Are You Sure You’re a Soldier?

An elderly gentleman found himself seated next to a  young man who was dressed rather sloppily in civilian clothes. The elderly gentleman struck up a conversation to pass the time. After exchanging names and pleasant greetings, he asked the young man, “Son, what do you do?” The young man answered, “I’m a soldier in the United States army.”

That answer surprised the gentleman, and he said, “Sorry. I didn’t know. After all, you aren’t wearing your uniform right now.” The young man said, “That’s because I don’t have a uniform.” “Oh, come now,” said the gentleman, “every soldier has a uniform.” “Not me,” said the young man, “I just wear what I want to wear.”

The old man chuckled and said, “Well, I guess you didn’t read the training manual about how a soldier has to wear his uniform.” To that, the young man said, “No, that book never did interest me. My fellow soldiers are always talking about it, but I haven’t read any of it.”

The old man asked, “Can you at least tell me where your base is?” He got no satisfaction there, either, however, as the young man answered, “I don’t have a base. My fellow soldiers have begged me to show up at base, but I’ve always got something else to do.”

At this point the elderly gentleman only had one card left to play to try to make any sense of the conversation. He said to the young man, “Well, I guess if your commander tells you it’s okay for you to dress in civilian clothes, ignore your training manual, and spend all your time off base, he must have his reasons.” But to that the young man simply replied, “I wouldn’t know what my commander thinks. He and I never talk.”

Now the old man was thoroughly confused. He laughed and said, “Boy, they are certainly training soldiers differently these days. I’d sure hate to have to depend upon you in a fight.” He meant that as a bit of a criticism, but the assessment didn’t seem to affect the young man one way or the other. His answer, given in a very matter-of-fact tone, was, “You don’t have to worry about it. I’m not about to do any fighting anyway. If I did, I might get hurt.”

That answer was the last straw for the elderly gentleman’s tolerance. He had heard all he cared to hear. He leaned up in his seat, looked the young man squarely in the eyes, and rebuked him by saying, “You say you’re a soldier in the United States army, but rather than wear a uniform you dress just like the rest of the world. You never read the soldier’s manual. You never show up at your base. You never talk with your commander. And you have no interesting in fighting for your country. Son, you may think you are a solider, but I assure you, you aren’t one.”

Perhaps by now you’ve figured out where I’m going with this illustration. The Bible tells us in 2 Timothy 2:3-4 that the Christian is a soldier in Jesus Christ’s army. And yet many people who claim to be Christians don’t look a bit different from the world, don’t read the Bible, don’t attend church, don’t pray, and never strike a blow for Christ’s cause. How, then, can we take their claims seriously? The best we can do is say that if these people are indeed soldiers in Christ’s army, they are poor ones who aren’t prepared for spiritual battle, and even if they were prepared they have no interest in fighting anyway.

Posted in Bible Study, Change, Faithfulness, God's Will, God's Word, God's Work, Hypocrisy, Obedience, Personal Holiness, Sacrifice, Salvation, Sanctification, Scripture, Separation, Service, Spiritual Warfare, The Bible | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Something Must Have Happened Here

In the early 1800s, an adventurous trapper decided to see for himself what America’s western frontier looked like. Day and night he rode, seeing new sites daily, always trekking westward. Finally he came upon the Grand Canyon, which of course he knew nothing about. As he sat atop his horse looking out over that awesome expanse, all he could say was, “Something musta happened here!”

Something must of happened in the little town of Bethlehem one night. That something was enough to serve as the spark of a religious movement that continues today, almost 2,000 years later. The something didn’t create a gaping hole in the ground, but it certainly did create a gaping hole in the religions of the world. Frankly, none of them have been the same since, and some of them got pushed out of existence altogether.

Like that trapper’s take on the Grand Canyon, though, many people still don’t know what happened in Bethlehem. According to one website I read, over 2 billion people around the world have never heard the story of Jesus. Another website places the number at over 3 billion. Even in countries that have been saturated with the gospel, new babies are being born each day, babies that will grow up and need to hear the gospel. You see, fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission to, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15, N.K.J.V.) is an ongoing assignment that constantly perpetuates itself.

