Mark Batterson - Pick a Fight
On September 7th, 1892, a boxer named "Gentleman" Jim Corbett got into the ring with arguably the greatest boxer of all time, John L. Sullivan, was the last heavyweight champion of bare knuckle boxing, and the first heavyweight champion of glove boxing. In 50 fights, Sullivan was undefeated. "Gentlemen" Jim Corbett did what no one had done before, he knocked Sullivan out in the 21st round. He became known as the man who beat the man. Hmm, that's what I'm talking about. Now that may be his most famous fight, but in my unprofessional opinion, it's not his most impressive. The year before winning the heavyweight championship of the world, Corbett fought his cross town rival, Peter "Black Prince" Jackson, professional boxing matches are now limited to 12 rounds, Corbett and Jackson went 61 rounds, and get this, it ended in a draw.
How do you come out of the corner 61 times? Well, Corbett had a motto, see if you can figure it out? "When your arms are so tired that you can hardly lift your hands to come on guard, fight one more round. When your nose is bleeding and your eyes are black, and you're so tired that you wish your opponent would crack you one on the jaw and put you to sleep, fight one more round. The man who fights one more round is never whipped". Can I challenge you this weekend? Maybe your marriage is on the ropes, maybe it's your mental health, or physical health, maybe it's an addiction that keeps knocking you down, or trauma that triggers you, or temptation that punches below the belt, pun intended. I know some of you have taken some punches. Some days it feels like a dogfight, does it not? Am I in the right room? It feels like the 61st round.
Can I challenge you? Fight one more round. You have to fight for your health, you have to fight for your marriage, you had to fight for your kids, you have to fight you for your convictions, you have to fight for silence, and solitude, and Sabbath, you have to fight for a hundred other things. If you want to make or break a habit, you have to fight for it. You got to come out of your corner and get some counseling, you got to come out of your corner and get on your knees, you got to come out of your corner and build an altar. Welcome to National Community Church, whether you're in person, you're online, we're in a series called Do It For a Day, show me your habits and I'll show you your future. For better or for worse, you are what you repeatedly do. Destiny is not a mystery, destiny is daily habits. You have to make and break the habits that make or break you. Habit formation is spiritual formation.
Now the challenge last week was pick a habit, any habit, and we talked about domino habits, do you remember that? Domino habits? Here are some of the habits that you are making and breaking during this series. Get to work a half hour early to pray for my coworkers. Work on my business plan 15 minutes a day. Put away technology from the time I get home until my kids go to bed. Do 32 pushups every day. Don't eat after 6:00 PM. Take over the world one day at a time, just kidding, read my Bible daily. I love it. Intentional connection with my wife and kids, along with a hug. Stop pulling out my hair and start relieving stress with stretching. Well, it's not too late to get in on that habit challenge. You can visit NCC.RE/domino. And our team wants to be praying for you as you make or break these habits. So in person, online, you let us know what habits you're making or breaking, we're going to pray with you and for you.
So challenge last week was pick a habit, the challenge this week is pick a fight. If you have a Bible you can meet me in Micmash. It's seven miles north of Jerusalem, it's the 10th century BC, and the Israelites are at war with their arch enemies, the Philistines. Shocking, I know, right? The Philistines hold the high ground, but one act of courage turns the tide. And I love the way this story starts, two words, one day. Hmm, whenever I see one day in the Bible, I start getting excited because today could be the day. There are decades when nothing happens and there are days when decades happen, and this is one of those days. "One day Jonathan said to his armor bearer, come on, let's go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side. But Jonathan did not tell his father what he was going to do".
Now his father of course is king Saul, verse two. "Meanwhile, Saul was camped on the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate granite tree at Migron. With him were about 600 men". Now just widen the aperture a little bit, the Israelites are at war, it just seems to me like the commander in chief, the king Saul ought to be on the front lines, but he's on the sidelines, popping pomegranate seeds. I love pomegranate seeds, this is the picture of passivity. 600 soldiers twiddling their thumbs. Verse four, "To reach the Philistine outpost, Jonathan had to go down between two rocky cliffs that were called Bozez and Seneh. The cliff on the north was in front of Micmash, and the one on the south was in front of Geba. Jonathan said to his young armor bearer, come, let's go over to the outposts of these uncircumcised men", and here it is, I love this, "Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf".
