About Shawn Bergen

A husband, father of three, a pastor at Providence Church, armed with the Gospel, and living in Southwest Florida.

Should We Let Prayer Meetings Go Away?

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Praying is a hard spiritual discipline. No one will argue with that.

And the church “prayer meeting” has never been less popular in America since the First Great Awakening of the 18th Century. If your church still has them, statistically it will be the least attended church event in the 21st Century.

But do we even need Prayer Meetings? I mean, are they essential for what God is doing in the world today?

Puritan pastor and theologian John Owen is know for saying, “A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more.”

In that same vein, someone else once said, “A church may be filled, but what that church is on their knees together before God, that they are and no more.” Ouch!

According to Jesus, to some degree the mission He has given His disciples cannot be accomplished without prayer. When the disciples who had been commissioned by Jesus to heal and cast out demons came back wondering why they had been unsuccessful, Jesus questioned their faith and said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29). So Jesus taught that faith and obedience in the Christian life needs a life of prayer for its full growth.

Therefore, A praying church plays a crucial part in the Great Commission.

The Apostle Paul wrote, For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

  1. The Great Commission is a very difficult task, v8-10.

Paul is reporting back to a church he planted as he lived out the Great Commission.  As we see from Paul’s words, this is a very difficult task. Its one reason you don’t want to IMG_2149be a “Lone Ranger” Christian. You do not want to do this alone because it’s difficult. Sometimes following Christ and being obedient to the Great Commission feels like a sentence of death (9).

Making disciples is a life and death mission.  That’s the call of all Christians. It’s the mission of a disciple to be a disciple-maker. It’s the mission of every church, to advance the gospel selflessly in order to make disciples of all nations. It’s why Paul tells us then that…

  1. Prayer plays a crucial part in the Church’s Mission, v11a.

The Apostle Paul says in verse 11, 11 You also MUST help us by prayer. By must he means it’s absolutely necessary. Prayer is crucially important if a church will remain faithful to its God-given mission, the Great Commission.

The Bible teaches us about the role of prayer for the Christian and the Church in their DSCF3456mission. “Not only has God made the accomplishment of his global purposes of salvation hang on the preaching of the Word; he has also made the success of the preaching of the Word hang on prayer. …[The] gospel will not be proclaimed in power to all the nations without the persevering, earnest, global, faith-filled prayers of God’s people” (John Piper).

Prayer alone cannot save people. It takes hearing the gospel. But the Bible teaches that the Apostle depended on prayer in his evangelism (Eph 6:19; Col 4:3; 2 Thes. 3:1).

 

 

But most importantly, consider this very important distinction about prayer. The original question is, since it is becoming more rare for churches to devote specific time to pray together, should we let the prayer meeting die off? According to Paul, NO!

  1. Churches must pray TOGETHER and OFTEN for their mission, v11b

Look at the second part of verse 11 and notice: you must pray so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

PRAYER is not only crucial for the Great Commission, CORPORATE prayer is crucial if the church will be faithful in its mission. Our mission requires the prayers of many.

IMG_2299Paul says prayso that many will give thanks…for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. Many will give thanks to answered prayer when many in the presence of those prayers hear what the church is praying for. All prayer for missions is good, but corporate prayer is the kind of prayer that provides the greatest glory for God because many more will praise God when He answers.

Two hundred and ten years from this summer five friends who were  students at Williams College in Massachusetts decided to begin praying frequently together, every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon. Many in those days were meeting to pray together all over as a result of the First Great Awakening.

But these students happened to be reading William Carey’s small booklet, An Inquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen. They met in a meadow near the college to discuss the book and pray. In their day  Carey’s book was a controversial one because it laid the weight of responsibility for world evangelism on all believers. This was not a prevailing idea in America at that time. There were no American mission boards.

On that hot August afternoon in the meadow, thunderstorms rolled in as they prayed and discuss world missions, specifically in China. Being so focused on the discussion and in prayer they let the storm close in and they were too far away from shelter, so they found a nearby haystack to huddle under.

All five friends later committed themselves fully to the Great Commission and taking the gospel to the nations. Through their efforts, the first American missions agency was formed. And four years later, in 1810, The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sent their first five missionaries to Calcutta, Indian. Among them were Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice.