Yes, something did happen in Bethlehem. A baby was born there, a baby that was different from all other babies ever born. This child was conceived in the womb of a virgin. He was the eternal God the Son come down from heaven to take upon Himself a human body and live among His created race of people. He would live 33-and-a-half years upon the earth and never commit even one sin. He would perform miracles that proved His divinity. He would heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead.

But the miracles weren’t why He came. His real purpose in coming was to die as the substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of the human race. After that, He Himself would resurrect from the dead and return to heaven to sit again upon His throne and offer salvation to anyone and everyone who will voluntarily believe in Him as Savior (John 3:16).

This Christmas, anytime you see a manger scene, think upon these things. Christmas is about so much more than a baby. Jesus the baby was merely the human beginning of Jesus the Savior.

You say, “I know that, Russell.” Great, then share it with someone who doesn’t know it. Even if that person has heard bits and pieces of Christ’s story, perhaps they’ve never heard a simple, clear presentation of the whole story (i.e., Christ’s virgin birth, His sinless life, His miracles that proved His divinity, His substitutionary death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His promise to return to the earth one day). If they haven’t heard all that presented in a way they can grasp, then the best gift you can give them this Christmas is the gift of telling it to them. Perhaps they will believe in Jesus as Savior. Perhaps they won’t. But what they’ll never be able to do again is plead ignorance to knowing what happened.

Posted in Belief, Christ's Second Coming, Christ's Birth, Christ's Death, Christ's Miracles, Christ's Resurrection, Christ's Return, Christmas, Evangelism, Salvation, The Gospel, Witnessing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Settling for Pig Food

Let’s say that a kid wants the newest, hottest, super-duper-deluxe video-game system for Christmas. The thing costs $450. Now let’s say that the kid’s parents just can’t afford to spend that much on a Christmas present. So what do they do? They buy a  knockoff version, a game system that mimics the real deal and is made by some generic company. Cost? $100. Now you tell me, will that kid ever be truly satisfied with that lesser system? You know the answer.

Sadly, many Christians settle for less than God’s best when it comes to His will. The usual problem is that God’s best is typically found at the end of you doing something you don’t want to do. That something might be waiting. It might be persevering. It might be repenting. It might be confessing. So, rather than do that something you don’t want to do, you grab the best option available at the time and spend the rest of your life not being satisfied with the choice.

This reminds me of the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The young man asked his father for the inheritance the father planned to leave him, and the father granted the request. The young man then headed off into a far country to waste his newfound money on partying (v.13) and prostitutes (v.30). He was really living it up until his money ran out and he was forced to take a job feeding pigs. That job didn’t pay much, and he eventually found himself so hungry that he would gladly have filled his stomach with the food he was feeding the pigs.

If he had settled for that pig food, though, he would have missed God’s best for his life. That best awaited him back at his father’s house. To receive it, however, he’d have to repent of his sins, return home, make his confession to his father, and ask his father for mercy. None of that would be easy.

What he couldn’t have known, though, was that the reward would be his father giving him a beautiful robe, an expensive ring, and a nice pair of sandals. The father would also have the fatted calf killed and throw the young man a “welcome home” feast. A fatted calf verses pig food? There’s no comparison.

So, I guess my question to you right now is, “Are you willing to do that which is necessary to receive God’s best for your life?” If it requires waiting, will you wait? If it requires persevering, will you persevere? If it requires repenting, will you repent? If it requires confessing, will you confess?

You say, “No, Russell, I just can’t do that.” Well then the only thing left for you to do is acquire a taste for pig food. And, frankly, that’s what a lot of people (including many professing Christians) have done. Rather than do what was required of them to get in on God’s highest and best, they chose easier paths and in so doing settled for things inferior to what God had in mind for them.

