Video Game Spotlight: A Hero’s Sacrifice

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

~Philippians 4:8

In the last chapter of The Hero and the Dragon: Building Christian Character through Fantasy Fiction, I recognized the fact that many secular stories, movies, and games contain wonderful, virtuous elements – even if the source itself is not “Christian”.  I recently discovered one such example in a rather surprising place: the video game series of “Halo”.  I certainly would not say that these games are something I would promote for the development of Christian character in young people, since the theme of the series is violent combat (although against clearly evil, non-human threats) and some of the characters use language that is not exactly Christ-like (although this improves throughout the series).  However, despite these shortcomings, there is a shining star in the midst of these games that provides an incredible example of faithfulness, hope, patience, endurance, humility, and a willingness to sacrifice everything for those around him – even those who hate him.

The main character of the series is known as Master Chief.  Only a few know him by his real name and officer number: John 117.  This is our first glimpse of the hero behind the mask in this series.  John 1:17 in the Bible says, “ For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  The alien forces who threaten mankind in this series are known as “The Covenant”.  While we know that the old covenant under the Law of Moses could promise only death for sinful man, it was Jesus Christ who saved us by overcoming sin, death and the devil through His death and resurrection, establishing a new covenant through His blood.  Halo players quickly surmise that Master Chief is the only hope humanity has against the alien threat which promises destruction for all mankind.  When he appears on the scene, the hopeless, demoralized, embattled troops of earth know that with him, there is life and hope.

Master Chief is never once arrogant or proud, despite knowing that he is all that stands between human beings and utter extinction.  He moves steadily onward, never neglecting his duty for our sake.  In John 11:7, Jesus turns to His disciples and tells them that the time has come for him to return to Judea.  They try to prevent Him, reminding Him that His enemies are waiting there to kill Him.  But the Son of God knows that His path leads to Jerusalem and Golgotha, and nothing will stand the way of His accomplishing the mission for which He was sent.  Likewise, Master Chief is marked by a character of pressing ever onward, even when his path means certain death for himself.  No matter the cost, he will complete his mission to save humanity.

There are so many rich elements that we could connect with as Christians in this story that I suspect someone on the game’s writing staff must have been a Christian.  A new threat is introduced soon into the game, a vicious, all-consuming race of parasites known as “The Flood”.  The key to humanity’s survival from this new threat lies in a hidden place called – you guessed it – “The Ark”.

As Master Chief travels on through the series and resolves each crisis toward humanity in turn, many look to him for hope in the darkest of times, trusting him to save them as they know only he can.  However, there are those who doubt him.  In fact, there are even those who hate him.  They reject him as the hero who will save mankind and even seek to get rid of him.  His response?  He fights with all the more determination to save those who have spurned him.

For this Good Friday Video Game Spotlight, I want to present my readers with a description of a scene that I think you will recognize.  The forces of evil have gathered thickly upon a bleak hill outside a city.  It appears the battle has turned against our Hero.  As his body is lifted for all to see, his followers cry out in despair.  How can this be?  He was our only hope, the only one who could save us!  As they gaze upon his lifeless form, all courage vanishes.  Some beat the ground in hopeless rage.  Others flee in terror now that their annihilation is certain, pursued closely by the monsters who seek to devour them.  Some simply hang their heads in anguish and await the inevitable end.  From the host of evil, a triumphant tumult arises.  The Hero is defeated.

Or is he?

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In His Presence

Sir Robert Stopford commanded a ship in the Royal British Navy at the end of the 18th century. He himself was under the command of Vice Admiral Lord Horation Nelson. Nelson’s fleet was in pretty bad shape; their ships were battered and low on munitions, the food was nearly gone, and the fleet they were pursuing was almost twice the size of their own. Despite these difficulties, morale was unusually high.

When asked about this phenomenon, Stopford replied, “We are half-starved and otherwise inconvenienced by being so long out of port, but our reward is that we are with Nelson.”

The men fighting under Nelson knew the danger they were heading into. They knew that no amount of money could tempt them forward nor recompense what they were about to face. There was only one thing that made it all worth while: They were with Nelson.

Friends and fellow warriors, we know that constant difficulties and hardships will beset us as God’s children. The world does not want to hear the message of Christ crucified for our sins. In some places, Christ’s disciples are mocked and ridiculed. In other parts of the world, they are treated with no less hostility that He himself was when He walked on earth. The path of discipleship is not an easy road to walk. Tragedies and heartache abound in this life; our struggle often leaves us feeling weary, battered, and on the verge of despair.

