When I was finished thinking through what I said this morning, I thought, well, now if it takes and God does what I’m praying, namely, that you would find the ability through gutsy guilt to overcome the obstacle of guilt and regret and remorse and unworthiness, you could overcome that by the gospel, you’re going to hit a lot of other obstacles in your pursuit of obedience.
And one of them is fear. And so I want to talk about risk. That’s what was in the folder. And mainly it’s a very simple point — I’ll try to make it mainly from the Bible — that God wants you to take risks with your lives. And I hope that you will be emboldened to do that by what I say.
My experience now, after 32 years in the ministry of the word, is that very little happens of any significance in an individual life or a church or a family or an organization that does not involve taking risks. And so I want things to happen in your life. I want you to be able to accomplish things that you never dreamed for the cause of Christ. And I promise you: you don’t have to be a big great person in order for God to use you to do extraordinary things for him. But you do need to take risks. So that’s what we’re going to talk about.
The Possibility of Injury or Loss
So let’s start by defining risk. Risk is an action that exposes you to the possibility of injury or loss. Risk is an action that exposes you to the possibility . . . it might be small, it might be big . . . of injury or loss.
And the loss could be money. It could be your life. You could lose your life. There’s a whole array of risks from the little teeny ones where you’re just going to get some egg on your face to the big one where you could be killed. And you have to take those kinds of risks in order to move forward and make an impact for Christ.
Now let me distinguish foolish risks from Christ-exalting risks. Both of them might cost you your life. One would be pleasing to God, and the other would be unpleasing to God. Foolish risks are forbidden in the Bible. And we have illustrations of them.
You have Paul taking risks. He put himself right in harm’s way over and over again. But you also have him escaping out of Damascus in a basket. You have him being whisked out of town in Thessalonica because a mob is forming.
And so you don’t always throw yourself into the lion’s mouth. Sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t. And it’s a huge issue in the Christian life. Well, when do you? And when don’t you? When do I take the risk of my money, my face, my life, my family? And when don’t I?
The Hard Choice
The best book I have ever read on that issue was written by John Bunyan. Most of you have heard of Pilgrim’s Progress. John Bunyan, Puritan Baptist pastor from 300 years ago who spent twelve of his years in jail, even though he had a little blind daughter who needed him very much, wrote a book called Counsels to Sufferers.
So if you buy the collected works of John Bunyan, which some of you might want to do, in one of those volumes is this 80-page, double column book called Counsel to Sufferers. And his whole effort is: How did I decide to stay in jail when my wife had four kids at home, and one of them was blind? And I could have gotten out of jail any time I wanted by simply signing a statement, I will not preach.
How do you make that choice? We’ve got missionaries all over the world and here facing those decisions day after day after day. Stay or go. Stand and risk your life or flee. And both can be right.
I don’t have any formula for you to figure out when do you do that or when you do risk your life and when you do go for safety. I want to make sure that you know the Bible blesses, ordains, and calls you to take risks. If I could just settle that and fix that in your heart, then I think the Holy Spirit will use all the necessary things in order to help you decide when to do one and when to do the other.
Fun or Foolish?
So that’s the definition of risk and distinguishing from foolish risks. Maybe just a practical statement about foolish risks: I’ll risk alienating people here who like to do these kinds of things. I personally would — probably. I mean, I shouldn’t say it absolutely, but I probably will never skydive for fun. I’ll probably never hang glide for fun, and I’ll probably never bungee jump for fun.
Now the reason is that there are reasons I would risk my life. Jumping out of a plane or jumping with a rope tied to my foot or jumping off a cliff with plastic wings — there are reasons I would do that but not for fun. That feels almost blasphemous to me.
I’m created in the image of God for a significant reason on Planet Earth, and I’m going to risk my life for this surge? I don’t think so. But you make that call yourself. But that’s my call on what would be foolish risk for me.
But to go to a country where they tell me, you may not get out of there, that’s worth it. If you’re hang-gliding for Jesus, if you’re jumping out of planes for Jesus, you’re hanging by the rope for Jesus, okay, amen. But watch out that you’re not just another Evel Knievel.