You see, we’re not talking about life and death here. The prodigal son could have lived a long life in the far country eating that pig food. What we are talking about is quality of life. We’re talking about the difference between living in the father’s house and living in the far country. We’re talking about the difference between steak and pig food. We’re talking about the difference between a top-of-the-line game system and a knockoff one. We’re talking about the difference between God’s best for your life and something else, something that doesn’t cost you as much but isn’t as satisfying, either.

Posted in Choices, Confession, Desires, Disappointment, God's Timing, God's Will, Impatience, Patience, Perseverance, Repentance, Reward, Sin, Temptation, Trials, Waiting | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

It’s a Pleasure Doing Business With You

Two women were walking down the street of a large city. It was Christmastime and the storefront windows were all decked out for the holiday in an attempt to lure in the shoppers. The dress-store window featured a Christmas tree standing in the midst of several of the most beautiful dresses the store had for sale. The shoe-store window featured figurines of Santa Claus and his reindeer perfectly placed alongside several samplings of shoes. The candy-store featured a depiction of a snowy, wintry scene in which all kinds of candies — candy canes, fudge, milk chocolate, etc. — lay scattered.

Then the women came to the storefront window of a Christian bookstore that sold books, greeting cards, ornaments, and all other manner of do-dads. This window featured nothing but an elegantly simple nativity scene. No latest best-seller. No in-demand ornaments. No seasonal offerings. No marked-down or clearance items. Just the manger scene, complete with a baby Jesus right in the center. One of the women looked at the other and said, “Can you believe that? Now the church is trying to horn in on Christmas!”

A Christmas cartoon from some years ago showed Jesus hanging high on a cross. A ladder was leaned up against the cross, and Santa Claus was standing on one of the top rungs of the ladder. And what was Santa doing up there? He was whispering into Jesus’ ear, “It’s a pleasure doing business with you.” I don’t have to explain the meaning of that cartoon. We’ll all be living it right up until the 25th of this month, won’t we?

Posted in Christ's Birth, Christ's Death, Christmas, Christmas Traditions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Not Enough Just to Start

A retired couple were each advised by their doctor to get more exercise. So they decided to start walking two miles a day. Since they lived out in the country at the end of a long road, their plan was to walk down the road one mile and then turn around and walk back home.

On the first day, they headed out of the house and made it to the one-mile mark. Now it was time to turn around for the other mile. The husband asked the wife, “Can you make it back, or are you too tired?” The wife answered, “Oh, I’m fine. I can make it back without any problem.” The husband said, “Good, I’ll wait here while you go get the car and come get me.”

Have you ever heard the saying, “He’s great out of the gate but not much for stamina?” Unfortunately, that saying can be applied to a lot of Christians. They start out to pray more, but their praying reduces back to average after just a few days. They commit themselves to reading the Bible in a year, but they get bogged down somewhere in Leviticus and give up on the goal. They promise God they will better their church attendance, but after a month or so their spike in attendance vanishes. They dedicate themselves to contributing more money to God’s work, but that dedication ends up being no match for the first unexpected bill. What can we say about such Christians? They are great out of the gate but not much for stamina.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:13, we are told, “But as for you brethren, do not grow weary in doing good” (N.K.J.V.). As you consider this verse, think about your own life. How many starts and stops do you have on your record with God? Also, ask yourself one major question: “Have I stopped something that God didn’t want me to stop?” And if you find yourself answering, “Yes” to that question, then get back to the starting blocks and start again with God, and this time work at persevering.

Posted in Adversity, Backsliding, Bible Study, Church Attendance, Commitment, Doing Good, Giving, God's Work, Perseverance, Prayer | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Lies & Dishonest Scales

Two college boys foolishly spent the week before their final Physics exam drinking and partying at their off-campus apartment. They didn’t sober up until the morning of the exam, and that’s when it dawned on them how much trouble they were in for not studying. So they cooked up a lie to tell their professor. They would miss the exam completely, show up two hours later as he was in the middle of another class, tell him they’d been delayed by a flat tire on the way to the exam, and ask if they could take the test sometime the next day.

The professor listened to their story and agreed to let them take the test the next morning at 8:00 a.m. sharp. Pleased with themselves for having gotten away with their deception, the boys raced back to their apartment and began cramming for the exam. By dawn of the next morning they were ready.

