Some of the greatest stories of love and heroism are true stories in times of war. In moments of intense danger and terror some rise to the occasion in tremendous acts of self-giving love inspiring others to do the same.
Captain William Swenson is one such hero who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on September 8, 2009. He and his men were tasked with defending a group of Afghan government officials who were to meet with local village elders. The group was ambushed and came under heavy fire on three sides. Among many other things, Cpt. Swenson was recognized for running into live fire to rescue the wounded and pull out the dead. By sheer coincidence, one of the medics had a GoPro camera mounted on his helmet, capturing the whole scene on video. Cpt. Swenson was seen dragging a soldier who was shot in the neck to a helicopter when, just before leaving the man to rescue others, the captain bent over and kissed the wounded sergeant.
Stories like these impress upon us the great potential for love within all of us. These are the moments when God’s image (Gen. 1:26) is most clearly reflected in us. We are surrounded with plenty of examples of humans doing their worst but what makes the best come out in these heroes? Are they just better people than the rest of us?
I don’t think soldiers are inherently better people than civilians. Rather, it is the environment of loyalty, trust and sacrificial leadership that inspires this kind of godly behavior in their comrades. It is no surprise, then, that the Biblical authors compare being a disciple of Christ with being a soldier in the military (1 Cor. 9:7; Phil. 2:25; 2 Tim. 2:1ff).
In the military, awards are given to people who sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others. In contrast, in the business world, bonuses are given to people who sacrifice others to benefit themselves! The difference is the attitude of service and devotion in the military compared to the me-first model in the business world. People are capable of great evil or great good depending on their attitude and their environment.
When war heroes are asked why they risked so much for others their answer is always the same: “They would have done the same for me.” So, in the military there is a deep sense of trust, loyalty and cooperation.
In physical battle there are dangers that threaten our existence all around. Our spiritual lives are also a battle (1 Tim. 1:18; 1 Pet. 2:11). There must be a circle of safety and trust where we cooperate to warn one another of impending danger and to come to one another’s aid. God’s model for this environment of spiritual safety and growth is the church (Eph. 4).
For others to become what God created them to be requires a positive example. People need to see the good in others for them to see the potential for good in themselves. We have the ultimate example in Christ (1 Pet. 2:21) but we also have examples of mature Christians who are further along in their spiritual journey of discipleship (1 Tim. 3; 1 Pet. 5).
Leadership among God’s people is not a promotion or the acquisition of a title to lord one’s authority over another (Mt. 20:25-28). Leadership is all about positive, inspiring influence (Mt. 5:13). Leaders in the church lead by following Christ. Following Christ means serving others. Serving others means that we “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3-4ff) That’s what Christ did for us so that we can do the same for others.
The phrase “There’s an app for that” has become the ubiquitous expression of my generation. It’s the punch line for every lazy joke. “You want what? Oh, there’s an app for that!” Awkward laughter follows.
The phrase was born out of our highly individualized, instant-gratification culture that continues to grow both increasingly digital and decreasingly personal. You can find apps to order your groceries online, to count your calories, to manage your money and every other conceivable and inconceivable practice. In the name of convenience, innovative software engineers have created an app for every occasion.
In much the same way, innovative people of faith have created a church for every conceivable (and inconceivable) demographic. Are you looking for fellowship, friendship and a sense of belonging? There’s a church for that! Are you looking for worship that is emotionally stirring and modern? There’s a church for that. Perhaps you’re more ‘old-school’ and want something more traditional. There’s a church for that. You want a relaxed, donuts-and-coffee, come-as-you-are atmosphere? Our culture’s got you covered because there’s a church for that too.
You can church-shop to your heart’s content until you find that perfect blend of all your favorite things. In fact, the church you join says a lot about who you are and what you find important. “My church” to most people is the church that best fits “my needs.” For this reason, churches have made it their business to cater to the desires of their community. Their style of worship, structure of service and focus of ministry is all reflective of what their membership wants.