We can certainly find comfort in the words, “Great is your reward in heaven.” And yet, we have comfort even in the trials of today as we go forward into the uncertain future with the resolve to stand by our Commander and Chief, bearing the full armor of God and wielding the Sword of the Spirit.

We are with Him.

Whatever difficulties we will face are nothing compared to the reward of being in Christ’s presence throughout our fight. He comes to us in His Word, as we hear it preached by faithful servants and as we read it in our homes. He comes to us in Sacrament, as we receive His very body and blood in His supper and as we remember the marks put upon us in our baptism. He comes to us through those who fight alongside us in this spiritual battle, promising that even in those who seem to be least in the body of all believers, indeed, there He is.

Of all the hardships we face, morale should never have to be among them. We have our reward, and it is not a distant, far-off future promise. We hold it in our hand and clutch it to our breast as we recall his words, “Behold, I am with you always.”

Our reward is that we are with Him, and that He is with us.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant us the peace that comes through knowing that Your Son has defeated our enemies of sin, death, and the devil.  Be with us in our struggle against the world and our own sinful nature.  Let our joy be ever in You, through Jesus Christ, Your Son.  Amen.

IN UMBRA, IGITUR, PUGNABIMUS

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” (Psalm 91:4)

The title of this devotion is a Latin phrase which my family recently came across in their studies and shared with me.  Literally translated, it means, “So much the better, we will fight in the shade.”  Allow me to share with you the story behind these words:

The Roman orator Cicero (hence the Latin) retold Herodotus’ account of the battle of Thermopylae, where the Spartan king, Leonidas, led a mere 7,000 men against over 100,000 Persian invaders.  When asked to report, a scout betrayed his sense of despair at seeing such a tremendous force with these words to Dienekes, a Spartan soldier: “Their arrows will blot out the sun!”

To which Dienekes replied, “IN UMBRA, IGITUR, PUGNABIMUS!”

“So much the better, we will fight in the shade!”

Friends and fellow warriors, the darkness is gathering more thickly each day in our world.  Many of our former comrades have fled or turned against us, succumbing to the approaching terror and abandoning the truth of the Gospel for the sake of preserving their own temporal well-being.  As we stand near the battle-lines and survey the vast host of the armies of darkness that have been arrayed against us, paralyzing fear grips our hearts.  What is our response to this seemingly insurmountable threat?

Very well, then.  We will fight in the shade.

And indeed we will.  I do not mean to say that Satan’s hordes could ever blot out the light of God’s truth with their onslaught of fiery darts; truly, it shines all the more clearly in the face of darkness and adversity.  However, we will be shaded by the wings of our mighty and caring Heavenly Father.  His love, His mercy, and His strength will form a shield around us to protect and preserve our faith even in the face of every evil that comes swarming against us, no matter how dark the days may become.

“And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife,

though these all be gone, our victory has been won;

The Kingdom ours remaineth.” ~Martin Luther (A Mighty Fortress is Our God)

Yes, my friends; the battle belongs to the Lord.  Our faith rests securely in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, sealed and delivered to us in faith solely through His grace.  What have we to fear?  “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).  Thanks to Christ’s sacrifice as the mediator between God and mankind, God is and ever will be for us and with us, sheltering us beneath the wings of His love.  Though all the adversity of this world rails against us, it cannot prevail against the ultimate victory that we have through the cross.  Christ Himself tells us, “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

King Leonidas himself was approached by the Persian ambassadors before the battle at Thermopylae began.  Knowing the odds against this king and his lowly army, and expecting him to immediately comply, they commanded him to lay down his arms.  To which he replied:

“Come get them.”

Do not despair, my friends.  Our eternal equipment will see us through whatever battles may rage in the days to come.  The Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit, is strong to save.  Let Satan come and once more taste the Blade which brought about his destruction.  Though the hands that wield this supreme Weapon are frail and weak, the foe will never pry it from our grasp, for the Sword itself is invincible, and One who forged it and delivered it to us is ever by our side.

Does Satan come roaring against us?  Fine.  Come and get it.  Do the evils of the world gather more thickly with each passing day?  Very well.  Then we will fight in the shade.  Our Lord Jesus Christ has overcome the world and all its troubles.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  Give your Church the everlasting rest she longs for.

