Have you ever read Washington Irving’s well known short story “Rip Van Winkle?” The story is based on a German folk tale about a man who was cheerful, but lazy. He was married to a nagging wife who drove him to the highest parts of the Catskill mountains. There, he met a strange fellow who gave him a drink that put him into a deep sleep. Surprisingly, he slept for twenty years. Upon waking, he found the town had changed, the people had changed, and the government had changed. Dogs now barked at him. Children sneered at him. Adults saw him as a spy. No one seemed to believe his ludicrous story. He was a man all alone in the world fighting to be believed.
In Matthew 12:30, when Jesus said, “he that is not with me is against me…”, was He speaking more of standing against something or standing for something? Is there even a difference? There seems to be two factions today that are breaking off mainstream Christianity: those who are zealots with a militant, vigilante agenda, and those who simply do not want to be bothered. Both can be a cancer to the body if the pendulum is not allowed to balance itself out. It is worth noting, you can find football fans who yell so loudly against the Florida Gators that you would never guess they were actually rooting for the Tennessee Vols. So, just what is the difference of standing FOR something versus standing AGAINST something?
It is having understood convictions. Is it not puzzling why Jesus remained silent during His mockery trials amidst accusations? The reason being, He had already spoken, and by their own accusations they proved they had gotten the message. As I said “I do” to Jeanne in marriage, I was also saying “I don’t” to all the rest. When our convictions are pure, firm, and authoritative, we don’t have to fight for them. They stand on their own. Real convictions need no explanation nor defense. Jesus never attended political rallies nor stood in protest lines, however, riots did seem to break out on occasion by others over his message. Why? It was truth stated without antagonism. To fight was to undermine His message. While we may want our voices to echo today, the echo may serve as a reminder we are standing in a hollow valley with a lifeless message.
It is maintaining an unchangeable consistency. Militant Christianity says such kindness is weakness. Jesus never compromised nor was He weak. We are so educated and creative chasing after acceptance, position, and fame, we’ve altered the message. Consider this: John the Baptist had one message, “Repent ye…”, and Jesus said, there is not a prophet born of women greater than John the Baptist. I wonder, if we had been consistent in our message, would there have ever been a need to call for boycotts or petitions? Our adversary knows there is an easier way to sink a ship than putting a hole in the hull. He simply alters the rudder and eventually it will run aground. An altered rudder means a loss of trust and a lack of respect. Just how close are we to the rocks on the shore today? Have we already hit?
It is demonstrating unbridled compassion. Although it has been attempted for centuries, why has the message of Jesus never been extinguished? He stood for something…you and I. It was the compassion seen in His eyes, His touch, His words, His movement that drew people to Him. A life lived steadily in His presence is a life whose hard heart has been melted, and whose eyes can see the forest and the trees. Truly, there are times that the money changers tables must be overturned, but we must not forget, that was to send a message to the church not the world.
We must pick and choose our battles in life. Too often we claim victory, but cannot describe just what it is we have won. We will not be remembered for our inventive words or the battles in which we have engaged. We will be remembered for what we are. Have we too fallen asleep for so long, now that our rights are challenged, we have awakened only to find ourselves rooting for the wrong George?
© Alan Stewart, 2004.
Alan Stewart: Dr. Alan Stewart has served as Senior Pastor of Rechoboth Baptist since December 1999. He attended The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Moody Bible Institute, Covington Theological Seminary, and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.
Prior to pastoring the Tennessee church, Alan was an evangelist for 15 years. He has preached revivals/pastor’s conferences in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. He also preached crusades/conferences in India, Hungary, and conducted a crusade in South Africa in August of 2009. Pastor Alan is married to Jeanne, and they are blessed with two children – Sierra and Seth.