Christian Soldiery, Part 5: Deprivation

May 22, 2014

images-1I just watched a recording of a commencement speech given at the University of Texas in Austin.  As a loyal Texas A&M alumnus, at first I was loath to do such a thing — but the fact that it was a Navy Seal Commander giving the speech mollified my loyalties sufficiently enough for me to go ahead and hit the play button. (Of course, I exaggerate — but not too much!)  Anyway, I’m glad I did watch the video, because this speech by Admiral William H. McRaven is now safely installed in my Evernote program, ready to be viewed again and again, as I so wish.

The gist of his comments had to do with the deprivations of Navy Seals during their training to make them combat ready on SEa, Air, and Land (thus, the SEAL acronym).  Their rigorous training daily deprives them of sleep, food, and especially dignity.  The purpose of the training is both to train as well as to cull.  Those who make it through to the end will be the very best of the best; those who do not will simply have learned a good lesson or two.  The only way not to make it is for a trainee simply to go to the center of the compound and ring a bell.  Then he is free to go home, no questions asked.  It is his choice, and every day a trainee chooses either to give up, ring the bell and go home, or he chooses to press on.

Now, all good soldiers of Jesus Christ — if they are trying to follow Christ at all — at least on some days, they will meet up with deprivation of some sort.  Sometimes this deprivation will be so extreme that it will push them to think of giving up — to ring the bell, and check out of selfless service to move on to a life of leisure and self-service.  They might even think it is their due.

I would point out two good reminders for us from God’s Word: 1 Peter 2:21 and Galatians 6:9 …

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Let us also turn to Isaac Watts’ great hymn, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” — and see these words:

Must I be carried to the skies

On flowery beds of ease,

While others fought to win the prize,

And sailed through bloody seas?

To any of you who are weary Christian soldiers due to depravation of all kinds, let me urge you not to give up.  While the sound of the clamoring bells of others may ring in your ears, do not allow yourself also to ring the bell!  Press on in your service to Jesus, who is your faithful Captain — your reward will be great!

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Christian Soldiery, Part 4: Devotion

May 17, 2014

imagesIn my last blog I wrote about soldiers racing toward danger instead of away from it, and that the reason they did such an abnormal thing (humanly speaking) was because of their sense of duty: feeling duty-bound to both a Cause as well as to their Brothers in Arms.  As I thought more on this I realized that duty was about the rightness of fighting.  It is just right to fight for a Cause and for those who are fighting alongside you.  But is duty all there is to it?

No, there seems to be something else besides duty in play here.  Good soldiers fight, not only out of the rightness of it, and a sense of duty — they fight also out of a deep sense of devotion.  It’s not just a head thing; it is also a matter of the heart.  That is, they not only believe in the Cause — they love the Cause deeply; they not only believe in their brothers in arms — they love them dearly.  Indeed, it is their love for both the Cause and their fellow soldiers that outweighs any love for their own life.  The Cause and their brothers must be preserved even before they themselves.

Good soldiers of Christ love the Cause of Christ, which is nothing less than the glory of God through His Gospel.  The Gospel is ever sweet to the hearts of such soldiers, and they gladly remind themselves of it every day.  They love to hear it preached to them from godly pastors, and they love to share it humbly yet boldly with others.  Good soldiers of Jesus Christ fight the good fight because they love their Savior and what He has accomplished for them more than they love anyone and anything else on earth.

Good soldiers of Christ are also fighting the good fight whenever they are loving the brethren.  They know that in order to fight the enemy well, they must love their brothers and sisters well — it’s as simple as that.  And to love them well is to seek harmony with them (Romans 15:5); to be hospitable toward them (Romans 15:7); to comfort them (2 Corinthians 13:11); to serve them (Galatians 5:13); to restore them (Galatians 6:1); to bear their burdens (Galatians 6:2); to be kind and tenderhearted to them, forgiving them (Ephesians 4:32); to be submissive to them (Ephesians 5:21); to teach and admonish them (Colossians 3:16); to encourage them (1 Thessalonians 4:18); to do good to them (1 Thessalonians 5:15); to stir them to good works (Hebrews 10:24); to meet often with them (Hebrews 10:25); and to confess sins to them (James 5:16).

