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  • Ross Moughtin

Fighting against the odds


I stood transfixed, as I unloaded the shopping yesterday, watching the aerial dogfight above our house. The two buzzards, who nest at the other end of our back field, were being attacked by crows We often see such displays of mobbing, when the fiercely territorial crows – who live in the same tree line as their perceived predators – defend their nests by attacking the much larger buzzard, usually by force of number. But yesterday was different. There were just three crows who by their sheer aggression were successfully driving the buzzards along the length of the field to right above our house, about 300 metres. You wonder how they do it. Okay, they show aggression and repeatedly dive close to the buzzards but buzzards, magnificent birds of prey, are much bigger and presumably stronger. Why don’t they simply fight back? After all, it’s two against three, hardly a mob. RSPB tells me (and here I quote) that despite the buzzards’ advantage in terms of weaponry and agility, they are delicate animals that will not risk conflict with sturdy species of the crow family unless it is unavoidable. Most birds on the receiving end of a group mobbing will either sit it out or make a hasty retreat. As I watched, I thought of how the Ukrainians are keeping the Russian army at bay through their sheer refusal to shield their territory to a hostile outsider. I think that most of us thought that having amassed 190,000 troops the Russian army would soon overwhelm any resistance. As we know, it has been a very different story as the Russian advance has stalled while sadly they have had to resort to the massive bombardment of towns and cities. Of course, as I write this, we have no idea how the conflict will end and how long it will take. But the reality is that the Ukrainians, in defending their homeland, have displayed a resolve to resist with an awesome courage. They face a seemingly powerful enemy but they fight courageously undaunted by the odds. Like the crows seeing off the buzzards, commitment is everything. But that is how it is in life. The renowned anthropologist, Margaret Mead, once observed: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” This was certainly the case in Russian history. Marxist theory emphasised this importance of commitment, how just a very small number of individuals could capture control of the state through their sheer commitment to the cause. This was certainly the case for the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. And of course, this is the story of the church. Certainly when Jesus was nailed to the cross, by any reckoning his campaign had come to a sorry end. His disciples, such as those who stayed with him, realised that that was it. “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel,” declares the sorrowful Cleopas retreating to Emmaus. (Luke 24:21). But, as we know, Jesus’ resurrection changed everything. Now he tasked his disciples to change the world. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations!” (Matthew 24:19). Quite an undertaking if you think about it, given their number and resources. From the different New Testament accounts, it would seem that those who witnessed the risen Jesus first hand would have numbered less than 600. And it would seem that they had little going for them. So when the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church about 20 years later he concedes: “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” (1 Corinthians 1:26). But what they did have going for them was the Holy Spirit, who inspired a commitment prepared to face suffering and even martyrdom. Clearly Jesus understood the importance of commitment. As pastor Chuck Swindoll perceives: “More than once Jesus deliberately addressed certain issues that quickly diminished the number of onlookers. It was commitment that thinned the ranks.” Certainly we as disciples of Jesus can have an awesome influence in our communities, out of all proportion to our number. Think yeast. Commitment to him is everything, and it seems that God works best when the odds are heavily stacked against his people. So the apostle Paul urges us “to put on the armour of God so that you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13). Who would have thought when Paul wrote those words that Rome, which features as the great Babylon in the final book of the New Testament, would actually turn to Christ. Mind you, it did take about 250 years until the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. So it’s not just commitment but also perseverance which counts. Just keep at it, undaunted and undismayed. As evangelist Beth Moore exclaims: “God has assured us the victory, but He has told us to take an aggressive stand against the evil one, covering ourselves in His armour. We're going to win, but victory is going to take blood, sweat, and tears - His blood, our sweat, and tears from us both.”

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