But is this how we ought to think about local congregations? The apostle Paul once said, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Gal. 1:10) His greatest concern was not to please his neighbor but rather to please God.
This attitude of seeking God’s pleasure should inform every decision a person who wears the name of Christ makes (Phil. 2:13; Col. 1:10; 1 Thess. 4:1ff; Heb. 13:16) including his search for a congregation. One who loves God will search for “God’s Church” not “my church.”
Do you want to please God above all else? Do you want to worship God in the way He desires to be worshiped? Do you want to follow His will in everything you do? Well, there’s a church for that. It is the church that Jesus built (Mt. 16:18) and it still exists today. There are little pockets of His church scattered all around the world.
They might not meet in an impressive building or have a polished speaker or the most entertaining worship production. They may not have the largest budget or the biggest membership. They may not be the church you were raised in. They may not be the church all your friends are a part of. But they are the only church that belongs to God (Acts 20:28).
At Danville, we are striving to be the church you can read about in the Bible. We are far from perfect but believe God is perfecting us as we follow King Jesus and His perfect word as our only authority (Phil. 1:6).
(adapted from Grady Huggins’ “God’s Church vs. My Church”)
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
There is a story about the Buddha encountering a woman whose infant son had died. She continued to carry her baby’s lifeless body around with her because she could not bear to let him go. She went to the Buddha seeking consolation concerning the problem of her grief. The Buddha said, “Go to every household in the village & ask each family whether or not they have lost someone to death. When you have done this, return to me.” The woman did this & returned to the Buddha. The Buddha asked, “Did you encounter anyone who has not suffered the pain of death?” The woman answered, “No” and finally gave her baby’s corpse up for burial.
Compare that to the story of Jesus encountering the death of Lazarus in John chapter 11. In John 11, Jesus hears of his friend’s sickness in Bethany but deliberately waits two days to travel there saying “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (v.4) Jesus knew his friend had died but described his death only as “sleep” from which He could awaken him (v.11). His purpose in resurrecting Lazarus was to cause faith in His disciples (v.15).
Jesus arrived at Bethany to find a common funeral scene, grieving family members and a sealed tomb. Death, the enemy of God’s creation, had claimed yet another victim. Jesus had had enough. He commanded the stone be taken away and commanded Lazarus to “come out” of the tomb and the prison of death (v.43) and he did!
Compare the story of the Buddha with Jesus in John 11. The difference is titanic. One says to accept suffering and death as facts of life and to make our peace with them. Jesus, disgusted with death, says that He is the resurrection and the life and that we can overcome death through Him.
Death is an unnatural, evil thing. God created us in His image to live, not to die. Death was the result of the twisting of God’s good creation caused by sin (Gen. 3-5). Death is not a release, it is a prison, an enemy. Though the Preacher says that death is the great equalizer in this world broken by sin (Ecc. 9:1ff) the psalmist remarks, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” because in death, God can begin to gather His redeemed creation back to Himself (Psa. 116:15; 2 Tim. 4:6-8).
Jesus is the great conqueror of death. He experienced it with us and for us, was in fact killed by us (our sins) on the cross, but overcame death by the power of the resurrection. Jesus lifted the curse from Gen. 3 by taking it upon Himself so we could live (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 3:18). Even His mock crown represented the curse of sin (Jn. 19:2). But now, being raised from the dead, Jesus says to suffering Christians, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Rev. 1:17-18)
The Bible teaches that suffering has meaning and eventually God will make all things right in the last act of the play. God created a good world that was corrupted by sin and death but God, through Jesus, is undoing the curse and redeeming this lost and broken world back to Himself. And Jesus is the answer to our suffering and our death.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
According to divine Wisdom, a “friend” is someone who loves you at all times (Prov. 17:17), gives good advice (27:9-10), sticks close by you (18:24), helps you when you are down (Ecc. 4:9-10), provides for you physically and emotionally (Ecc. 4:11), fights to protect you (Ecc. 4:12), even lays down his life for you (Jn. 15:13-15).
