Every step we take has the ability to transform our lives.
We’re continuing this step series, and I get the privilege of sharing with you. What I really want us to sit with in the time we have here is that there are moments in our lives where faith in Jesus means moving into danger rather than away from it. There is something about this faith journey of following Jesus and being willing to move forward with Him that longs to transform us into people who step into situations that our natural instincts would say we should never step near.
I can’t help but be reminded of an incident that happened a number of years ago when my wife and I had the privilege of going to Rwanda and serving these orphans for a number of weeks. We were in Kigali and they had a ranch or complex, and it was gated. They had a security detail in this somewhat small ranch. It wasn’t too small as they had several houses for the orphans. They had a school and a cafeteria on the premises. They have several houses for long-term and short-term missionaries. Also, they had something unique that I wasn’t expecting. They had a wide-open field with soccer goals. There was a small paved track around the dirt, and in the middle of it, there was a pull-up bar. At the time, I had just removed my cast. I had broken my wrist a number of months prior so I was just now starting to be able to do physical activity. I need to do physical activity. It gets me down to normal.
I was looking forward to physical activity. I knew we were going to be in Rwanda, and so when I saw that I was very excited. I decided I didn’t want to draw attention or cause any disruptions in the schedule of the day. I decided to wake up a little earlier and went and did my run. It was nice not to itch inside the cast. Next, I went to the pull-up bar. I had checked with my doctor, “Can I do pull-ups?” He says, “I don’t know. Can you?” I said, “All right, is it okay for me to do them with rehabbing?” He says, “Well, you might want to do one or two, take your time. Don’t push yourself too hard.” So I went for the line, and I started. It had been a number of months since I did any pull-ups and it was hard to do one. But when I got there, I noticed all around the pull-up bar. There are these two posts and then the pull-up bar and there were all these holes in the dirt floor.
Now in the US, those holes mean gophers. I didn’t know what they meant in Africa. Later that day, after doing my routine, I asked one of the kids, between 10 and 14 years old, “Hey, what are those holes around the pull-up bar? What makes those?” He says, “Uncle Lewis, those are snake holes.” They address everybody by uncle or auntie. I said, “Oh, cool.” They were playing around, everything was casual and normal, so I just didn’t make a fuss. I thought, man, they must be gardener snakes or something.
Later that evening I went on wifi, we had wifi in our room, and I looked up what kind of snakes exist in Rwanda? I discovered they’re black mambas. I thought, what? A black Mamba? What are black mamba snakes? I looked it up and saw it was one of the most venomous snakes in the world. It just so happens that Rwanda is one of the few locations in the world where they dominate the landscape. I thought, oh, that’s not good. But I still had this itch. I still needed to do something with my wrist, I was desperate. So I decided I’d create myself a little alarm system. I went and got all these sticks; they had branches and leaves on them. It wasn’t windy. I put the sticks in the holes. I know, foolproof. I figured I’m going to do my pull-ups, and if these branches or sticks move, that means the snake’s coming out of his hole. That’ll give me the opportunity to run away. Escape.
The next day, I did my thing. Later that day, one of the kids comes up to me and says, “Hey, Uncle Lewis, did you put all those sticks?” There were many holes. “Did you put all those sticks?” You could see it, all these sticks, branches, and leaves. “Did you put those in the holes?” I said, “Yeah.” Then they looked at me and they giggled a little bit, and they said, “Uncle Lewis, are you afraid of snakes?” And I said, “No, I’m looking out for the snake.” They clearly saw through it just like you did. They said, “Oh, Uncle Lewis,” and then they decided to equip me with some knowledge, how to survive in this environment. They said, “Uncle Lewis, if a snake comes out of the hole, all you have to do is grab it by the head, squeeze the venom out, and then kill it.” I said, “That’s all I got to do?” “Yeah. If the snake comes out of the hole, you grab it by the head, you make sure the fangs are facing down, you squeeze the back of the head, you see the liquid come out, and then you kill it.” “Huh. Okay.” I have to say, it didn’t really come as naturally to me as it seemed to come to them.
They have a security detail that protects the premises. They were also responsible for protecting the interior of the premises. They had seen men do the very thing they were describing to me. They had seen this modeled to them. To them, this is a part of living in their environment. In many ways, they live in a very dangerous setting. But rather than making the threat they lived in something that dominated them, they decided to live in a way that was aware and courageous in the midst of it, even, indeed, willing to play. It was remarkable.
