Robert Jeffress - Bend, Don't Break
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. It's been said that the best ability is flexibility. I'm not talking about compromising your convictions, but rather I'm talking about releasing your grip on the things you can't control. You know, when our plans don't materialize, when difficult people throw us a curve ball, sometimes the healthiest choice is to simply go with the flow. And the same principle applies with our Christian walk. Any time we're facing spiritual oppression, flexibility isn't a luxury, it's essential for survival. My message is titled "Survival Tip #6: Bend, But Don't Break" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Setting out from Mexico on November the 18th 2012, Salvador Alvarenga, along with his fishing companion, Ezequiel Cordoba, fired up the motor on his skiff, a 25 foot open boat canoe, and he surfed over the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean as they came rolling onto the beach. His boat was weighed down with 1.000 pounds of fishing equipment, including a five foot by four foot ice box that he hoped to fill with tuna, shark, and mahi-mahi. Though Alvarenga was aware of approaching storms, he ignored the warnings. He calculated that one day of good fishing would net him enough money to live on for an entire week. To him, that was worth the gamble. When they were about 75 miles offshore, Alvarenga and his friend Cordoba began to let out their two mile long fishing line. The seas were calm until around one in the morning, then the wind picked up, waves began crashing over the sides of the boat, filling it with water. Alvarenga tried to pull in the fishing line, but more water was coming over the sides than Cordoba could bail out.
Alvarenga had no choice, he had to cut the fishing line and race toward home. With dawn approaching, Alvarenga and Cordoba could see mountains on the horizon. Then their motor coughed and finally died. Alvarenga yanked on the cord, nothing. He yanked again, and this time the cord broke. As the ocean raised and dropped the skiff, the two men saw the mountains disappear as the boat floated away from shore. The storm raged for five days. After constant bailing, both men were exhausted. They had drifted some 280 miles from the Mexican shoreline. Rescue seemed nearly impossible. Since the skiff sat so low in the water, it would be extremely difficult for anyone to spot it, and they had no flare fun or other means to call for help, they were at the mercy of the sea. The sun baked their skin during the day, and to fend off the cold at night, Alvarenga and Cordoba climbed into the ice box for warmth. Finding fresh water was an immediate concern.
Thankfully, a few days after the storm, it rained again. The men laid out plastic bottles they had collected floating in the ocean, and collected about five gallons of fresh water. Eating what they could catch by hand from the sea, and the occasion seabird that landed on the skiff, was just enough to stave off starvation as the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months. Alvarenga established a routine to keep himself and Cordoba alive. Alvarenga was always awake by five A.M., checking the traps he had put out the night before. To escape the brutal sun, they climbed in the ice box. At night, they laid face up and drew doodles in the sky.
Then things went from bad to worse. One evening, the two men ate a seabird. Cordoba grabbed his stomach and frothed at the mouth. Inspecting the bird, they discovered the bird had eaten a poisonous snake. Though Cordoba's stomach got better, he never recovered psychologically. Within a couple of months of not eating, Cordoba had physically shriveled up. "Goodbye, friend," Cordoba said as he began to throw himself over the side of the skiff. Alvarenga caught him, wrestled him into the ice box, and sat down on the lid. When Cordoba calmed down, Alvarenga laid down next to his friend. "We have to fight to tell our story," but it was too late.
Cordoba died a few days later. With the death of friend, Alvarenga concentrated on keeping himself occupied. He hunted turtles and seabirds, he trapped fish, and he designed a shark detection system that permitted him to take short swims to wash and cool himself. What got him through the lonely hours, however, was the thought of his daughter, and the growing sense that the Lord must have some reason for his life. Then, on January the 30th 2014, after more than a year afloat in the skiff, Alvarenga noticed coconuts bobbing in the water, and the sky filled with shorebirds. In the distance, he could just make out a tiny island. When he was about 10 yards from the shore, Alvarenga dove into the sea and let the waves carry him to shore, gripping what he later called a handful of sand that seemed like treasure. He had washed ashore on the Ebon Atoll, the southern tip of the Marshall islands, one of the most remote spots in all the earth. Had he missed this tiny speck of land, the next likely stop was the Philippines, 3.000 miles away.
