Sunday, February 4, 2018

Serving as Good Soldiers of Jesus Christ

Audio Message:

Recently I went to see the movie Darkest Hour with my dad at the theaters. A stunning film, and for Christmas this year I got a DVD copy of Dunkirk. Both of these stories revolve around the decisions and speeches of the great leader Winston Churchill during the dark days of World War II. A few years ago I read some of Winston Churchill’s biography. It was an absolutely stunning struggle. The whole world was at the brink of collapse. It’s 1939 and you’ve got this darkness spreading, through Nazism. You’ve got a military that can’t be stopped in the Nazis. You have a genocidal regime so terrible that it is exterminating millions of Jews and Christians. Think about how it must’ve felt for the people of Great Britain. They saw Austria fall, then they saw Poland fall. But the French, they were so strong, with their Maginot line. There’s no way the Nazis could defeat them. But in just a few weeks, the Nazis had crushed through the French defenses. And French and British troops faced double encirclement, they were surrounded. They’d fled to the city of Dunkirk. And they were waiting to be destroyed by the German panzers. They were trapped… Hopeless. Europe, conquered by the Nazis. And it seemed there was no hope for civilization left. Imagine that situation, and your Winston Churchill, prime minister, shivering at the thought of the fall of not only Great Britain, but all of western humanity.

This reminds me of the situation we are in as the church today. Our forces are crumbling. Corps are shutting down left and right. And we’re afraid to face that reality. We’re losing. We’ll falling to the great darkness, growing in our culture, and in our society. It’s a disaster scenario. It really is. I think about it every day. It’s my great obsession, the thought of the state of our country, of Europe, of the church, of the Salvation Army. We’re in great danger. And we seem to be standing at the cusp of darkness.

Thankfully Jesus lives, and we are his people. There is no one else. We are the Salvation Army. We are soldiers of the Salvation Army, and as such we have a great calling ahead of us. No one else will do it for us. We have to do it ourselves.

I imagine Winston Churchill felt the same way when he looked across the channel toward occupied France. Or when he felt the concussive force of bombs dropping over London. Is this the end? Will it really end like this? He must’ve wondered. But sometimes it takes just one man, one woman, willing to believe in the impossible, who can change everything. Just one. Is it you?

Winston Churchill believed. And he spoke his belief. He said “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Sometimes you have to boldly shout into the face of total darkness: We will Fight. They did fight. And they won the day, when it seemed impossible.

In the same way, we are soldiers. And as soldiers our job is to obey the orders of our commanding officer. Our commanding officer is the Lord Jesus Christ. And he has commanded us in the great commission: To make disciples of all nations with the living gospel of His life, death, and resurrection. Then Jesus was lifted to heaven. And he promised to return. I believe he will do just that. And he'll ask for a report on what we did while he was away.

As a soldier, my job is to fulfill my orders, under penalty of death. To fail to carry out his command is to be in breach of my orders, and there is no choice, in this army, there is only do and die.

The body will accomplish all that Christ has for us to accomplish. There is no way around it. Christ will do all he desires through us his people. We are yielded to Him. We are his body. He is the head, we are the agents. He is God, we are the servants. He is the general, we are the soldiers.

The world is crumbling. There is so much corruption, so much poverty, human trafficking, oppression, persecution, immorality, lies, and brokenness in this world. There are so many multiplying evils, what possible difference could we make? There are great difficulties ahead. But it's at just such times like these, when everything seems to be crumbling, that God loves to work to generate massive transformation! It's at times like these that we'll know through and through, bones to bones, that it was only by God's power, by Christ's efficacy that we could ever persevere forward into such darkness. We'll know that it wasn't of us, and our cleverness, but that it was by God's reality penetrating our reality, by God's miraculous designs and mercies in time and space that the tide finally turned!

It wasn't us. It was never us. And we could never do it alone. It's humbling to realize that God alone is the one who justifies, and God alone is the one who brings about real hope and real lasting change. No man can do this, but only God almighty himself.

Humanity wanted a world without God. That is the fall. And this is the fall. Here it is. This is the world without God. But in fact even now God still intervenes, refusing to allow our fatal destructions to be final, He still continues to hold out his hand to us and pull us from the muck and mire. He breaks our chains of sin. He pours out His love to us, and wipes the tears from our eyes as He sets us in a spacious golden valley, suits us up with his armor, his uniform, the blue, the red, and the shield, and the sword, and breastplate of Christ's righteousness, girded up in His truth, and ready for battle.

He's lit a candle in us you see, the candle is Christ, and this Spirit he places inside us, and we glow with His power. And nothing is impossible for us in Christ. Nothing is impossible.

We have a great duty before us, and a great many works to do as the church. So let us do them. Because the master is away right now, Jesus Christ, He is in heaven. And He will return again, to make all things right, and when he returns he will call us to account. How did we spend our talents? How did we put ourselves to work, to serve those in need, and to carry his gospel? We will be called to account.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory with all his angels, he will sit down upon his great throne. And he will separate the sheep and the goats.” -Matthew 25:31-33 (paraphrased)

So as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, as warriors, soldiers, ministry leaders, officers, we must stand the test. We must fight the good fight. We must do what the master has taught us to do.

Jesus gives us instructions in Matthew chapter 25, regarding what he expect of his disciples in these fallen times. In this account he rewards those faithful sheep who have followed the shepherd, and achieved victory through the struggle.

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” –Matthew 25:34-40

Now it’s important to note that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus has given us his own righteousness, and suffered and died on the cross in our place, to delete our sin, and give us new life. He resurrected from the dead to give us eternal life. We have this new life and we walk in it. Yet Christ also requires that we live as he did. He insists that we must serve those in need.