Until that time, we will fight.

“Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes.  I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame.  In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever.”  (Psalm 44:5-8)

See also 2 Chron. 20:12-19

Prayer: Heavenly Father, arm us with Your Word, that we may go boldly forth and proclaim the Good News of salvation to all who are in the clutches of sin and darkness.  Keep us steadfast in faith against the attacks of Satan, this world, and our own flesh.  Preserve and sanctify us by Your Holy Spirit, holding us ever in Your strong hand, that we may come at last to everlasting life and rest; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Commander, King, and Friend.  Amen.

 

From the pages of Building Christian Character through The Hobbit – Now available!  Click the “Books Available” tab at the top of this page to preview chapters 1-4 or to order a copy.

 

Chapter XIV – “Fire and Water”

 

“The dragon is inevitable – and let it come!  I repeat it, sir, let it come.”

Like the colonists living in Patrick Henry’s day, the people of Esgaroth have been living in the shadow of terror for too long.  Until they face the dragon that looms over them, they can never truly be free.  The dwarves and Bilbo have awakened the dragon’s wrath and stirred up his malice toward the men of Lake-town, but that is just as well – especially knowing that Smaug is destined to die in this battle.

Mr. Henry goes on in his speech to the Virginia Convention in 1775: “Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace – but there is no peace…What is it that gentlemen wish?  What would they have?  Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it, Almighty God!”

The people of Esgaroth are so focused on their present suffering and the destruction of their town that they fail to see the wonderful, miraculous fact that seems so plain to us: Smaug is dead!  The monster of the north has been slain and the people of this region are now free from his centuries-long reign of terror.  While they may curse Thorin and Company for causing their present hardship, they ought to also recognize that the dwarves set into motion the chain of events that would lead to this great victory.

People have a way of delaying the inevitable.  As Christians, we often put off unpleasant battles in the hopes that the threat will just go away on its own, or remain sleeping beneath the mountain.  But the truth is, the monster is growing in size and strength with each passing day and year that we avoid confronting it – and the best we can hope for is that it will be our children or grandchildren who will have to combat the beast someday.  What terrible cowardice!

There are many difficult issues in our society that Christians are often reluctant to grapple with.  At best, we engage in minor skirmishes, hoping that it will be enough to stave off the threat without risking open war.  We make concessions to our faith and values, hoping that these compromises will reconcile us to the world.  They won’t.

So let it come.  Let us be the ones to wage spiritual warfare in our nation and world over issues of life, social values, and religious freedoms.  Let us boldly confront the evils in our society, even though it may mean a breach between Christianity and secular complacency.  Old alliances with those who undermine all that we believe and stand for may need to be cast down as we fend off the Dragon’s assault.  But it’s better that we take our stand now – while yet free to speak up and armed with the Gospel – than to relegate the task to our offspring who may be shackled and fettered with oppressive laws and a government that silences truth and wisdom.

We need to sound the alarm and take up arms against the Dragon right now, because he comes swiftly toward us breathing out deadly lies and fiery deceptions.  Christians at this time must especially take a stand on who God is and what He came to do.  There are many today calling themselves Christians who preach that Jesus came only to teach morality and self-enlightenment; that He was merely a wise teacher who set an example for how to live.  The battle-lines must be drawn here and now.  We must preach Christ crucified; that Jesus Christ is the true Son of God who died and rose again to atone for the sins of the world.  On this, there must be no compromise, because this is the truth and the difference between eternal life and everlasting death.

This will be a fierce battle.  We may risk much of what we have built up in times of prosperity to face the Dragon on this issue right now.  It will cause division and discord within our communities and country, because the world does not want to hear that Jesus is the only Way to the Father.  We will be condemned as intolerant – the worst possible sin of in postmodern society.  But the longer we postpone this battle, the stronger the Dragon will be when we finally face him and the more divided the Church will become, leaving the conflict to our descendants to fight with less hope and less strength than we currently possess.

We cannot afford to let sleeping dragons lie.  We must proclaim God’s Word – Law and Gospel – in truth and purity; even if it awakens all the fire-breathing menaces of every pagan religion, every secular humanist philosophy, and every false prophet that preaches any other Jesus than the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  We mustn’t allow our cowardice to hand down this great task to our children for the sake of a false sense of peace and unity in Church and world.  We must fight.

