I just finished listening to the audio book of Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. A fantasic book that looks at the life of Louis Zamperini – an Olympic runner who gets drafted into the Army Air Corps.
The book takes an in-depth look at the war in the Pacific and specifically the horrors of being shot down and captured as a POW in a Japanese prison camp. There are simply too many amazing parts to this story to recap here, but I think the most amazing part is the end. After the war, Louis experiences post-traumatic stress from his time spent as a prisoner under the unrelenting punishment of a prison guard known as “the Bird.” When the war ends in 1945, he copes with it in the predictable ways (alcohol, reclusiveness, etc.), but it begins to tear his family apart. He is then confronted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the ministry of a young college president named Billy Graham. When Louis encounters the grace of God, he lets go of the vengeance that began to consume him. Zamperini finds the forgiveness he so desparately needs that would make no sense apart from the God who is there.
“You need to shape up if you call yourself a Christian!” or “Jesus will forgive me, don’t be so legalistic.”
Both of these statements reflect the two polar barbs that the Christian doesn’t want to get tangled up in. How do we exercise balance here and steer clear of these extremes?
By walking in grace. Bryan Chapell writes that in a Christ-centered life, “the rules of Christian obedience do not change; the reasons do.”
In other words, yes we are supposed to do the right thing…but for the right reasons. It is a question of motivation. The grace of God enables us to rely on Christ to please the Father, so we do not have to be concerned about offering the right sacrifice or working hard enough, or giving enough money. We are now free to love each other without trying to get something in return. “For Christ’s love compels us…” 2 Corinthians 5:14 and “God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together:
The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus.
The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is.
Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of man. And so it does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this.
In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.
The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearns for God’s forgiveness.
The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Woodrow Wilson’s dad, Joseph Ruggles Wilson, points out how preaching “is not an imitative exercise….It is these live men whom God supremely calls; men who have eaten the word, as a prophet did, and into whom it has passed to become a perpetual throb in their hearts; so that when it comes forth again, it will proceed upon its errand, bearing the warmth of their innermost experiences; those experiences wherein are traced the musings which continued until they could find vent only in fire; the fire that burns quickly into other souls, melts where it burns, and remoulds where it melts.” – quoted in Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, p. 75
Wilson’s point (and Chapell’s) is that the preacher must speak out of his experience with God’s Word. There is no short-cut. Commentaries are helpful, but are not to be used at first. Chapell finishes, “Let the Holy Spirit work in your heart and mind to develop a message a commentator would approve, not design.” May those who prepare sermons, messages, talks, Bible-studies, etc. be couriers of God’s Word after it has impacted our hearts first.
“Well-constructed sermons require unity, purpose, and application.” – Bryan Chapell in Christ-Centered Preaching, p. 44.
I like where he’s going with this. A friend of mine today asked me to provide feedback for one of his sermons. I thought this was a step of genuine humility and leadership, as it was not necessary for him to make this request…it came on his own initiative. He wanted to get better and make sure that he was communicating God’s Word in such a way that spoke to his listeners. Thank you for those of you who take steps of maturity and want to be lifelong learners as you speak to others about the truths of God.
If you want a read a book by someone who’s “been there, done that” – this is the book for you. Jeff Struecker talks about his experience as an Army Ranger as well as his faith in Christ. During the famous battle in the streets of Mogadishu (1993) he recalls his words to a fellow Ranger… “the difference between being a coward and hero is not whether you’re scared, it’s whay you do while you’re scared.”
“Who am I?” This question of identity could cost you your life. In Les Misérables, this question haunted a man who had to decide if he would own up to his sins (and his real name) for the sake of setting an innocent man free. Would he do it? Would he take ownership of who he really was? If he didn’t confess his true identity, no one would ever know…except him…and God. He would go free and the other man, who was in custody and on trial, would be condemned in court, though innocent. The song goes as follows:
He thinks that man is me
He knew him at a glance!
That stranger he has found
This man could be my chance!
Why should I save his hide?
Why should I right this wrong
When I have come so far
And struggled for so long?
If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!
I am the master of hundreds of workers.
They all look to me.
How can I abandon them?
