The attention of the world, and hopefully all Christians, is rightly focused on the Ukraine/Russia crisis unfolding in Europe.
We don’t yet know what title to give it. May God change hearts and bring swift peace.
We’ve known the name Putin for years. The name Zelensky is now being etched on our souls day by day.
What would it be like to stand as a leader in this moment? To live each breath knowing that most of the world is expecting your death at any hour?
We seem to be watching a graduate-level living lesson on what character and courage look like in our modern time. I suspect bookies in Las Vegas are making odds on how long Ukraine’s president will live.
I think many around the world are wondering, “Did they get Zelensky yet?”
Prodded by courage
On Monday, I listened to an eighteen-minute podcast from The Journal, the daily podcast platform of the Wall Street Journal. The report told the story of how extreme financial sanctions against Russia were created over the weekend among the European Union and additional nations. It included long and late-night meetings with leaders around the globe.
They debated what economic sanctions to use and how harsh they should be. There was disagreement. Some, including Germany, did not want to use all the possible tools to financially squeeze Russia for their invasion. Others wanted to do more.
It sounded strangely like a large committee meeting at church.
Then, President Zelensky of Ukraine joined the meeting for ten minutes by a virtual connection from within his embattled country. After pleading with world leaders to help every way they could, the last thing he said was simple: “This is probably the last time you will see me alive.”
These words from a courageous leader facing likely assassination stunned the room.
The tone changed.
Those who were hesitant to push hard against Russia started to change their thinking. Before the weekend was over, Germany had changed their position and even the Swiss had agreed to remove many major banks in Russia from SWIFT, the global banking system, hamstringing the Russian government from operating and funding their invasion and other engagements.
A truly unprecedented move especially in this modern age.
The second question
We love heroes because heroes inspire us. They “prod” us to be brave when the opportunity presents itself by their contagious courage. The other question on many American minds today might well be, “Where are the American Zelenskys?”
We desperately need them in this age of anger, darkness, division, and confusion. We need the simple yet powerful and attractive inspiration of committed character. A willingness to lose one’s life for the sake of Jesus and his kingdom. A willingness to go “all in” with the One who invites us to take up your cross daily and follow me or you are not worthy of me.
I went to worship in Houston last Sunday. The preacher did a great job sharing from Ecclesiastes 12. Part of what he explained was the realities of aging. He offered several signs of getting older.
I liked and disliked this one: “One sign of aging, you wake up injured.” (Many of you can relate, I’m sure.)
I was challenged by the preacher and the Scripture that “prods” us to live by faith. Ecclesiastes 12:11 says, “The sayings of the wise are like cattle prods, and those from masters of collections are like firmly embedded nails. The sayings are given by one Shepherd” (CSB, my emphasis).
I grew up in East Texas. There was a season in my youth when horses and “little britches” rodeos were the focus of our lives. We sometimes referred to ourselves as “goat ropers.” During this season, I learned—the painful way—what the business end of a cattle prod means. The older teens used it as something of an initiation rite for those of us who were younger.
The courageous courage we see in Jesus and in others can serve as a powerful “prod” to inspire and instruct us in and to the things of Christ. As under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd who invites us into his work, our good preaching and bold pastoral leadership can make a difference.
I remember the Sunday forty years ago when my pastor, preaching on courageous faith, shared this poem by Lawrence Tribble:
One man awake, Awakens another.
The second awakens His next-door brother.
The three awake can rouse a town
By turning the whole place Upside down
The many awake
Can cause such a fuss
It finally awakens the rest of us.
One man up, With dawn in his eyes
Here again, God’s word to Joshua is a word to you: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lᴏʀᴅ your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NIV).