January 27, 2019
Pastor Jeff Struecker
I’m going to tell you the sum total of what I know about basketball in the next minute and a half. John Wooden was one of only two players inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, both as a player and a coach. He coached for the Bruins for a long time. John Wooden talked about a moment when he was coaching for the Bruins in a book titled One on One, where he intentionally, knowingly broke the NCAA rules. Now, if you know anything about Coach Wooden, he’s the kind of coach that under no circumstances would cheat to get an advantage. That man played ball with integrity. That man coached ball with integrity.
Here’s what happened: One of his players, on a Saturday night, went to jail. He got a call from the player. Apparently, this player didn’t do anything wrong except that he had a bunch of speeding tickets and parking tickets that he never paid the fines for. The Southern California police put a warrant out for his arrest, found him on a Saturday night, and arrested him for not paying his fines. With his phone call from jail, he called his coach. Coach Wooden showed up on a Saturday night to bail this guy out of jail, spending his own money. Technically, what he just did was a violation of the NCAA rules.
Coach Wooden said, “It’s Saturday night. There’re a bunch of hardened criminals and people that are in jail that really should be there… And there’s my player. There’s no way that I’m going to let my player spend the night in jail.” So, he took money out of his pocket; he paid the guy’s fines for him, got him out of jail, and he tells the guy, “I know I just violated the NCAA rules. I’m not going to hide it, but if this ever gets out, I’m going to be in trouble. This program is going to be in trouble.” Then in John Wooden’s own words, he says this, “I was basically trying to alleviate my conscience when I was talking to this player, but I was also saying, if I were faced with the same situation, I would do it the same way all over again. The well-being of the boy was more important to me than keeping the rule or the possibility of suffering the consequences. The rules are wrong, and doing the right thing meant violating the rules.”
Today we’re going to take a look at this concept, the fine art of civil disobedience. Listen to the last word, disobedience – breaking the law on purpose. Here’s what I want you to understand about the fine art of civil disobedience: Sometimes doing the right thing is actually illegal. Sometimes following the law would force us to do something wrong. When those times happen, you and I have a choice to make. Are we going to live right? Or, are we going to follow the law? I hope that most of you in this room who claim the name of Jesus Christ would say, “Of course, I’m going to do the right thing, even if it means breaking the law or becoming an enemy of the state.”
I refer to it as the fine art of civil disobedience, because you’re going to walk a tightrope here. Civil disobedience can mean one of two things. One is that the law requires us as Christians to do something that would violate our conscience, that we know the Bible tells us we shouldn’t do. An example of this is, you are a Christian business person trying to lead a company, and the Affordable Care Act requires you to spend your money to perform an abortion for somebody. Do you follow the law, or do you do what your conscience tells you to do? The example that we’re going to see very clearly from the Bible today is sometimes, the law is going to prohibit you from doing something that you know you’re supposed to do. In those cases, what do you do?
There’s a second type of civil disobedience. We don’t have enough time to deal with that today, but this type of civil disobedience is where the government is so corrupt, immoral, or unbiblical that you throw off your government, rise up against your government, and try to form a new government. We’re not going to cover that. We’re going to cover this at an individual level.
I do want you to hear this, church. Doing what’s biblical and doing what’s legal are not always the same thing. When those days happen, you and I have to be prepared for the consequences. We’re going to see this very clearly played out two thousand years ago in Jerusalem with two of Jesus’s followers, Peter and John. I want to take this and just put it right in our lap today. I want you to hear from me. For those of you who don’t know me. I am a patriot. I love this country, but I am also deeply disturbed about the legal direction that our country’s headed. If you’re going to be a Christian who tries to live out your faith in the public arena, this is eventually going to become something that you’re going to have to wrestle with. Let’s look at the fine art of civil disobedience in Acts chapter four. We’re going to see from Peter and John how they handled these circumstances.
I. Be bold
There are three very easy things to understand, three very simple things to keep in mind if you’re going to practice civil disobedience and honor the Bible or honor God, even if it’s illegal. The first is to be bold.
Chuck Colson went to jail as part of the Nixon administration for his involvement in Watergate. While he was in jail, Chuck Colson came to know Jesus Christ. He was radically changed by Christ. After he got out of jail, Chuck Colson started the ministry, Prison Fellowship International. He said he is deeply concerned about what he calls the lack of the courage of our convictions as Christians in America. In other words, I see a lot of Christians who don’t have the boldness to follow their convictions, even if it makes them an enemy of the state. Look at how this plays out in Acts chapter four, starting in verse thirteen.
When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus.
The Bible is giving us this background story. The little backstory for this civil disobedience that we’re discussing today is, Peter and John are being called onto the carpet. The group of leaders that are assembled (go back and read the earlier part of Acts chapter four to get the list by name) are the most powerful people in the land. They’re all calling you onto the carpet for what just happened. These religious leaders are blown away by the boldness of Peter and John. Basically, they’re saying, “Hey, these two men are ignorant fisherman. They’ve got no formal education. They’ve never been trained in public speaking. Now they’re in the Temple in front of thousands of people, and lots of folks are listening to them. When we confront them now, they’re lecturing us on our own subject of expertise. They’re talking to us, the religious leaders, about religion in Israel?” Basically, these folks are asking, “Where on earth are these two ignorant fishermen getting this kind of courage? Where does this come from?”