Can I just read that twice? "Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving whether by many or by few". We'll come back to verse six, but let me show you a picture to put this into perspective. We don't know exactly where Jonathan climbed the cliff, but this is looking east near Micmash, and I mean, come on, that topography is no joke, right? I mean, and he's going to climb it free solo. Verse seven, "Do what you think is best, the armor bearer replied, I am with you heart and soul. Jonathan said, come on then, we'll cross over toward them and sneak up on them". Oh wait, no, "We'll cross over toward them and let them see us".
I am no expert military strategy, but it just seems to me like you are losing the element of surprise, and doesn't seem like the best strategy to start with, and it gets worse. Verse nine, "If they say to us, wait there until we come to you, we will stay where we are and not go up to them. But if they say come up to us, we will climb up because that will be our sign that the Lord has given them into our hands". Okay, if I'm making up the signs, I'm doing the exact opposite. If they come down to us, that'll be our sign. Then it's a fair fight, then it's a level playing field, better yet, if they fall off the cliff, that'll be our sign, right? Question, you ever gone climbing? Where are my rock climbers? My wall climbers? Let me see your hands.
My son Josiah went to a climbing gym this week and his forearms were almost unusable for several days. And the first time I went, I mean, you know, consider myself somewhat athletic. In fact, the older you get, the better you were, right? Climbing is humbling, it's humbling. All I know is this, the last thing you want to do if you're getting into a sword fight where you got to use your forearms, the last thing you want to do is climb a cliff right before a sword fight, okay? Let me fast forward to verse 13, I'll give you the cliff notes, thank you, pun intended. Verse 13, "So they climbed up using both hands and feet, and the Philistines fell before Jonathan. Suddenly, panic broke out in the Philistine army, both in the camp and in the field. So the Lord saved Israel that day and the battle continued to rage even beyond Beth-Aven".
So Jonathan picks a fight at Micmash, but check this out, that the Israelites are victorious all the way to Beth-Aven. That's a Northern border of the tribe of Benjamin, and the significance of that is this, when you pick a fight, it has a domino chain reaction. When you experience a victory, please hear me right now, you now have authority in that area of your life and you need to exercise that authority for other people. Because your testimony is someone else's prophecy. If God did it for you, he can do it for them. If God did it before, he can do it again. Four challenges this weekend, you'll see them on the screen, and they actually double as days in the book, we're going to give you a copy of the book next week. If you're in person, you'll get a hard copy, if you're online, you're going to get an audio book, do it scared, is day 12, do it difficult, day 15, do it different, day 21, do it now, day 23. We'll talk about those four challenges in just a second.
A few years ago, I was at the national prayer breakfast, happened to be on a panel with Bob Goff. Bob Goff is one of my favorite people on the planet, full of life, full of joy, full of love. And he pulled a "Gentlemen" Jim Corbett, he said to all of us in that room, pick a fight. Hmm, what are you talking about? Well, extrapolate it, pick a fight with injustice. Pick a fight with poverty, pick a fight with anything that's outside God's good, pleasing, and perfect will. To quote the late John Lewis, "Get in some good trouble".
Can I let you in our little secret here, if you're to going make or break a habit, you're going to have to pick a fight. But at some point enough is enough, you cannot maintain the status quo any longer. The pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change, that's when, and where, and why you need to pick a fight. There is a sin of silence, you know, it's not saying what needs to be said. Now, no one wins shouting match, yeah? So we need to speak the truth to power, but as followers of Christ, we speak the truth in love. And there's also a sin of toleration, it's not doing what needs to be done. "If you know the good you ought to do", James 4:17, "But you don't do it, for you it's sin". Indecision is a decision, inaction is an action. Goodness is not the absence of badness, you can do nothing wrong and still do nothing right. May we be more known for what we're for than what we're against.