When the boys arrived at the professor’s classroom, he kept one of them in the classroom and sent the other one to the room next door. As each boy sat down in his assigned seat, he opened the test pamphlet and was surprised to find that the test consisted of only two questions. Question #1 read: “For 5 points, what are the contents of an atom?” Each boy was amused at the simplicity of the question and smugly wrote down: “proton, neutron, and electron.” Then came question #2: “For 95 points, which one of your car’s four tires went flat yesterday?”

A similar story comes from the world of a big-city butcher. A woman came into his shop and asked to buy a chicken. The butcher promptly went to the back and located the chicken he knew was the only one he had left. He brought it out to the counter, placed it onto the scales, and said to the lady, “The weight is five pounds.” The woman thought for a moment and responded, “I want a bigger one.”

The butcher, not wanting to lose a sale, removed the chicken from the scales and said to the woman, “Give me a second while I go in the back and get a bigger one.” Then he took the chicken into the back, waited a little while, and brought it back to the counter. He again placed it onto the scales and this time subtly forced his thumb down onto the scale enough to make the weight total up to seven pounds.” He looked at the woman and said, “This one is seven pounds. Is that big enough?” She said, “Yes. As a matter of fact, I’ll just take both.”

There are many Bible verses that speak to the issue of honesty. The book of Proverbs, in particular, provides numerous ones. Here are a two (both from the N.K.J.V.) that specifically pertain to the two stories you just read:

  • Proverbs 12:22: Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, But those who deal truthfully are His delight.
  • Proverbs 11:1: Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, But a just weight is His delight.

Isn’t it interesting that each of these verses uses the word “abomination”? Lying and dishonest scales are both abominations to the Lord. We might think of lying as applying to our conduct in personal matters, and we might think of dishonest scales as applying to our conduct in business matters. God keeps a close eye on us in both realms, and we should conduct ourselves accordingly.

Posted in Business, Character, Communication, Lying, Personal Holiness, Work | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking Away from Family & Upbringing

If you are a Christian who was born into a “Christian” household, let me ask you a question: If you had been been born into a household that was not “Christian,” would you have still believed in Jesus Christ at some point and thereby gotten saved?

Let me get even more specific. If you had been born into a Jewish household, can you say with certainty that you would have converted from Judaism to Christianity at some point? If you had been born into a Muslim household, can you say with certainty that you would have converted from Islam to Christianity at some point? If you had been born into a Hindu household, can you say with certainty that you would have converted from Hinduism to Christianity at some point? If you had been born into a Buddhist household, can you say with certainty that you would have converted from Buddhism to Christianity at some point?

Now let me ask the same sort of question about the different denominations of Christianity. If you are a Southern Baptist — and by that I mean that your denomination is the Southern Baptist Convention, not just that you are a Baptist who lives in the south — are you a Southern Baptist by choice or by family tradition? If you are an Independent Baptist, are you that by choice or by family tradition? If you are a Freewill Baptist, are you that by choice or by family tradition? If you are a Methodist, are you that by choice or by family tradition? If you are a Presbyterian, are you that by choice or by family tradition? If you are a Pentecostal, are you that by choice or by family tradition? If you are a Charismatic, are you that by choice or by family tradition? If you are a Lutheran, are you that by choice or by family tradition? If you are Church of Christ, are you that by choice or by family tradition?

The fact is that one’s background can be a very, very hard thing from which to break clear. This is especially true in cases where the individual looks back with fondness upon his or her upbringing. I once had a fellow who had been brought up in a certain denomination, one that has some doctrines and practices with which I differ, attend the church I was pastoring. He came a few Sundays at the urging of his wife and her parents, all of whom hold to the same doctrines I do. This fellow is a great guy and we are still friends to this day, but I’ll never forget what he told me just before he and his wife stopped attending my church and went back to his family church. He said, “Russell, if I accept as the truth everything that you teach, it will mean that my parents have been wrong for years in what they have always believed.” Needless to say, since he loved his parents dearly, that was a bridge that he just wasn’t willing to cross.

