We began a new series Sunday: Chase the Lion. As followers of Christ, we are called to take to be risk-takers. We are invited to be Lion Chasers, much like Benaiah, who found himself in a pit with a lion on a snowy day.
I ran into technical difficulties with the sermon audio. I will post the audio here as soon as I have it fixed.
As a kid growing up, I had a love for lions. And I still do. I think they’re amazing creatures. In fact, when Christy and I were on our honeymoon in San Diego, we went to the San Diego Zoo. And one of the exhibits we spent the most time at was the lion habitat. After a while, Christy finally managed to pull me away from there so we could see the rest of the animals. We made our way down the path and the lion exhibit was out of our view when I heard them. The loudest roars I’d ever heard. Something was going on at the lion exhibit. So I grabbed our camcorder and ran up the hill, hoping to catch a video of the lions in action. I’d seen lions before. I’d heard them roar before. But there was something about the roar of those lions that just drew me back to them. And I felt like a little kid again.
If you ask my children what they want to be when they grow up, you’ll get a myriad of answers, depending on what mood they’re in that day. More often than not, Aiden will tell you that he wants to be a quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, which is a noble goal. And I think the current quarterback might be retired by the time he’s old enough to play. And hopefully they’ll win many more championships before Aiden takes the reins. If you ask Alyson what she wants to be when she grows up, the odds are it’s going to have something to do with animals. Some days she wants to work with dolphins. Other days she wants to be a veterinarian. And if you’ve spent any time with her at all, I’m sure that’s no surprise to you.
If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was their age, I would usually throw out your typical childhood dream jobs: astronaut, fireman, movie maker, race car driver, pilot, (pause) Jedi Knight – you know, the usual stuff. And maybe I’d be more than one at once. But for many years, the answer that would also come up regularly was ‘Lion Tamer.’ Since lions were my favorite animal and the lion show was my favorite part of the circus, it was a natural fit to want to tame lions as my lifelong career. I even had a toy whip that we bought after one of the circuses we watched. And I’d gather my family around and have them watch the amazing, death-defying performed by my stuffed, toy lion and me: Matt the Amazing Lion Tamer.
Like many childhood dreams, my desire to become a lion tamer eventually faded away. But it took a while for that desire to begin to cool. And although I spent a good amount of time in my childhood dreaming of becoming a lion tamer, I never had any desire to become a Lion Chaser. I doubt many people dream of becoming a Lion Chaser.
Let me tell you the story of a man named Benaiah. He’s walking alone in the wilderness one day, noticing the snow that is falling down around him. He’s a little distracted by the things that he has to do that day and he was captivated by the beauty of the snow. “I’d better start getting home,” he said to himself, “before the snow gets too deep and I’m stranded out here.” So he started making his way towards his town as quickly as he could. With each step, he noticed the path was becoming more slippery because of the snow. As he came to a rocky patch in the pathway, he chose his steps with caution. The rocks were already slippery from the snow and ice. “At this rate, I’ll never get home,” he thought to himself. Then he looked up and stopped dead in his tracks. There, just a few feet in front of him, was a lion staring back at him. Benaiah’s heart skipped a beat as he considered his options. As he began to calculate the odds, he quickly came to the realization that regardless of what he chose to do, the end result was destined to be the same. He was dead meat. Every instinct in his body shouted the same thing. Run away. Do what you can to get away from this beast, and maybe you’ll survive. He stared at the lion, waiting to make his move. They locked eyes with each other. Puffs of breath were visible as the two stared each other down, each one waiting for the other to make the first move. Benaiah’s muscles tensed. His heart rate quickened and his adrenaline rushed. Then he made his move and began to run. But instead of running away from the lion, he ran towards the beast. They were instantly locked in hand-to-hand combat as Benaiah fought for his life and the lion fought for a mid-afternoon snack.
As the struggle between man and beast continued, an amazing thing happened. The lion fell into a nearby pit. That’s it. Game over. Benaiah was safe. He could return home to his family and his duties in the king’s army. Benaiah inched up to the pit looked down into the pit and saw a pair of hungry, angry eyes glaring back at him. He turned around and began to walk away. Then he stopped. He made a one-eighty and sprinted towards the pit. And in a move that is not recommended in any of the survival books that tell you what to do when you encounter a lion on a snowy day, Benaiah takes a flying leap into the pit.