Jesus instructs us first of all to feed the hungry and give those who are thirsty something to drink. Feeding programs? It is wise to feed those in need, in fact Jesus instructs us to do that as his sheep. And he instructs us to clothe the naked. I think of the gyms full of jackets during Christmas season in the Salvation Army, and I smile.

Next, Jesus instructs us to visit the sick, and visit those who are in prison. Interesting isn’t it? He calls us to it. He instructs us to do it. And Jesus is very specific. Jesus says if we do these things, if we visit the sick, and the prisoners, if we feed people who come to us in need, then there is this reality: The people we feed, and visit and serve, they are actually Jesus.

Behind the eyes of each person you and I serve, are the eyes of Jesus, looking back at us. The master is silent, during the testing. Isn’t that right?

My first reaction is to think, if that was Jesus, then why did he relapse for the fifteenth time? I started my work with the Salvation Army at the very bottom, working intake at a homeless shelter. I was so on fire for the Lord back, and I hope I still am today. But I used to hand out Bibles to every person that came in to the shelter. And when someone new came in I would go over and talk to them, tell them about Jesus, offer them food, and get them set up in a room. I loved that part of it. And in the story in our heads, that’s where it ends. We nobly feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and they give us a big hug, and say “oh thank you sir, thank you.” And then they accept Jesus as their savior. But in reality that’s not often what happens. What often happens is you see that drunken bozo next week back on a bender, high on crack shouting at you, telling you how you’re the source of all their problems. And I recall I’d hand out Bibles, and a week later I’d go over to the book case in the main room of the shelter, and collect the Bibles I’d given out. They’d been left there. So, I’d just hand them out to new people! That’s the challenge of ministry.

I recall one guy I worked with, I was doing case management and I worked with him for months, and he was doing a lot better, he got sober from alcohol, he got a job, and an apartment. He was smiling a lot more. The light and hope was coming back into his eyes. But something set him off, and I had to kick him out of the shelter for being drunk. And two days later he came back, and was drunk, yelling through the front door about how useless we were. That’s how it really goes in ministry. It’s not easy. The truth is, in that sort of messy ministry, that man was Jesus. That’s what we’re called to do, to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to Jesus. And to do that we have to serve.

So how do we put this into practice? Sometimes we can have the mistaken idea in ministry that it’s all about the pastor. And the congregation becomes the audience. But that’s exactly backwards. The chief role of the pastor is simply to teach, lead, and then step back, and empower Christians to serve their savior in ministry.

We are good soldiers of Jesus Christ. And so it is our duty to serve. Let other churches and congregations be vacant audiences to show time services. But in this army we are soldiers.

So what ministry is God calling you to serve? There are many to choose from. God could be calling you to volunteer with a feeding program, or with packing boxes in the food pantry. God could be calling you to serve in children’s ministry. Or maybe God is calling you to start a Bible study? Be creative. Think about what your talents and gifts are. What is a unique way that you could serve? Some amazing ministries I’ve seen in my life have been weekly prayer groups, a prayer email list, street evangelism groups that go out once a week, young adult Bible studies, Christian bloggers, social media ministry, and many others. When you’ve prayed about it, and you’re ready with your idea, go and talk to your pastor/officer.

We are the most unlikely saints and soldiers, you and I, the most unlikely saints and soldiers. We're former drug addicts, alcoholics, abusers and abused, poor uneducated wretches, depressive suicidal street urchins, bipolar, mentally unchained, outcasts, physically disabled, angry, demented, sinful, evil, and terrible people bought from darkness with the precious blood of Jesus Christ and turned from sin and hell and to light, love, hope, faith, and freedom. Oh such sweet freedom we've been given, and He's made us all new!

We are unlikely saints, yet saints we quite remain, as the gift of Christ Jesus. We wear as garments robes of white, the perfect righteousness of Christ. He's purchased us, we are His body, His army, and His beloved people. He loves us so much. Even when we were still rebels against Him, He loved us so much and He set us free. He set me free. He set you free. And it's a beautiful story. It's such a beautiful story. It brings me to tears, the beauty of this story, that Christ would choose you and I, makes no sense to me, yet His love is just that mystery, that He loves us so much, that He selected us, with such great love, and with such a peculiar and specific love for each of us, something special He loved in each of us. And His love remains with us. It's what spurs us to do anything. Not to buy His love, not to earn it, no, but because we already have it in the free gift of Christ. Your perfect in Him, you’re a very Godly and pure army. Own it.

So we will fight. We must fight. We will fight to bring the gospel to the lost on the streets of this world. We will fight in the streets, in the prisons, in the dope houses, along the red light districts, the brothel houses, the impoverished inner cities, the institutions, the houses of learning, the skid rows, the bars, the hospitals, the broken homes, and the darkest, dankest, most dismal places, where no light dwells, the great Light will shine and yes, we will fight! We will fight to the very last! We will fight in the fire and volley, we will fight! We'll never give up!

Remember that we are faced with a world rapidly crumbling under the weight of secularism, post-modernism, and meaninglessness. People are so confused in our day and age, and sin is rampant in our society. We are in desperate, desperate need of good soldiers of Jesus Christ, hard working, determined, and willing to serve Christ. We have to do it. We’re the last line of defense. Time is running out, and this world is crumbling. But just like Winston Churchill, perhaps you’ll be one of those people that help change history. Perhaps you’ll be one of those people who refuse to surrender, who refuse to give up, and determine in their minds that things will change.

As William Booth the founder said, “God loves with a great love one whose heart is bursting with a passion for the impossible.”

Jesus is coming soon, and He must find us faithful, we've much work to do, so let us get to work, and do it for Christ. He is coming soon now. He will be along quickly. He will be here soon. Come Lord Jesus.