Now, let me push that envelope a little bit, whatever you tolerate will eventually dominate. Give the enemy inch, he'll take a mile. All the enemy wants in your life is a foot hole because he knows that that foothold will eventually turn into a strong hold. Can I get into our business a little bit, this weekend, is that alright? Don't tolerate abuse, don't tolerate a bad attitude, don't tolerate a seed of bitterness, don't tolerate entitlement, or ingratitude, or hundreds of other things that are outside God's good, pleasing, and perfect will. While we're on the subject, don't submit to addiction or temptation, don't submit to other people's labels or the enemy's lies, don't don't submit to anything that is outside God's will. Submit to God and those things will begin to submit to you, that's not name it, claim it, that's exercising your authority as a child of God. And that's where God's taking us. We're going to exercise our faith and we're going to exercise our authority.
Four challenges, one, do it's scary. Now there is no way Jonathan is not scared, but he doesn't let fear dictate his decisions. Hold that thought. Verse six, one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible, "Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf". It's almost like a mission statement. It's a modus operandi, it's the way Jonathan is wired, but if we're being honest, I think most people have the opposite MO, perhaps the Lord won't act on my behalf. And so instead of playing to win, we play not to lose, right? Instead of operating and exercising our faith, we let fear dictate our decisions. We let fear eat the soul, just in case you're wondering. Don't let fear dictate your decisions. At some point you have to do it scared.
The psychologist, Carl Young said something so insightful I think it's worth putting on the screen, "Find out what a person fears most, and that is where he will develop next". According to psychologists, we're only born with two fears, fear of falling, fear of loud noises. Every other fear is learned, which means every other fear can be unlearned. 1 John 4:18 says, "Perfect love casts out all fear". When we get a revelation of God's love, the net result is fearlessness. Because if you fear God, and the Hebrew translation there would be reverence, or I like to think of it as a sanctified shock and awe, God's holiness, his power, his mercy. When you get a revelation of God's love, you don't have to fear anything else. Question, what do you fear the most? That takes some work, you have to name it if you're going to deal with it. What do you fear the most? Maybe, just maybe that's where God wants to grow you. Maybe, just maybe that's where God wants to love you.
Do it scared too, do it difficult. In 1987, a group of engineers, entrepreneurs, or scientists built an artificial ecosystem in Oracle, Arizona. The Biosphere 2 encompasses 3.14 acres, it's the largest closed system ever created, designed as the ideal ecosystem for plant life to thrive. That climate controlled environment includes purified air, clean water, nutrient rich soil, and natural light. Despite seemingly perfect conditions, something curious kept happening. The trees would grow to a certain height and they would fall over. Weird, right? Well, the scientists finally figured out what was missing, the biosphere lacked a critical component for growth. Anybody want to venture a guess? Yeah, in their natural habitat trees experience wind resistance. And when the wind blows, it bends those trees, and it's the wind resistance that forces those trees to shoot their roots into the ground so that it can grow taller, and taller, and taller. See, without adversity, those trees atrophy.
Last time I checked, it's true of people. One of the mistakes we make as parents, as leaders is this, we do everything within our power to create these emotional, and relational, and spiritual biospheres. We avoid conflict, we mitigate risk, we minimize discomfort, and then we wonder why people grow to a certain stature and stop. We wonder why leaders fall, we wonder why there's a falling out in relationships. Maybe because it's like that seed that was planted on rocky soil, it lacks the root system to sustain the growth.
I know a lot of people have been following Christ for 25 years, but they don't have 25 years of experience, they have one year of experience repeated 25 times. Most of us are educated way beyond the level of our obedience already. We don't need to know more, we need to do more with what we know. See here's the problem, we're so anxious to get out of difficult situations that we never get anything out of difficult situations. When Laura was diagnosed with cancer in 2017 she read a piece of poetry that posed a question. What have you come to teach me? That's a difficult question to ask, but it's a critical question because you have to learn the lesson, you have to curate the change, you have to cultivate the character, you have to kiss the wave.