 

The Dragonslayer’s sacrifice…

He spoke harsh words that were difficult to hear and were rejected by many.  He warned the people of the approaching doom, and fought on their behalf so that they could have life and freedom.  He was a descendant of kings, and the only one who could know the secret to defeating the evil monster.  He stood alone at last, enduring the flames of the dragon’s wrath, scorned by many and abandoned by his companions, because he alone could defeat the menacing beast and save them all.  He gave up his life to defeat the dragon, quelling its fierce might forever, but falling under the death-throes of his terrible enemy.  And when all hope had faded, he rose again victoriously and was exalted as king.

Sound familiar?  The triumph of Bard over Smaug is a striking parallel to the victory of Jesus Christ over the Devil.  While Bard may not be a perfect Christ-figure throughout the rest of the book, this particular instance provides an awesome image of the Son of God come to save those who had rejected Him.  And all in all, Bard serves as a great example of Christian virtue contrasted with the greed and hypocrisy around him.

Bard was condemned by his contemporaries for prophesying “gloomy” things; not that anyone disputed the truth and veracity of his claims, but it just wasn’t very pleasant to listen to.  Similarly, Jesus lost many followers and was rejected by a number of would-be disciples because of his hard teachings; things like being willing to give up earthly possessions and duties to follow Him, being “born again,” forgiveness based on faith by God’s grace, eating and drinking His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, and even His own death at the hands of His enemies.  Like Bard, Jesus would eventually be vindicated in all of His claims.  Those who rejected His words didn’t do so based on evidence to the contrary, but rather simply because it was easier for them to believe something else.

Just as Bard is the last descendant in the line of Girion, Lord of Dale, so Jesus was the Promised One in fulfillment of the Messianic line, reaching back to King David, Abraham, and all the way to Adam – the first recipient of the Gospel promise.  Being of the race of Dale, Bard was the only one who could understand the thrush and unlock the secret to defeating Smaug.  His black arrow that had been passed down from his father and “came from the forges of the true king” would prove to be the key to Smaug’s downfall.  Jesus, as the only begotten Son of God, was the only One whose blood was free from the curse of sin and who knew the way to defeat Satan, the great Dragon.  He was “from the True King,” and the black arrow of His divinity would be the shaft that would pierce the Dragon’s heart and bring him crashing down in ruin.

In the end Bard stood alone, abandoned by his companions, and faced the dragon while surrounded by the flames of his wrath.  Jesus’ companions all fled to save themselves, though they had sworn to stay by His side – even if it meant death.  He faced down the dragon, enduring the agony of the very flames of Hell as the Devil’s malice was poured out upon Him.  He fought our battle upon the cross so that we could enter the lifeboat of His Church and freely obtain life and salvation through the waters of baptism, just as the people of Esgaroth fled to safety through the waters of the Long Lake while Bard battled Smaug.

Jesus certainly did not escape the battle unscathed.  Just as Smaug came crashing down upon Bard in his last throes, so too did Satan strike the heel of Jesus with physical death and the torments of Hell even as he fell in utter defeat.  But like Bard, Jesus emerged victoriously amidst cries of mourning to claim His rightful title of King and Lord, claiming the honor of defeating the Dragon and freeing the people from his reign of terror – and of securing all the treasures of heaven on our behalf!

Fits of Rage – Dangerously out of Control

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

Warriors must be disciplined.  In the midst of battle and turmoil, a warrior must have the strength and clarity of mind to put personal fear and self-preservation instincts aside and boldly push forward with their mission.  If they become overwhelmed by the stress, the danger, and the confusion all around them, they are likely to abandon their orders and fail in their duty – to the ruin of all that they have worked for.

In our spiritual warfare, conditions can sometimes be fierce enough to drive a warrior nearly out of his mind.  The darkness, unbelief, and antagonism toward the Word of Life that we share can take its toll on even the hardiest soldiers.  Fears and doubts over the problems of this world can shake even a veteran’s faithful discipline and strict obedience.  In the midst of all the spiritual carnage with which we are daily confronted, it can be easy to lose control.