God Takes No Risks
Here’s a second or third observation, whichever one I’m on here. In order to clarify the nature of risk and how God relates to your risk, you need to know this loud and clear: God can take no risks. And the reason he can’t is because essential to the meaning of risk is ignorance. You have to be ignorant in order to take risks. If you know you’ll lose your life when you do this, it’s not a risk. It’s a sacrifice. Risk assumes ignorance about what’s coming. God cannot take a risk because he has no ignorance about what’s coming.
A Passing Fad
And if you’ve been influenced by open theism, which is a, I hope, passing fad of a theology that says God doesn’t know the future and, therefore, does take risks. I hope I can uninfluence you now, because God does know the future, and, therefore, he cannot take risks.
“God cannot take a risk because he has no ignorance about what’s coming.”
When he sends his Son into the world, it is no risk for Jesus. He’s going to die — period. God negotiates with the Son in heaven. And he sends the Son to die. It was the will of the Lord to bruise him. This didn’t sneak up on Jesus.
I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there’s none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, declaring my purpose will stand, I will accomplish all my good pleasure. (Isaiah 46:9–10)
God knows and runs the future and, therefore, makes no risks. But he does makes huge sacrifices. He knew his Son would die. That’s why he sent him. And so with the creation of the world.
One of the key texts that make me hate open theism is John 13:19. Here’s Jesus at the last hour of his life predicting that Judas would betray him. “This is going to happen. Judas will betray me.”
And then Jesus says, “I say this to you before it happens so that when it takes place, you may believe that. . . .” In English, it always says “that you might know that I am he.” There’s no “he” in the Greek.
“I’m telling you that Judas is going to betray me, that you may know when it happens, my having told you that I Am,” which, as you know, is taken from Exodus 3:14: “When they ask the name of God and what name should be spoken in Egypt, God said, ‘Tell them I Am sent you,’” which means that Jesus’s predictions about the future proved, in his mind, he’s God.
So for somebody to say it doesn’t matter whether he knows the future or not is a major attack on the deity of Christ. So, let’s close that parenthesis on open theism. I don’t want you to go there.
Beware Hip Theology
I hope you steer clear around those people who are so hip and cool today that think they’ve discovered a new theology about how God doesn’t know the future, and, therefore, it solves all kinds of problems with evil and suffering. It doesn’t. It doesn’t pastorally. I deal with suffering all the time — every day — especially children in my church. It solves no problems pastorally.
What gives people strength is the goodness and the sovereignty of God, unshakably, undividable. God is God. God is good. I don’t understand why I’ve got this pain or this cancer or my parents are getting divorced or my little brother got hit by a car. I don’t understand it, but God is good, and God is God. God runs the world. And God is good. I will see someday what he is up to in all of this. That helps pastorally.
So God can take no risks. The reason I belabor that point is because he can’t, you can. I’ll come back to that at the end. The ground — the power — of your being able to take a risk on a campus or in an unreached people group or individually in some way is because your God knows exactly what’s coming. And he works it all and controls it all so that you can take the risk because he doesn’t. He doesn’t — period. God intends for us to be ignorant about the future.
You Just Don’t Know
You remember the passage in James 4:13–15: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we will go up to such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain.’” Come now, you who say that. We’re going to go to Dallas tomorrow. You don’t know your life. Rather you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
So you hear what the point of that text is? That text is saying: When you plan your future, when you think about tomorrow, don’t think you know. You don’t know about tomorrow. If the Lord wills, you get to Dallas or Minneapolis. You don’t know. So you risk.
And I hope that I can disabuse you, free you from the illusion of security that most people live for in this world. It is an illusion. It’s a myth of safety. An enchantment. People live in an enchantment of security, constantly padding their locks and putting big airbags in their car and operating as though life could be made secure, and it can’t. And it shouldn’t be. And God is summoning you now to wake up to that and now not to risk for your own private pleasures but to risk for Christ.
So let me walk with you through biblical examples of risk. At least what happens to me when I see these is that I get inspired to do it. Some of them are tailor-made for women, and some of them are tailor-made for men. They both work both ways. Let’s start with one of my favorites. You don’t need to look these up if you don’t want to, but I’ll point you to where they are in the Bible.
May God Do What Seems Good
This comes from 2 Samuel 10. Here’s the situation: Nahash is the King of the Ammonites. He died. David loved Nahash. So the King of Israel admired and loved the King of the Ammonites. Interesting relationship. His son is named Hanun. So David sends a delegation to Hanun to pay respects to his father.