I remember the first time I jumped off the high-dive at the community pool. As I plummeted towards the water, I kept thinking to myself, “What on earth was I thinking?” I’d imagine Benaiah had a similar thought after he took that leap into the pit with an angry lion waiting for him at the bottom. “What on earth was I thinking? Normal people don’t chase lions! Maybe my mother-in-law was right and my wife should have married that accountant.”
As he hit the bottom of the pit, he was met with the claw of the lion. The two engaged in hand-to-paw combat and only one would survive this time. Two sets of footprints led into the pit, but only one set of footprints would be walking away. After what surely seemed like an eternity of flailing claws, flying fur, violent yells, and spine-tingling roars, the pit grew silent. It was over. There was a final breath and the victor stood over his opponent. (Pause) And Benaiah climbed up out of the pit and made his way home.
Sounds like an improbable story, doesn’t it? I mean, who in their right mind chases a lion? Who could actually survive such a chase? Well, this story is found in a little-recognized passage in the Old Testament. If you have your Bibles with you, turn to the book of 2 Samuel, chapter 23, beginning at verse 20. 2 Samuel is towards the front of your Bible. It follows the books of Judges and, conveniently enough, 1 Samuel. It immediately precedes the books of 1 & 2 Kings. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. 2 Samuel 23:20 is found on page 287 in that Bible. The books of 1 & 2 Samuel are the accounts of the early kings of the united state of Israel. 2 Samuel focuses primarily on King David, who, even with his faults, is considered the greatest king in the history of Israel. As 2 Samuel comes to a close, the author gives an account of some of David’s mightiest warriors. And verse 20 tells us about one of his most memorable warriors.
Read 2 Samuel 23:20-23
What would this story have been like if Benaiah had merely played it safe? It would have sounded something like this: “Benaiah lived a pretty regular life. He once saw two of Moab’s best men. And one time he came pretty close to a lion. And then there was that Egyptian. He was pretty good with a spear. And Benaiah was amazed when he watched the Egyptian hit his targets with the spear.” Sounds pretty boring, right? There would have been no reason for the author of the books of Samuel to even include Benaiah’s name in the records of the history of Israel. Without the possibility of looking foolish, there is no accomplishment in the end. Without risk, there’s little story. God is telling the story of humanity and He wants you to be part of that story. And some of that story involves risk. There are lions that will come up in our lives and we need to look at them and decide whether they are insurmountable obstacles or merely opportunities in lion’s clothing. Following God involves some measure of risk-taking. Following God involves some measure of lion-chasing.
When you look through the Scriptures, you find that it’s full of stories of people taking a risk because they believed God had called them to do it. Noah built a boat in the middle of the desert because God told him there would be a flood. Over the many years that it took to build the ark, he faced ridicule and harassment from his neighbors because the evidence before them said a flood wasn’t coming. In fact, some scholars think it hadn’t ever rained before the Flood that Noah was preparing for. Precipitation could have occurred merely through dew. If that’s the case, you can hear Noah’s neighbors taunt him, can’t you? “Yeah, right, Noah? Rain? From the sky? What will you think of next? I know! Maybe you think someday people will be able to fly, Noah. Yeah – that’ll be the day!” In the face of daily ridicule, Noah continued to build the ark in preparation for what God had told him. For Noah and his family, following God was risky. So he chased that lion.
Abraham left his family and friends in his hometown and traveled to an unknown land with an unknown culture because God said, “Go to the land that I will show you.” God didn’t even tell him where he was going. He merely said, “I’ll show you when you get there.” And even though it meant isolation from his family, potential economic loss, and maybe even death, Abraham and family picked up stakes and followed the path that God showed them – one step at a time. Talk about taking a risk. Abraham chased the lion.
And the story goes on all through the Old Testament. Moses, Gideon, David, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, and many others are examples of how people took risks and did what God had called them to do – even when the odds seemed stacked against them. The obstacles appeared to be huge and insurmountable. They took the risk. Rather than run away from what seemed like lost causes, they jumped right in, confident that God would remain faithful to the calling He had issued them. They chased lions.
And the story doesn’t in with the Old Testament. When Jesus came to Simon and said “Follow me and you’ll fish for people,” he invited Simon to give up all he had known – the life of a fisherman – and to become a leader in the worldwide revolution known as the church. He took a risk. He chased the lion.
And you see it time and time again in the lives of the Apostles and the members of the early church. They faced the loss of position, power, and possibly even life because of their desire to proclaim the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. And the gospel spread throughout the known world like wildfire. All because the early church took risks. They chased the lion.
