Onward Christian Soldiers

My wife and I watch the local newscast nearly every night.  Most times it can be a fairly depressing endeavor filled with breaking news about home invasions, drug deals, child abuses, car thefts, and the list of tragedies goes on and on.  A few weeks ago there was a distinct and notable bright spot filming at eleven when the news team covered the story of an Honor Flight coming in to Southwest Regional Airport.  If you’re not familiar with Honor Flights, they are trips where elderly veterans are given an expense paid ride to Washington, DC to view the monuments at our nation’s capital.  It was indeed inspiring to see the videos of local veterans from wars past enjoying the history of DC and coming back to Southwest Florida to a hero’s welcome.  As we celebrate the 4th of July, it is important to remember that freedom isn’t free.  The liberty that we enjoy here in the USA has been bought with the blood of American soldiers.  Truly, the citizen owes the soldier an eternal debt of gratitude.

The image of the American soldier brings to mind chapter two of 2 Timothy where the picture of the Christian soldier is described.  The Apostle Paul found himself in Roman imprisonment for the cause of the gospel and was perhaps within mere days of being beheaded for the sake of Jesus Christ when he wrote the second pastoral epistle to his understudy.  Paul looked at the soldiers that served as his guards; he saw their power, their discipline, and their dedication to the greatest political power the world had ever seen up to that time.  Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote to young Timothy about the character that should be present in the Christian soldier as they serve a Kingdom that goes eternally and infinitely beyond the scope of any nation of man.  We will explore five attributes of a believer in the Lord’s Army in this month’s newsletter.

The Christian Soldier Endures Hardship (2 Timothy 2:3)…Imagine a commercial trying to get folks to enlist in one of the branches of the military.  You’ve seen enough of them to know what to expect.  You’re likely to hear slogans such as “Be All That You Can Be” or “The Few, The Proud, The Marines.”  You’ll probably see the imagery of swords going through a fiery refining process, of a brave soldier jumping from a helicopter into a raging ocean to save a helpless soul in need, or perhaps of a young private going through the rigors of rope climbing a high wall as part of a rigorous obstacle course…Now, imagine a commercial that would ask people to enlist as Christians and imagine that the commercial was to be based on much of what we see on Christian TV today.  Would we be more likely to see people enduring hardship or people living without a care in the world?  Do you think there’d be a place for sweat in the ad or would the actors be cradled in the lap of luxury?  Would the person portraying a Christian be liked by everybody or would they be hated by some for the stance they’ve taken for Jesus?  Would there be a place for grimaces or only for smiles?…Now forget the commercial based on popular theology of the day and look at the biblical presentation of the life of the Apostle Paul.  While in the service of Christ, Paul was stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked, snake bitten, imprisoned on at least two occasions, worked as a tentmaker to support the ministry, and ended up being beheaded by the order of the Roman Emperor Nero.  Jesus Himself said that those who desired to follow Him must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23).  The Lord clearly declared that those who believed in Him would be hated by the world and that while in the world His followers would have much trouble (Matt. 10:22; John 16:33).  I don’t know how many would “enlist” if told that the Christian would endure these kind of hardships, but it is part of the biblical picture of being a soldier for the Lord.

The Christian Soldier Avoids Worldly Distractions (2 Timothy 2:4)…The families of those who serve in the armed forces of our country will tell you that there are times when their loved ones cannot contact them due to some training that they’re engaged in or mission that they’ve been assigned to.  The soldier’s work can be at a level of such importance that there are no distractions allowed…Many times people think of being a Christian as something that they just add to their resume.  To them being a believer in Jesus is one more thing on their list of things.  However, the Bible points out that the LORD will have no other gods before Him (literally Exodus 20:3 says He will have no other gods beside Him).  Jesus told a potential follower who asked to go and spend some time with his family before following Christ that anyone who turned back after putting their hand to the plow was not fit for the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:61-62).  Now, I do think that followers of Jesus are to minister to their families and there are things such as jobs and the like that need tending to, but that having been said I do believe that those claiming to be Christians live too much of their lives in pursuit of the temporal instead of the eternal, of the worldly instead of the godly, of the self centered instead of the Christ centered.  To be a Christian soldier means to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”, and all else must be peripheral (Matt. 6:33).

The Christian Soldier Remembers Jesus (2 Timothy 2:8-9)…Pat Tillman is a name some may remember.  He was a successful player in the NFL.  However, following the September 11th attacks in 2001 he turned down a 3 year deal with the Arizona Cardinals that would have netted him $3.6 million in order to enlist in the armed forces.  Tillman served several tours in combat before being killed in Afghanistan in 2002.  He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals for his valiance.  Whether you remembered his name or not was not Tillman’s main goal.  If he had wanted fame or fortune, the NFL would have been the place for him to stay.  Pat Tillman was inspired, emboldened, and empowered by the memory of two towers in New York crashing to the ground, of people being pulled from the fires of the Pentagon in DC, and of a plane crashed into oblivion in the fields of Pennsylvania.  He remembered what happened on 9/11 and that remembrance gave him a definitive purpose for the direction of his life…Christians are not called to live their lives for their own glory or renown.  Believers in Jesus find the strength to renounce sin and run after righteousness, the boldness to declare the exclusivity of God’s Word and of salvation in Christ alone, and the humility to lovingly serve others instead of demanding that we be served by remembering Jesus and what He has done.  If people forget our names, we’re okay with that.  The important thing for the Christian soldier is that Christ be remembered (1 Cor. 11:23-25).

The Christian Soldier Thinks Of The Christian Army (2 Timothy 2:10)…Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is a name most people have heard recently.  He was the last prisoner of war held by the Taliban in Afghanistan.  The US government traded five of the terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay in order to get Sergeant Bergdahl back home safely.  While Americans are nearly unanimous in their joy at having one of our own come home, controversy arose over the circumstances of his initial capture by the Taliban as soldiers in his unit came out claiming that Bergdahl was taken hostage due to the fact that he deserted.  Now, I don’t know what may have happened half a world away; we’ll let the authorities sort such things out.  But what I do know is that I was captured by the remarks of those who served in his unit when they said that even though they had a low opinion of Bergdahl and believed (rightly or wrongly) that he deserted, they would give their lives for him and indeed for all of their fellow soldiers…The church is called the body of Christ with members who have need of each other.  The church is called a building that needs all of its stones in place.  The Christian soldier is one who keeps their brothers and sisters, their fellow soldiers, the whole army of God in view as we live our lives.

The Christian Soldier Trusts His Commander (2 Timothy 2:11-13)…I love to study American History.  Once when going to Mt. Vernon, the home of George Washington, I learned of the Newburgh Conspiracy.  It’s a long story but basically back in the days following America’s victory over the British in the Revolutionary War there was a group of soldiers who were contemplating an uprising due to the fact that Congress had reneged on several promises they had made to the military, especially in the area of pay and pensions.  Washington discovered the plan and unexpectedly showed up at a meeting of the conspirators, many of them soldiers with which he had served.  The General had a letter from a member of Congress to read to the assembly but upon pulling it out of his pocket discovered that he needed his spectacles to read it.  Few had ever seen him need glasses before.  Washington asked the men to be patient with him for apparently he had not only grown gray in service to his country, but nearly blind as well.  The conspiracy was over; the Republic saved from potential implosion.  Washington was trusted and well respected by his men; they knew of his great sacrifice…The Christian soldier has a commander that is far greater, wiser, more powerful, and sacrificial than any human general could ever be.  Jesus is faithful, even when we have been faithless.  May we be faithful Christian soldiers marching onward in the army of the Lord!