It’s Better To Fight With Lions
I speak to you today from the theme, “It’s better to fight with lions than with bears.” That’s in the Bible. The Book of Amos, the fifth chapter, beginning to read at the fourteenth verse. “Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph. Therefore this is what the Lord God Almighty says: There will be wailing in all the streets and cries of anguish in every public square. The farmers will be summoned to weep and the mourners to wail. There will be wailing in all of the vineyards, for I will pass through your midst, says the Lord. Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light, pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness? I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll down like a rivers, and righteousness like a never-failing streams!”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh God, our rock and our Redeemer, Amen.
The weatherman tells us that the hurricane season is upon us. As a matter of fact, the newspapers indicate that the first tropical storm of the season is brewing down in the Caribbean. You know, I never read about storms or hurricanes without remembering a marvelous story. It was written by Joseph Conrad, a masterful little story called Typhoon. It’s the story of a terrifying storm on the China Sea. And there’s a point in the narrative where the captain of a great sailing ship caught in the midst of that awful storm surrenders the wheel of the ship to the mate, and then stands by and – above the great roar of the wind – cries out counsel to the mate as he steers the ship. The captain – Captain MacWhirr is his name. The captain cries out, “Keep her facing the wind, always facing the wind! Do not let her be put off by anything! Always face the wind!” That’s the way to get through. The heaviest seas always run with the wind, so keep the ship facing the wind! Keep a cool head, but face the wind! Now any true sailor will be happy to tell you that that’s good advice. The best way to get through a storm at sea is to face the wind.
That is true of storms at sea, but the Bible indicates that’s also true of the storms that blow up in our own personal human experience. Take, for example, the testimony of Amos in the Old Testament, speaking for God. The nation of Israel had reached a point of national crisis, largely of its own making. The people had wandered away from the Lord of glory. And so Amos calls out to them to face up to the problem. Face the winds of your own guilt. Face the problem. Don’t try to escape it. Don’t try to run away from it. Don’t try to avoid it. Face it. If you try to run away from it, well it would be very much like a man who saw a lion and turned to run, only then to encounter a bear, and who then, somehow managing to escape the bear went in to his own house and leaned against the wall trying to catch his breath, and there was bitten by a snake. Face it. Whatever it is, face it.
That’s the testimony of the New Testament. The apostle Paul, writing to the Christians who lived in the region of Ephesus, he warned them that they were going to be having to face persecution and attack and abuse. And so what kind of guidance does he offer to them in the midst of such a circumstance? He says to them, “Be strong in the Lord. Put on the whole armor of God and stand firm. Put on the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, the helmet of salvation. Put on the whole armor of God and stand strong in the strength of His might.”
So when we encounter the storms of problems and difficulties in our lives, the testimony of literature and the testimony of Scripture is one and the same. Face those problems, whatever they are. Face them and fight against them!
Now, on the thread of that very basic principle, permit me to string three thoughts.
First, in the face of life’s storms and difficulties, we need to learn to act decisively.
You know, the best way to magnify and multiply your problems is to ignore them. There is no enemy as dangerous as the enemy you pretend will go away. The things that finally defeat us in the end are the things we fail to deal with in the beginning. I can still see her now, sitting across from me in my office in a previous pastorate. She was an attractive, middle-aged woman. She was weeping. She said that her husband of 20 years had fallen for a younger, more glamorous woman. And she asked if I might pray for her. That I might pray that she might have the strength to accept this circumstance. And as gently as I could, I said to her, “No, I’m not going to pray for that. You don’t have to accept this circumstance if you don’t want to. You said a moment ago that you love him. Is that true? Do you love him?” “Yes,” she said, “I love him.” “Even though he’s broken every bit of trust that you had in him, do you still love him?” “Yes,” she said. “I love him more than anything in all the world.” So I said to her, “Well then, fight for him.” And she said, “How?” And we then spent some time, we sat down, and we made a list. We began to list all of the things that she had working in her favor. Things like the fact that – well, that she was his legal wife. And that they had had 20 years of marriage together. They had many marvelous memories to share. And the fact that their relationship was open and above-board and honest. And this other relationship was secretive and furtive and cheap. And that once they had a vibrant love and that love could be rekindled and as a matter of fact, sometimes it’s easier to rekindle an old love than it is to start a new one. And we went on and on and made the list. And then when we finished, I said to her, “Now, I want you to change your attitude and I want you to get some of those worry lines out of your face. I want you to confront this thing head-on. Your love for him is stronger than he is. Face that and act on it. And for that, I will pray.” You know, she did that. She went after him with a love that would not stop. A love that would not accept no for an answer. And she won.