Perhaps I was amiss in my last blog in not including a sense of duty to flag or country, and how believers as good soldiers of Jesus Christ have a sense of duty to fight the good fight for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  Very well, I include it here.  For, undoubtedly, good soldiers of Jesus Christ are deeply devoted to God’s Kingdom — no less than they are both to the glory of God and His Gospel, as well as to His people.  They cannot wait to see the fullness of God’s Kingdom when the fight is over — and to reign along with their beloved Savior forever and ever!

Christian Soldiery, Part 3: Duty

May 15, 2014

imgresWhat makes soldiers race toward danger instead of away from it?  Why don’t soldiers all turn and run at the first hint of an engagement?  Humanly speaking, wouldn’t that be the most normal thing to do?  And yet, it is expected of all soldiers to do the abnormal and run into the fray — otherwise we brand them as misfits and cowards who are deemed unworthy to wear the uniform.

So, is it really fair to expect the abnormal from normal people who just want to live?  It is when you get your definitions straight.  You see, soldiery is not about the soldier — it’s about two other things.

First, it’s about The Cause.  The best soldiers fight best, who are convinced they are in the right and their foe is in the wrong.  They know that much can be lost and much can be gained.  They know and accept that the cause is greater than even their own lives.  They feel duty-bound to fight for the cause.  It is not about their own personal glory — it is about the glory of the cause.  They may die, but the cause must continue to live on.

Second, it’s about the other soldiers, the brothers in arms whose lives are more important than theirs.  They’ve got their backs, and are therefore less concerned with their own.  And, since casualties are a natural part of war, and the sooner each battle ends, the fewer brothers in arms will fall — the good soldiers find themselves waging war against the very battle itself in order to keep as many of their comrades as they can from succumbing to that battle.  They feel duty-bound to protect other soldiers.  It is not about their own personal safety — it is about the safety of others.

So, what if believers in Jesus Christ awakened each day with a strong sense of duty that led them to race into the day’s spiritual battles in order to bring glory to their Savior, instead of glory for themselves?  What if believers willingly and eagerly entered into the fray of each day’s spiritual battles with the well-being of others far ahead in their mind than their own personal concerns?  What if their sense of duty pushed back harder than their own desire to get ahead?

It seems good soldiers have their priorities straight: first God, then others, and then maybe themselves.

Christian Soldiery, Part 2: Discipline

May 8, 2014

Soldier's DisciplineI have heard that discipline is nothing more or less than learning to do what you don’t want to do when you don’t want to do it.  If ever a picture captures this, I suppose it is the one you see here before you: a soldier bent over on his head in the mud, with arms behind his back.  Why does he do such a thing?  Because he is told to, period.

A soldier is trained to submit to authority without question; to obey all commands without hesitation.  This is what discipline is all about, and this is what will make him a good soldier.  For, when he is eventually thrust into harm’s way, this is what will accomplish the army’s objective: inflicting the most damage to the enemy, while securing the fewest casualties within itself.

One of my most favorite of quotes of C.S. Lewis comes from his wonderful book, The Screwtape Letters, in which one demon is writing letters to another, giving him instructions concerning the seduction of a Christian.  At the conclusion of one such missive, he writes:

“Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”  — C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, HarperCollins, p. 40

In a sense we are all slaves, for there are only two options: to obey ourselves, or to obey God.  This is the crux of Romans 6:16-18 …

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

So, back to our photo above: I must always remember that when it feels like God just seems to be having me stand on my head, and, as a slave of righteousness, I faithfully press on in obedience to Him — well, that is perhaps when I might just be standing tallest before Him.

Christian Soldiery, Part 1: Deployment

May 7, 2014

imgres-1I begin this blog series with this topic because it was the impetus for the series in the first place.  While reading a devotional in Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, I came to the very last phrase: “… no one has any right to demand where he will be put to work.”  Chambers’ context was our Lord’s parable in Luke 14:28 concerning workmen and the cost of building a tower — yet, in my mind I immediately connected the statement with soldiery.

Every Christian is by default a soldier of Christ.  The question is, are we good soldiers (2 Timothy 2:3), or something less?  A good soldier of Christ realizes he is always a deployed soldier, and must be ever vigilant in the fight.

Every Christian is by default a soldier whom God deploys as He sees fit.  Wherever we find ourselves during any given moment of any given day, it is by default a battleground for God against the gates of hell and every force of evil.  There is no such thing as neutral territory, for every inch of the universe belongs to its Creator and yet remains under constant attack.  The only respite any soldier of Christ may enjoy is the blessing of sleep at the end of the day’s warfare — and yet, even there in our dream state we do not always find ourselves completely free from engagement.

