In some Christian denominations hymns about war and fighting have been removed from their hymnals, or at least verses modified. Hymns like Onward Christian Soldiers, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, or Sons of God Go Forth To War are no longer in favor. No one likes war, and we should all desire and prayer for peace, but we must recognize the real struggle we all face – the battle with the world, with our own sinful flesh, and with the devil. This is a real conflict, a real battle, and is expressed in some of our hymns. Paul counseled the Ephesians Christians to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God,…(6:10-11) This is first a battle within our own hearts to overcome “the sin that so easily entangles us”.(Hebrews 12 :1) It is a battle we cannot fight alone. We stand in the light of Christ who “loved us and gave himself up for us”, and by the strength of God’s Spirit working in our lives. Christ has won the victory at the cross. We live and stand firm daily in the light of that victory.
I was reading a magazine the other day where, in different places, the publisher had to make corrections concerning a previous issue. It read “we mischaracterized” a particular incident they reported. In another place “we misstated” certain information. We are also familiar with hearing a politician backtrack on some statement saying “I misspoke”. It would have been more truthful to say, “we were wrong”, “we stated falsely”, or how about “I lied”. Unmarried couples don’t just sleep together, they commit fornication. People don’t just have a little too much to drink, they get drunk. We love self justification. It sounds so much better, and after all “nobody’s perfect”. The problem is that truth is not so easily removed. However it looks on the surface it’s still flat out wrong. It is why we in the Christian Church emphasize the importance of confession and absolution. The only true cleansing, the only true freedom, is coming before the Lord, against whom all sin is committed, and honestly repent. Confess our sins, without color or self justification. It is then we can hear the words of forgiveness and cleansing in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Even if we have to bear the consequences of our sin, we are free. That’s so much better that trying to cover it over, and still bear the guilt.
The news media has reported on so many scandals concerning people in high positions. It really seems somewhat strange to me. An intelligent person spends years accomplishing a variety of good things, of having a good marriage and family, having a solid reputation in the community, and then in order to gain some additional wealth, influence, sexual gratification or whatever does something stupid to tarnish everything that has gone before. I know we humans are more complex than that, and our motivations are many, including the sin that resides in the hearts of us all. Yet, it seems that a good reputation and respect of others should be too great a sacrifice to make for the temporary gains one may find. Choices in life are hard. Temptations are many, but maybe weighing the costs can be helpful. In order to gain this, what do I have to give up? It is a question that can be applied to the purchase of that next greatest gadget, or a desired sexual encounter. But even beyond this, as people of faith in the One who gave His life that we might live, the cost of bringing shame to Him is far too great compared to any sinful pleasures.
St. Peter writes in his first letter that in view of the life we are being called to we should “prepare (our) minds for action,…”(1:13) The literal phrase is to gird up the loins of your mind (as in the King James version). This is an interesting expression. It means to “prepare oneself to face or contend with somethings. It was used for preparing for hard work, and even for battle. Peter is using it here with reference to our minds, our thoughts. It may seem a strange expression, but it is very real guidance for life. Peter recognized that all sin starts in the mind. Whether, anger, coveting, lust, or whatever. One allows the mind to play with thoughts and desires that are not good. God had said to Cain before his jealousy caused him to kill his brother, “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”(Genesis 4:7) This is the same battle Peter is talking about. I think it is a battle we all experience, and I suspect have often given in to. Peter advises that we above all keep our minds fixed on the greatness of our calling to be in eternal fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ. As Peter says, a life so great that even angels long to understand it.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews began his third chapter saying, “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling,…” Holy brethren…partakers of a heavenly calling…. really? We are tempted to say, “Who me?” Paul would write to the churches and begin by calling the people “saints”. I don’t think these are terms we would usually apply to ourselves. Nor do we often feel like holy brethren. But that is not the point of these expressions. Ephesians 2:8 says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” By God’s pure grace we have a heavenly calling. You have been called by God to be His child through faith in Jesus Christ. It is our identity in Jesus. When one has a calling, whether as a Christian Pastor, or as a business professional, or a shop keeper, we seek to fulfill that calling as best God gives us the grace, understanding, and strength to do. So, dear holy brethren, seek to live your calling today to the glory of God.