Sometimes a friend has to be tough and tell you what you need to hear and not what you want to hear (Prov. 27:5-6; cf. 2 Sam. 12) but he is always kind (Job 6:14). A friend is someone who earns your trust by his loyalty (1 Sam. 20; cf. Acts 9:26-27) and helps you become the best person you can be (Prov. 27:17).
Do you have anyone like this in your life? Of course, if you are a child of God you already have THE best friend. Jesus showed Himself to be a friend to sinners (Lk. 7:34) by loving us enough to help us come back to God. But perhaps the more important question is, are you a friend to those around you? In fact, we prove our friendship with Jesus when we do what He commands us (Jn. 13:14) which is to love our neighbor as ourselves. We prove our friendship with others by loving them enough to share the gospel with them.
Consider the following poem and ask if you have been a true friend.
I stand in judgment now,
And feel that you’re to blame somehow.
On earth I walked with you day by day,
And never did you point the way.
You knew the Lord in truth and glory,
But never did you tell the story.
My knowledge then was very dim,
You could have led me to Him.
Though we lived together on the earth,
You never told me of the second birth.
And now I stand this day condemned,
Because you failed to mention Him.
You taught me many things, that’s true,
I called you “friend” and trusted you.
But now I learn, when it’s too late,
You could have kept me from this fate.
We walked by day and talked by night,
And yet you showed me not the Light.
You let me live and love and die,
You knew I’d never live on high.
Yes, I called you “friend” in life,
And trusted you through joy and strife.
And yet on coming to this end,
I cannot now call you “friend.”
(signed) Your Friend
“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
(1 Timothy 4:16)
A man was once traveling by himself on an important errand. His journey took him high up into the mountains where it began to snow. The snowfall turned into a blizzard impeding the man’s progress. Still, he faithfully trudged on through the ever-deepening blanket of snow to reach his goal.
He grew colder and weaker as the sun set and when evening finally came he started to lose his balance. He first lost feeling in his feet and hands, then his legs and arms. “This is the end,” the man said to himself. “I’m going to die here on the side of this mountain all alone.” He stubbornly refused to give into the cold but his body just could not go on. He fell head first into the snow.
But in falling, his hand struck something – someone! Before him lay the prostrate form of a dying man, a traveler like himself lost in the blizzard. Suddenly, the first man revived and got to his knees and began to rub the dying man’s hands and face. Eventually, the unconscious man came to.
In seeing another’s need the first man regained his strength. The interest in another’s wellbeing helped the first man regain his focus. In saving another’s life the first man had saved his own. The exercise of salvation kept his own body from dying and both men survived the night.
Are you a Christian who is freezing to death spiritually? In the act of saving another you could be saving yourself. The seed of the gospel within our hearts is meant to produce fruit. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.” (Prov. 11:30) If we are not producing any fruit what are we good for? (cf. Mt. 5:13) Jesus says we will be “thrown away like a branch” to wither and burn. (Jn. 15:6)
Individual Christians and whole congregations are freezing to death when they fail in their primary mission to seek and save the lost. Their faith withers and the gospel proves unfruitful in them resulting in the loss of their own soul’s salvation. Evangelism is not optional. It is a matter of spiritual life and death.
God invests in us with the gospel. He grants us eternal life and expects a spiritual return on His investment. Jesus illustrates this in the parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14-30). God does not expect us to do anything more than what He has given us the ability to do. But we will be held responsible for doing everything we can. Keep these truths in mind:
- You are responsible for living & sharing the gospel – (1 Cor. 3:4-5)
- You already know enough to share the gospel – (1 Pet. 3:15)
- You are not overburdened by this responsibility – (Mt. 25)
- You are not responsible for how the gospel is received – (Ezek. 3:17-21)
- You have no reason to be afraid of men – (Rom. 8:31-39; Mt. 10:26ff)
- You have everything to lose by refusing to share the gospel – (Mt. 25)
- You (& others) have everything to gain by sharing the gospel – (Mt. 25)
God saves lost souls when Christians share the gospel; both those who are sharing it and those with whom it is being shared!