The Haystack Prayer Movement, as it later became known, is an example of what God can do to fulfill the Great Commission through the means of corporate prayer. It was through the means of prayer that God bound these men together by the single-minded purpose of advancing the gospel around the world. It was not one magical prayer meeting. These men were devoted to meeting in prayer corporately many times a week.

May God motivate us to give ourselves to praying together as a church for the Great Commission. May He give us the single-minded purpose of advancing the gospel through the local church around the world.

 

Reflections: Sabbatical 2016, Pt 2

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One challenge I discovered with planning sabbaticals when having a family is making sure to consider them in the plans. It would be one thing to plan a month-long hiatus from the pastorate in a secluded quiet place in order to study, plan, reflect, and pray; but if those plans come at the expense of my family, it defeats the purpose of a sabbatical. Sabbaticals should help pastors best serve their churches, and one of the qualifications of a healthy pastor is being a faithful husband and leader of the home. Plus, resting would be near impossible for me while away from my bride and kids. My sabbatical plans had to include serving my family’s needs.

So then, the other challenge is to plan a sabbatical that aims to help me return to serve the church well while not being so selfish that my plans bore my family. Even if I would love a month in a cabin in the woods with peace and quiet and a pile of books, this would torture my 10, 12, and 15 year olds. So after 8 nights in the woods (which I summarized in Part 1), we loaded up and headed to northern Kentucky to visit the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter.

I wanted this sabbatical to do for Mary and the kids what I hoped it would do for me. Part of this included hiking, canoeing, and taking in beautiful aspects of God’s creation. (By the way, the sound of Eastern Whip-poor-wills each evening in the mountains is amazing.) I also gave each family member opportunity to lead a devotion from their time in God’s Word. And one night we shared the top 25 things we wanted to experience or accomplish before we die. Caring for my family’s faith in Christ and spiritual growth motivated the trip to the museums. And this is the part of the trip my children were most excited about.

We visited the Ark Encounter first. It was Friday and the park featuring a life-sized Ark Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 10.13.49 AMhad only been open 7 days. The park was created by scientists who have found, despite popular opinion, that science actually does support the Bible’s claims. The Ark Encounter is devoted mostly to featuring the science and educating visitors with the biblical evidence of one of the most important events in history: the global flood recorded in Genesis 6-9. Every member in our family, from youngest to oldest, was completely engaged by the quality of the exhibits, and the depth of the scientific and biblical information presented.

The next day we met up with members of Mary’s family who live in northern Kentucky and Indiana and we visited the Creation Museum together. This is the original park, which is located about 45-minutes from the Ark Encounter, started in 2007 by scientist Ken Ham and the organization Answers in Genesis. And like the newer park, the Creation Museum was filled with great content and science that supports the Bible’s historical claims. Only this park had even more to see and hear because its now 9 years old. My favorite part of the campus is its planetarium. The majesty of God from what we know and can see in outer space is incredible.

After two great days in northern Kentucky which included encouraging and refreshing time with Mary’s older brother Matt, her cousin Jared, and their wonderful families, we headed for South Carolina. Mary’s mom and dad live in Abbeville where her father pastors the First Baptist Church. Thursday, after four days in SC, we headed back to Southwest Florida. It was good to be home for a day and sleep in our own beds.

IMG_1131On day 18 of the sabbatical we headed to Sanibel Island for three nights. There we were blessed by some friends to stay in their beautiful home just a 3-minute walk from the beach. This again provided me time to read, pray, and reflect while the family enjoyed extended time on the beach. This, I believe, was Mary’s favorite part of the trip.

The challenge for me during a sabbatical by this stage was the desire to get busy again doing what God called me to do and what I love: Preaching God’s Word, discipling, and shepherding. But I fought the urge to check in at the office and I tried to quiet my mind and rest. On Monday evening we headed 50 minutes west to Lehigh Acres to our home and I prepared to spend what would end up being my last day on sabbatical. Wednesday I would fly to Kosovo with another pastor for 10 days to serve alongside missionaries there.

These 22 days I was afforded for sabbatical resulted in me feeling rejuvenated, refreshed, and excited about what God was doing in and through the church I pastor. I was able to see better the larger picture and not just those day-to-day events that sometimes warp my perspective. Providence Church is a young church, and it faces a lot of challenges, but the gospel is powerful and God plans to use the church to make whats already true in heaven true on the earth. I was thankful for the ministry this sabbatical did for my soul, but it was time to return to my post to serve the church God has called me to pastor.