It took nothing less than a personal visit from Jesus to get the scandalous Samaritan woman to understand that her Samaritan religion was in error and that she needed to believe in Jesus, a Jew, as Savior (John 4:4-42). It took nothing less than a physical encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road to get Saul of Tarsus to lay aside his Jewish upbringing and believe in Jesus as Savior (Acts 9:1-19). It took nothing less than a divine vision from heaven to get Peter to step outside the walls of his Jewish upbringing and come to the knowledge that Gentiles can get in on the same salvation that God offers to Jews (Acts 10:1-48). Each of these stories can be cited as evidence that breaking clear from your religious upbringing and background doesn’t happen easily.

Reading these stories should make us appreciate Abraham (whose original name was Abram) all the more. There he was in the city of Ur in the land of Chaldea, minding his own business, married to Sarah (whose original name was Sarai), living his life, worshiping the same false idols his father Terah worshiped (Joshua 24:2). Then one day God said to him, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household, and go to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1, N.I.V.).

Did Abraham just hear a voice or did He have some type of vision? The Bible doesn’t give us the details. Either way, though, can you imagine God speaking to you right now and saying, “I want you to leave behind everything that you know and everybody that you know (except for your spouse and your children), and I want you to follow my voice as I lead you to a completely new land, a completely new way of life, and a completely new religion?” I wonder, would you be able to do it?

Actually, even Abraham’s obedience wasn’t perfect. Whereas God wanted him to leave behind his father and the rest of his family (except for Sarah), Abraham took along not only Terah (his father) but also Lot (his nephew). As a matter of fact, the way Genesis 11:31 reads Terah was actually the ramrod of the operation. That verse says:

And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there. (N.K.J.V.)

Notice two things about this verse. First, notice that Terah, not Abraham, is the dominant character in the verse. Did Terah horn his way into God’s unique call upon Abraham’s life? More likely, Abraham didn’t mind having his father and his nephew along for his trip into the unknown. Second, notice that the whole operation ended up settling down in Haran, which was only about the halfway point between Ur and Canaan, the land where God ultimately wanted Abraham. Evidently, Terah liked it in Haran and decided the family had traveled far enough. They even acquired some servants there in Haran (Genesis 12:5).

It wasn’t until Terah died that Abraham, Sarah, Lot, and those servants pulled up stakes from Haran and pressed on into the land of Canaan (Genesis 11:32; 12:4-5; Acts 7:4). Commentators believe that Abraham spent many wasted years, possibly as long as twenty-five years, in Haran. You see, this is the damage that can be done by the powerful pull of family, especially the pull of parents, especially the pull of fathers. We are even left to wonder if Abraham would ever have made it to his God-given land of Canaan if Terah had not died. Remember, neither Terah nor Lot were even supposed to be along on the journey!

What I’m trying to show you in all this is that family and upbringing can be powerful dams that prevent God’s river from flowing in your life. Putting it another way, Satan can use your background against you to keep you from living out God’s will for your life. Certainly this holds true in regards to salvation itself, but it also holds true in regards to what we might call the various “stations” of your life. By “stations” I mean: where you live, where you work, which school you attend, which church you attend, which political affiliations you hold, etc.

I guess what I’m asking you is, “Are you really your own person or is your life dominated by your raising?” I’m not suggesting that God wants everybody to forsake family, friends, and all that they know so that they can head off into the wild blue yonder with Him. But what I am suggesting is that each of us needs to be enough of a “free agent” that we can mind God completely no matter how radical His will for our life gets. Think of it this way: If God has a Canaan in mind for you, you will never know His best if you either stay in your Ur or settle for a Haran. And if you reaching that Canaan requires you to break away from your family and your upbringing, then so be it. Putting it simply, it’s a price worth paying.

Posted in Change, Choices, Church, Church Attendance, Courage, Desires, Faith, Family, Fatherhood, God's Will, Individuality, Obedience, Parenting, Salvation, Service, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment