Leonard Ravenhill, the late twenty century English Christian evangelist and author said, “The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity.” Last week I took part in a “write in” at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta where I saw lifetimes and opportunities collide.
The trip was sponsored by the Center for Academic Literacy at Columbia Theological Seminary where I go to school. The purpose of our time there was to write reflections on the achievements of the civil rights movement in the United States, and the broader, worldwide human rights movement.
While the exhibits, artifacts, and papers were a moving tribute to the heroes of the civil rights movement, somehow I was drawn to a display featuring the villains the despots and the oppressors. These despicable dictators led me to ask three questions: First: “Why do people persecute others? Secondly: How does one summon the courage to stand against wrong? And lastly: How do we know when is the right time to stand up for what is right?”
In looking at the portraits of these vile and evil men (and yes, all of them are men!) Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and Augusto Pinochet, I could not help but reflect on the courage it took to stand up to these twentieth century villains.
Courage is a kind of confidence that can strengthen and sustain us. Being courageous has been described as “persevering in the face of adversity,” “standing up for what is right,” and “facing suffering with dignity or faith.”
Jesus courageously stood up for what was right. Even as a 12-year-old boy, Jesus showed courage. In Luke 2:41-47, Jesus’ parents “found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers.” Those teachers were well-versed not only in the Mosaic Law, but also in the man-made traditions that undermined it.
Nevertheless, Jesus was not intimidated into keeping quiet; he was “asking them questions.” Surely, he was not asking the typical questions of a curious boy. We can imagine Jesus asking thought-provoking questions that made those learned teachers sit up and take notice. If the teachers tried to trip Jesus up by asking him controversial questions, they failed. Everyone listening, including the teachers, were in “amazement at his understanding and his answers.” There is no doubt that these answers upheld the truth of God’s Word!
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to stand up to the villains of our time. However, the timing of our courage to stand up, and the critical questions and issues that we raise must be considered.
Today’s dictators in Uzbekistan, Equatorial Guinea, North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Syria are like the dictators of old – they are bullies! We know from the playground that bullies are cowards; they operate out their own fears by placing fear in others. When we stand up to them, especially early on, they will back down because they lack courage. We can get the courage to stand up, and know the right time to stand up by following Jesus.
Therefore, in our own lives we must pray for:
- the wisdom to recognize injustice,
- the discernment and timing to call out injustice early on and
- the courage to live with the consequences of our actions
The villains that you and I face every day in our lives – those who persecute others – are not the leaders of nations, instead they are: the boss at work who subtly demeans her employees, the teacher at school who dashes the hopes of his students, or the preacher at church whose “off the wall theology” obscures God’s message of love and forgiveness.
“The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity,” Leonard Ravenhill.
Think of the opportunities lost, the pain endured, and the countless injustices taking place in our own back yard simply because you and I lacked the courage and the timing to stand up against the wrong.
The inspiring instruction I learned from my day at the Center for Civil and Human Rights was this: “As disciples of Jesus we cannot choose if we should stand up in the face of human persecution – clearly, we must stand up!” However, it is our trust and faithfulness in Jesus that will give us the courage, and the right moment to stand up for what is right.