That's habit number two in "Do It for a Day". "I've learned to kiss the wave", said Charles Spurgeon, "That throws me against the rock of ages". By the way, one of our youth pastors, pastor Mandy gave me a sticker this week, and it was another Spurgeon quote, might be my new favorite, "There is hardship in everything", said Spurgeon, "Except eating pancakes". Hard to argue with that, especially with pure maple syrup, can I get an amen? Alright, another question, what makes us think we can become like Jesus without being betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, tempted by the enemy in the wilderness, mocked by the Pharisees, or crucified by those who hate us? Life isn't easy, life isn't fair, sometimes, come on, you have to do it difficult. The apostle Paul said it this way, Romans 5:3-4, "We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope".
Do it scared, do it difficult, number three, do it different. Now when it comes to making or breaking habits, sometimes the solution is trying harder, sometimes the solution is trying longer, but sometimes the solution is trying different. Like we want God to do something new while we keep doing the same old thing, right? It doesn't work that way. Now, if you're going to do a different, you're going to have to dare to be different. Most translations titled this passage of scripture, Jonathon's daring plan. But come on, let's be honest. Most of us subconsciously think of Christianity as an insurance plan. Well, it's a daring plan, it takes guts to obey God, it takes some blood, sweat, and tears too.
Can I remind us that we as Christ followers are a peculiar people. I'm not sure it's our favorite moniker, but 1 Peter 2:9 calls us, "A chosen people, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people". What does that mean? It means we walk to the beat of a different drummer, means we operate in the opposite spirit. We talked about habits switching last week, do you remember this and these six counter habits that are in the sermon on the Mount? Love your enemies, pray for those that persecute you, bless those who curse you, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give the shirt off your back. There's nothing normal about that, that is peculiar. But what we do is we do things that provoke questions for which the answer is the gospel.
You got to dare to be different, let me close at number four. Do it now, the first step is always the hardest step, you have to overcome inertia with initiative, you have to overcome fear with faith, and I don't have any easy answers here, but from personal experience, the longer you wait, the harder it gets. Hard conversations only get harder, hard decisions only get harder, and delayed obedience is disobedience. A little bit of tough love right here. George Bernard Shaw said, "People are always blaming their circumstances. I don't believe in circumstances. People who get on in the world are people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them".
I want to be careful here, please hear my heart, we have to be careful not to use our personality as an excuse. Use it as motivation. We have to be careful not to use our circumstances as an excuse, use it as motivation. There are people that are in some really difficult circumstances, it's a much harder climb, yes, and so I'm not making light of that, but at some, one way or the other, you have to pick a fight. If you wait until you're ready, you're going to be waiting the rest of your life. If you wait for the perfect situation, you're going to be waiting the rest of your life. At some point, you got to climb that cliff, you start serving, you start counseling, you start praying, start dieting, start tithing, start dating, start running, start reading.
We can keep going, but there's something that you need to initiate. You need to do it now. Now I know that your circumstances are as unique as you are in, and you have to trust God's timing, but we also need to exercise faith. Dr. King, pretty good at picking fights, getting into good trouble. He said this, "We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life, there is such a thing as being too late. So my question is this, if not now, when"? This is the day that decades happen, fight one more round.
Lord Jesus, I pray that you would help each one of us in the fight that we're in. It's as unique as we are. But God I believe that your Holy Spirit can help us right here, right now. Oh God, would you give us faith to exercise your authority? No weapon formed against us will prosper. We do not fight with weapons of this world, we fight with weapons that have the power to demolish divine strongholds. And so Lord, let us be a people that pray, let us be a people that believe you for miracles, let us be a people that don't stay in the corner, that don't stay on the mat when we get knocked down. Oh God, let us be a people that fight for what is right. The apostle Paul said, I have fought the good fight. Lord Jesus, some of us are in the fight of our life right now, fighting for something that's precious to us, fighting for something that seems lost, fighting for something that we don't know how it's going to happen. God, I pray that you would help us with the Holy Spirit's help to fight one more round, in Jesus name, amen.