In the first line of the final stanza of the great hymn, Soldiers of Christ in Truth Arrayed, Basil Manly Jr. wrote: “We meet to part ….”  That is to say, we meet in order to part — which means that the very purpose of every Christian gathering is to be better equipped for deployment into our spiritual battles of rebuking the devil, renewing our mind, and renouncing the world.  It is a useless gathering that does not aid us in these struggles, for again, the very purpose for our meeting with other believers is to be ready once again for deployment into the fray.  How sad and counter-productive it is when Christian gatherings themselves become the fray!

For those pastors and teachers who, shall we say, have been called as officers in this sacred army, this idea of deployment takes on a different flavor.  No matter where and to what purpose our General has deployed us in ministry, we must always remember that we have no right to demand that He deploy us elsewhere, doing something else we think we would rather do.  He is the Almighty and All-knowing and All-loving General, and so, we go wherever He leads, period.

“It’s the Weight, Silly!”

April 22, 2014

imagesWe’ve all heard the campaign slogan — “It’s the economy, stupid!” right?  The point being, it was madness to campaign on everything else while the only thing all the voters were concerned about was the tanking economy.  Well, concerning those who would try to run long and hard, I would simply say (and, since it is my slogan, I’ll tone it down a bit): “It’s the weight, silly!”  If you’re always carrying around 30, or 40, or 50 extra pounds — and are not changing your eating habits — how in the world do you expect to run well?

Extra weight matters!  Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.  After several years of getting into shape and running marathons, half-marathons, 10-milers, 10k’s and 5k’s — and then burning out and not running for a few years — guess what happened?  Yup, I gained 40 lbs!  So, now that I’m trying to get back in shape again, I’ve got all this extra weight making things difficult for me.  And it simply will not come off fast enough — especially if I don’t eat right.

There is a spiritual lesson here buzzing around in my brain — “It’s the sin, child!”  In Hebrews 12:1 it says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely ….”  Makes sense, doesn’t it?  Every child of God is running in a spiritual race, and this race is always hindered by every weight of sin that latches on to us — even those that seem light.  After awhile these light sins become heavier and heavier until we feel like we just can’t run anymore and just want to quit and get on the sidelines.

So, if I’m not feeling much like running my race with God, instead of complaining to God and maybe even accusing Him for making things so difficult for me, maybe what I should be doing is asking Him to reveal the sins in my life that are weighing me down.  Because He is so desirous of me — not just running, but — running well, I’m pretty sure He will reveal those sins to me fairly quickly.  Truth is, I may already know what they are without even asking.  “It’s the weight, silly!”

A Flag and a Fence

April 7, 2014

1604684_599752076638_669052367_nI just viewed this photo in a FB post, with the caption: “So many thoughts on this picture.”  Well, here are some of mine.  I see two things: a flag and a fence, and, depending upon one’s perspective, I suppose there are two ways to look at it.  The question that helps define which perspective is this: Is the flag captured by the fence, or is the fence supporting the flag?

If you see this as the flag supported by the fence, then you might be of the Liberal or Progressive persuasion.  These folks seem to think that America and Americans are always in need of help and support from the government.  Without the fence, this flag droops, and in the same way, without government, Old Glory does the same.  God, if there is one, is not obliged to send a breeze to keep the flag unfurled.  It’s up to us — and that means our government — to keep things going.

If, however, you see this as the flag captured by the fence, then you might be of the Conservative persuasion.  These folks know that America and Americans need government mostly just to stay out of their way.  If we as a nation “under God” will but stay true to God’s ways and rely on Him, we are always blessed by His gift of a constant breeze to keep our flag free and unfurled.  Unfettered by government, Old Glory will always do just fine.

So, how do you see the photo?

The Imago Dei Challenge

March 22, 2014

imgres26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26-27).

Biblical marriage proponents love to cite Genesis to show God’s intention of marriage being between a man and a woman.  This is good and true.  No doubt the Reverend Fred Phelps, pastor of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, cited this many times in his preaching against gays and lesbians.  Now the Most Reverend is dead.

