the popular culture, of something like the Crusades or something that has been blamed upon historic Christianity. Intolerance is the same.

I think we have to make clear one fundamental issue, and that is that our only weapon is the gospel and the truth of God’s word. There have been times when the church has sought to bear Caesar’s sword rather than the two-edged sword of Scripture. The danger now is that the church will choose unilateral disarmament out of fear of taking the wrong sword, and yet that is a very potent question. I meant what I said. If someone had the knowledge to ask the question that way, that would probably be the hardest question to answer because it requires us to say the church has made mistakes. But we are nonetheless the church militant until we are the church triumphant, and that militancy is for the cause of the gospel. It’s very interesting. If you take Ephesians Chapter 6 with all the parts of armor, they’re all essentially defensive.

If you know anything about military history, I love military history. If you know about the Roman soldier, every piece of armor identified in Ephesians Chapter 6 is defensive until you get to the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And then we’re told it is a two-edged sword. As Charles Spurgeon said, “It’s sharp all around, and there’s no safe place on it.” And that is the only weapon we have.

I will say again, Dr. Piper, that is a complex question and it can’t be answered easily at this level. For instance, there are moral issues which we believe ought to be codified, though maybe I shouldn’t say we. I believe certain moral issues should be codified in any government’s set of laws, and those laws come with a penalty. At this point, America has said it is legal to kill infants in the womb. I do not believe that is a just law, a righteous law. Would I use the power of the state if I could legislate to protect the life of unborn children and to criminalize the taking of a life? I would.

It is a complex answer to be given there. Those of you who know the history of the church know that this is a debate that even in the American experiment has gone on for many years. It’s easy to beg off and say, “All we want to do is see people come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Somewhere between Theonomy and Reconstructionism on one hand, and pure Anabaptist withdrawal on the other hand, there is some kind of biblical reality we haven’t achieved, or having achieved it, haven’t been able to keep long. It’s a tough question.

In his introduction, John mentioned that something “remarkable” happened in your going to Southern. I wonder if it might be a glory to God as well as an edification to those who might not know the background of that story for you to recount a little of it, insofar as your life might be a credential for coming here as well as your ability to lecture.

Well, I thank you for the question. I’m afraid of it, but I thank you for it because if anything, we ought to bear testimony to what God has done. Remarkable was a kind word. Maybe both sides can agree it was remarkable, but as Dr. Piper said, beyond that you make your judgment.

The simple story is this. Southern Baptists established the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1859. It was established as a clearly confessional institution. The abstract of principles, our confession of faith, the derivation of the Second London Confession, and the Philadelphia Confession was placed in the contract of every professor and in the charter of the school. Because the founders of Southern Seminary had seen the fall of other institutions already. They were determined it’d be a confessional school regulated by that confession of faith and so it was for many years. And yet through a process early in the 20th century and then accelerating at the midpoint of the century, and then completely out of hand in most of the second half of the 20th century, the confessional accountability was loosed and the obligation was ignored.

Now, it was not done in a blatant way where someone got up and said, “I deny the abstract,” though that did happen in a couple of examples. But rather it happened by the claim to private interpretation, which was explicitly ruled out by the founders who said, “The confession must be signed by every faculty member, who agrees to teach in accordance with and not contrary to it, without hesitation or mental reservation.” It was very clear that if any point mental reservation should come, it was the faculty members’ duty to bring his concerns with his resignation to the president of the school.

This is something very, very important. I raise this with some fear and trepidation because I have concerns about my own denomination, which are many. But grassroots Southern Baptists, many of whom could not articulate what was wrong, knew something was horribly wrong. From the 1960s in particular, until the end of the 1970s, there were efforts to try to coalesce a movement to bring not only Southern Seminary but the other agencies of the SBC back to accountability, to the churches.

