Our lovely neighbors recently got a breeding pair of white Dexters, a bull and a cow with incredibly kind eyes and massive horns that could do some real damage if they were so inclined. Our Valais-cross lambs have some pretty impressive horns of their own that mostly curl backward. As we breed-up, future generations of lambs will have spiraled horns that protrude almost horizontally from their heads. I’m already getting bumped and bruised and I have a feeling it gets worse.
But Faustina and Josie are undeterred by the hulk and the horns of the new kids in town. In this photo, both sets of animals stick their necks out to get a closer look, a better sniff, a fuller understanding of the alien species on the other side of the fence. Sticking their necks out involves risk on both sides. None of the animals involved know if they’re dealing with friend or foe; as for the lambs, one charge toward the fence by these beefy animals that look kinda-sorta like them—but are not—could result in a scare or a scar, depending on how quick they are on their feet. Turns out, these new pastures pals are gentle giants. We humans suspected that all along and perhaps the lambs sensed it too. Just the same, it took a lot of courage to shrug off their sheepish nature and take the chance to meet and greet them.
The expression “to stick your neck out” apparently originates with chickens (I shoulda known). Some 60 years ago, someone noticed that chickens that were laid on chopping blocks naturally stretched out their necks before the axe fell (bless their hearts). So the expression is truly an apt way of saying that if we stick our [human] necks out and say or do something that others are afraid to, just like chickens on the block, we too might suffer a blow to our well-being by way of criticism, ostracism, or some other kind of physical or socially-imposed penalty.
All one has to do is read the news to know that it’s so. There’s the backlash against parents for speaking up and protecting the innocence of their children. There are stories of those who who lost something (or everything) when they refused government mandates. There are cautionary tales of coaches and students who were fired or expelled for exercising the freedom of religious expression. All are examples of modern-day risk-taking, but for Christians, to stick one’s neck out is a peril as old as time.
Early Christians were treated as criminals in the 2nd and 3rd centuries and were hunted and persecuted throughout the Roman Empire. By 325 AD, there were an estimated 7 million Christians with as many as 2 million killed for their faith. Think about it. Two million people were martyred for believing and saying that Jesus is the Messiah, our Redeeming God and King…that He suffered, died, and rose again from the dead and now reigns supreme in Heaven. Each of those poor, holy souls stuck their neck out to proclaim this Gospel truth and met with the sword, the guillotine, or some other barbaric form of slaughter (lions, anyone?).
That said, the 20th century produced double the number of Christian martyrs than all the previous 19 centuries combined.* Clearly, some people are still sticking their necks out to proclaim the cross and victory of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of the world. Are you one of them?
St. Paul exhorts us: Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry. ~2 Timothy 4:2-5
Let’s not kid ourselves. As Christians, it’s so much easier to “go along to get along.” After all, there are beastly creatures out there with big horns and sharp tongues. They and their minions can tear us to pieces on social media, in our schools, in our hometowns, on the job, and potentially even in our homes and churches someday if we protest or resist in the name of Jesus. Granted, the charging blows of the enemy may scar or even slay our pride, our livelihoods, or our reputations. In this neck of the woods (no pun), it’s unlikely we’ll actually be martyred for our faith. The Church, however, teaches there's a non-bloody “white martyrdom” that comes from speaking the Truth and the real suffering it can bring.
The battle is real. But I’m ready and willing to stick my neck out. I write this blog with the knowledge that there’s always a risk of losing friends and readers over my zeal for the LORD. I’m okay with that. Whatever else comes from sticking my neck out will only hurt for a little while. But the Man-God who stuck His neck out to save my soul and wound up crucified on a cross assures me that my crown awaits and my eternal reward will be great in Heaven!
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true
It's shame and reproach gladly bear
Then he'll call me some day to my home far away
Where his glory forever I'll share
And I'll cherish the old rugged cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
And I will cling to the old rugged cross
And exchange it some day for a crown
The Old Rugged Cross (George Bennard, 1913)
* Reported by St. John Paul II’s Jubilee Commission, 2000