It happens. You aware of the fact that studies indicate that those who are divorced, when questioned later, say in astonishing numbers that the one regret they have was that they did not confront the difficulties in their marriage at the time when they arose, but rather, waited to confront them after the relationship was too damaged to repair? Do you hear? That’s what Amos is driving at here. Don’t try to run away from the lions because if you do, you’re going to run smack-dab into bears and snakes! When the problems mount up in life, face them! Act decisively. Confront them and fight against them, whatever they are. It’s better to fight with lions than with bears and snakes.
And then the second thing that we need to learn in facing the storms of life, we need to learn to act fearlessly.
Now that’s the reason that so many of us can’t act decisively when we suddenly confront some great problem in life. It’s simply because way down deep inside, we’re afraid. I remember once visiting in the hospital a seriously ill patient there. It was early in my ministry. And in the room, the members of the family had gathered and the conversation was very depressed. There was great anxiety in the room. And then the doctor came in. The doctor, who happened to be a member of my congregation, a man who was a devoted, vigorous Christian. He came in and he took a look at the room and he listened to the conversation for a moment. And then he was smart enough to do what I, as a minister of the gospel, should have been smart enough to do but wasn’t. He said to the family gathered there, “We need to get rid of the fear germ that’s in this room. We need to kill it with a heavy dose of courage. Let’s get busy and pray.” What a staggering experience, and yet, you know, he was right! Fear is an attitude. And if you wish to change an attitude, the way you change an attitude is you replace it with another attitude. And the glorious thing is that we, as Christians, have techniques that we can use to help us to conquer fear whenever it invades our experience. We do.
I want to mention just two of them for you today. Technique number one: fill your mind with fear-eliminating verses of Scripture. David says in Psalm 34, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me; and delivered me from all my fears.” One of the ways that we seek the Lord is through the pages of Scripture. And my friends, when you lay hold of the Scriptures and you let the Scriptures lay hold of you, I promise you it will put strength in your spirit and steel in your spine. Make no mistake about that. I’m talking about verses like – well, like these from Philippians 4: “The Lord is near.” “Have no anxiety about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication, make your request known to God.” Or Psalm 46: “Be still, and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations. I am exalted in the earth.” Or Romans 8: “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation shall ever be able to separate us from the love of Christ through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Isaiah 40: “They who wait upon the Lord shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Or Matthew 11: “Jesus said, Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Do you ever pause to ponder the fact that if you were to commit one such verse to memory each day for a month, you would have thirty promises of God stored away from your mind and heart which you could call forth in those moments when fear threatens to overpower you. If you had those promises stored in your heart and mind where you could call them forth, it would make a difference. I promise you that. Believe me. I know what I’m talking about.
Technique number two: fill your life with courage-building symbols. Now let me explain what I mean by that. I carry with me this little pocket Bible. It was given to me by a man named Dr. John Kroll, a Presbyterian minister who had a profound influence on my life. Gave it to me fifteen years ago now. It shows the signs of age, but it’s gotten me through many a tough spot. Because, you see, when Dr. Kroll gave me this little Bible, he took the time to write on the front page, a little inscription. And whenever I encounter some difficulty in my work, I pick up this little Bible and flip to that page and read that inscription. And I can begin to feel the courage beginning to build within me. Just simple words, personal words, but they’re enough. “To Howard Edington, a beloved, admired patriot of the Lord, who rightly handles the word of truth with prayers of thanksgiving, for his dedication and with deep prayers of petition for the long use of his gifts.” I’ve surrounded my life with symbols of encouragement just like that. And it makes a difference. You can do the same thing. It doesn’t matter what it is. It may be a picture of your parents or of your husband or your wife or your children. It may be a letter from your best friend. It may be the little cross that you wear around your neck. It may be the poster that hangs on the wall in your room. Doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it will begin to remind you of the commitments that are yours and of the resources that are available to you. And that will make a difference. In the face of the difficulties of life, you’ll begin to feel the courage building within you. It makes a difference. Believe me. I know what I’m talking about.
I think that’s what Paul was driving at when he says to us, “Put on the whole armor of God, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit.” Put on the armor of God. Then you will be strong to stand in the strength of his might.
We need to learn to act decisively and we need to learn to act fearlessly, but then we also need to learn to act faithfully.
For you and I know perfectly well, do we not, that we are not going to sail successfully through every storm that we encounter in life. We know that. And what I’m offering you here today is no guarantee, no formula for 100% success. Not at all. You see, there are times when we act decisively and when we act fearlessly and we are still battered by the storm. It happens. And that’s when faith comes in. There are times when we encounter the lions in life and if we choose to stand and fight the lions, well, you know, it is true, if you run away from the lions, you’re going to run right into the bears and the snakes. But the fact of the matter is also that a lion can chew on you pretty good. We’re not going to sail through every storm. That’s where faith comes in, for it is faith, my friends, that keeps us keeping on. And how important that is!