Salvador Alvarenga is a perfect illustration of the survival tip we're talking about today. In our series "Courageous", we're talking about 10 survival tips that allow us to thrive in an increasingly hostile world. How did Salvador Alvarenga survive in that hostile environment? He illustrates the important principle of bending without breaking, bending without breaking. You know, there's an African proverb that says, "The wind doesn't break the tree that bends". The key is to have enough elasticity in it to bend without breaking. We have another word for that elasticity, we call it resiliency. Resiliency is the ability of something to bend without breaking, and once the pressure is off, to return to its original form. That's important in every area of life, including survival.
Jesus said in John 16:33, "In this world you will have tribulation". That word tribulation means pressure. You're gonna have pressure in this world, you're gonna suffer storms if you're going to be in this world. And make no mistake about it, Jesus planned for us to live in this world. In John 17:15, he said, "Father, I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one". The part of the price of living in this world is storms. Now, storms come from a variety of sources, some storms are a result of strained relationships and broken relationships, some of the storms that come into our life are the result of our job or our financial situation. Illness is another storm that everybody goes through at some point in their life. But there's a particular kind of storm, difficulty, that we're talking about today.
Again, this series "Courageous" is about living your faith courageously in spite of a hostile environment. We're living in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christianity, and the kind of storm we're talking about today is the storm of persecution for your faith. Whenever you face opposition, you have to be able to do so by bending without breaking. Jesus promised opposition. In John 15:18-20, he said, "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own, but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you".
When Jesus talks about the world, he's not talking about the planet earth, he's talking about the world system that's under Satan's control right now, that world system that controls every seat of power in the world today, that world system that is based on man's values and not God's values, it is opposed to God, and therefore it is opposed to you if you try to follow God. You should not be surprised when you face opposition. But when we talk about resiliency, we're talking about how you respond to that opposition to your faith. Resiliency is about how you maintain your convictions in face of opposition. Now, I could point to all kind of cultural examples of people being persecuted for their faith.
Do you remember Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker of the masterpiece bakeshop who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay ceremony? He wasn't refusing to serve gay people, he invited gay people into his place of business. But he did not feel right using his creativity to make a special wedding cake for a gay couple, and you know what happened, the Colorado board of labor sued him into oblivion, they demanded that he go through a reeducation program to rid himself of his so-called homophobic beliefs. I mean, that's like China, going through a reeducation program. And he was on his way to having to do that til thank God the supreme court intervened, and this new supreme court that is conservative upheld his first amendment rights, and we praise God for that.
But that wasn't the end of the story. This week, he was hauled into court again, this time because he wouldn't bake a cake for a transgender individual who wanted to have a transgender celebration about his confusion over whether he was male or female. And because Jack Phillips wouldn't use his gift to make that cake, he is now once again being sued again. I mean, you see that everywhere in the culture, but you don't have to look at the culture to find opposition, just look in your own life. If you are standing for Christ, you're gonna suffer opposition and persecution from your employer, perhaps even from your own family members.
I know some of you, because I've talked to you and counseled with you, you're trying to take a stand for Christ in your family, and you're being shunned by certain members of your family because you will not compromise your convictions that are based in God's will. As this world becomes increasingly hostile to the things of God, we've got to know how to handle that opposition. And the key is to learn to bend without breaking.
You know, Paul offered some great advice on how to handle opposition in a hostile environment, and it's found in Romans 12. Look at Romans 12, would you, for just a moment? Verses 17 to 21. These are words that are seldom read and seldom understood if they are read. Look at what Paul says in verse 17, he said, "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him drink, for in doing so you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good". Whenever we face opposition from individuals, we're not to seek vengeance. Instead, in Romans 12:14, a few verses earlier, he said, "Bless those who persecute you, bless and curse not".