I think if Peter and John had the chance, they would say this: “You want to know how we understand the Bible? We learned it from the guy who wrote it himself. You want to know why we understand faith? We were able to hear from the man who was in Abraham’s tent when he talked to Abraham face to face. You want to know how we understand history? We heard it from the guy who gave David the courage to confront Goliath. This is how we understand religion. This is why we get the courage to stand up and to stand on our convictions.” Their boldness is blowing everyone’s mind in the Temple.
Church, I’m telling you; sometimes you’re going to have to stand up on your convictions. When you do own it, don’t back down. This just happened last year in our community to a guy who’s in college at Troy University in Phenix City. The professor in the classroom knew this man was a believer. For whatever reason, the professor at Troy University in Phenix City decided the lecture was going to be to berate Christians in the classroom. So, he starts to single this guy out. I heard it directly from the guy’s mouth at lunch not long ago. He started to berate this man in front of the entire class. Then the professor basically calls to the rest of the class, “Anybody believe what this idiot believes? Anybody believe what this Christian over here believes?”
Here’s the shameful part of this story. This guy knows that there are other Christians in the classroom, because they’ve talked about it in the hallways. But instead of standing up and instead of saying anything about their faith, they sink down in their seats, and they throw this guy under the bus. For the rest of the lecture, this professor is working this guy in a knot because of his public faith, and he is unwilling to back down and compromise his convictions. This bold brother was willing to stand up. This is in our community in the Chattahoochee Valley just a few months ago.
I’m telling you, the same Holy Spirit that made Peter and John bold in front of these religious leaders gives you the boldness to stand up and hang on to your convictions, no matter the consequences. The religious leaders in that day were amazed. Literally what they meant is, the math doesn’t make sense. How are these two fishermen able to stand in our presence, say what they’re saying, and do what they’re doing? If you’re going to stand on your convictions, you better be willing to be bold.
II. Be consistent
Secondly, you’ve really got to be consistent. Now there’s two parts of this story that the religious leaders really have to contend with. One is Peter and John. Where does this kind of boldness come from? But there’s a second aspect of the story. If you read your Bible too quickly, you’re going to miss this one. The second part of the story that these religious leaders are really wrestling with is the guy who’s standing in their midst. Don’t rush over this word standing. Listen to how the Bible describes it.
And since they saw the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 After they ordered them to leave the Sanhedrin, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, “What should we do with these men? For an obvious sign has been done through them, clear to everyone living in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.
Picture this in your mind. These religious leaders have seen this man’s broken, mangled legs. Now they’re looking at him and his legs are strong, and he is standing in front of them. Now they’ve got a problem because it’s not just Peter and John. It’s this man who’s standing up who shouldn’t be standing right now. What’s so fascinating about verse fourteen to me is they’re basically commanding Peter and John to stop talking about Jesus today but these religious leaders are literally silenced by the boldness of these disciples, and they’re silenced by this man who was once crippled, now healed, and standing in their midst.
There is no defense, church, against a consistent Christian witness. This is the one thing that people just can’t argue against. When you behave what you believe over and over and over again, it’s impossible to argue that away. It’s impossible to dismiss that away. This is what I mean by being consistent. Just live out your faith, walk the walk and talk the talk. Do it over and over, and over again.
Let me give you some good news, church: People are watching you. Or, maybe I should give you some bad news: People are watching you. Here’s what I’m trying to say. I’ve said this to you before, but if you’re new to our church, maybe you’ve not heard this or thought about it this way before. Some people are watching you because they want you to fail, and they’re going to laugh in your face when you fail. If you have the courage to talk to them about Christ, they’re waiting for you to mess up. But a lot of people are watching because they want you to succeed. They want to see a consistent Christian witness. They want to see somebody behave what they believe. Here’s what those folks are asking: Does what she believe make such a difference that her life is different because it? If so, I want to have a life that’s different. People are watching you. Some of them will laugh at you when you make a mistake. They’ll kick you while you’re down. But a lot of people just want to know, is it true? Does it mean enough that it changes the way that you live? If it does, I want that. What I’m trying to say is be consistent and talk the talk, but I’m also challenging you, church, to walk the walk. You have to do both. Behave what you believe, and do it consistently. There’s no argument against this.
III. Be decisive
If you’re going to practice civil disobedience (I believe all of us may find ourselves there one day), be decisive. Let me explain this word. I mean, make the decision today where you will and will not bend. Decide today, “Here are some of my values or convictions, and I cannot compromise these, no matter the cost.” The longer that I live, the more I am convinced that a life that doesn’t stand against anything at the end of the day will amount to nothing. If you are going to make an impact, you’re going to have to stand up, and you’re going to have to speak out. Sometimes it’s going to come at great cost. There may even be a day where it’s illegal. If that’s the case, so be it, because this is a conviction that I can’t compromise. Listen to the rest of the story from Acts chapter four.