Now given Baptist polity and Southern Baptist polity, that could be done if ever the churches decided to elect messengers to go to the convention to elect a president, to appoint a committee, who would appoint others of like mind to see this done. You can see why it took a while. You can’t have Baptists without committees, and by the time you go through all the committees, sometimes they forget what they were established for. But wonderfully, by God’s grace, the issues became clarified. You had grassroots Baptists who began to understand the issue of the inerrancy of God’s word. Even though they may not have known the word “confessionalism,” they knew the need for it, even unarticulated.

Through a process of change, the trustees of the agencies were changed, including the trustees of Southern Seminary. Between 1991 and 1992, the conservatives on Southern’s board went from being a minority to a bylaw changing majority. At that point, there was a change in the administration, and a search committee was established. The search committee went through its work. In February of 1993, I met with the search committee. They were down to four finalists. The amazing thing was that in the SBC, there were four finalists and then one dropped out. There were three of us. We were three very close friends, but we shared very similar concerns and the same hopes for the denomination as churches and for the seminary. It did spook the search committee though when they would realize we were so close.

But when the time came for the interview, the chairman of the search committee turned to me and he asked me a question. He said, “Paint a picture of Southern Seminary the way you would hope and pray that it could be in the year 2025.” I said, “How long do I have?” He said, “Take as long as you want.” We broke for lunch, and we broke a couple of other times. I just assumed they meant what they said and I just kept talking. In my heart was a passion because being a son of that institution and having studied there and having been on the administrative staff there, I believed I saw what could be recovered. So I started laying it out and I didn’t know when to stop.

Then they asked the second question, which was, “How could this be done?” It just so happened we had a plan. I laid that out. Then I can remember that the last question was, “Will it work?” Which, frankly, was an anti-climactic question after all that. But nonetheless, I had to say, “I don’t know, but I believe it’s the right thing to do. I believe God has given us the opportunity to do this. If it works, it’s his doing; if not, I believe it’s still obedience.”

When you lay all that out, you assume that’s probably the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” stage. Most search committees are afraid of doing the wrong thing. I honestly thought, at least I put this out there and maybe they’ll deal with it. To be honest, it was not just a matter of who became President, but of how this could be done. I was 33 at the time, which certainly did not seem like a likely career move to being elected president of the denomination’s oldest seminary, especially under those circumstances.

Of course, on the other hand, they may have looked at me as expendable. That’s the other side of it. But nonetheless, I was elected and took office. From the press conference, even before I was elected, the controversy was just incredible. Southern Seminary was the prize jewel of the left wing of the SBC. It was the Southern Baptist Institution of Mainline Protestantism. That’s how they saw it. Here was an effort to try to pull it back. It was just such a massive reversal. It did not seem to human eyes as if it would be possible. It did come with an incredible cost both financially and with enrollment. We ended up through the process, which I will not take time to rehearse, having about a 90 percent turnover on the faculty. It actually is higher than that when you count in appointed persons and all the rest. But it has been a remarkable turnover. They said you won’t be able to hire faculty. I just stand back and wonder at the faculty the Lord has put together and of godly, consecrated scholars, many of whom had been praying for such a moment and for such an opportunity. We didn’t know who. The Lord was making that provision for us.

Did it take courage? Yes, I’m sure it did. Sometimes it even felt like it. I’ve never ever spoken about what I’m about to say publicly. People say, when was the turning point? I really don’t know, politically and mechanically speaking, when the turning point was, although there were several major events. We lived for over two months with students outside my office singing “We Shall Overcome,” which I was hoping they would do quickly, but they kept singing it. You go through all this horrible public confrontation, including national television. PBS point of view has an hour-long documentary on this. We had television trucks literally camped out on the campus. This is a theological seminary. Just step back and get some distance for a minute. How many theological seminaries get this kind of controversy? Nonetheless, the Lord saw us through that. But when I speak of a turning point, it came on the Wednesday, I believe, before Easter in 1995.

