17 November 2013

Courage to think and to do exploits


Dorothy and Toto from Kansas knew a thing or two about courage, and had enough to pass it on to the friendly lion, you know, the one without courage. He was nicknamed the "Cowardly Lion" and I suppose that's a proper appellation for him. Without courage one is rightly labelled cowardly. Remember what he needed? Courage. Very similar to what the Tin Man needed which was a 'heart.' Now I'm sure Frank Baum in his original writing was not leaning on the French language where 'courage' and 'heart' have the same root. In fact, I'm sure that the symbolism of the three industries of agriculture, military and the steel industry, about which many write was probably not anywhere close to Baum's thinking. Still, that's not our point today.

The Cowardly Lion makes his first appearance in the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He is the last of the companions Dorothy befriends on her way to the Emerald City where he ambushes her, Toto, Scarecrow, and Tin Woodman. When he tries to bite Toto, Dorothy slaps him for trying to attack Toto where she discovers that the Lion is actually a coward which he admits that he is. The Cowardly Lion joins her so that he can ask The Wizard for courage, being ashamed that, in his cultural role as the King of the Beasts, he is not indeed brave. Despite outward evidence that he is unreasonably fearful, The Cowardly Lion displays great bravery along the way. During the journey, he leaps across a chasm on the road of yellow brick multiple times, each time with a companion on his back, and the leap back to get the next one. When they come into another, wider chasm, the Cowardly Lion holds off two Kalidahs while the Tin Woodman cuts a tall tree to cross it. In spite of his fears, he still goes off to hunt for his food, and he even offers to kill a deer for Dorothy to eat, but the idea makes her uncomfortable.

In other words, the lion is already brave and courageous, but thinks he is not.

OK, I can live with that (mis)understanding.

At times, we all need courage, and that comes from encouragement. Simple, I know, but still clear. Someone or something outside us has to put courage into our hearts. We need to know, to deeply know, that a 'yes I can' is in me. I find that encouragement in the Scriptures of the people of God.

Seven times in the Newer Testament the word is used, and once in the Older Testament. Six of the NT references are translating the Greek word "Paraklesis". All references are here:
Acts 4.36 And Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means, Son of Encouragement),
Acts 15.31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.
Rom. 15.4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Rom. 15.5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus;
Phil. 2.1 If therefore there is any encouragement in Messiah, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion,
Col. 4.11 and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision; and they have proved to be an encouragement to me.
Heb. 6.18 in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us.

Paraklesis means "called alongside to help" and sounds exactly what we need often in life. Someone or something which comes alongside, (or in the Anglo-Franco: puts into our heart) to give us courage.

In those references above we read "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." Paul wrote the Roman believers this sentence about the record of the Older Testament and the characters we find there. What God said previously in the Bible about Elijah and David and Moses and Ruth, Rahab, Tamar, Joshua and all of that should give us substantial hope for our lives today.

Two problems:
We often think wrongly about both encouragement itself and the characters of the Older Testament. We usually consider encouragement and hope as positive thinking, almost borderline "The Secret" thinking. We think it means power to do what we want almost like I'm going to be next celebrity or celebrity host on "Australia's Got Talent." Biblical encouragement is someone or something giving us power to do what God wants us to do or to think what we are supposed to think. Biblical encouragement gives us capacity to follow God in right living or right thinking. It's not about getting what I want or wishful lotto imagination.

The other thing we get wrong is biblical characters themselves. We see Samson as Victor Mature, strong and mighty, rather than viewing him as Adam Sandler or Woody Allen. There is no mention of his stature in the Bible, but we picture a mighty warrior. What made him mighty was the power of God (and his hair of course) and not his 24 Hour Fitness workout regimen. If all biblical characters are strong in and of themselves and I'm not, then I have no encouragement from them and what they do. If they are normal, looking like Mr Schwartz and not Mr Schwarzenegger, then I CAN derive courage from their exploits. Right thinking about them and right thinking about me combined with right thinking about God makes me courageous.

All this to say, for you, there is a chance you can be courageous to do what God wants and to think what God wants you to think. Be near people like Barnabbas. Be listening to godly wisdom. Give yourself to right living. Put yourself into the place where others are, whom you identify as encouragers (and not demanders).

I hope this encourages you today. And that with that encouragement you may have real future hope about what lies ahead.

By the way, for a real fictional movie about real courage see Courageous

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