Reflections: Sabbatical 2016, Pt 1

IMG_1016.JPGFor years now, I have wanted to blog. Friends have encouraged me to write more regularly, and mentors and colleagues have challenged to blog more frequently. For various reasons, to which I may blog about later, I have simply neglected to follow through. Now, I have written a blog from time to time (once a year it seems), but I have never learned to consistently blog. This I pray will be the beginning of a new era that involves blogging for me.

Yesterday was my first day back from a sabbatical the church I pastor, Providence Church, graciously provided me. I am grateful for a church that provides prolonged hiatuses for rest and study and soul care. I am grateful for a church and elders who recognize the unique difficulties of pastoral ministry and provide the fading habit of offering annual seasons to unplug. Sabbaticals are not always provided to pastors of churches and some people may not be familiar with them. If you are interested in learning more you can read this helpful article.

I have not always been able to take an annual sabbatical. The last was August 2013 when I planned it so that for 9 days I could research and write alongside a friend, Tom Ascol. Tom and I had hoped that that time and work would lead to publishing a book on the church and family. Tom wrote about that time on his blog (here). I ended up being extremely sick the first half of that sabbatical with Ulcerative Colitis and rarely left my home. I only functioned at all on those final 9 days with Tom because I was on heavy doses of prednisone. Eighteen more months of fighting this disease followed before I eventually underwent a total proctocolectomy and ileal pouch anal anastomosis (IPAA) at the Cleveland Clinic in February 2015 (may need to be another blog). Now I sit at my desk on the first day coming off a month-long sabbatical 3 years after that first one. I feel rested, rejuvenated, and thankful for this season of good health.

Sabbaticals, unlike vacations, usually involve goals like research, writing, praying, and reflecting,  as well as reevaluating one’s ministry responsibilities. Because I am a father of three children, and a husband of 18 years, my sabbatical also included IMG_1113spending time and caring for my family. So on the 6th of July the five of us and our Australian Shepherd “Copper” loaded up the truck and headed north. We were graciously offered the use of a friend’s cabin in Eastern Kentucky some 30 miles outside of Moorhead. We spent 8 nights secluded from people, televisions, cell phones, and internet connections. It was incredible. Our family had never experienced anything like that, ever. I am not sure my children thought people could survive under those conditions.

This time provided me the opportunity to read more than usual. One book I read was the recently published biography by Iain Murray about J.C. Ryle called “Prepared to Stand 510HPo8A0zL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_Alone.” This is an incredibly well written book that I highly recommend. It was an especially wonderful resource for a pastor recharging on sabbatical. Chapter after chapter I was repeatedly encouraged by the example of this godly 19th Century English pastor and former Bishop of Liverpool. I also read much from Kent Hughes’ “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome.” This too is a great book for pastors. In addition to reading, I also spent more time than is normal for me in prayer. Being in the middle of nowhere hearing the birds and observing God’s creation while spending extended time in prayer is an incredible experience.

I found being off social media and away from the television was a blessing. Family worship around an outside fire-pit and long exhausting walks with my children and my wife, well, these are the moments I will be grateful for as long as I live. During one of those walks we turned a 2-hour hike in the mountains viewing incredible waterfalls into a 5-hour hike causing Mary to doubt my navigational skills (I was never in doubt, most of the time). And there was that Sunday we just popped into a small baptist mountain church with the heave-hawing-style preaching. These nine days were a great start to my sabbatical. I’ll save the rest for next week…hopefully.

UPDATE: Read part two here.