These young whippersnapper counselors around Hanun say to him, “You don’t trust David, do you? These are spies. They’re not coming to pay respect to your father. They’re coming to spy.” Hanun believed them, cut off their clothes right here, cut off half their beards right here, shamed them, in other words, and sent them out into public to go home.
David was furious. Well, when a king gets furious, it’s not a personal thing. It’s a global thing. So the Ammonites see that David is enraged, and they send to the Syrians and hire the Syrian Army to protect them against David’s rage. And David sends his army with Joab at the lead and his brother, Abishai, at his side.
I’ve got four sons, and I love to think about things like this. I get chills up and down my back when I think of this kind of camaraderie in conflict. So here’s Joab, here’s Abishai. Here’s the army of Israel, and they are surrounded. You’ve got Ammonites on one side and Syrians on the other. And they’re coming as pincers against Israel, Joab and Abishai.
And it’s the words that come out of Joab’s mouth that make my spine tingle. And I’ll read them to you. He says to Abishai, his brother, “If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall come and help me. And if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come and help you. Be of good courage and let us be courageous for our people and for the cities of our God. And may God do what seems good to him” (2 Samuel 10:11–12).
What’s that? That is pure risk. You might have expected him to say “and God will give us the victory.” He didn’t say that. “You stand against that enemy. I’ll stand against this enemy. If I’m starting to lose, you come help me. If you start to lose, I’m coming to help you. That’s the strategy, Abishai. Stand for the cities of our God and may God do what seems good to him. We’re going against the Ammonites.” That’s just pure risk. He didn’t know if he would win or not.
And there are going to be places in your life where that’s exactly what it looks like. I’ve got an enemy here. I’ve got an enemy here. I’ve got a few comrades. What should we do? We could flee. We could run. That’d be safe. We know we’d save our necks, and we’d be there for our kids.
And you look at each other, and you say, “No. We’re moving forward. You take that one. You take that one. We’ll do the best we can. May God do what seems good to him.” Just let that ring in your ears. “May the Lord do what seems good to him. We’re going forward and risking our lives for the cities of our God.” That’s example number one.
“If I Perish, I Perish”
Here’s Esther. This is especially for women. What happened was remarkable. So here’s the situation. You know this, but I’ll rehearse it anyway briefly. In the exile, after the Jews went into exile, there was a man named Mordecai. He had a younger cousin named Esther. Esther was an orphan. I don’t know what happened to her parents. Maybe they were killed in the siege of Jerusalem. And so Mordecai adopts Esther, and she grows up to be beautiful beyond words.
And the King Ahasuerus, the King of Babylon gets out of sorts with his Queen Vashti and says “you’re out of here.” And in order to get a new queen, he has kind of a beauty contest. And Esther is chosen. She doesn’t have a choice in this. And there she is the queen of the empire as a Jew. He doesn’t know she’s a Jew.
Haman is wicked and hates Jews with all his might, especially Mordecai, because Mordecai, being a good Jew, doesn’t bow down to anybody except God. And so Haman designs a strategy by which he will kill all the Jews in the kingdom and, thus, Mordecai. And so he gets a day on which they’ll all be destroyed.
And Mordecai finds out about it and says “our only hope is Esther.” And so he sends word to Esther, “You have to go to the king. You have to tell him who you are, and you have to get a hearing with him and plead for your people.” And she sends word back, “Don’t you know, uncle, that if you walk into the presence of the king unbidden, you die unless he lifts the golden scepter?” And Mordecai sends word back, “If you aren’t used to raise up salvation for us, God will use somebody else. You better do this.” Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai:
Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf. And neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. And I and my maids will also fast as you do. And then I will go to the king, though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish. (Esther 4:15–16)
I love Esther. I hope there are thousands of Esthers out there. You stare right into the possibility of being executed. It’s not pretty. It’s not romantic. It’s ugly. It’s gross. It’s shameful. And you say, “If I perish, I perish. I will obey the call of love here.” That’s exactly the same as “may the Lord do what seems good to him,” coming out of Joab’s mouth. “If I perish, I perish,” coming out of Esther’s mouth. These are stories that are in the Bible to cause men and women in this room today to go home resolving “I will take godly risks for my king.”
