In his new book Unnamed, Chris Travis explores the stories of eight biblical heroes who went without much recognition. In fact, the Bible doesn”t even mention their names. Based on Standard Publishing”s 2010 Vacation Bible School theme, his book combines stories of these Bible personalities with incredible accounts of modern-day unnamed heroes. Readers will discover solid biblical insight to consider what it means to live a heroic life for God in our day. Last year, Chris and his wife, Lindsay, left a staff position with LifeSpring Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, to move to New York City where Chris teaches middle school math at a public school in Harlem. Chris hopes to plant a new church in Manhattan with Orchard Group in the fall of 2010.
What”s the premise of the book?
It”s about the way God turns “everyday people” into “everyday heroes.” There are a surprising number of these men, women, and children in the Bible who do pivotal things and yet the Bible doesn”t record their names. The book is inspired by the stories of these characters in the Bible who are not named. I found that to be a really interesting thing, . . . that the vast majority of people God uses are “everyday people” who never achieve any kind of fame and who are forgotten by the world.
How do you communicate that premise?
By looking at eight of these unnamed characters from the Bible, people like the boy who contributed his lunch, the widow who gave her all in the offering, or the fellow who saved Paul”s life by exposing the plot against his life. As you consider their stories, each of them had one or more reasons you wouldn”t think God would use them. Some were weak or sinful or obviously didn”t have what it took to accomplish what God wanted them to do. Yet God worked through them and turned these everyday, unnamed people into heroes. So we look at each of these characters and draw some parallels between their weaknesses and the different issues we struggle with today.
What are you hoping people take away from the book?
My hope is that, having read the book, people”s eyes will be opened to God”s work in their lives, and even more so to how God wants to work through their lives. It”s a very encouraging message from the Bible that God actually works primarily through everyday people.
Are you able to show how it”s practically carried out?
One of the cool things about the book is we included a bunch of stories about modern-day people, many of whom are unnamed, who are doing incredible things for God. As I was writing the book I sent out messages asking people to share stories about everyday heroes. Within a week dozens of stories came back: people who adopted children, people who literally saved other people”s lives, people who took huge risks and acted with courage to serve God. There were also people who carried out hundreds of little gestures that are really influencing the world we live in. It was one of the most faith-affirming experiences of my life, to read about all the things God”s people are up to that don”t make the news because they”re not glitzy or glamorous.
What makes someone a hero?
The people who live truly heroic lives are those who walk in daily, courageous obedience to Jesus. Sometimes life works out so there”s this dramatic moment of heroism. Usually it doesn”t. The vast majority of the time heroism takes place in the daily grind””people who love the unlovable or make daily sacrifices to provide for people in need.
So it doesn”t take unusual circumstances for someone to be heroic?
Not at all. Sometimes unusual circumstances give us the chance to be heroic. When that happens, we need to rise to the occasion. But our daily lives, as seemingly mundane as they are, actually provide opportunities to be heroic if we learn how to view things the way God views them.
How does someone show himself to be heroic in everyday living?
There are a thousand ways. When I was in the sixth grade I played trombone in band and I had this really discouraging practice I felt just terrible about. I was thinking about giving up. I was on the verge of tears, when a friend came up to me afterward and said, “Chris, I don”t know what was happening there, but you are an incredible trombone player and I hope you”re not thinking about giving it up.” Twenty years later I still remember those words. They were life changing to me and pulled me out of an emotional pit. For my friend it was 60 seconds of kind words. For me, two decades later, I can still remember the look in his eyes. I think we have opportunities to be heroic almost every day, if we know how to look for them and are willing to take advantage of them. Too often, we simply don”t do it. Too often, we ignore that nudge to say something encouraging or lend a hand.
Is being heroic just doing the right thing?
No, but that”s part of it. Being heroic is a step more than that: it”s not just doing the right thing; it”s being the right kind of person. It”s a matter of engaging life with God”s agenda in mind, and not allowing the apparent “smallness” of a gesture to dissuade us from action.
Following Christ is often about doing the unexpected””right?
There are definitely some senses in which to live as a Christian in this world you are going to do the unexpected as part of your lifestyle. When someone harms you, Â you do the unexpected and forgive. When everybody else is trying to gather up as much as they can for themselves, you do the unexpected and give. When everybody else is looking out for number one, you do the unexpected and look out for somebody else.
Is it important for people to feel they are heroic?
Yes and no. It”s very important to remember that we”re not the hero of the story. Jesus is the hero. He”s teaching us to be like himself. I can say from personal experience that the moment I follow Jesus I do feel heroic. The world suggests many things to make you feel great, and they will not. But when you lay your head on your pillow at night knowing God has used you to touch another life or to advance his kingdom in spite of all your shortcomings, it feels pretty good.
Is it necessary for our heroism to be known? Remembered?
No, in fact, that”s the point of the book. I think the vast majority of God”s work in the world is through everyday heroes who will not be noticed or remembered or thanked by the world””but God doesn”t miss a thing. The more you realize how interested God is in our everyday lives, the less important are accolades or recognition.
The heroism you”re talking about is quite different from what we would ordinarily consider heroic.
Yeah. I”m really glad for the fireman who risks his life to save someone or for the guy who throws himself on a grenade to save another soldier. That”s definitely heroic. Just as heroic is someone who sacrifices his empty nest years to adopt a child or who gives up his free time to care for someone who is disabled. That”s giving your life away in another sense””not in one dramatic act of heroism, but repeatedly, day after day. God is pleased when we set our own lives aside for others and for him.
What is the Bible”s road map to heroic living?
Looking at these characters” lives shows you how the people God used were every bit as broken, powerless, unskilled””you name it””as any of us. God didn”t pick superheroes and he didn”t pick people with incredible prowess or abilities. He worked through everyday people who had a posture of willingness””and sometimes who did not. It”s a challenge to understand God”s grace and let go of all the things we think would keep us from being used by him. A look at these stories of unnamed heroes in the Bible can help us understand that.
What about someone who has no willingness to be heroic?
One of the chapters is about these four lepers in 2 Kings who really were looking out for themselves. God put them exactly where he needed them and used them as part of his plan to deliver an entire city from famine. It”s an interesting look at how God can use us in spite of our self-centeredness, even in spite of our unwillingness.
Doesn”t the motivation need to come from us?
No. In fact I would say some of the stories about everyday heroes could only have been motivated by God”s Spirit. For example, people forgave things most would think you couldn”t forgive. Our job is to surrender, to yield to the work of God in our lives, and then it is God who works in us both to will and to act according to his good purpose, according to Philippians 2. I would say every single person wants his life to count. We want our lives to matter. The things our culture tells us will make our lives feel worthwhile, simply won”t. The only path to being really alive, feeling really alive, is a daily walk of obedience with God. He sometimes will ask us to risk, to step out on faith, to trust him and do scary things. It”s the path to life. It”s not just the path to life after death, it”s the path to life today.
Brad Dupray is senior vice president, ministry development, with Church Development Fund, Irvine, California.