 

A Needed Reminder to Christians on Election Day

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2016-presidential-primary-debatesIts Super Tuesday III in Florida where I live, as well as other states. Ballots cast today will eventually be used by God in giving America its 45th President. Whoever that may be, I am reminded that there is no debate in heaven, because there has only been one God throughout all eternity. And this is what He told Christians who, by the way, lived under the reign of a wicked tyrant emperor:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. – 1 Peter 2:13-17

This is a good reminder spoken 34 years ago Dr. John MacArthur: “It really bothers me the way people attack the President. Now I’m not necessarily here to defend any one President or one presidential viewpoint or party or anything else, but I want you to know something that you must have already thought about at least once or twice, the problem in America is not the problem created by any President we ever had…it is the problem created by a mass of Godless, Christless, selfish greedy people. And built into democracy is the seeds of its own dissolution ultimately because when men find that they can vote to themselves things out of the public treasury, ultimately they’ll destroy themselves economically and in every other way. And then you add to that the disintegration of the family, the disintegration of marriage, the rise of the drug culture, and all of the things that are related to the rise of crime and you cannot put the blame at the foot of any party or any President or any Congress. Because they cannot infuse morality into an immoral society. Now we are called then because we’re not going to be able to change the drift of society by rank…wrangling over the political leaders, we are called then to pray for them, 1 Timothy 2, and to get out into that society and sew the gospel in the hearts of people. And we do that when we are perceived as people who have a desirable life style and a desirable value system and a desirable morality and a desirable message, not when we’re seen as political lobbyists for a certain viewpoint or insurrectionists. And I know that’s a strong statement but I intended to make it anyway. The truth is the truth.” – John MacArthur, The Believer as a Citizen

 

Why You Need to Attend Small Groups

For every Christian, hearing the Word of God read and proclaimed to their hearts each week in worship with the church is absolutely essential. The Bible warns every believer to not neglect meeting together every week, “as is the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:25). But “going to church” is not enough for the Christian. In order to grow and continue in the faith absolutely depends on regular face-to-face meeting with other Christians where we are personally involved in each others lives (1 Peter 4:10). There are things God will only do in a Christian’s life when they are in a small group setting, such as is happening in our Life Groups at Providence Church. The following is an excerpt from a sermon from John Piper that is helpful in explaining some reasons we need small group community in the church:

7 Reasons We Need Small Groups

God has given pastors to the church “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–12). I believe in what I do. And I believe that it is not enough. Here are the seven reasons I gave the small group leaders.

  1. The impulse to avoid painful growth by disappearing safely into the crowd in corporate worship is very strong.
  2. The tendency toward passivity in listening to a sermon is part of our human weakness.
  3. Listeners in a big group can more easily evade redemptive crises. If tears well up in your eyes in a small group, wise friends will gently find out why. But in a large gathering, you can just walk away from it.
  4. Listeners in a large group tend to neglect efforts of personal application. The sermon may touch a nerve of conviction, but without someone to press in, it can easily be avoided.
  5. Opportunity for questions leading to growth is missing. Sermons are not dialogue. Nor should they be. But asking questions is a key to understanding and growth. Small groups are great occasions for this.
  6. Accountability for follow-through on good resolves is missing. But if someone knows what you intended to do, the resolve is stronger.
  7. Prayer support for a specific need or conviction or resolve goes wanting. O how many blessings we do not have because we are not surrounded by a band of friends who pray for us.

So please know that when this small-group ministry of our church is lifted up, I don’t think it’s an optional add-on to basic Christian living. I think it is normal, healthy, needed, New Testament Christianity. I pray that you will be part of one of these small groups or that you will get the training and start one. This is the main strategy through which our pastors and elders shepherd the flock at Bethlehem: Elders > small group leaders > members to one another.

Is Parental Idolatry Real?

If you’re a parent, it is highly likely that you have suffered, and may still be suffering, from parental idolatry. And if you are not a parent, this still will be helpful for you to consider because you may be ruled by your reputation in some other area of life. We all desire to be successful. We also can easily be oppressed by thoughts of what others think of us. Today, a friend brought this article to my attention. I think its worth sharing here…

Friday, May 03, 2013

“The Idol of Success”
by Paul Tripp

I listened as the father said to me in the presence of his teenage son, “Do you know what it’s like to go to church and know that everyone there has been talking about and praying for your rebellious son? Do you know what it’s like to enter a service with all eyes on you, knowing that people are wondering how it’s going and how you and your wife are coping?”

He continued. “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. We tried to faithfully do everything God called us to do as parents, and look what we ended up with! I ask myself, if I knew that this was the way it would all turn out, would we have ever chosen to have children? I can’t describe how disappointed and embarrassed I am.”

That afternoon, with his son listening, that father spoke what many parents have felt but never verbalized. You see, we tend to approach parenting with expectations as if we had hard-and-fast guarantees. We think that if we do our part, our children will become model citizens. We tend to approach parenting with a sense of ownership, that these are our children and their obedience is our right.