It doesn’t matter who is the target of our “fits of rage” – such displays never promote God’s kingdom or His righteousness.  If it is directed at an unbeliever, chances are that we are driving a wedge even further between this lost soul and the God who would redeem them.  If it is directed at a brother or sister in the faith, we disrupt the unity and fellowship that serves as a vital part of our witness and ministry to the world.  And if it is directed at God…well, it’s easy to see how the tide of battle is quickly turning against us in our own faith walk.

Any fit of rage is a rebellion against God.  Our fear, anger, doubt, or despair drive us to desperation.  We know what God’s orders are, but we abandon our duty in the belief that our odds are better if we follow our own instincts.  The problem is, our instincts are sinful and corrupt from the start.  I give in to my rage because it feels good, because I want to gratify my desire for vengeance, power, or control.  Ironically, it is at these moments when we are least in control – as we demonstrate that we cannot even control ourselves.

God’s weapon of self-control through the Holy Spirit can help us in our struggle against ourselves.  By the peace and joy that comes through His love in Jesus Christ, God fortifies us against our own sinful instincts.  The patience and faithfulness that He grows in our hearts through the Word give us the discipline we need to put God and neighbors before self.  By exercising daily through prayer, praise, and meditation upon the Word, we allow God to shape us into warriors who are stout of heart, boldly and humbly advancing into battle and steadfastly following God’s orders.  He is our loving Commander, and though we are often plagued by fear and doubt, we can come to know that His orders are the way of Life and peace for us, now and forever.

“Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32)

“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it leads only to evil.” (Psalm 37:8)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the grace to control myself in the midst of fear, doubt, and anger.  Help me to always put service to You and witness to others first, that I may be blessed to grow in Godly discipline and prove fruitful to Your kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Hatred – Directing our Anger Rightly

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Nothing destroys the credibility of Christian witness like a healthy dose of hatred.

Unfortunately, our world has been misled about what hatred is.  We are told that the worst form of hatred is “intolerance,” and that it is more loving to simply “live and let live.”  This, my friends, is a deadly lie.  We ought not tolerate sin in our midst any more than we would tolerate a boa constrictor in the crib of a sleeping infant.

Out of love for the precious child, we would strike at the fiendish serpent, tearing it from the body of the infant and crushing it underfoot.  However, at the same time as we are ruthlessly killing the snake, we would take the utmost care not to harm or damage the child.

In the same way, though God instructs us to hate sin and take all measures to remove it from the life of a believer, we care deeply for the one who has become entangled by the serpent and exercise great caution lest we harm their faith.  Sin has crept into their life as they lie numbed and sleeping, lulled into a sense of comfort and safety by the world.  Though their sin may be large and hideous, what mother would be so overwhelmed by the sight of the gruesome serpent that she would forget herself and strike out at her own child in order to kill the snake?

And yet, that is exactly what happens all too often with Christians.  Our hatred is misdirected; we forget that sin, death, and the Devil are the enemies, and that the sinners are – in at least some sense – victims.  Even if your child had been playing with snakes and bringing them into his bedroom, you would still not hesitate to rush to their rescue when they lie crushed and strangling.  A lecture may soon follow the harrowing experience, but saving the life of the child would undoubtedly come first.

Our “enemies” are such because of sin in the world – the disgusting serpent that has wrapped its slimy body around you and me and all people.  We react angrily to sin, especially sin directed toward us.  This anger translates quickly to hatred when we put ourselves first, thinking about my comfort, my peace, and my reputation before the needs of our sinful neighbor and the commands of our loving God.  Instead of directing our ill will towards this person, we can respond in love, showing them God’s “more excellent way” and gently, yet firmly, pulling the serpent from around their throat.

The “me first” philosophy is certainly prevalent in our society, and perhaps it is largely to blame for the rampant hatred in our world.  Our weapons against this evil are patience, kindness, gentleness, and of course, love.  Don’t be deluded into thinking that your own neck is serpent-free; rest assured that you offend others daily with your carelessness, thoughtlessness, and callous insensitivity.  Let us look always to the needs and interests of others (even our “enemies”) and to the calling we have received from our great and merciful God.  Let us ever be ruthless and unrelenting when handling the serpent of sin, yet tender and loving to the precious child of God about whom it is wrapped.

“A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen…Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:29;31-32)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, as You strengthen and equip me to fight the evils of sin, grant me also an extra measure of Your love, that I might deal compassionately with those who deal wickedly with me; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Kindness – Ready, Aim, Fire!