I remember being moved by it because I have to say, especially early on in my faith journey, having Jesus in my life meant mitigating risk. It meant being protected from failure, danger, disappointment, and heartbreak. I used to think that bringing Jesus into my life meant being insulated from the very reason I came to bring Jesus into my life. That it would prevent any of that to happen ever again. If there was a dangerous environment, Jesus would be the one who would somehow remove the danger. I say this because I think many times we have this common misconception of what it is like to have faith in Jesus. What we don’t understand is that life that does not have fear, experience failure, disappointment, pain, or heartbreak, is a life that doesn’t require faith. When we talk about taking a step where faith gets moving, do you know what we’re really saying? In essence, inherently, what we are saying is that we’re describing a way of life that is in the midst of a dangerous circumstance, that is on the edge of what is possible. That’s the environment of faith, where it’s required. When we say faith is on the move, do you know what we’re saying? We’re saying that there is a degree of hope, courage, and confidence to move into that dangerous situation, circumstance, or environment. It rarely means away from.
Sometimes this is why the people within the scriptures seem so far beyond reach. When we read them, what we are really reading is a people group who are demonstrating what happens when a person lives in an environment where faith must be exercised, for there is no other alternative that is viable. If you open up your handout, there’s this one particular account of a man that I have long admired. Just so we understand what’s happening here is that the chronicler is giving us a snapshot of the type of men king David surrounded himself with. He was known to have The Three, the mighty three, who were his elite forces. He had what was referred to as the 30. Though the number of men was larger than 30, this was the second tier of his military units. Among the 30, what’s highlighted is a certain man named Benaiah. We’re given three snapshots of this man, a summary of sorts, that captured the essence of who this man was.
We read in verse 20, “There was also Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, a valiant warrior from Kabzeel. He did many heroic deeds, which included killing two champions of Moab,” meaning there was a military contest, and he went two versus one. “Another time on a snowy day, he chased a lion down into a pit and killed it.” I’m going to read that again. “Another time on a snowy day, he chased a lion down into a pit and killed it.” If there is one word we would use for this man, we would say crazy. Perhaps we would say ‘unreasonable.’ Some of us would even say ‘foolish.’ But the scriptures say heroic. It must be a typo, but it most certainly is not. It seems that the one who was running away was the lion, not the man. Just so we understand, lions don’t run away. They chase.
This is in a time in history in which it was impossible to have long-range hunting. If you weren’t a bow and arrow type of person, which Benaiah wasn’t, it meant up close and personal. The author makes sure no detail is lost on us and says Benaiah didn’t just chase a lion, he chased the lion on a snowy day. That’s the author’s way of saying a regular day wasn’t hard enough for Benaiah. It needed to be extraordinarily more difficult, challenging, and dangerous. You can just imagine Benaiah chasing a lion. What the lion must have been thinking. What kind of man was Benaiah? That the lion went home for safety instead of chasing Benaiah. This is a picture of what life was like back then, between nations and disputes. We’re told in verses 20 to 21, that once, armed with only a club, he killed an imposing Egyptian warrior who was armed with a spear. That is a warrior who had the ability to lunge from afar. Benaiah drew close, and Benaiah wrenched the spear from the Egyptians hand and ended his life.
In verse 22 we’re told, “Deeds like these made Benaiah as famous as the Three mightiest warriors.” In other words, these three incidents elevated Benaiah above his peers. He wasn’t one of The Three, but it somewhat equalized him with The Three. We’re not really told much about his character, personality, or upbringing. We don’t know his pedigree. No details are given besides the fact that he had three moments in his life of calculated risks. Each of these moments is denoted by his willingness to step into danger. We’re told in verse 23, those three moments transformed him into a man who was more honored than the other members of the 30, all his peers. No one chose this, his peers elevated him and said, “Benaiah has something that’s head and shoulders above us. He is worthy of the honor,” though he was not one of The Three. David made him captain of his bodyguard, which makes sense. If I’m David, I want the most courageous person in the land protecting me and my family. How about you? These three moments, not knowing it actually became moments, stepping moments, to elevate him to the highest position in his career.