These assumptions pave the way for our identity to get wrapped up in our kids. We begin to need them to be what they should be so that we can feel a sense of achievement and success. We begin to look at our children as our trophies rather than God’s creatures. We secretly want to display them on the mantels of our lives as visible testimonies to a job well done.

When they fail to live up to our expectations, we find ourselves not grieving for them and fighting for them, but angry at them, fighting against them, and, in fact, grieving for ourselves and our loss. We’re angry because they’ve taken something valuable away from us, something we’ve come to treasure, something that has come to rule our hearts: a reputation for success.

It’s so easy to lose sight of the fact that these are God’s children. They don’t belong to us. They’re not given to bring us glory, but him. Our kids are from him, they exist through him, and the glory of their lives points to him. We’re only agents to accomplish his plans. We’re only instruments in his hands. Our identity is rooted in him and his call to us, not in our children and their performance.

As parents, we’re in trouble whenever we lose sight of these “vertical realities.” Whenever parenting is reduced to our hard work, the child’s performance, and the reputation of the family, it becomes very hard for us to respond with selfless faithfulness in the face of our child’s failure.

God-ordained moments of ministry will become moments of angry confrontation filled with words of judgment. Instead of leading our needy child to Christ once again, we’ll beat them with our words. Instead of loving, we’ll reject. Instead of speaking words of hope, we’ll condemn. Our feelings will be flooded much more with our own embarrassment, anger, and hurt than with grief over our wayward child’s standing with God.

I want to ask you today to be honest. Examine your own heart. Do you have an attitude of ownership and entitlement? Have you subtly become ruled by reputation? Are you oppressed by thoughts of what others think of you and your child? These questions – no, let me rephrase that – these idols need to be confronted if we’re ever going to be the parents that God has called us to be.

So be honest. Confess to areas of parental idolatry. But be filled with hope, because Christ died to break the back of our self-absorbed idolatry. God is intent on owning our hearts unchallenged. His goal is that our lives would be shaped by our worship of him and nothing else. And, hear this: while God is at work in your own heart, at the same time, he has sent you to be his ambassador in the heart of your child.

42 and Jesus

JackieRobinsonDayMy high school baseball coach, a man I deeply admire, wore the number 42. I knew then what 42 represented for our country and for men like coach Charles Anderson. What I did not know then was what made the person wearing 42 in 1947 the right man for history.

The movie 42 is out in theaters and today (April 15) all over Major League Baseball (MLB) every player on every team will wear the number “42.” Why? MLB adopted this new annual tradition in 2004 called “Jackie Robinson Day,” commemorating Robinson, the first African American baseball player to play in the Major Leagues. In addition, every MLB team retired his number (42) so that no player will ever wear the number ever again.

Robinson was an incredible man. But just as the movie omits, few people know today about the incredible faith this incredible man had in Jesus Christ. David Mathis explains.

Jackie Robinson and the Pattern of Jesus

By David Mathis | Apr 11, 2013 10:25 am

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It was 1948, during Jackie Robinson’s second season in Major League Baseball, when some bigots in Cincinnati were really giving him the business.

Just the previous year, Robinson had been the one with the monumental courage to break the color barrier as the first African American of the modern era to play in baseball’s highest league. He had endured unthinkable cruelty and injustice for de-segregating the game, and he was succeeding on the field and off. Not only did he bat just a shade under .300 in 1947, and was named Rookie of the Year, but he was holding his tongue, and fists, and not fighting back.

But now, in his second campaign, some still weren’t convinced. Eric Metaxas tells the story of the “signature moment” that happened in 1948.

At one game in Cincinnati, when spectators in the stands were shouting racist comments at Robinson, his teammate Pee Wee Reese pointedly walked over to him and put his arm around him, as though to say to the bigots in the crowd “if you are against him, you’re against all of us.” It was a signature moment, and a statue commemorating it stands today in Brooklyn’s minor-league KeySpan Park. (Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness, 128–129)

 

No Small Feat

The story of Jackie Robinson (1919–1972) — and with him Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey (1881–1965) — is one of the most powerful tales American athletics has to tell. Robinson overcame what seemed like insurmountable obstacles not only by playing outstanding baseball, but even more significantly, by not retaliating when treated with rank injustice and racism. According to Metaxas, “Jackie’s not fighting back against such filth and injustice was as heroic an accomplishment as anything the sports world had ever witnessed” (126).