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

While Christians can take courage knowing that God has bestowed upon them the most excellent spiritual armor, we also ought to be mindful of the fact that evil often comes thoroughly defended and fortified as well.  So let’s talk for a little bit about an offensive weapon that God has armed us with – one that can pierce the shell of darkness with a concentrated demonstration of pure love, penetrating deep into the hearts of those we seek to serve.

When trying to touch the hearts of unbelievers or fellow Christians with whom we are at odds, we are often met with thick walls and heavy armor.  Envy, rage, malice, suspicion, doubt, fear, hatred, and unbelief – all of them are weapons of darkness that hold protective qualities of their own; measures to “protect” the host against the Gospel message or against spiritual unity and cooperation.  Sometimes, before we can witness to these individuals or render service to them, we must break down the barriers that Satan has erected between us through his clever use of worldly motives or our own sinfulness.

Kindness is the battering ram of love.  It is the armor-piercing arrow that can cleave Satan’s defenses and allow our love, our service, and our witness to enter the heart of the one before us.  Sometimes our kind words and deeds will need to be showered upon a person in a prolonged barrage as we spiritually lay siege to their hearts.  It may be days, months, or even years before we see their defenses fall, allowing us to come into their lives with God’s love (and ours).  Other times, a single act of kindness may be the silver bullet that shatters the barrier erected between us, opening the door to a relationship of service and evangelism.

Thankfully, the power to use this incredible weapon does not come from within our own sinful hearts – it comes from God.  It is the power of God’s love through Christ Jesus that enables us to forgive others in our hearts and pour our love and kindness upon them despite lingering feelings of tension or resentment.  If kindness is a battering ram, it is God’s power that pushes it; if an arrow, He is the bow and the hand that draws the string.  All we have to do is take aim.

We all know people who need to hear the Gospel but resist any attempt at witness.  We all have people in our lives with whom we just don’t seem to get along very well.  Pray to the Father that He would empower you through the love and forgiveness you have in Christ Jesus to show kindness to these people today.  Pray that He would soften their hearts to receive your entreaties.  Then take aim and let the Holy Spirit do His work as the kindness you shower upon them removes Satan’s defenses from between you, opening the door for witness and Christian partnership like never before.

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:16-18)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, empower me through Your love to forgive my neighbors.  Provide opportunities for me to show kindness unto them, demonstrating Your love by my words and deeds; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Peace – The Best Defense Part 2

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

If our joy in the Lord is the armor of our souls, then the peace of God completes our protection like a helmet, shield, and bracers.  God’s Word imparts a three-fold protection as the Spirit grants us peace with God, peace with the world, and peace within ourselves.

The Devil seeks to strike at our head by attacking our peace with God.  The despair we feel over our own sins and our doubt in the effectiveness of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice would be a sure deathblow, were it not for the protective covering God has given us in the Gospel of peace.  Because of our sinful condition, peace with God was once impossible.  All of our striving and struggling could not remove the taint of sin that bars us from the presence of our Holy God.  But thanks be to God that Jesus Christ has won the victory for us and made peace once and for all between God and man!  This certain knowledge calms our fears and doubts and imparts the peace of God which protects us from the deadly blows of the Devil’s fatal assault.

But what of the world?  Although we will continue to have struggles, conflicts, and frustrations with other people, the cross of Christ also acts as a shield against these adversities.  Through the power of the Gospel, we can love and care for even those with whom we find ourselves in conflict.  Even if those conflicts persist despite our efforts, we can have peace by trusting in God’s Word and living according to His will.  As we walk in His ways, the Spirit will continue to work through whatever situation we are dealing with for the benefit of all.  We can be at peace knowing that God is in control even when we fail to see the silver lining in our present struggles.  And God even works in some offensive measures through the peace of His people, displaying His own love and light in a dark world as others see our peacefulness and are drawn by it to the cross.

As we enjoy the rich blessings of peace with God and with others, we will also find that God stills our own hearts and minds through His power.  The world bombards us with conflicting messages about “personal fulfillment” and “finding ourselves” and entices us with false paths leading to shallow and empty “peacefulness.”  But God’s Word offers an inner peace that lasts, as we find true fulfillment for our lives in the first two types of peace; by serving God joyfully in a close relationship with Him, and by serving our neighbor with gladness and being at peace with the world (even when the world is not at peace with us!).  Like bracers to protect a warrior’s arms and hands, the inner peace that God grants to us protects our ability to fight for the faith and hold fast to the Sword of the Spirit.