How would they live
If I am not free?
If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!
Who am I?
Can I condemn this man to slavery
Pretend I do not feel his agony
This innocent who bears my face
Who goes to judgement in my place
Who am I?
Can I conceal myself for evermore?
Pretend I’m not the man I was before?
And must my name until I die
Be no more than an alibi?
Must I lie?
How can I ever face my fellow men?
How can I ever face myself again?
My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on
[He appears in front of the court]
Who am I? Who am I?
I am Jean Valjean!
[He unbuttons his shirt to reveal the number tattooed to his chest]
And so Javert, you see it’s true
That man bears no more guilt than you!
Who am I?
What about you? Who are you? God gives grace to the humble and Christ came to save sinners. I Timothy 1:15
I’ve been briefly looking at D. L. Moody’s experience during the Civil War using a book called A Passion for Souls: The Life of D. L. Moody by Lyle Dorsett. During the war, Moody decided not to become a regimental chaplain so that he could move freely amongst a larger number of troops and minister to them. He succeeded as he worked tirelessly at Camp Douglas in Chicago conducting prayer meetings and ministry for both Union Soldiers and Confederate POWs, even helping to raise funds to build a chapel there. Moody also took trips to Cairo, IL, a major launching point for Union troops under General U. S. Grant. His most somber experiences came when he made a number of trips to the front lines, ministering to many wounded and dying Soldiers. Near the battlefield of Pittsburgh Landing, the evangelist recalled a Soldier in a hospital bed:
“…he wanted me to help him die. And I said, ‘I would take you right up in my arms and carry you into the Kingdom of God, if I could; but I cannot do it. I cannot help you die!’ And he said, ‘Who can?’ I said, ‘The Lord Jesus Christ can – He came for that purpose.’ He shook his head, and said: ‘He cannot save me; I have sinned all my life.’ And I said, ‘But He came to save sinners.'”
As Moody turned to the Gospel of John and began to read, the Soldier “caught up with the words, ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.’ He stopped. He asked me to read it again, and I did so.”
After the third reading, a change came over the Soldier and his face lit up. The Soldier himself repeated the verse in a faint whisper… “He opened his eyes and said: ‘that’s enough’ don’t read any more.’ He lingered a few hours, pillowing his head on those two verses; and then went up in one of Christ’s chariots, to take his seat in the kingdom of God.” (Dorsett, 98)
As the early enlistment hype slumped into the harsh realities of war, Moody worked tirelessly to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Moody’s ministry on and off the battlefield should encourage us to think outside the box, recognize moments of opportunity to share God’s grace, and not be afraid to give up creature comforts for the sake of the Kingdom.
2013 has already begun in Dubai as I write this. Soon, it will be our turn here in Chicago. It is amazing that the world revolves around the sun so accurately that the Winter solstice was achieved perfectly at 5:12 aM on December 21 and we headed back toward Spring. For more interesting statistics that lend themselves to praising God for His goodness in 2012, follow this link: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/where-was-god-in-all-the-goodness-of-2012
I pray that you all have a Happy New Year and that you grow closer to Jesus Christ in 2013.
My wife and I have been reading through Love That Lasts by Gary and Betsy Ricucci. I recommend the book for all married couples. At first, I approached the book with the attitude, “probably nothing new in here…I’ve got the basics down…” Well, my attitude was proved wrong on at least two counts. First, marriage is a topic that calls for revisitation of Scriptural truths time and time again. So, in one sense, there may be nothing profoundly novel about this book, but Gary and Betsy take us back to the foundations that keep a marriage strong. In fact, I would be skeptical of a book on marriage that tries to sell a “whole new approach” to the God-ordained, Gospel-reflecting purpose and design of marriage. Second, the Ricuccis present the material in a fresh way that bring those classic truths alive with resonating dialogue with the reader. It has been said that healthy marriages take advantage of marriage conferences and marriage books on a regular basis. For example, attend one marriage conference every year and read one book on marriage every year, etc. Well, if you are looking for a good book to bring you and your spouse closer to God and closer to each other, try this Christ-centered resource and see what you think. Ephesians 5:22-33.