It is easy to miss the historical magnitude of that moment in 1947 for the advance of civil rights in America. Consider that when Rickey signed Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in baseball, it was a year before President Truman ordered the U.S. military desegregated, seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, eight years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, 10 years before President Eisenhower used the U.S. military to enable the Little Rock Nine to attend Central High School in Arkansas, 16 years before MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, 17 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 18 years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (David Prince, Ferocious Christian Gentleman)

The Shared Faith of Robinson and Branch

Many tellings of the Robinson-Branch story omit the importance of their shared Christian faith, but a few biographers have endeavored to draw this out.

Robinson was a Christian [and] his Christian faith was at the very center of his decision to accept Branch Rickey’s invitation to play for the all-white Brooklyn Dodgers. . . . Branch Rickey himself was a Bible-thumping Methodist whose faith led him to find an African American ballplayer to break the color barrier. . . .[A]t the center of one of the most important civil rights stories in America [lies] two men of passionate Christian faith. (Metaxas, 109)

Branch’s strategy for de-segregation was “non-retaliation” — a precursor to the vision of non-violence to come later in the Civil Rights Movement. But it would not just do to try to follow Jesus’s pattern. Branch was looking for someone with deep faith and proven character. Nothing less than emotionally excruciating work lay ahead. When Branch and Robinson met for the first time to explore the possibility, Branch

grilled him for hours and made him commit to three years of non-retaliation. Rickey . . . pointed him to the biblical account of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. Rickey told Robinson, “We can’t fight our way through this, Robinson. We’ve got no army. There’s virtually nobody on our side. No owners. No umpires. Very few newspapermen. And I’m afraid many fans will be hostile.” (Prince)

 

Guts Enough to Not Fight Back

Branch needed a man committed to living the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5:38–41 — the teaching that Jesus himself embodied in going to the cross.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matthew 5:38–41)

Metaxas narrates it like this:

Rickey saw that Robinson had plenty of experience playing with white players and that — like Rickey — he was a serious Bible-believing Christian with a strong moral character. In the struggle that lay ahead, these characteristics would be crucial. He felt strongly that if the person he chose for this extraordinary task could be goaded into saying the wrong thing or appearing in any way as less than noble and dignified, the press would have a field day and the whole project would go up in flames. What was worse, if that were to happen, the whole idea of integrating baseball would likely be set back another ten or fifteen years. Rickey had to be sure he was choosing someone who understood the tremendous import of not fighting back, despite what he would hear — and he would hear plenty. But in the end, he felt he had found the man for the job. (120)

Rickey issued Robinson this pointed challenge: “I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough to not fight back” (122).

Not Reviling in Return

Robinson accepted, and by God’s grace, he was able to live out the vision against the onslaught of horrible racism and what Branch called “odious injustice.”

And now the rest is history — and told in book and motion picture alike. Robinson played 10 Major-League seasons. In 1949, his third season, he batted an astounding .342, drove in 124 runs, and stole 37 bases. That season he started in the All-Star game and won the National League MVP Award. He batted .329 in 1953. When it was all said and done, he had played in six consecutive All-Star games and led his team to six World-Series appearances, including a seven-game World-Series win in 1955. He retired from the game after the 1956 season at the age of 37.

Robinson was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, and tragically died of a heart attack a decade later in 1972. He was only 53.

In April of 1997, Major League Baseball “universally retired” Robinson’s number 42, which means the number is now specially set aside in honor of him. No other player, on any team, can wear number 42 — except on April 15 of each year, “Jackie Robinson Day,” when every player dons the 42. This is likely the highest possible honor in the sport.

The Heart of Jackie’s Story

“The heart of the Jackie Robinson story,” says Metaxas, is that “he changed America by successfully living out, both on and off the baseball field, the revolutionary and world-changing words of Jesus” (133).

What made all the difference was both Branch’s recognition of the power of Jesus’s model of non-retaliation in Matthew 5:38–41, and Robinson’s grace-given ability to echo the almost superhuman pattern of Jesus: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).