A Good Soldier

May 26, 2012

Memorial Day is a national holiday to honor those who have died in military service. John Logan, a U.S. Congressman and Union General during the Civil War, began the memorial. As commander in chief of a Union veterans’ organization he urged the members to decorate soldiers’ graves with flowers on May 30th. Eventually it became a national holiday and extended to all U.S. war dead. Memorial Day is marked by the laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Having been at war since 2001, I suspect that we are keenly aware of what soldiers sacrifice—what soldiers do.

I’ve noticed the military imagery found in the New Testament. “Put on the whole armor of God” (Eph 6:11 see also 1 Thess. 5:8), “put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:12), “the weapons of righteousness” (2 Cor. 6:7), “the weapons of our warfare” (2 Cor. 10:4 3), “fellow soldier” (Phil. 2:25, Phl 2), “wage the good warfare” (1 Tim. 1:18), and “good soldier” (2 Tim. 2:3, ESV). From Paul I learn something about what it means to be a good soldier, and from soldiers I learn something about what it means to be a good Christian.

A good soldier is committed to the mission. Paul expresses it this way: “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits” (2 Timothy 2:4, ESV). A spiritual war is going on, and we must choose sides. Spiritual battles must be fought by those clothed in “the armor of light.” Paul’s choice of the term “entangled” sounds a warning. Other tasks and activities can interfere with what is most important. As one hymn writer has expressed it, “Have done with lesser things; Give heart and mind and soul and strength / To serve the King of kings.”

A good soldier follows orders. “[H]is aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4, ESV). No doubt you’ve seen television interviews from Afghanistan and Iraq with words like “whatever our Commander in Chief orders us to do, we will do.” Brave words—sacrificial words followed by deeds. We too have marching orders. Put on the whole armor of God. Wage the good warfare. Has the Lordship of Jesus Christ filtered down into your daily life?

A good soldier endures hardship. “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3, ESV). We witnessed it on television: sand storms, lack of sleep, army rations, heat, bio-chem protective suits, wounds, captivity, roadside bombs, and even death. We too are called to something larger than ourselves, greater than our comforts. Jesus warned that discipleship would be costly (see Luke 14:26-35). Are we trying to get by on “cheap grace” and “discipleship-lite”? Our cause is worthy of any sacrifice we may give.

Remember those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and learn from them what it means to be “a good soldier” of Christ Jesus.

The Milestone of Graduation

May 18, 2012

Graduation is an important milestone in one’s life. For a high school graduate, it means you have made it from kindergarten through twelfth grade. A lot of time has passed in that journey toward adulthood. That time passed slowly for you, but for your parents, the time has flown by quickly. They are extremely proud of you, but they are also feeling a bit nostalgic as they consider the changes that are ahead.

Graduation is a new beginning. As someone has quipped, they call them commencement ceremonies for a reason: you are about to commence to the next stage of your life. The new beginning may lead to a job, a technical school, college, or the military. Graduation represents the passing of something accomplished, so that something new may begin.

A world of opportunities exist even in a tough economic climate. Choose your job path carefully. As it is frequently said, if you find something that you really like to do, you will never work a day in your life. By never work, the saying means that it won’t seem like drudgery. You will look forward to your work. Time will pass quickly. I’ll add one caution. I suspect that in every job there is some drudgery. It is difficult to get away from the curse of Genesis 3 completely. But people who enjoy what they do are blessed.

This is the time when you are making those important decisions about what you will do in life. Ecclesiastes advises:

Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes, but know that God will judge your motives and actions. Ecclesiastes 11:9, NET

As long as it is within the will of God, youth is the time to follow your dreams. Youth is the time of great potential. Enjoy it, but choose wisely.

Graduation is a time of spiritual testing. Make certain that God and His will are involved in the decisions you make. Leaving home will also make it necessary for your faith to become your own and not just that of your parents. You may find yourself having to wake up and go to church on a Sunday morning on your own. Mom or Dad won’t be there to get you up. Stepping out into a wider world will also mean facing greater temptations and challenges to your faith. Keeping spiritual matters a priority will help you through the temptations and challenges. If you keep God first, it can lead to the strengthening and maturing of your faith.

Congratulations on the milestone of graduation!

Not Mass Produced

May 11, 2012

Netflix currently has the series, How It’s Made. I’m fascinated with the automation that goes into everyday products. One episode showed a factory producing copy paper. I tend to feel like I’m all thumbs unwrapping a ream of paper and placing it in the photocopier, but a mechanized factory produces 55,000 sheets of paper a minute, and it can wrap a ream of paper in the blink of an eye. Another episode showed a machine that fabricates adhesive bandages. It produced 300 to 1500 bandages a minute depending on size.

Since the industrial revolution, a few have pondered whether children could be raised that way. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World imagined a hatchery for children. Children were designed and conditioned to fulfill their various social stations. No need for the messiness of parents. The upper class alphas could then be free to consume (that’s what consumer societies need after all) and to experience pleasure.

The real world has produced more modest attempts of raising children in mass. The Soviet Union experimented on the family with child care centers. It attempted to put more of the child raising under the control of the state. From a non-Marxist point a view, feminism also desired the emancipation of women from the burden of child rearing. They believed that collective child care was inevitable, but their most illusive goal was freedom from the pre-school years.

Yet, maternal and parenting instincts are strong, and some of the attempts to change family life have fortunately been resisted. The Soviet Union had to reverse its course in its attempt to radically change the family. Plus, all this experimenting has taught us something. Child raising does not seem to be an activity that can be successfully industrialized. Children succeed at certain developmental tasks with parents that are not met with even the best child care.

Your mother gave birth to you. She changed your diapers. She talked to you and read stories to you. She taught you right from wrong. In fact, your moral sense was developed by the age of nine. She taught you how to pray your first child-like prayers. She guided you in learning how to share your toys, resolve your conflicts, and pick up after yourself. You learned to brush your teeth, take a bath, and say thank you and please.

She was there when you were frightened, and she protected you from dangers even the ones for which you were totally unaware. She put Band-Aids on your skinned knee and wiped away your tears. It was a labor intensive task, yet a labor of love. You were not massed produced.

The God Who Works in You

May 4, 2012

We need all the parts of Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:12-13.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13, ESV)

Certainly, Paul is encouraging us to a life of obedience, individual responsibility, and perseverance. But we need to notice more than the phrase: work out your own salvation.

Paul wants us to live a life of reverence. Interestingly enough, Paul emphasizes “with fear and trembling” by his word order. Literally in Greek, the phrase would be: with fear and trembling your own salvation work out. That provides a context for our obedience. We are in a relationship with a mighty God.

Certainly a terror that would cause us to freeze or flee would be counter-productive. But the fear or reverence that Paul wants us to have should cause us to be humble and receptive. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7, ESV). “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2b, ESV).

Paul wants us to live a life of power. That is why reverence is so important. We are living in a relationship with God — a life of dependence. Paul explains that in this working out of our own salvation that God is involved: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13, ESV). My experience in Christian living would suggest that God’s power doesn’t help us without our effort and cooperation. I think that is why there is the balance that exists in this passage. But neither should we think that the walk of faith is unaided and dependent only on our own resources.

Paul is clear that he has a source of strength that is beyond himself: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, ESV). I suspect we discover God’s power in our lives when we admit our own weaknesses in prayer. I suspect we find God’s help when we step out in faith despite our own reservations.

Paul clearly wants us to understand our part and God’s part in daily Christian living. Work out your own salvation. But remember we do this in fear and trembling, and that God is at work in us to will and to work for his good pleasure.