But so that this does not spread any further among the people, let’s threaten them against speaking to anyone in this name again.” 18 So they called for them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 Peter and John answered them, “Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; 20 for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 After threatening them further, they released them. They found no way to punish them because the people were all giving glory to God over what had been done. 22 For this sign of healing had been performed on a man over forty years old.
This story is spreading. It’s spreading far, and it’s spreading fast. Everyone is hearing about this man who was healed, and they’re also hearing the message. These religious leaders start to get really threatened. They’re freaked out by it, so they decide at any cost, even if they have to beat these men half to death, they’re going to threaten them to stop them from speaking the name of Jesus. Peter, with holy boldness says, “If I were to listen to you, it would mean I’m no longer listening to God. We cannot stop.” This is a double negative. -Cannot stop speaking about Jesus. If you were to use our vernacular today, they would say, “There’s no one and nothing, not even you that will stop us from speaking our convictions. And if it means being beaten half to death or if it means going to jail for it, you just made the choice really simple.” Now listen to what I said, church. I didn’t say the choice is easy. This is going to get really hard and really painful, but you just made the choice really simple for us when you threatened us and told us to stop telling people about our faith in Jesus.
I’m asking you to decide today, what are some issues that you are willing to go to jail for because you cannot back down on these convictions? God knows America needs to see Christians and a church that has the courage of her convictions. They need to see people that have drawn the line in the sand and made the decision. I cannot compromise on this one. There’s no gray area for me.
I’ll tell you a quick story about my first assignment in the Army as a chaplain. I got called into my supervisor’s, supervisor’s office. As most of you know, I spent a long time as an enlisted guy in the Army before becoming a chaplain; I understood how the Army goes. In my first assignment as a chaplain, a soldier in my unit committed suicide, and I was asked to perform a memorial ceremony for the unit. I guess I had a reputation. I’m only assuming this is why this happened, but I had a reputation for being very explicit with the Gospel. So, before the memorial ceremony even happened, my supervisor’s supervisor said, “Jeff, I want you to write out a manuscript of what you’re going to say, and I want to see it in writing before you do this memorial ceremony.” I’m not going to go through all of the technicalities of what constitutes a religious service versus a memorial ceremony. I understood all of that at the time. This guy read through my manuscript and then he said, “You need to leave this out. You need to omit this. You need to stop talking about this.” Basically, don’t talk about the Gospel, and don’t talk about Jesus.
I’m going to be honest with you. That conversation was really easy for me. You see, I settled in my mind before becoming a chaplain where my convictions were, and there were some areas that I drew the line in the sand that I cannot back down on. This is one of those areas. So, no matter what the consequences are, I will not violate my convictions. I’ve got no choice but to stick with my guns on this one. You just made it easy for me by making this an issue that you want to go toe to toe with me about.
Church, I’m telling you, it’s too late when you’re in the middle of the battle to figure out how you’re going to respond. No, draw the line in the sand today. Do it this afternoon, and figure out, where are the issues that I cannot under any conditions back down on these issues? I wish we lived in a different world, but we don’t. If you settle these in your mind today, don’t be surprised if you wind up in a situation where it’s going to cost you dearly. Ladies, don’t be surprised if your relationship with your fiancé ends because of how you stick to your guns about your faith and that man leaves you for it. Don’t be surprised if it costs you your job, and you just can’t back down on this one. Don’t be surprised if it costs you your reputation. Don’t be surprised if your pastor ends up in jail because of this, because I would gladly, willingly go. I will do what’s biblical, even if it’s illegal, and I will go to jail for it. I hope you would also.
The only way you’re going to be ready is if you’ve decisively drawn a line in the sand, if you consistently live out your faith, and if you’re bold about what you believe and don’t back down, no matter who is threatening you. This is what a lost and unbelieving community is looking for. Their longing to see this. I believe this is what the church is called to do and all the more so as we head towards this undeniable end of human history as the church and society clash together. This is why I’m calling today the fine art of civil disobedience. It’s not easy. It’s might just cost you everything. I hope you’d be willing to give it all up.
• I need Jesus to heal my soul. Today, I surrendered to him for the first time.
• I have let circumstances prevent me from talking about Jesus in the past. Pray for me to have the courage to speak openly about my faith this week.
+ I will draw a line in the sand about faith today!
- On a scale of 1-5 (5= totally prepared): How prepared are you or your family for religious persecution? Explain your answer.
- Who has the most consistent walk with Jesus that you know?
- Have you ever been caught off guard by a tricky situation and didn’t know how to respond? If so, how can you prevent that from happening again?
- Have you ever been in a situation where someone told you not to talk about your faith? If so, how did you respond?
- Read Matthew 10:28. How can the fear of God help us when powerful people test our faith?
- In your opinion, what does a bold faith look like?
- Pray for the Holy Spirit to give you a bold faith this week.