Every year when my kids were in elementary school they participated in field day. It’s a morning spent participating with friends and classmates in everything from the long jump to the 50-yard dash to wheelbarrow races. Basically, it’s an excuse for kids to get out of the classroom in the early spring after being cooped up all winter and for parents to dream Olympic dreams for their kids.
Nick liked sports of all kinds and was pretty good at most everything he tried. At the time, he was an especially fast runner. That was all I needed to harbor the hope of him contending for a spot on the U.S. Olympic track team. As he lined up with six other five-year olds to run the 200-yard dash, my heart started racing, and I worried about the wet grass possibly tripping him up.
The whistle blew, and the boys were off. With wild abandon my fingers pounded the shutter release snapping pictures of my sweet little cherub-cheeked boy running for all he was worth past me toward the finish line. But then something happened. He fell. Stupid grass. Why did it have to rain the night before a big race?
That moment was like every moment in a sports movie where the crowd is still yelling, but it’s silent except for the heartbeat of the athlete as he stands at the pitcher’s mound plotting his last chance at greatness. Or when the underdog makes the last shot of the basketball game. The room is silent as the ball sails to the basket, the only sound being that of the ball hitting the backboard before swooshing into the basket scoring the team the winning 2 points.
Nick was only five, but he might as well have been rounding the last corner of an Olympic trial. He stopped and looked at me, and I could see the wheels spinning crazily in his little brain. Do I give in or get up? In middle school I was a cheerleader, and my cheerleading prowess kicked in full gear. I started jumping up and down like a crazy person, camera flying furiously around my neck as I yelled “Get up! Get up!”
That was all he needed. He pulled his wet grass-covered self up and not only finished the race but won it, which in my mind sealed the deal on heading to the Olympics. Only a true Olympian could fall on wet grass, get up and win. Plus, he was only five at the time!
We are in a series looking at engaging our culture with the gospel of Jesus. Last week we took the “E” and talked about embracing our identity in Christ, understanding that we can’t engage anyone for the cause of Christ if we haven’t even embraced who we are in Christ.
This week we take the “N.” No is always a choice. All of us at one time have had to overcome something so that we can be used by God. We’ve had to say “no” to something so that we could say “yes” to God. “No” always has such negative connotations. No, I will not buy you an iPhone. No, we aren’t eating out tonight. No, you cannot go see that movie. But “no” isn’t always negative. In order to say “yes” to God we have to make the choice to say “no” to whatever is holding us back whether it’s fear, feelings of inadequacy, Satan’s lies, whatever. The Bible is full of examples of people choosing to say “no” to one thing so they could say “yes” to God.
What would have happened if Joseph had said “no” to the angel who told him not to divorce Mary and “yes” to the culture which demanded it? What would have happened if Moses’ mother hadn’t quietly told Pharaoh “no” by hiding her child in the bulrushes rather than obeying and throwing him into the Nile? What would have happened if Esther had chosen to say “no” to Mordecai’s request to speak to the king on behalf of her people knowing that it could cost her her life? What if Paul had told God “no” on the road to Damascas? What if Peter had said, “No, I’m not really interested in being part of building your worldwide church?” What if Jesus had said “no” to God in the Garden because the sacrifice was too great?
There is an endless list of people in scripture who, had they not been willing to say “no” to cultural norms, physical limitations, personal fears and doubts, the spread of gospel would look significantly different. If we are going to engage our culture in a way that is significant, it will require a radical decision.
My son’s decision to get up and keep running may not have been earth altering, but it’s a great example of saying “no” to a feeling of defeat and “yes” to getting up and continuing on. He could’ve chosen to let the other guys win, running only to get to the finish line but not to win. The choice was his, and no one could make it for him.
In John 6 Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum to a group of people who considered themselves His disciples, people who followed him around regularly listening to His teachings day in and day out. For some reason, His declaration as the Bread of Life that came down from heaven was insulting to them. After much questioning and refusing to believe He was who He said He was, many of them walked away.
What came next I find striking:
“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:66-69, NIV).
There it is. Are you staying or going? In this particular exchange the line was drawn. The true colors of both sides came out. Those who really didn’t believe from the very beginning were finally honest enough to admit it and walk away. Those who chose to believe were solidified in their belief. They were all in. They chose “no” to the culture and their own feelings and “yes” to God. Whatever their choice had been, it was theirs to make. We have the same freedom-yes or no. It’s our choice.