My home state, Maryland, is in the middle of the eastern seaboard. We have our expressions that are peculiar to our area, but we don’t have a real “southern accent” as you might find in states further south in the country. What is interesting, however is how easily one can pick up and begin to mimic the speech of another area when one is living there for a length of time. It is easy to go along. We’ve also heard the expressions of swearing like a sailor, or a certain kind of talk that goes on in a locker room. I said it is easy to go along, but we do need to be careful what we go along with. Paul wrote to the Colossian Church we should put aside all “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”(3:8) “Let your speech always be with grace,…”(4:6) That doesn’t mean we are always talking about religious things. There is a lot of good speech and clean humorous things to laugh about. Our words are to be useful to others, and bring no shame to ourselves or to our Lord.
I complained a bit the other day about the pace of technological changes that amaze, and sometimes overwhelm me. But I do use and appreciate a number of them. I am especially reminded of this with our ability to communicate instantaneously on a global level. This morning I read just posted reports from churches in Europe. I am in regular contact with a church in East Africa with whom I’ve made a number of friends. I’ve gotten responses to these messages from numerous Christians around the world. The technology has allowed us to share with and support Christian brothers and sisters worldwide. It gives a much deeper perspective on the Body of Christ beyond the local congregation, or even our national denomination. We are a real part of other Christians whose lives and circumstances are vastly different from ours, yet in the faith and in prayer we are a part of one another. Four millennia ago God had promised Abraham that through Him – through his offspring, Jesus Christ – all the nations of the earth would be blessed. We are being enabled to see that blessing more and more.
Everyone likes to get gifts, free stuff, huge discounts, or even win the lottery. But the thing we find with most such gifts is that they are short lived. Many gifts get put aside, free stuff is not all that useful, and many big lottery winners have found the money more of a curse than a blessing. The writer of the Book of James tells us that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”(James 1:17) We often seek after toys and baubles in life ignoring the One from whom our true treasure comes. It is the Lord who is the source of life. It is He who has given us life in Jesus Christ. God shows us in His Word the path to the best life possible. It is He who loves us with an everlasting love that never changes. Everything else we have in this world can be seen as a gift of God, and received with thankfulness and praise. Sure, getting gifts is nice, but we live daily in the joy of having already received the greatest gift possible, a relationship with Almighty God through faith in Jesus Christ. Everything else flows from this.
I am old enough to have grown up without a TV in the house, and I really do know how to use a dial telephone. We even had a party line for a while. Even though I was involved with electronics for a number of years I still find the change in modern technology rather astounding. We are enjoying a weeks vacation in a rented cottage in Western Maryland. There is a basket on the coffee table with flour remotes in it. I can barely manage to turn the TV on and off. I sat on the deck this afternoon with an inexpensive smart phone in my hand. In a matter of a minutes I had contacted one daughter in Virginia, and another in Pennsylvania. These great technological advances have improved many things in life. Yet in spite of this, it is progress in a very limited sense. True progress is only that which changes the heart. The inner nature of mankind has really not changed in thousands of years. We struggle with the same sins as did our ancestors. it is only the grace of our Lord working through His Spirit that can touch and change our deepest need. Cell phones and remotes are nice, but life truly progresses through faith in Jesus Christ.
God’s promises do not come with disclaimers. I get very tired of pill commercial on TV. They all come across with great promises for a cure of this and that disease, but they follow by saying that it could leave you in a worse condition, or even kill you. I heard an investment offer on radio a few days ago for a 20% return on your investment with monthly payouts. It was then followed by someone talking at triple speed giving all the conditions and lack of guarantees. Our Lord doesn’t work that way. “The LORD is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does” the psalmist tells us.(145:13) As we look back over our lives we see Lord’s hand of grace in so many large and small ways. We struggle at times with not seeing immediate answers to prayers we think are right, but we can’t deny the goodness He has shown throughout life. The love of our Lord is very great and doesn’t come to us disclaimers.