Here’s the thing about something like this. This is fine if our natural disposition is faith-oriented, right? There are some people who seem to be naturally courageous. They seem to be people who are born with the gene of courage. Danger wakes them up and they run into it. It’s kind of like the people who are naturally smarter, better looking, and more talented. They all need forgiveness. We need to do it over and over again because I never identified with any of those people. I remember growing up being more able to identify with the group that was naturally not smart. Or the group that naturally was more afraid naturally decided and desired to quit naturally was apt to be shy and quiet and would back away from any challenge. I remember being the boy, the adolescent, and even the young adult who felt, in many ways, insecure and unsure of what it was like to be in my own skin, let alone stepping forward into something dangerous. I remember that. Many times I remember reading passages like these, and sometimes I would say, “Wow, Benaiah, you’re amazing,” and other times I would say, “Man, that’s impossible. If that’s faith, I don’t have enough. because I’m nowhere near that.”
I was reading this book by Mark Batterson, explaining this very incident. He was taking a look at this episode in the scriptures and spoke of something called the butterfly effect. I went ahead and took that excerpt. I decided I’d love to share it with you. He says, “This is why the butterfly effect is something quite important to be aware of. In 1960, an MIT meteorologist named Edward Lawrence made an accidental discovery while he was trying to develop a computer program that could simulate and forecast weather conditions. One day he was in a hurry, and instead of entering .506127, the number he had used in an earlier trial, he rounded to the nearest thousandth, or .506. Lawrence figured that rounding a number to the nearest thousandth would be inconsequential. So he left the lab, went and had a cup of coffee, and when he returned, he found a radical change in the weather conditions. Lawrence estimated that the numerical difference between the original number and the rounded number was the equivalent of a puff of wind created by a butterfly’s wing.
“He concluded that a minor event, like the flapping of a butterfly’s wing, could conceivably alter wind currents sufficiently to eventually change weather conditions thousands of miles away. Lawrence then introduced the scientific community to what is now known as the butterfly effect. This document ended up becoming the foundation for what is now accepted as chaos theory.” I’m no expert in physics by any means, but a rudimentary understanding of chaos theory is that any small change has the capacity to change everything. Therefore, what used to be accepted is that the future is predictable if the variables are all in alignment. But chaos theory says, nope. One minute butterfly flap changes everything.
The future is extraordinarily hard to predict. It’s true in science. It’s true in life. Small changes and small choices become magnified over time and have major consequences. Everything we change changes everything. Too often we fail to connect the dots between choices and consequences. Every choice has a domino effect. It can alter our destiny because faith is a contentious endeavor that pulls us straight out of our comfort and into places that are dangerous to us. Every step we take into the lion’s pit in our lives really doesn’t matter how small that step is, it can transform us. Indeed, it will.
This is why we have to understand that this is not simply something for us to be able to admire, but for us to be able to step into. First, we have to acknowledge our fears. Our fears can chase us wherever we go. They have the ability to hunt us down like a lion. We may not live in a land filled with literal lions as a part of our reality, but we do live in a world where anxiety and fear, both rational and irrational, threats, and reasons to be slightly paranoid, are real. It’s a peculiar time. We have the ability to be able to travel across a country and around the world, in a day. We have the ability and the technological advancement to be able to connect with somebody somewhere else on the planet, be able to see them, and discuss with them as if they were in the room. It’s the most advanced generation we have ever had in human history. Yet, one thing has not been solved; how to outrun our fear. We can uproot ourselves, move with relative ease, and start afresh, but no matter where we go, that lion is there. In a sense, it can be relentless because the environment around us may not be as critical as the environment within us.
John Milton was a 17th-century author. He wrote the epic poem Paradise Lost. Look what he said. He said, “The mind is its own place, and in itself, it is able to make a heaven out of hell, and hell of heaven.” He was touching on a penetrating truth. Do you see it? He was saying the way we think about something has an enormous impact on how we experience it. We can create heaven on earth, which is what many of us seek to do today, and still consider the experience hellish. Or we can experience heaven come to earth in our own lives, and still, something inside of us still gravitates and chooses to focus on the darkness, both out and inward.