The Fiery Furnace of Risk
Story number three: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego. You know the story. The king builds a ninety-foot tall idol. He says everybody has to bow down and worship the idol. Everybody goes on their face except Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They get brought before the king. He says, “Don’t you know I can throw you into that furnace there and burn you to a cinder?” And they respond with these words. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king,
“May God do what seems good to him. If I perish, I perish. The will of the Lord be done.”
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up. (Daniel 3:16–18)
If not, if God will not save us, we’re not bowing down anyway. May the Lord do what seems good to him. If I perish, I perish. Whether we live or whether we die, we’re not bowing down to your image. So, God, whatever you want to do with us, we are yours.
Thy Will Be Done
The most famous risk taker in the Bible was the apostle Paul. I love the apostle Paul very, very much. I have lived with him a long time and would like very much to at least walk in some of his shoes. He bound himself in Acts 21 to go to Jerusalem. He had been collecting money for the poor saints in Jerusalem just like you’ve been collecting money for lots of things here. And he knew that it would be trouble in Jerusalem.
Thus says the Holy Spirit, “So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this girdle and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles” (Acts 21:11). Now that much is secure prophetically. You’re going to get arrested. But it’s going to be into the hands of the Gentiles, and what they will do with you, we do not tell you. It’s just going to be bleak in Jerusalem.
And they plead with him. The saints plead with Paul, “Don’t go to Jerusalem, don’t go to Jerusalem!” And Paul says, “What are you doing weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And then it says, “And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, ‘The will of the Lord be done’” (Acts 21:12–14).
May God do what seems good to him. If I perish, I perish. Whether we live or die, we’re not bowing down to your image. The will of the Lord be done. We don’t know what it’s going to be. But Paul’s intent on going to Jerusalem to keep his word about the poor saints there and money he’s been collecting.
A Whole Life of Risk
Paul’s whole life was risk. I mean, when you read the passages, let the force of this lay on you. There are only a few in this room who are going to be called to live this way. Maybe you’ll know even as I read it. “Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews, forty lashes less one” (2 Corinthians 11:24).
Now I’m going to pause there and try to help you feel what I feel when I read that. “Five times I received forty minus one lashes.” That’s 39 lashes at five times in his life. Now you all saw the movie The Passion. That was more than 39 lashes. But by the time you get to 39, your back is pretty well shredded. Okay. So you’ve got long leather strips. Maybe there are little shells in them or little studs, maybe not. But if you’ve got a good executioner, then 39, that’s a lot of times on the same back.
So by the time it’s done, your back is flayed. And they say, “Okay, you’ve done your part, now throw him out.” And he falls on the ground, and dirt gets in the wounds. And he gets infected. And he’s got a fever for a week. And they wonder if he’s going to survive. And then a few months later, it’s gradually healed. They don’t know anything about stitches. They don’t know anything about bacteria. They don’t know anything. Just kind of wash it off to get the dirt out. And it heals all crooked once, twice, three times, four times, five times. Same back.
Wouldn’t you along about the third time say, “God, this is not a good deal. This is not what I signed up for”? In fact, it is what he signed up for. It says so plainly in Acts Chapter 9: “I will show him how many things he must suffer for me.” Five times they shredded Paul’s back with 39 lashes. This man wrote the greatest book that was ever written, the book of Romans.
The Lashings Never Let Up
Let me keep reading. “Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys . . .” (2 Corinthians 11:24–25).
Now here’s the list that makes me say he lived a life of risk, not just experienced a risk here and a risk there. He lived a life of risk. He says, “in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from the Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, without food, in cold and exposure. And apart from all these other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
Paul never knew where the next blow was coming from. It would be like ministering in a dark room filled with about ten people that he lists here who as soon as they feel you, hit you. And it comes out of the blue. I thought they were brothers. We tried to get across the river, and it’s swollen. And on and on and on. God called Paul to an unbelievable life of suffering. But he never knew where it was coming from, and so it was risk.
Can you imagine? Here’s Silas or Timothy or Titus, and they’re traveling. And there on the horizon is Philippi or Thessalonica or Berea. And they pause on the outskirts of the city, and they pray. What must those prayer meetings have been like?
Every city, it’s trouble. Every city is pain. He’s beaten with rods with Philippi. He’s thrown into jail in Philippi. His feet are put in stocks in Philippi. And he knows that it happens over and over again.
