A Good Soldier

May 25, 2018

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.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

May 18, 2018

Imagine different gardeners and their plants.

In one case, there is but an overgrown pot. Everything is under control, but growth is stifled. The plant could be several times its current size, but that would mean being repotted or placed in the garden. It would mean having room to grow.

In another case, the garden is neglected. The plants are sickly. They need weeding and pruning. They need water and fertilizer. With attention, the garden could be lush and fruitful, but this garden has many a brown spot and plants that are about to die.

The third garden is hardly a garden. Dead plants really do not a garden make. It is evident that something toxic had been in this garden. Instead of water and fertilizer, these plants received poison.

The final case is a lush, green, and fruitful garden. It has received good care from the gardeners. Weeds have been pulled. Water and fertilizer have been applied, and the increase is great.

The story of the gardeners provides a lesson for the church. The selection of elders and deacons is a vitally important decision. As the work of gardeners affect the garden, so does the work of elders and deacons affect the church.

Overbearing leaders (see 1 Peter 5:3) can stifle the life of the church. The church can be like the pot bound plant—capable of great growth if given the chance but stifled instead.

Neglectful leaders fail to do the work that needs to be done. The church can become like the neglected garden in need of weeding, pruning, fertilizing, and watering.

Toxic leaders bring false teaching (see Titus 1:9-11) or emotional abuse. Instead of the sound doctrine that produces spiritual health. False teaching kills off the life of the church.

Finally, good leaders do the work that needs to be done in the church. The result is a healthy church. The members are equipped for service (Ephesians 4). The church grows and produces good fruit.

The health and growth of the church are dependent on the quality of leadership we have. May we choose wisely. Good leaders promote “sound (healthy) doctrine (teaching).” Along with equipping people for ministry, this should lead to a healthy church. Such a church needs to be biblical in its teaching, moral in its ethical life, and loving in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). This love is demonstrated in service and ministry as we encourage one another and reach out to the world around us.

A Spiritual Debt, A Spiritual Legacy

May 11, 2018

Timothy became a traveling companion and assistant on Paul’s second missionary journey. Timothy had a good reputation with the church, and he proved to be a valuable worker. Timothy is mentioned with Paul as a sender in 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon. He worked in Berea, Macedonia, Corinth, Thessalonica, and Ephesus. He accompanied Paul on his final trip to Jerusalem, and Hebrews mentions his release from prison (Hebrews 13:23). But we gain a personal insight into Timothy’s life, when Paul wrote: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2 Timothy 1:5, ESV). Timothy owed a spiritual debt to his mother and grandmother.

Eunice and Lois were not a perfect mother and grandmother. Why did Eunice marry a Gentile? Was that a good spiritual decision given the instructions of the Law? Were they grieved when Timothy’s eighth day of life passed without a circumcision as the Law commanded (Acts 16:3)? Yet, maybe that can be reassuring to us. We can have a positive spiritual impact having made some bad decisions in our life. Few of us would volunteer ourselves as models of perfect parenthood. The past is past. We must live for God today, and that is what Eunice and Lois did.

Eunice and Lois had a sincere faith. Faith is more than having your name on a church membership role or occupying a pew on Sunday morning. Faith must be lived in daily life. Our devotional life must overflow from the assembly into family and private devotions. Our moral life must be demonstrated on how we treat real people and not what lessons have we heard. If we have strong faith, it is more likely that our children will have strong faith. If we have moderate faith, our children may see the inconsistencies and have weaker faith. If we have weak faith, our children may have no faith. We can’t pass along what we don’t have. The greatest gift we can give our children is being people of sincere faith.

Eunice and Lois nurtured faith in Timothy. Paul reminded Timothy of his past: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15, ESV ). We can imagine Timothy taught Bible stories from his earliest years. We can imagine spiritual insights shared in daily life at those teachable moments.

Timothy owed a spiritual debt to his mother and grandmother. Lois and Eunice had a spiritual legacy because of their sincere faith and faithful instruction.

Mothers are important to us in many ways, but a spiritual legacy is the greatest gift of all. Happy Mother’s Day!

Better than Silver and Gold

May 4, 2018

With so many English Bible translations to choose from, we may be under the impression that everyone in the world has easy access to the Bible in their own language. However, that is not the case. Statistics from the Wycliffe Bible Translators put this in perspective. There are about 7000 languages known to be in use today. More than 1,500 languages have the New Testament and some portion of the Bible in their language. More than 650 languages have a complete Bible in their language. More than 2,500 languages across 170 countries have active Bible translation projects for their language. Approximately 1600 languages still need a Bible translation project to begin. At least 1.5 billion people do not have a complete Bible in their first language. More than 110 million do not have a single verse of the Bible in their language.*

English speaking people are fortunate from the standpoint of history. In the 1300s if an Englishman wanted to read the Bible, he needed to know Greek, Hebrew, or Latin. The first English Bible was that of John Wycliffe in 1382. But translators had a great resistance to overcome, because the mood of religious leaders of the day was that the Bible should not be in the common language of the people. As a matter of fact, the Council of Constance in 1415 angered at Wycliffe order his body to be disinterred, burned, and his ashes thrown into the river Swift.

The first printed English Bible was published in 1525 and was the work of William Tyndale. In Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, a dispute with a learned man is given in which the man argued that it would be better to be without God’s law than the Pope’s. Tyndale is said to have replied: “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.” But due to opposition, Tyndale had to flee England to do his work. The first printed English Bible was published in Germany and had to be smuggled into England in bales of cloth. Tyndale was later betrayed, tried for heresy, and executed in 1536.

The easy availability of the Bible in English is a blessing that is easy to take for granted. However, history testifies to the fact that some have risked and given their lives so that we may have it, and others must still wait for it to be given in their own language.

May we cultivate the attitude of the Psalmist: “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Psalms 119:72, ESV). Have you read your Bible recently? Having and reading the Bible is better than silver and gold.