Am I a Soldier of the Cross

"Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb? And shall I fear to own His cause, or blush to speak His name?" Isaac Watts posed these questions to believers almost 350 years ago. The same questions must be asked today. We are in a war. God has called us to fight for the hearts and souls of men. I pray that what is said here will prove to be an encouragement and a challenge to every believer who visits this site. Let our cry be the last verse of the old song. "Sure I must fight if I would reign- increase my courage Lord! I'll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word!"

Saturday, August 24, 2013

He Stood In The Midst

     Now I know I can't possibly be the only one who is like this, but there are a couple people in Heaven I basically must meet. Jesus will be a big one (obviously). Paul is definitely on the list, along with John the Baptist, and Jonah (I mean, how many guys do you know that have caught a fish from the inside!). But I have to tell you, the guy I was reading about today is a must-see. First of all, he's listed as one of David's mighty men. The guy gets huge man-points just for that. But look what he does.
     2 Sam. 23:11. And after him was Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. And the Philistines were gathered together in a troop, where was a piece of ground full of lentils: and the people fled from the Philistines.
     12. But he stood in the midst of the ground, and defended it, and slew the Philistines: and the LORD wrought a great victory.
     Let's paint a picture here. So Shammah is with this group of people, maybe foragers, when a force of Philistines come over the hill. The people with Shammah pull on their New Balances and go tearing off in to the sunset, leaving Shammah all alone. Now put yourself in Shammah's shoes: you're all alone, facing an enemy army, and you're left with the decision to run for it or defend a pea patch. There are definitely some things I would die for. Bible? Yes. Family? Yes. Pizza? Obviously. Peas? Nope. Not happening. Sorry, but there is no way I would die for peas, and unless Shammah was some radical sort of devout vegetarian, I have a feeling he wasn't super inclined to make a great last stand on a vegetable garden. But he stays. Why? That was where God had put him. He was sent for a reason, whether it be to protect the foragers in the garden or to lead a scouting mission against the Philistines. Ultimately, it doesn't matter why. Shammah defended what was given to him even at risk of his life.
     My question for you is: what would you die for? The neighbor you're witnessing to, your unsaved coworker, or your children? Each of us has given a pea patch: a mission to accomplish or ground to hold at all costs. Even if it means giving up your life, but not in the sense you are thinking. All throughout the Bible, we are called to give up our lives on a daily basis; putting aside our old, sinful tendencies and loving people as Christ Himself. So I encourage you to read the story of Shammah, remember where God has called you, and daily lay down your lives for what God has called you to do.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Holy Ground

     He could have chosen the house of the Levite. Or the palace. Or the tent of the Midian high priest. Or He could have chosen Pizza Hut for that matter. However, as we see God doing so many different times in Scripture, God chose somewhere unusual, plain, unsuspected, and just plain ugly. The backside of the desert.
     Exodus 3:1 Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
     2 And the Angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
     Moses was destined to be the future leader of Israel and to lead them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land in the name of the Lord. He was spared from Pharaoh's extermination of Hebrew children and was brought up in safety under Pharaoh's own roof. However, he was not ready to handle the task to which God had called him. Moses' action in killing the Egyptian in Exodus 2:11-12 proved that not only was he unprepared, but we also see in 2:14 that the Hebrews were not ready for him to be their leader. So Moses was led to a place where he would meet God; a place where Moses' past, pedigree, and former position were null and void. He became a shepherd in the backside of the desert. Not exactly a flashy position, but in leading sheep around the wilderness of Horeb, Moses was being prepared to lead a nation into the Promised Land.
     So what is the application here? Moses had a job to do; a big job. He had a massive calling on his life that he could not deny or fail to undertake. But God's strategy was not to put an ill-prepared soldier in the breach; there was a preparation period in which God hand-crafted His servant. All of us have hit those sections of life that could most definitely be classified as "backside of desert" equivalents. Whether those seem to be hard times in ministry, sickness, financial difficulties, or having to live in the heat, we will all spend a tour of duty being prepared for what God has for us. We look at situations or locations and call them God-forsaken, but Christian, if you lift up your eyes, you may realize that, like Moses, the place you are standing is holy ground.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Not Without Strength

     Listen to the words of the songs we sing in church. Consider the words of many sermons and books. Look at the most well-known verses about Christ. Search "Jesus Christ" on the  internet. What do you find? Most often, themes such as His love, His compassion, His meekness, and His forgiveness are highlighted. All of these are amazing qualities of the Lord we serve, so don't misunderstand the point of this post; nevertheless, I think that we as believers are missing something crucial.
     Let me illustrate. Suppose someone is trying to describe me to you; they talk about how much I love potato chips. And cinnamon rolls. And Dr. Pepper. And cookies. And my First Love of Food: pizza. What is the image you are going to get? You'll probably start to envision me as a lazy, incredibly unhealthy couch potato lounging on a stack of pizza take-out boxes. While the above facts may be true, they aren't the whole story.
     Then there's the guy who only talks about how I love to play paintball, shoot, run and go to the gym. After talking to that guy, you'll think of me as a no-nonsense, tough-as-nails cross between John Wayne, a Marine, and Captain America. Obviously I'm far closer to the latter, but that's not exactly an accurate picture either.
     I went through all that to say: if you stress one part of a person's nature and neglect another, you don't get an accurate picture of who that person is. And unfortunately, I believe that we have done that with the person of Jesus Christ. The main focus of our songs, sermons, and illustrations are His "gentler" qualities. Again, don't get me wrong, we have not overemphasized these qualities, but we have neglected elements of His character that we see manifested in John 18:2-12.

