Monday, December 9, 2013

Risk and Reward

“Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles;” (Romans 16:3–4, NASB95) 

Have you ever “stuck your neck out” or “gone out on a limb” for someone? Maybe you stood by someone who no one else would, or maybe you tackled something which stretched your skills, your time, or your resources beyond what you normally might have expected. Maybe, just because you stood with them when no one else would, you also had the joyful experience of seeing them succeed when they otherwise might have failed. But maybe you experienced the opposite and watched them abandon the effort, even turning against you, and ultimately letting you down. These phrases have one word behind them that causes concern for most people, and that is RISK without assurance of REWARD.

In all of my years of mortgage banking and even working with Scouts on their Personal Management merit badge I had to talk with countless people about why some might get better terms on their loan than others and even why some might get a loan and others don’t. The whole field of lending and borrowing is inseparably linked to RISK and REWARD (or Rate of Return). The principle is pretty simple. If someone proves they are trustworthy then they are perceived as a lesser risk of not paying back the loan than the one who has proven himself untrustworthy. As such he is generally offered better terms. And the one who has proven himself less trustworthy is either given lesser terms or no loan at all. Lenders are generally not about sticking their neck out in an unreasonable way or going out on a limb for someone unless they either prove themselves trustworthy or they have someone proven such standing with them.

It would be very easy when things get tough in life to question just how trustworthy we have been in our lives and even question whether or not God was giving us what we deserve as a result. While we might have stumbled or been wrong or even foolish and sinful in our actions, looking at things purely as an issue of getting what we deserve is twisting greatly the character of our God. In Acts chapter 9 we have the record of Paul’s (or Saul) conversion and early introduction to ministry. In verses 1-9 we read about Paul’s encounter with Jesus.

“Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Acts 9:1–9, NASB95) 

Our Lord personally approached the man who single handedly was responsible for many Christ-followers being dragged from their homes to be persecuted and even put to death. Saul, recognized the voice as being authoritative and divine, was driven to the ground, but He did not know by who. Then Jesus identified Himself as the One who Saul had been persecuting even through persecuting His followers. As a result of this encounter Saul was blinded and led into Damascus where he remained three days without sight and without eating or drinking. Jesus easily could have smoked Saul at any time for what he had done to His followers. He could have said that Saul had crossed some form of line that made him unsalvageable. But this is not our God. The reality is that there is not a single one of us that deserves anything better or worse than Saul. We have all sinned and we all deserve God’s judgment. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),” (Ephesians 2:4–5, NASB95) What Jesus did for Saul He did for all of us, though maybe not as dramatic and maybe not used to change history as much as Paul. But still, it was because of His choice and not our worthiness that Jesus did more than stick out His neck or go out on a limb. He was hung on a cross of wood and had His head crowned with thorns for us.

So, Saul was in Damascus for three days—waiting. But God had not saved Saul to leave him helpless. As Jesus was revealing to Saul what was to happen next, He was also speaking to another person who would risk everything, and this person even knew the risk and was concerned. “Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus,” (Acts 9:10–19, NASB95) 

Ananias knew Saul’s reputation and He was concerned about whether his change was truly genuine. Had it not been for Jesus assuring Ananias that Saul belonged to Him I seriously doubt that Ananias would have risked going. But Jesus had called Saul and He appointed Ananias. And because of Who it was that was working in both of them, Ananias went with the full assurance that Jesus was true to His word. And sure enough Ananias called the man who was once his enemy his brother, with Saul even enjoying fellowship for several days with more of his new brothers. In the next several verses Saul immediately began to proclaim Christ, yet even as he did so there were those who were not trusting because his reputation had gone before him. 

This led to Saul fleeing to Jerusalem where we might expect the disciples to welcome him, but they also were afraid thinking it a deception in order to get to the very core of the early church. It is here that another man stepped in on Paul’s behalf. This time it was a man known to the apostles, one in whom they had great confidence—Barnabas. In fact, when the church had just begun and they were in need, it was a man named Joseph who was their great encouragement. “Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 4:36–37, NASB95)

“But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.” (Acts 9:27–31, NASB95)

Barnabas traveled with Saul, then to be known as Paul, and saw the birth of many churches. Barnabas stood side by side with Paul and he trained Paul and he even saw Paul take a more visible and vocal position in their relationship. Barnabas was a man known for sticking his neck out for others. He even stood up against Paul when Paul did not want to take John Mark with them. “After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Acts 15:36–41, NASB95)

This is a long route to speak to the issue of risking things for God. While the world bases much that it does on risk and reward, God calls us to step out and trust Him, seeming to risk everything while in reality risking nothing. For us, we stepped out many years ago for me to follow God in vocational ministry, and we stepped out in the middle of last year to trust Him as we stepped away from our ministry home in order to head out to wherever He was leading. Even now, as we are at a point that we are unable to see beyond the end of this month, we are hoping in God to remove the scales and show us what He has in store, whether this means continuing as we have or even being led in a direction we had not anticipated. 

When it comes to measuring risk, the real issue is not the risk but the faithfulness of the One who stands behind its fulfillment. After all, the other side of the risk scale is the faithfulness of the one providing the return, who is God. There is no better way to go out on a limb when you know from where you branch. And when you are led to go out on a limb for someone do it with all your heart with the power that God supplies.

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NASB95)

“Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24, NASB95)

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, NASB95)

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6, NASB95)

Today in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (12/9)

Be willing to go out on a limb with Me. If that is where I am leading you, it is the safest place to be. Your desire to live a risk-free life is a form of unbelief. Your longing to live close to Me is at odds with your attempts to minimize risk. You are approaching a crossroads in your journey. In order to follow Me wholeheartedly, you must relinquish your tendency to play it safe.

Let Me lead you step by step through this day. If your primary focus is on Me, you can walk along perilous paths without being afraid. Eventually, you will learn to relax and enjoy the adventure of our journey together. As long as you stay close to Me, My sovereign Presence protects you wherever you go.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4, ESV)

“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:10, ESV)

“If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:26, ESV)

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