Harry Emerson Fosdick was among the great preachers of the early 20th century. From Riverside Church in New York City, Fosdick inspired a generation to go deeper in scripture and obedience, applying deep truth to the brokenness of the world.
A friend gave me a small collection of his sermons, and one of those messages entitled “What Are You Standing For?” speaks to our representative capacity. The theme of the message is that we have within us the power to stand for something, to represent something or someone else.
Jesus said in the opening chapter of Acts, “You will be my witnesses,” He invited, and invites still, people to represent Him.
He’s saying, “You can be more than yourselves; you have the power to stand for higher principles and worthy causes; you have the power to stand for something greater than yourself, such that when people think of you, they’ll think of that.”
Fosdick describes a man named Thomas Bridges. He was an abandoned child, discovered near a bridge in Bristol, England. He eventually took the name Bridges to mark the day he was found, which happened to also be St. Thomas’ Day in the Catholic tradition. So they called him Thomas. He’s a child for whom you might think, “He didn’t really have a chance.”
But Thomas Bridges found the secret to a happy and good life by finding something to stand for. He looked over the troubles of the world and chose the hardest thing he could find: working with native tribes in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. He encountered danger and sickness, but through his life’s witness, thirty-six men, women, and children were baptized. His little living hut was transformed into a school/church.
You may pity him today: far from home, living in a leaking hut, with little food for himself or others.
But Fosdick asks, “Do you, then, pity Bridges in Tierra Del Fuego? Spare your pity for those who need it, the well-educated, well-to-do, parasitic, uninterested people who have never found anything to take them out of themselves.”
What are you living for today? What is your life standing for?
For those who are unable to physically stand, another metaphor would be: what are the colors flying over your life?
If your life if a flagstaff, what is the flag you raise?
It’s not enough to be an admirer of Jesus. Just about everyone admires Jesus. One of the easiest ways to get applause in America is to praise the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is noble and of the highest importance, but Jesus wants us to live it out in public in the power of His Spirit in us.
To follow Him is costly. So many admire Him, or even seek to be like Him, but one would not say they are truly His witnesses. They may be ashamed on some level of Jesus, the cross, their dependence on God, or even the church that can be so hypocritical and messy.
But Paul declared, I am not ashamed. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16)
Men and women are like flagstaffs. Some are tall and prominent; others are small or even crooked. But the glory of a flagstaff is not the height or the size, but on the colors that are flying. A small flagstaff with the right colors is much more valuable than a tall flagpole with the wrong flag.
You may never have the biggest ministry or bring 36 people to be baptized. Or God may allow you to reach a handful or a 100 people over your lifetime as you stand for Him. God may allow you to start a business, develop a nursing career or be a legal advocate for the voiceless. You may never feel called to a place like Tierra del Fuego to preach. It’s more likely that you’ll be called to join the work of God right there in your neighborhood for 10, 20 or 30 years.
But I believe that when a man or woman comes to the end of their lives, the most satisfying thing would be the ability to say, “I wish I could have done some things differently. I wish I had been a better and taller and straighter flagstaff, but I am not ashamed of the colors that I flew. In this life I stood for Jesus. I was his witness, and there has been no greater honor.”
Get out of yourself today. Serve those nearest to you. There’s no shortage of worthy causes. Think kingdom, not your own brand. Be a witness in whatever way God allows you to be.