It’s an amazing thing, the mind. Perhaps that’s why Jesus didn’t deliver somebody from the need to work, exercise, or live their life and make decisions. Some of the most amazing miracles Jesus performed, did not deliver them from any of those choices or any of those realities. What He did was He would deliver them from the cognitive barrier from their ability to be able to work, to be able to exercise, make good choices, and live their life. He would empower them. Then those who were subjugated, and felt somewhat repressed, all of a sudden, because He stepped into their lives, found themselves in the same environment, but internally revolutionized, and they were different people.
It’s almost as if this is something only Jesus can do in the human soul. He can address the way we think, and the way we see and interpret. Look at what Paul said to the Romans. He says, “I want you to do something, you who are beginning your faith journey. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of the world around you. Don’t let the value systems of your culture, of the environment you live in, dictate how you are to experience or interpret everything going on.” It varies depending on the fad and what’s going on in culture. The winds are fierce. Don’t let that be your guiding point. No. Instead, let God transform you into what? A new person, by changing the way you think. Let Him step into your life, and do you know what will emerge? It will not emerge in terms of what you have seen, it will be completely new if you allow Him to start addressing how you are interpreting everything around you, everything within you.
This matters because faith moves us from being chased. It does. It moves us. Many times. None of us can have a hard time empathizing with what it is like to be afraid of our fears catching up to us, and fulfilling their darkest desires upon us. It is there many times. That is where faith begins. We are used to running. But it will do something to us. It will start to navigate our soul, to become people who face our lions, no longer run away, but face them. That in itself is an enormously courageous, huge accomplishment. But faith doesn’t stop there. No. This journey, do you know what it does? I have this picture in my mind of running away, choosing to stop, and face. Something within us starts to be impacted, inspired, and strengthened. We become those who run after our lions. Because He longs to make us into people who are able to chase down our lion.
I know this is conjecture. There’s nothing I can verify this with, but I am convinced Benaiah didn’t start out chasing lions. I think he started out much in the typical way of any Israelite in his day. Living in an environment where his livestock was under constant threat, and where lions were a part of his everyday experience. I think he was somewhat tormented by the lion. I think he experienced what it was like to suffer loss from the lion. I think he saw what the lion was capable of, and over time, he got fed up. I think something inside of him decided, “I’m no longer going to be tormented by this roaring beast.” Something inside of him decided not to simply stop and defend. But something inside of him decided to put an end to it. Rather than simply protecting himself and those that he cared for, he decided to take steps toward becoming the one who chased the lion.
We don’t know where this all began. We do know how it ended. It ended on a snowy day with a lion running away from a man who seemed mad with courage. A man who was no longer allowed to live in fear, or in the shadow of it. Wondering every morning if his livestock was okay. He decided, “I’m ending this. I’m going to find out where you are, and I’m going to the root system. I’m going to your dwelling, and I’m going to take care of it. Today, it ends.” Now, if that’s us and that’s where He’s calling us, I have to ask a couple of things. What are the lions in our lives, and where do they live? There are some things we’re running away from that we need to run toward. Is it a conversation that we know we need to have, but we’re so afraid of getting mauled? Is it extending the risk of unlocking the jail cell of resentment, bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness, stepping out and saying, “I take the risk. I forgive you.”
Is it seeking to reconcile? Is it that we have a dream, desire, or goal that’s so overwhelming to us that we would rather become distracted with all kinds of different endeavors, and something inside of us gets zapped because we’re seeking to do what we can do, not what we cannot do, unless we have a God who is powerful enough to help us do it. There is something inside of us that requires us to eliminate distractions. Be able to pursue the very thing that we have been designed to do. Is it that? I don’t know. I don’t know, but I want to ask, what are the lions in our lives that we do not engage because we believe it’s of no use? What are the ridiculous prayers that we need to utter in order to see God move in our lives? What are they? What are the challenges we are facing, where it seems like the smart thing to do is to play it safe? God calls us to recognize He is infinite; He is capable. He is able to do miraculous things. He is able to transform us, help us gain traction, and have breakthroughs. He is able to strengthen us and help us set our face upon what He desires for us. His best for us. He has given us the ability to generate courage within, to move forward, but He allows us to make the choice to do it.