He bows and he says: “God, there are people in there that you’ve chosen for yourself, and you have designed that they come to you through the gospel. And I would like to plant a little church. Maybe there’d be a Lydia. Maybe there’d be kind of a businesswoman type. And maybe there’d be a demon-possessed girl who could be liberated, and then maybe there would be a jailer, an employee of the city. And the three of them would make a good little church start. So if you would use me, if you would use me to find them, I would be most pleased and willing.”
And then he risks his life over and over again. So you can see why perhaps I have a strong affection for Paul. That’s enough illustrations of risk from the Bible.
What if You Don’t Risk?
Let me ask this question now: What happens if you don’t risk? What happens if you say: “Okay, I’m just not going to go there? I’m going to do what I pled with you this morning not to do. I’m going to go back to school. I’m going to get a real practical education. I’m going to get a good job. I’m going to get a nice house with lots of locks on the doors, far away from the inner city. And I’m going to get old and be happy and have lots of sensual pleasures and have wrinkles and uselessness in my rocking chair by the lakeside until I drop, leaving my middle-aged children a fat inheritance to confirm them in their worldliness.” That’s what you’d choose. No risk, you think. Now I’m pleading with you not to go there but rather to embrace the cost. What happens if you go there?
There’s a story in the Bible about that — more than one. But you know this one. The twelve spies are sent into the Promised Land, including Caleb and Joshua. There they go to check it out. Is it worth going in there for, and can we do it? Because there are giants in there. Fortified cities like Jericho with walls. And they come back, and ten of them say, “We’re not taking that risk.” And two of them say, “We can do this. With God, we can do this.”
A Murderous Mindset
How many churches have walked right up to the edge of some new calling, and the non-risk-taker stood up in the business meeting and killed it? We must have the furnace fixed before we can add the staff member. This is good stewardship. You can’t add staff because we don’t know if we can pay them, and we’ve got a $6,000 furnace bill, and that may or may not come in this new year, and so, pastor, we’re not going to add the staff until we’re sure we can pay for the furnace repair.
That mindset is murderous in the church. And may God grant you, as you both vocational ministers and laypeople filtering out into your churches, to not be that kind of person. That you stand up right after that person and say, I think God wants us to take a risk. Tell them the story about Esther or something.
Oh, that there would be churches that would not do what Israel did here. They walked right into the Promised Land, sent a few conservatives in and two radical believers in, and the ten held sway. Now here’s the cost: forty years of aimlessness.
Don’t Wander in the Wilderness
Are you living in the middle of that curse on a church? Don’t let it happen to your life. You walked right up to the edge of a dream. And then some counselors come to you and they say, “I think maybe you’re cut out for this. It’s safer.” And everything in you is crying out, I want to do this for Christ and his kingdom. And you throw it away and enter forty years of wandering in middle class, prosperous, happy fame, success.
There are perhaps some of you tucked away in little corners of this room that are sixty years old. And you’re right at the end of forty-year wandering. Good. It can end. It can end at twenty, ten, fifteen, two. It can end. That’s why you’re here, I think, to walk out of that forty years of waste. That’s sad. That’s really sad.
How Should We Risk?
So far, I have tried to define risk, and I’ve tried to say God can’t risk. And I’ve tried to summon you to the biblical rightness of taking risks. And I’ve warned you against the folly of wasted forty years if you won’t risk.
And now, finally, risks like what? What are some examples that you might face or that I have faced that might put some meat on this skeleton? I’ll give you a couple of examples: relationships, money, witness, and ministry ventures.
Risk in Relationships
If you love anybody, care about anybody, you’re into risk. And you’re into pain. My wife and I have been married 38 years, and we went on our 38th anniversary on the 21st of December to Red Wing, Minnesota. We have a tradition on our bed and breakfast outings once a year. And the tradition is to choose a chapter or a short book in the Bible.
We’ve gone through Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, can’t remember. We just chose 1 Corinthians 13 this year, and we pray through it, read a little bit, pray, read a little bit, pray. Just sit on a couch. She reads, I read. Pray, read, pray, read. About our lives, our marriage, and our kids. You never stop being a parent, even when they’re married.