God imparts His peace to us many times throughout the Bible.  It is a blessing that serves as a cloak of protection over our souls.  Coupled with the joy of our salvation, God’s peace will enable us to resist the fiercest attacks that Satan’s forces are able to muster.  In His mercy, God has armed us bountifully for our own protection that we might faithfully march forth into battle for the glory of God and the sake of those who remain lost and in darkness.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank You that through the power of Your Gospel I may be at peace with You, with my neighbors, and with myself.  Grant that this peace may be evident to all, that they would seek Your face and also receive the benefit of Your eternal peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Note: For much more information about the topic of “peace” and “peacemaking,” please visit “Peacemaker Ministries.”  You can find a link to their own blog at the bottom of my website (“Route 5:9″), or click here.

Love – The Strength to Fight

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

1 Corinthians 13 begins a beautiful exposition of one of the most powerful weapons at our disposal in our Christian witness and an essential ingredient in our relationship with our Lord.  Indeed, trying to wield the Word of God without love is like trying to swing a sword without any hands.  Love is the motivating power behind our witness and testimony; it is the crux of our relationship with God; it must be the source of every good and pleasing deed that serves our neighbors and glorifies our God in heaven.

How and why this can be ought to be no great mystery.  Scripture reveals it to us plainly: “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Everything that we are to be and everything that God asks us to do is rooted in love: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’…’Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

So we see that the whole of God’s will is grounded in the force of love, and we cannot possibly please Him if we do not have love for Him and for others.  1 John goes on to explain how God’s love is the source and origin of every good and pleasing thing that comes from us: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (4:9-11).

The weapon of love is so powerful that we could not possibly wield it through our own power.  It is a force beyond anything we are capable of.  Any real love that we can muster for God or for our neighbors is merely a reflection of God’s love for us, and even this “ricochet” love is powerful enough to defeat the darkness of the world in which we live.

Like the Word of God, love is versatile and reliable – a trustworthy primary weapon that ought to be standard issue for any soldier of Christ.  We can use it defensively to protect ourselves from the fear and doubt with which Satan daily assails us: “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).  We can use it to penetrate the armor of hard hearts and impenitence: “’If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20-21).  Finally, love has the power to scatter the darkness of sin as God’s love gives us the power to forgive our neighbors and live at peace with them: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Like the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God – Jesus’ love is a weapon without which we dare not set foot upon the battlefield.  It is only through His love that we find the strength to reach out to our enemies with the Gospel of healing and salvation.  It is only by the power of God’s love that we are enabled to serve God and minister to the needs of others.  And we mustn’t doubt the effectiveness of this incredible weapon, as Scripture assures us: “Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for Your great love which You have shown to me through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  By Your Spirit, enable me to share this great love with those around me through service and witness to them, that You may be glorified in everything I do.  Amen.

Weapons of Faith – Arm Yourself

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Warriors need weapons.

Rarely do you find a warrior who relies solely on a single type of weapon.  That so many different kinds of armaments exist reflects the fact that combat is influenced by a wide range of dynamics.  A warrior must reflect upon many questions: Will I be engaging in hand-to-hand combat or delivering and defending against ranged attacks?  What kind of armor is my opponent equipped with, and how can I best penetrate their defenses?  Will a certain weapon help me to defend myself against the attacks of the enemy?  What will I carry as a back-up weapon or side-arm?

Every weapon has a unique purpose.  While some, like swords, are meant to be versatile and universal in their function, the arsenal of a professional warrior will be supplemented by all kinds of tools of the trade.  Spears and lances are specially designed to be used from the back of mount, harnessing the strength of the charging beast to deliver a devastatingly powerful blow.  Arrows and darts can be used to neutralize threats from a safe distance or to reach foes that attack from hard-to-reach locations.  Daggers, knives, and short swords are quick, quiet, and easy to access in an emergency.  Hammers and clubs provide bludgeoning force when a piercing or slashing attack might fail to penetrate an opponent’s defenses.

Spiritual warfare is no different.  Christians are constantly engaged in many kinds of struggles, from defending their faith before hostile and unbelieving people, to resisting the temptations of the Devil as he tries to undermine their witness, to quelling fears and doubts about God’s love for us and the sufficiency of His grace.