And the same happens today. If you are a follower of Christ, then you’re already a lion-chaser. Jesus said that if anyone is to follow Him, that person is to count the cost of what it means to be one of His followers. We’ve allowed people to paint this false picture of what it means to be a Christian. Many people think that to be a follower of Christ means you have to be boring. They think there’s a list of “can’ts” and “don’ts” that dominate your life and you’re simply not allowed to have any fun. And risk-taking? That’s definitely out of the question. Far too many people seem to think that the purpose of the Christian life is to play it safe until Christ comes again. They live like the purpose of life is to arrive safely upon death. So we’re supposed to just sit in our rocking chairs and wait for the end to come. And while we’ve allowed that image to be incorporated into the idea of what it means to be a Christian, the Christian life is hardly that at all. It’s full of unexpected twists & turns. Oswald Chambers says it this way, “To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways; we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness; it should rather be an expression of breathless expectation.” Because following Christ is much more like a roller coaster than a rocking chair. And Jesus tells us that ahead of time. He says it’s going to cost us something. What’s the cost? You have to be willing to abandon everything to follow Him – even your life if necessary. We have to pursue godly passions instead of our own passions. The cost of following Jesus means giving up your rights, dreams, and goals and pursue God-ordained dreams and goals. The cost of following Jesus means we have to serve each other instead of demand we be served. The cost of following Jesus demands, as the hymn says, “my soul, my life, my all.” That’s risky. It’s risky to give up everything the world tells us to hold dear. It’s risky to give up our passions and say to God, “Not my will, but yours.” But that is the cost of following Jesus Christ. And if you’ve decided to follow him, if you’ve decided to place your trust in Him and His grace and forgiveness, then you’ve already chosen to take a risk because your life is not your own anymore. You’re already a Lion Chaser.
Of course, if you haven’t made a conscious decision to become a follower of Christ, he is issuing that invitation to you today. He has a dream for you and your life, full of twists and turns and lions lurking behind some corners. And He will do amazing things to you and through you as you begin to seek Him. All He needs from you is to turn to Him and say, “Yes.” It doesn’t matter what you’ve run away from before or how much you’ve screwed up in your past. He loves you and wants you to be His friend. He was the ultimate Lion Chaser when He sent His Son to the earth to give up His life on the cross in order that we might be saved from certain death. And this was while we were still in the enemy’s camp. This was while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And there was a risk involved there, because it is your decision whether to choose to follow Him or not. It’s your decision whether you’re going to take the plunge into the unknown and begin chasing lions. It’s up to you. But it begins by choosing to follow Christ.
Do you remember how the account of Benaiah ends? It says that he was put in charge of David’s bodyguard. And I’d venture to say the main reason David chose Benaiah is because of his willingness to take risks in spite of the odds – to chase lions into a pit on a snowy day; to fight an Egyptian with his own spear; and to take on to of the best Moabite fighters in a two-on-one grudge match. That’s the kind of background I’d want to have for my bodyguard if I ever needed one: Someone who had already displayed willingness to risk it all. So the risks Benaiah took opened up other opportunities for him later. And the same is true for us. The God-ordained risks that we take open up other amazing opportunities for us later in life. And when we take risks and chase the lion, we give other people the opportunity to see how powerful God is and what He can accomplish. Chasing the lion isn’t about gaining notoriety for ourselves. Chasing the lion is all about what God can do and how God can be glorified through our actions. It’s not about us. It’s all about Him.
And God is big. He’s bigger than any of us can comprehend. Sometimes we look at these Lions – the obstacles in our way – and realize that we can never overcome them because we’re too weak. The thing about being a follower of Christ and a Lion Chaser is that we don’t have to be strong enough. It’s just like the song Virginia sang earlier – we are strong when we are on His shoulders. Our strength comes from Him. And in our weaknesses, God’s strength is even more evident. Sometimes we even need to pursue goals that we know will only be accomplished if God were to intervene. If people know there’s no way an obstacle could be overcome without God’s personal activity, that’s an amazing testimony to His strength and power. It certainly is true that in our weakness, God is strong. And chasing the lion displays that.
As we continue this Chase the Lion series over the next few weeks, we’ll discuss more ways we can seize opportunities that are ahead of us and how God can accomplish amazing things through us if we just get ourselves out of the way and allow Him to work. If you have a sense that God is calling you to do something, don’t let the natural instincts of fear and comfort keep you from following the dream that God has given you. And if you find yourself in a pit with a lion on a snowy day, take the leap and see what God will accomplish through you.