That word bless literally means to speak well of, to praise. What Paul is saying is with everything you have, seek to be a peacemaker, even when you're facing opposition. Jesus said in Matthew 5:9, "Blessed are the peacemakers". But notice what Paul also says in verse 18, "If possible, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men". It's not always possible to be at peace with everyone, including those who are opposing you in your faith. Yes, Jesus says I'd like you to be a peacemaker, but he had some other words about that as well in Matthew 10:34 and 35. He said, "Do not think I came to bring peace on earth, I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father and daughter," that's a good father's day verse. "For I came to set a man against his father, and daughter against her mother, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law".
Yes, family is important, but there's something more important than harmony in the family, and that is fidelity to the truth of God's word. And the truth is going to divide sometimes. So he said when you can, be at peace, but sometimes you can't be at peace with all people. Well then, how are we to live in a world that is opposed to our faith? Notice two characteristics of peacemakers. First of all, peacemakers don't take their own revenge. Verse 19, "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord".
I wanna make two observations about that verse. First of all, Paul is referring to personal offenses, not spiritual convictions. When he says don't seek revenge, don't fight back, he's talking about in the area of your rights. He's not talking about your convictions. You can give up your rights as a Christian, you're never to give up your convictions, big difference. I saw a clip this week from the view, they were talking about Jack Phillips, and they said, these so-called Christians on the view, well, he oughta just go ahead and bake that wedding cake, that's what Jesus would've done. He should serve them. Here's a good piece of advice, don't take your theological consulting or opinions from the view, don't look to the view for any interpretation of the Bible. That's what a lot of people think though, they think oh yeah, we oughta be like Jesus, you know, washing people's feet, let's just go ahead and bake the cake, and what's the big deal?
Here's what the big deal is, marriage is a sacred institution that was created by God to illustrate the union between Christ and his church. That is why it is a holy, sacred picture, a relationship between a man and a woman is the picture of Christ and the church. And to do anything to defile that picture is an abomination to God. And that's why you have no choice but to not be a part of something like that. I can't tell you the people in our church who've asked me, we have a relative who is gay, and we wanna show love to that gay person, and they've invited us to their wedding, should we go or not go? That's an increasing issue that families are facing. Look, you can be kind and loving and should be, and there's no reason ever to be hateful and so forth, but to participate in a ceremony that is an abomination to God that destroys the picture of Christ and his church is something that no Christian should ever be a part of.
We can give up our rights, but we do not give up our convictions. That's an important distinction there. Secondly, we are to surrender our desire for vengeance, but not for justice. When Paul says don't take your own revenge, he's saying don't try to pay back somebody for doing you wrong. You know what vengeance is? Vengeance is my desire to hurt you for hurting me, he said don't seek your own vengeance, let God settle the score for you. He can do it much more effectively than you can, don't seek your own revenge, but you can give up your desire for revenge, but you don't give up your desire for justice. Justice is the payment that God or others may exact from those who wrong you.
I think about the apostle Paul, we'll talk more about this in a moment, but you know he was falsely accused, sent on his way to prison for something that he didn't do, and he didn't hang his head down and say you know what? I guess that's God's will for me to suffer. No, he fought that injustice, he spent two years tied up in the legal system in order to fight for his rights as a Roman citizen. Vengeance is trying to pay back evil for evil, we don't do that, but that doesn't mean we give up our desire for justice.
Secondly, Paul says peacemakers seek the good of their enemies, they seek the good of their enemies. Look at verses 20 to 21, Romans 12, "But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink, for in doing so you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good". You wanna surprise your enemies? Do something good for them. Why should you do something good for them? Well, he says because you will heap burning coals upon their head. Some people misinterpret that, they say oh, I get it, if I do something good for them, it's gonna make them feel so wretched and lousy, it'll make them suffer for what they're doing to me, I wanna make 'em feel worse, yeah, I'll bake 'em a cake, or do something else for 'em.
That's not the point. The idea is not to make them feel bad so that they can suffer for doing wrong to you, the idea of setting heaping coals on their head is when you do something good for somebody who has wronged you, that brings them under conviction, conviction that will lead them to eternal life, and that's what it means to love your enemies. It doesn't mean to wanna hang around them, it doesn't mean to enjoy being around them, it means wanting God's best for their life. And the best thing that could happen to your enemy is for them to come to faith in Christ, and in one way you help that to happen is by doing good instead of evil for those who wrong you.