Do you remember the story where Jesus was traveling across Galilee and one of the rulers of the synagogue, a man named Jairus, came running up to him and said, “Master, can you come and help me? My little daughter is seriously ill.” And just at that moment, the servants came rushing up from Jairus’s house, bearing bad news. “Jairus,” they said, “it’s too late. Your daughter is dead. Don’t bother the Master anymore. He can’t help now. The family’s weeping. The mourners have gathered. Your daughter is dead. It’s too late.” And do you know what Jesus said to Jairus? Go and read it for yourself sometime. Jesus turned to Jairus and he said, “Friend, keep on believing.” Jairus said, “Lord, come on! Didn’t you hear what they just said?” “Keep on believing,” Jesus said. “Lord, I mean, the family is already weeping. The mourners have gathered all around.” “Keep on believing.” “But Lord, don’t you understand? My daughter is dead. It’s too late now.” “Keep on believing.” And the Bible tells us that Jesus then went to the house of Jairus and walked in and said, “Talitha koumi. Little girl, get up.” And the little girl rose.
Keep on believing. This is the message of Jesus Christ. Keep on believing. If you don’t take away anything else from this sermon today, take these words: keep on believing. You are never beaten until you surrender. You are never finally defeated until you let go of God. Keep on believing.
When I was young, I read a wonderful story called The Men of Iron, by Howard Pyle. It was the story of a young English lad whose father was stricken blind. And in that blind and weakened state, his father was powerless to keep a wicked earl from moving in and taking possession of all of his land. This young English lad felt that it was his responsibility to defend the honor of the family. So he put on all of his knightly armor and then he challenged this wicked earl to a joust to the death. And so they mounted their chargers, all regaled in their armor. And they took their jousting poles and they were ready to charge, ready to fight to the end. And in the course of the contest, three different times, that young English knight had the wicked earl at the point where he could have delivered the fatal blow. And three times he was afraid to do it. And then a fourth time, the same circumstance had him pinned, ready to deliver the final blow. And at that point, he said, “If you will give back to my father that which is rightfully his, I will spare your life.” And instinctively, just at that moment, the young knight looked over across the way to where his father was seated. And in that moment of inattention, the earl struck. He swept the young boy off of his horse and fell flat on the ground. The armor was so heavy that the young lad simply could not get up again. He was merciless there on the ground. And there he heard the great pounding hooves of the earl’s charger as he wheeled the horse around, prepared to make a final charge. And as the horse drew nearer, the young boy heard the hiss of the swinging sword and felt the cold steel cut through the leather bucklings in his armor and pierce his cold flesh. He felt that surely he was dead, but he wasn’t. And then he heard the horse wheel around to make yet one more charge. Yet one more. This would be it. And then something within him, as the horse came charging and as he heard once again the sickening hiss of the sword, he reached up with a mailed fist and grabbed the blade in the air, and then held on for all he was worth. The earl began to try to pull the sword away from him. And all he succeeded in doing was pulling this young boy up onto his knees. And at that point, the boy let go of the sword and grasped the stirrups of the horse and began to pull for all he was worth, pull and pull until he was up on his feet. And then, with waning strength, he reached out and grasped the battle axe that was tied to the earl’s saddle. Pulled it free and with one mighty lunge, plunged it home. And the battle was over. And the young lad collapsed.
There’s more to this story. He lived. But the point is, that because that young lad would not confront the wickedness which was before him at the beginning, he was more imperiled by it at the end. He wouldn’t act decisively or fearlessly but at least, at least he held on to his faith. For it was then, in a moment of faith, at the very time when he ought to have been defeated that, he refused to acknowledge defeat. He would not surrender. And so in the end, he won.
The weatherman says that hurricane season is upon us. This preacher says, in the experience in the human life, it’s always the hurricane season. The storms are always there. The problems and the difficulties are constantly before us. The counsel of Captain MacWhirr, “Face the wind. Keep a cool head and face the wind. That’s the way to get through.” The counsel of Amos: “Don’t run away from your problems. It’s better to fight with lions than with bears and snakes.” And the apostle Paul says to all ladies and knights of the Spirit: “Put on the whole armor of God. And stand strong in His might.”
I pull all of that together to say to you today, face up to whatever problems there may be in your life. And fight against them with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Because my friends, if you do that, you will discover that you are fighting on the winning side.
Let us pray. Merciful and most gracious God, make us more than conquerors through Him who loves us, even Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.