I will never forget the beginning of one of my semesters in my graduate studies. The professor had us all pull out a piece of paper and said, “Listen, I’m going to have you do this as an exercise. You’re not going to have to share it with anybody. In fact, some of you guys can throw it away, you can shred it, you can burn it after if you’d like, but you need to do this exercise.” He says, “Now, what I want you to do, all of you, is I want you to write down your greatest fear, or your greatest struggle in your faith journey. Go ahead and write that down.” Then he said something that I went ahead and wrote down. When he said it, it stuck with me. I still remember it. The professor had us write down our greatest fear, our greatest point of struggle in our faith journey, and then he said, “Any gains you make in that area will have exponential impact in every area of your life. A stride won, a step taken into the fear or struggle, will compound your level of confidence in God. It will increase the courage you exercise in every other role you operate in.”
What he was saying was, you might live your life well and good in some areas, but there is that one area. It torments you. He’s saying one step in the direction of chasing that lion will require so much faith inside your soul, you will discover what it is like to step into courage. Every step you take toward that, well, when you start to discover that He meets you there and He does not just meet you there, but He helps you take progressive steps forward to overcome and silence it. Then be on the other side of it, how much courage do you think you will operate within the areas you may not think you need it?
We could do that. This is what He desires for us to do. We have faith to chase our lions because Jesus is the ultimate lion chaser. He is the one who chased down His lion. What did He chase down on the cross in His burial and resurrection? What did He overcome? He overcame shame. We’re told that on the cross He endured for the shame of it because of what was up ahead. So that any who called on His name would not need to hear the fearful whisper that they are not good enough. If they call on Jesus’ name, who is good enough, who died for anyone who would say, I’m not good enough, that is enough. Shame has been silenced. It’s gone.
What else did Jesus overcome? What lion did He chase down into the pit? When He died on that cross, every single one who followed Him and believed in Him thought that was game over. It’s over, it’s done. Three days later, He shows up and gives them the promise of eternal life, both here, now, and everlasting. He converted, by His very presence, of overcoming death itself. The scriptures say it lost its sting. All of a sudden, a group of very fearful and terrified men and women became a group of men and women who saw Him. They saw what He had overcome, and became people who said, “You know what? We will speak about this one, and we will do it in dangerous places. We will do it in resistance. We will do it in the midst of a people who may not totally believe or understand, but we’ll do it lovingly. We’ll do it gently. We’ll do it with grace because that is what we have received.”
That is an amazing transformation. If you think about it, do you know what He ultimately overcame? He overcame the darkness both within and without. The scriptures say He disarmed rulers and authorities and put them open shame by triumphing over them. What does that mean? It means that even in the darkest hour of His life, He didn’t allow that darkness to prevail, extort, undermine, blackmail, or overcome Him. Even in His darkest hour what did He do? He uttered words of grace and forgiveness, triumphing over the very hatred of the people who nailed Him. He said, “Father, please forgive them.” Even when He was being mocked, one who turned to Him and said, “Will you remember me,” he says, “In paradise, He will be today.” We have overcome. It’s a remarkable thing.
He did this so that any of us who call on His name are able to be filled with a love that will never leave nor forsake. All of a sudden we start to understand. The challenges we face are not meant to destroy us. They are meant to strengthen us. When we experience pain, failure, or setback, it’s not meant to defeat us, but to teach us, empower us, and draw us closer to Him. It transforms everything. Everything.
John said, When we experience that love in our hearts, such love, it has no fear. Perfect love expels it. It chases it away. If we are afraid, it’s because we think we’re going to be punished. If we think this way, it’s because we have not fully experienced the love that He longs to give us. If we experience His love, penetrating deep into our soul, we will understand that where we are, the environment we might be in, might be the very environment where He says, “Exercise your faith and I will show you how to overcome.” The danger we perceive might be the very thing He’s saying, “Step into that, and you’ll see how strong my love for you is. I’ll give you the strength to move into it, to be a vessel of it, to overcome it.” He longs to make His people chase our lions. We don’t run from them. We face them, and we chase them.
Father, I thank you, you are the one who sees our soul. You see the thoughts, the anxieties, you see our lives completely. I thank you, you never back down from doing everything it takes for us to be convinced that you love us, that you are for us, not against us. That you will never abandon nor leave us, but you meet us, transform us, and help us step into different things around us. I pray that you will give us the courage we need. Help us stop running, start facing. Help us become people who chase. In Jesus’ name, Amen.