Paratrooper! There is something about that word that still excites me today. “Back in the day,” it meant being different from the rest of the Army. You were no longer just an ordinary “straight leg” soldier – you were a paratrooper! You wore highly shined jump boots with your Class “A” dress uniform. You wore the highly coveted “silver jump wings” on your chest. And you wore the beret! Of course, now everyone in the Army wears a beret.
There was a lot of esprit de corps in being a paratrooper. And many young men entering the Army desired to be paratroopers for that reason. But first, they had to complete a short three-week course of training simply called “jump school” at Fort Benning, Ga. However, soon after their arrival at jump school, the “shine” of jump boots, the “shine” of silver wings, and all the visions of glamour and prestige of the title "paratrooper" promptly left you. You discovered that before you got the title, before you got the silver wings, before you got the beret, you had to successfully complete jump school.
Jump school rapidly weeded out those who were not there for the right reason. Out of almost 400 personnel who entered jump school in my class, less than 200 graduated. You learned at the beginning that with the title comes commitment – a personal commitment to go beyond the average. To successfully complete the training, you had to possess a true conviction to be a paratrooper – to push your body physically and mentally beyond the norm. Without that conviction, you would not survive very long.
During the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, a man named Greg Livingstone was asked to give a “missions minute” at a large evangelical church on the East Coast. Since he had only one minute to speak, he decided to ask the congregation only two questions.
The first one was this: “How many of you are praying for the 52 American hostages being held in Iran?” Every hand in the congregation – a church numbering about 4,000 – went up. He said, “Praise the Lord! Now, put your hands down and let me ask you another question: How many of you are praying for the 42 million Iranians being held hostage to Islam?”
This time only four hands went up. Livingstone then said, “So it appears, you all are Americans first and Christians second! I thought this was a Bible-believing church!”
Sadly, I see fewer and fewer Christians with conviction in this country every day. What we see today, is more Christians, not out of conviction, but Christians out of preference. You see, there is a big difference between the two. Convictions don’t change; preferences do! You can prefer organ music today, but tomorrow your preference may change; the next week you could prefer piano music instead! Think about it! The last person who left the church you are attending, what was their reason for leaving? Did they leave because of doctrinal issues? Most likely not! They most likely left because of preference – they didn’t like the music; they didn’t like the building; they didn’t like one of the other members; they didn’t like the leadership; or they no longer liked the preacher.
We have lost the true meaning a becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. Since Jesus was referred to in the Scripture as “Rabbi” – Hebrew for teacher – we look at the word “disciple” as “student.” The word “disciple” is translated from the word “talmid.” But to be a “talmid” of a “rabbi” in the First Century involved much more than just being a student as we think of the word. When one became a talmid (student) of a rabbi (teacher), you not only desired to “learn” from him, but you desired to become him! You studied the “teacher” to become just like him! The disciples of Jesus desired to become just like him! They studied not just his words, but they studied his mannerisms; they wanted to talk like him; they wanted to walk like him; they wanted to mimic everything about him.
When Jesus’ teaching got too heavy for some, they abandoned him, causing Jesus to ask in John 6:67-68: “You do not want to leave, too, do you?” Jesus asked the 12. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
The true disciples were following Jesus out of conviction! This same conviction would be displayed again in Acts 4 when the apostles Peter and John stood before the Sanhedrin, the same Sanhedrin that had crucified Jesus only two months earlier. The apostles were ordered “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (verse 18). What was their response to this command by the Sanhedrin?
Acts 4:19-20 says: "But Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.'”
That’s conviction! Is there that kind of conviction in the church today? Or have we become what the apostle Paul warned the young evangelist Timothy about – people of preference?
II Timothy 4:1-4 says: "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths."
As we approach the day on which we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, we need to ask: “Am I a Christian by conviction or by preference? Do I serve him by conviction – or for something else?"