The trustees were coming the Monday after Easter. How’s that for timing? The faculty had thrown down the gauntlet. It was either going to be the president or the faculty. I just went for broke. I decided at that point to ask the trustees to rewrite all the hiring documents, all the committee structures, and just abolish everything and start from new In an academic institution of southern size you’re not supposed to be able to get away with that, but we were at that point of crisis.

We had an event for children that Wednesday that turned ugly. I had fired a dean. There was just so much ugliness. A couple of things happened on the campus and in the community that, to me, were just about unbearable. The Lord’s providence is so sweet. Mary and I went there. As I said, I was young. I was 33 and Mary was 31. We had a three year old and a barely one year old. They didn’t watch the news, they didn’t read the newspapers. When students stood outside with a candlelight vigil, they thought it was a party. I mean that seriously, because I don’t know if I could have taken seeing my children’s hearts broken. I didn’t have to experience that. But our own hearts were broken.

Mary and I went into a guest room in the President’s home that night and just closed the door in the darkness and sat on the floor and gave it up. We didn’t give up, not because we were so courageous, but because we didn’t figure out how to do that anyway. But we gave it up. Together, we prayed that the Lord would do this thing to his own glory.

See, I really think up until that moment, I loved Southern Seminary too much. At that point, we were ready to pray together and say, “Lord, if it’s your will the seminary should die, let it die gloriously. Honor your word. May it honor the gospel and may it honor truth even if it dies.” On Monday morning, there was a trustee meeting that began, the one everyone was waiting for. Tuesday evening, the students who were in antipathy — which by then were the majority by far on the campus — had gathered out on the lawn for a massive rally covered by live television. News helicopters were flying over and all the rest. The trustees met in a room and we went in. When we came out, it was all done.

The Lord moved in trustees. I have to tell you, a spirit of unanimity came that just no one could have believed. We came out. We had to hold a press conference. It was awful. I can remember sitting with the Board of trustees in the front seat of the car, seeing the safest place at the moment and saying, “Well, it’s done.” I said, “Well, yes, the meeting’s done. Now we get to see whether we get to keep it or not.” I can tell you, there’s no human ingenuity that could have saved Southern Seminary. There’s no strategy that could have done it. Of course the outside world looks and says there was a conservative strategy to do this.

This is not only true for Southern Seminary, it’s true for the whole Southern Baptist Convention. The conservatives didn’t have much of a strategy. They were too disorganized. You know what Will Rogers said: “I’m not a member of an organized political party, I’m a Democrat.” Well, that defines Southern Baptists. The outside world thought there was this little clique of people with their focus strategy. Well, there was a bit of a strategy, just a methodology, but the rest of it’s just inexplicable except the fact that God saw that it was done.

To God’s glory, Southern Seminary has been reestablished upon our confession of faith, which stands upon God’s word. We celebrate it. We share it together. When a professor signs the abstract, he doesn’t do it in the closet, he does it on the platform of the seminary chapel before the community gathered together in the service of worship. He’s handed the original pen with which the abstract was written in 1859. He dips that pen in ink and signs his name. Then it is our responsibility to hold each other accountable on behalf of the churches who serve on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ. I appreciate the question. I answer it understanding it can be somewhat dangerous to answer it. Insofar as I have anything to say, God did it. I just thank him for it.

President Mohler, I have a brief question. I read recently a wonderful article in Baptist Press that highlighted your latest appearance on Larry King, in which you debated about Jewish evangelism with two rabbis and handled yourself in a very professional, godly manner. Could you just share a brief testimony as to what happened in the day or two after that, regarding the emails and the telephone calls you received at Southern Seminary?

Let me tell you what happened on that day, if you’ll allow me. I don’t know why the Lord opened the door with the Larry King show. I’ve been very active in the media. It just happened. It’s one of those things that happened. I write a syndicated column and other things. The media is a pretty intertwined, interconnected entity insofar as it’s an entity. But it was in 1998 when Southern Baptists adopted the resolution on the family that you may remember was of no small amount of controversy. It was amazing. The secular media all of a sudden woke up and it was like there was this strange group of Aboriginal people who had come up with some incredibly awful idea. I spoke to Katie Couric on the Today Show, who said more or less, “Where’d you come up with this?”