   2 And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples.
   3 Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.
   4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?
   5 They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.
   6 As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.
   7 Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth.
   8 Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way:
   9 That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none.
   10 Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus.
   11 Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?
   12 Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him.

     Look at verse 6, the verse I underlined. Judas has betrayed Jesus and has led an armed mob to capture Him. Christ asks who they are looking for, and the leaders say "Jesus of Nazareth." Nothing unusual there. Christ says "I am he" and still nothing out of the ordinary. But then we get to verse six. When Christ merely said "I am He," the very force of His words literally blew the mob off its feet! Then the argument comes that the mob was just surprised; once they got on their feet they were strong enough to capture Jesus. Oh no...keep reading. Jesus says He would go with them if they let His disciples go. We know that the disciples escaped, but these verses imply that they were let go. Why? Because this mob of heavily-armed soldiers were too scared to tangle with Christ on anything but His terms! Look folks, this isn't "'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus;" this is "You're Cooked if You're on the Wrong Side of Jesus!"
     The examples could go on and on. The demon named Legion crawling before Christ and begging for his life. Christ's cleansing of the temple with a whip and God-load of righteous anger. The picture of the returning Christ in Revelation 19. Christ is as mighty and valiant and powerful and wild and uncontrollable as He is loving, compassionate,  and meek.
     The Jesus we serve is not to be laughed at or taken lightly. He is not to be deemed irrelevant or weak at best. He is above all and second to none. This is the Jesus that we all will face before the Judgement Seat. But this is also the Jesus that defends, sustains, and guides those that have put their trust in Him. Just as we cannot fathom a Jesus without grace, realize that the same Jesus is also not without strength.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Cup

     Ever wondered what was in the cup? We hear about it, we read about it, and we study the context, but have you ever thought about what was inside of it? Just hours before His death, we see Jesus in a way that the gospels rarely portray Him. Matthew says that Christ “began to be sorrowful and very [distressed].” Luke 22:44 has Him sweating “as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus suffering in a way He did not even as Pilate proclaimed His death sentence. The reason for His suffering? A cup. Just a cup. Christ engages in three rounds of intense prayer in the garden, and all three times He begs of the Father, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me…” What was in the cup?
Talk to some theologians and skim the religion section in the library, and you’ll here mostly about the nails, the soldiers, and crown of thorns. Go to an Easter service in an average church and you’ll get the parting of Christ’s raiment, the spear in His side, and the beating He received. You’ll hear that Christ could see the physical suffering coming, and it caused Him this great agony. This was what the cup held.
Honestly, it sounds pretty good, but there’s a hitch. Thousands of believers suffered in horrible ways for their faith. Most of them exhibited a\n unbelievable amount of peace in their deaths. Some forgave their oppressors, others died singing hymns. And you think that the same future had the Commander of the Heavenly Hosts cowering in a garden?? No, the cup was a far greater penalty.
     Turn to Isaiah 51:17. “Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the LORD the cup of his fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out.” Revelation 14:10: “The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.” Speaking of an apostate city known as Babylon in the end times, Revelation 18:5-6: “For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double.” I know this is a lot of hard, symbolic language, but look for the common denominator in reference to the cup. Let me give you one last verse, Revelation 16:19. “And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.”
     What was in the cup? All throughout Scripture, this symbolic cup is filled to the brim with God’s wrath against sin. Every sinful motive, thought, word, and deed are stored up carefully, waiting to be revealed against unrighteous men who commit them (Romans 1:19). We wonder why wickedness seems to take the upper hand. On the basis of Scripture, I can tell you with full assurance that any victory or prosperity gained by unrighteous individuals and entities is a fa├žade, and one day, the veil will be lifted. God, from His throne will bring forth the cup of His wrath against their sin, and they will be forced to drink the consequences.
In the cup was the wrath of God against sin. That’s what Christ suffered. In comparison, the nails were trivial. The crown? Secondary. The thorns? Peripheral. Even the cross itself? Nothing compared to the perfect Son of God drinking down the wrath of God in our place. His response in the garden to the mere thought of the wrath we had stored up is a testimony to what He endured. Christ, on the cross, drank down every drop of the wrath we deserve. The wrath of God is not simply appeased for a time or held back by Christ’s sacrifice. For you who have put your faith in Jesus, there is no more wrath stored up against you. Christ took the cup from the hand of the Father, and when it fell to the ground, not even a drop was left to ever be brought against you.