Love Endures Suffering
And we read verses 1 Corinthians 13:4–7, and it walloped us. It goes like this:
Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
And we stood back from that, and we tried to pray our way through it. And what hit us is that of those fifteen things that are said about love there, all but two of them, it seems, fit in two categories that we did not expect. The first category is endurance. The old King James says: “Love suffers long, bears all things, endures all things.” And it just clobbered us. If you love, you suffer.
If you have a relationship with anybody — parent, brother, sister, friend, fiancée, wife, husband — you suffer. Love suffers long. Love bears all things. Love endures all things. To enter a relationship is to enter pain. And love is all over that. Love doesn’t cop out. Love doesn’t run away. Love doesn’t throw in the towel. Love doesn’t return evil for evil. Love endures and bears and comes back with kindness.
And so we just embraced that because there have been some hard things in our marriage and our family recently. And we said we’re going to embrace that. We’re not going to get ugly about this. We’re not going to get mean about this. We’re not going to be embittered. We’re not going to become hard towards anybody. We’re just going to say this is what loves does.
A lot of you come out of such broken homes, you’re scared to death of marriage. God doesn’t call everybody to marry. Paul wasn’t married. Jesus wasn’t married. John Stott wasn’t married. But he calls most people to marry. It’s the way the world gets populated rightly. And so, there you are. Everybody I know has gotten a divorce, you might say. I don’t want to do this. And you do want to do it. And you don’t want to do it. And may God give you grace. He is able. He is able to keep two very different people married.
Love and Pride
The other category besides endurance was . . . before I tell you . . . if I did a little survey here and said what’s the opposite of love, I think most people would say hate. That’d be true. That’s not at all what Paul says. If you just took those words that I gave you from 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 and said What’s the opposite of love? almost everybody examining those words would say pride. Love doesn’t boast. Love is not puffed up. Love doesn’t seek its own way. It’s not about pride.
And Noël and I looked at each other. We said, “Okay, that’s our major problem, isn’t it?” It’s everybody’s major problem. But let’s be honest, I like my own way. And you like your own way. And that’s why we don’t get along. And so we’re going to work on this pride thing. And you pray it into reality. All of that by way of just illustrating one whole sphere of risk-taking is relationships.
I’ll give you a very concrete example of a risk that we took as a couple. A phone call came probably 23 years ago from a national magazine. What was it called? I think it was called Partners at that time. It was a Christian magazine. Every magazine had a smiley-faced Christian couple on the front, usually in ministry, more or less well known. And there they are. And then an article. Somebody came and did an interview and wrote the article about them.
Okay, so this phone call comes, said would you and your wife be willing to have us come as a team from CTI and do an interview and put you on the front and exhibit your marriage to the world. Kind of like we’re not talking to each other. They want to come interview us about our marriage. She said okay. I said, can I get back to you? Okay. So I hang up, and we talk it over.
And we said, now look, this is a phase. We’re going to come out of this. Divorce is not an option, so we could fake it. We can fake it. And let them come. We’ll tell them all the good times and smile. Or we could tell them, you know, right now, things are just perfectly awful, and you don’t want to come here. But if we say that, the word’s going to get out down there at CTI, John Piper has a problem, and they’re on their way to get divorced.
Now that’s a risky phone call. But we said that’s what we’re going to do. So I called them back up. I said, look, you don’t want to interview us right now because things are really hard in our house, and we wouldn’t be smiling on the front of your magazine. So thank you anyway and please handle this information with all due appropriate regard. Thank you anyway. Goodbye. They never called back. That was 23 years ago.
That’s the kind of risk you face. I mean, the risk of just being honest. People can turn your word against you real quick. And the more enemies you have, the more people think you’re off base, the more quickly they’ll take your words and turn it. So that’s the relationship cluster.
Risk in Money
Another cluster is money. Oh my, there’s more in Jesus’s teaching about money than sex — way more. Money’s a killer. Money ruins more lives than sex. If we had another big session, maybe I would talk about money instead of sex because that’s a killer. So I’m pleading with you now to take risks with your money, meaning live on less than you think you can, and give more than you think you can.
Here’s a little story from Jesus to help you do that. Jesus looked up, and he saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. 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 she had to live on. (Luke 21:3–4)
Now there is a word for that that certain church leaders in your church might use. She was imprudent. What about your rent, groceries? I mean this is amazing to me. She put in all that she had, and Jesus doesn’t get on her imprudent case. He celebrates her. That’s weird. A lot of people would mainly get on your case if you did something imprudent with your money. Oh, how many things Jesus has to say, sell your possessions, give alms, lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where no moth and rust destroy, and thieves can’t break in and steal. Your heavenly Father loves to give the kingdom to those who ask him.
Spend It if You Have It?
So take risks with your money. I would plead with you that as you get your education and begin to rise in your vocation, whatever it is, simple, complex, high powered, low powered . . . as you begin to rise, if you’re competent, you get paid more. What are you going to do? Bigger barns every year? Bigger car every year? Longer vacation every year? If you have it, spend it. It’s yours. Every ad tells you to. Have the accouterments of wealth about you. The right watch — cool little band here, huh?
No. Set a cap. That’s not easy to decide where that should be. Set your cap, and everything else you give it away. And someday, you may make $800,000 a year and live on seventy. God will like that very much. He will like that very much. I mean, seventy thousand may be too much! It depends on where you live.
We Americans stink in this regard. And Christians justify our lifestyles because we’ve just got it. It’s just there. Why would you not buy it? You can afford it. And the reason is because of those eight things under the do something now category are eight out of 800,000 possibilities to bless the world.
I’ve got to stick this in here. I think it’s of the Lord. I don’t like the prosperity gospel — the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. Here’s the main reason. The world watching the Christian church is never drawn to Christ by our prosperity — never. They may be drawn to the church that tells them they can prosper. That’s not being drawn to Christ. What draws people to Christ is people who could have and, because they value Jesus more, don’t keep. That’s what draws people to Christ.
They look at you, and they say, “So you could be driving that and living there and having that kind of security and that kind of comfort and that kind of notoriety, and you’re choosing this? So you must have your treasure somewhere else.”
I don’t know of any other way that the world will be impressed with the church of Christ than by our suffering, our self-denial, our sacrifice. Our big buildings, our fancy programs, our cool music is not going to draw people to Christ.
“What draws people to Christ is love — a sacrificial love that costs something.”
What draws people to Christ is love — a sacrificial love that costs something. The world loves cool music. The world loves big buildings. The world loves successful programs. This is no big deal.
To try to imitate the world in our churches by having the biggest, flashiest, best does not impress the world at all. They’re way better than we are at entertainment. And so, why in the world would we not want to make an impact for Christ and namely call our people over and over again to live simply — war-time — for the world. That’s what we want to do. So that’s money, risking with your money.
Risk in Witness
A third category would be our witness. Listen to these words: “They will lay hands on you.” This is Jesus talking now to his apostles, “They will lay hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and the 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. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death.”
And I simply want to draw your attention to the word “some.” You live faithfully to Jesus in this world globally, some of you in this room will be martyred, no doubt about it. No doubt about it. But not all of you. So since it’s some of you and not all of you, there’s risk. Am I the one? Maybe. That would be glorious, wouldn’t it? Saddam Hussein thought it would be glorious in his cause, at least he said so. It wasn’t glorious. But it might be for you.
Remember that picture in Revelation 6:11, where the martyrs are under the altar in heaven, their souls, and they’re crying out “How long, O Lord, until you vindicate our blood?” And Jesus says an amazing statement. He clothes them with robes, and he says, “Be quiet. Until the full number comes in of those who are to die for the sake of the name.” He’s got an appointed number in this room who are going to die for Christ explicitly because of martyrdom. But we don’t know who they are. And we all risk with our witness.
Is Risk Romantic?
On what basis do you risk? Not it’s romantic to take risks. Even unbelievers climb mountains and lose fingers to frostbite and stand on pinnacles and hold their ropes out like Jesus. No, that’s not what’s going on. I’m not calling you to be heroic.
You’re little children, and you’re frightened. And unless you turn and become like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. You’re little children. You’re frightened. This guy’s calling you to take some risks, not to be a hero, and not to be a romantic. How do you do it? You do it like this:
What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it written, we are being killed all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. (Romans 8:35–39)
The basis of your risk-taking is the fact that you cannot ultimately take a risk for God. Every sacrifice you make, everything negative that comes to you, God takes it and makes you more than a conqueror in it. It doesn’t just not defeat you. It becomes your servant to bring you home to glory. So when the martyrdom comes, you look the executioner in the face, and you say: Make my day. You dispatch me to paradise, and I would love to take you with me. I would love to take you with me.