I wanted to go, “Katie, we didn’t just invent this morning.” But that is so far off the screen of the media. But why the particular thing happened here, I’m not sure. The Jewish evangelism issue came up. That afternoon was a horrible afternoon because we were going back and forth with the producers for Larry King, and they kept changing the way the show was going to be put together. I will admit to you, I got to the studio that night more anxious than I can remember at any point in my life about that kind of appearance because it all of a sudden dawned on me somewhere during that afternoon, the way everything came together, that this was going to be about the gospel.

I’m going to share something with you which obviously is not in confidence here, but I’ll share it with a few of my closest friends here. I just want to share with you something that happened before the show. The parties that I’m about to speak of don’t know this. You’re on an IFB satellite line. It’s hooked up to your side and you got the thing in your ear and you’ve got the producers. It’s supposed to be mic silent for the guest until the show begins, but it wasn’t. I was hearing the rabbis talking to each other. Of course, I don’t know if my mic is live or not, but I’m not about to find out. I’m just listening as they’re speaking to each other.

One of them says to the other — and I wrote a note to Russ Moore who’s here with me, who was there in the studio as a research assistant — “Listen, this guy Mohler, is he really going to say we’re going to hell if we don’t accept Jesus?” The other said, “I think so.” What was so amazing is — forget me insofar as you can — you would’ve done the same thing under similar circumstances and faithfulness to the gospel, but they’re not accustomed to that. The pattern in America now is you lose it if anyone asks that question and you come up with a backdoor or something. Very few Christian ministers will actually say that in that context. The Lord used that, as I just prayed as much as I could, “Lord, help me to say the right thing in the right way.”

Some people said, “You’re pretty repetitious.” Well, that was by design. I decided to go on there and talk about as much about the gospel as I could and take at least one lesson from Jesse Jackson. He said his way of interviewing was to listen to their questions and say what he came there to say. Sometimes, that’s what you’ve got to do. The Lord just opened the door. But in the hours afterwards, we started being flooded. This gets right to the question. We started getting flooded with letters. We had never had this happen before. We had people call the office and say, “I saw that program. How can I come to know the Lord? What was he talking about?”

I just guarantee you that CNN and Ted Turner had no ambition to have an evangelistic show on that night, but it again shows the sovereignty of a God determined to save his people and to do so by means that the world considers their own. You drag Paul before a king, what’s he going to do? Evangelize. I think we need to take advantage of those opportunities.

What was interesting is that at least one of the men who called was a Jewish man himself. We had over 600 contacts that way. And other things happened. I got on a plane. I got stuck in the great blizzard of Raleigh, North Carolina a couple weeks ago. I had to get out as soon as I could to get to another speaking engagement, having spoken to nothing but four walls in Raleigh during the time I was there in the room where I was exiled. I got out through the snow and a four wheel drive vehicle, got to another airport and flew out. I got to the back of the plane after begging on it and there were other refugees from Raleigh. I knew because this businessman gets on in a suit with a “Raleigh Durham USA” t-shirt on underneath. You know exactly what’s happened. We ended up sitting back there together.

The guy in the Raleigh Durham shirt turned to me and said, “Hey, I saw you on television last week. You were good.” Of course, I had no idea what he was doing. Then just when you start to think things are going well, he said, “What were you talking about?” That’s when you realize, as I said to our own students in chapel the other day, every once in a while the Lord just puts it before you and the issue is, are you going to do it or not? The Lord used that to enable me to talk about the gospel for an hour with six people in the back of a Delta Airlines flight. Again, I couldn’t get off that flight but think, God, how wonderful you are to set before us a banquet of opportunities. I just pray that the Lord will overcome my faithlessness with his faithfulness. Again, it shows how God does the most unexpected things, not only to catch us by surprise, but to show us his glory.

serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.