We’ve already discussed the “Sword of the Spirit” – the Word of God – at length; and it is truly a mighty weapon.  Indeed, it is the primary weapon of every soldier of Christ as we combat the lies of Satan in a dark and empty world, and it never fails or proves ineffective.  Yet God our Commander, in His love for us, has also given us many other weapons that can be used for our spiritual defense or as supplemental armaments.  Equipped with these tools, we can batter the enemy, pummeling the Dragon’s defenses and wearing down the effectiveness of his attacks on ourselves and those around us – then unsheathing the Sword of the Spirit to finish him off.

Make no mistake; Scripture is the only weapon that can be truly effective against the Satanic forces we are facing, and we must never under any circumstances go into combat without the Sword of the Spirit strapped securely to our sides.  But God has given us other weapons for a reason, and when used properly in conjunction with the Word of the God, they can help us to launch a devastating attack on the forces of darkness.

For the next two weeks we will focus on nine weapons in particular, examining how God has intended for us to them in certain situations for the benefit of those around us and in glory to Him.  As we learn to wield each of these side-arms with greater skill and dexterity, we find that God continues to train and equip us for even greater service using the magnificent Sword He has given us.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, guide me in Your Word that I may be equipped in every way for the works you have prepared for me; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Titus – Training Tomorrow’s Warriors

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.  These, then, are the things you should teach.” (Titus 2:11-15)

Like Timothy, Titus was faced with a monumental task.  Paul had left him with the people of Crete, and while the Holy Spirit had begun to work in their hearts, it was evident that the “raw material” was, well…it needed some work.

However, Paul was confident that the people of Crete were in good hands.  Oh, Titus was certainly a very capable leader.  He was entrusted with several important missions in the New Testament, and Paul had a great deal of faith in his abilities.  But it wasn’t Titus that Paul was trusting to shape the hearts and lives of these new converts, it was the Potter Himself – the Lord God Almighty.

Titus was working with men and women, young and old, who were used to a rather ungodly way of life.  The darkness of the society from which they were coming made the road of sanctification long and arduous.  And yet, this very darkness would allow the light of the Gospel to shine forth from each of them all the more brightly by contrast as they were changed and renewed by the grace of God.

The reason Paul was able to have such confidence in “drill sergeant” Titus was that he knew that Titus understood the crux and impetus of the Lord’s training regimen.  Titus was there for two purposes: 1) to share the Word of God so that those who heard it might be redeemed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and 2) to train these “new recruits” in righteousness and godliness so that they could be effective witnesses to those around them who remained yet in darkness.  Thankfully, Titus knew the importance of putting “the horse before the cart” so to speak – he understood that any change or purification was a result of God’s free grace, unlike those who were still preaching that God’s favor was gained by first amending our outward lives.

Why was this spiritual training program so important for these poor Cretans?  After all, if they were saved by grace through faith and not by their own works, why did it matter if they underwent such “purification” at all?  First of all, this change in their hearts and lives would be a natural response as a result of receiving God’s mercy.  It’s sort of like when you turn a four-year-old loose at the playground and tell her to “Have fun!” as if you could really stop her from having fun it that situation.  In the same way, when God freely bestows His grace upon us and we see all of our sin and wretchedness being washed away, the new man cannot be restrained, but breaks forth and serves the Lord in gladness.

And yet, Titus is instructed to remind these men and women of Crete what might be riding on the example of their good works and godly lives.  Again and again, Paul reminds Titus that the reputation of Jesus’ Gospel is at stake in the model of Christian life: “…so that no one will malign the word of God” (2:5); “…so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us” (2:8); “…so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (2:10); “These things are excellent and profitable to everyone” (3:8).

So no, we do not perform good deeds, speak in kindness and compassion, and serve in humility for the sake of our salvation.  We do these things for the sake of the Gospel message and the salvation of those around us, that through our example their hearts may be softened and plowed, ready to receive the miraculous seed of God’s Word and produce a harvest of saving faith.  That is both the reason and goal of our spiritual training here on Earth – may this training enable us to be always ready for service to the glory of our Lord and Savior.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant that all new warriors of Your faith may be trained and equipped for service and evangelism, inspired to serve You solely out of love and thanksgiving for Your great gift to us.  Help us to be Your faithful ambassadors here on Earth, that we may prepare the hearts of men for the Gospel which we sow; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.