It is reported now that the man who organized protests at so many funerals, himself will have no funeral.  Maybe I am wrong, but could it be out of concern that hordes of haters will show up demanding an eye for an eye?  Ah, but the irony is this: such a concern is more than likely quite unfounded.  For, as it turns out, Phelps’ opponents seem to be more concerned about showing heart than extracting an eye.

Steven Petrouw, former vice president of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, writing in The Washington Post, posits a different strategy: “Revenge against Phelps — or, frankly, any hateful or toxic person — doesn’t really allow for healing…I suggest we bombard Westboro Baptist with sympathy cards and prayers.  Or, as a friend of mine tells me, ‘Drive your enemies really crazy: Love them.’”

Irony is screaming out to anyone who would hear: by trying to honor people rather than hating them, hordes of people outside the church are acting more Christian than many who claim to be inside of her.  Within the very verses defending Biblical marriage between a man and a woman lies another profound underpinning to acceptable social behavior, and that is this: every person on the face of the earth has been made in the image (Imago) of God (Dei) and therefore should be honored and respected — not hated.

Many zealous Christians perhaps should humble themselves and learn something from those they are trying to teach.

With All Your Heart

March 17, 2014

images“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30.  

Why does God deserve all of my heart?  Because He gave all of His.  When He sent His only begotten Son into a sinful world, He sent His very Heart with Him.  When He allowed that beloved Son to be beaten and crucified by sinful men, it broke His whole heart.  When He brought down all of His wrath upon the sin placed upon that Son, He made it proportionate to all the offense taken by His whole heart, which has always been loathe even to the smallest smidgeon of sin.

Why does Jesus deserve all of my heart?  Because He gave all of His.  When He left the praise and glories of Heaven that filled all His heart with such joy, He came to a sin-sick place that offered Him none of it.  When the lashes and blows inflicted such physical pain, His heart became no less wounded by the friends who so quickly deserted Him.  And when, as a spotless sacrifice, He hung there on the cross, in childlike innocence asking the Father why He had forsaken Him, all of His heart sank in the agonizing silence of no reply.

Why does the Spirit deserve all of my heart?  Because He gives all of His.  When I quench Him, and ignore Him, and run from Him, He faithfully and lovingly remains deep in my heart — where He has been since the moment He sealed my repentance and faith with His wonderfully saving presence.

With God, just as there is hot and there is cold, but no lukewarm (Revelation 3:16) — so is there all or none, but no in between.  He is never satisfied with only a part of our hearts — He wants, yes even rightfully demands all of our hearts.  Because He is my Savior, He deserves to be my Lord.  Because He gave all of His heart in saving me, how can I rightfully or honorably give anything less than all of my heart in following Him?

With All Your Mind

March 14, 2014

imgres“Christianity is the greatest intellectual system the mind of man has ever touched” (Francis A. Schaeffer). If this is true (and I believe it is), then at least three things should happen: not only should we feel somewhat comforted in and “proud” of our faith, but also challenged to more fully explore its depths, and then most obligated to introduce other minds to its wonders.

I want to be a thinking Christian.  I want to love God with all my mind, as much as with all my heart, soul, and strength (Mark 12:30).  [We can get to these at another time.]  Because of Christianity’s manifold greatness, thinking Christians may become great Christians, “able to give a defense for the hope that is in them” (1 Peter 3:15).  I believe one of Satan’s primary tactics is to bring scorn upon us by the world, whose wisdom is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:20).  The opposite should be true, as we “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

To explore the depths of our faith requires time and effort.  The treasures of God are not likely found in carefree fashion.  Daily readings in the Word of God, accompanied by daily readings in the words penned by godly men either contemporary or those who have gone before us–proven men who have been led by the Spirit–will do much to help us.  Such readings may open up treasures of thought for us to meditate upon the entire day.  Yes, meditation–not the emptying of our minds of thought, but the filling of our minds with truth–as we ask questions concerning the words we have read, imprinting godly thought in our minds as much as our eyes look on the printed page.

And then to climb down from our lofty towers each day to go out into the world and engage those with faulty thinking, false paradigms, and outright lies to which they so blindly cling.  Yet, as Peter tells us, we must do so with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).  We must be gentle in the way we impart truth–with wisdom to know how much each person can handle, how that truth is to be served for their tasting.  We must be respectful as well, knowing that apart from the grace of God we would know nothing of truth, and perhaps be more blind than those we are trying to win.