Remember That I Warned You

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When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”  Then [Jesus] said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them.”  (Luke 21:8–13, NIV 1984).

In fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.”  (John 16:2–4).

My Musings – As a general rule, I avoid getting embroiled in political controversies. Little is gained and relationships can be irreparably damaged.  The funny thing about general rules though, is that there are usually exceptions.  So with a bit of fear and trepidation, here goes one of my exceptions.

On December 15, 1791 the first ten amendments (The Bill of Rights) to the U.S. Constitution were ratified.  The first amendment reads in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  For most of the history of this clause the focus seemed to be on the freedom of religion aspects of this clause.  That began to change in earnest with the 1962 Supreme Court ruling in Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, that banned school-sponsored prayer in public schools.  Since that time the scales, which I suspect the Constitutional Convention intended to be relatively balanced, have tilted more and more on the side of “no law respecting an establishment of religion” than it has on the side of not “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  The result has been an increasing erosion of religious liberty.

Now for the controversial part.  From 1791 until 1962, and for the most part since then, the United States has been blessed by a measure of religious freedom that is relatively uncharacteristic in Church history, and that has eluded much of the rest of the globe during this same time period.  We have been a privileged nation in this respect.  But sometimes privilege carries a degree of danger with it.  In this case, the danger is not so much that scales become unbalanced, but that the Church in the U.S. mistakes this clause in the first amendment as being on par with religious canon.  It is not.

Many were upset when shelter in place was declared precluding churches from gathering together. It was okay to grieve the temporary loss of in-person fellowship that this entailed, but we should not be surprised by it.  And we should not be surprised as these restrictions begin to be lifted if church gatherings carry greater restrictions for longer periods than other “non-essential” gatherings.  It is entirely possible that this will happen solely due to the concerns over public health and safety and that there is no underlying conspiracy to further erode religious liberty in America.  But even if there is no sinister subplot being devised by our public officials, they can still unknowingly be pawns of Satan’s evil designs against the Bride of Christ.

While this may concern us, we should not be surprised.  Because Jesus “told [us] this, so that when the time comes [we] will remember that [He] warned [us].”  And let’s also remember that “this will result in [us] being witnesses to them.”  It may still be a long time “before all this” becomes the “beginning of birth pains” that Jesus predicted would precede His return.  But whether it is or not, the question we the Church should be asking ourselves is this — what kind of witnesses do we want to be?  Those who are self-absorbed with protecting their own religious freedom (win the battle) or those who are selflessly committed to helping set the captives free (win the war)?

The Church has before it what is perhaps the greatest evangelistic opportunity since The Great Awakening. People are hurting.  People are scared.  People are angry.  People are losing hope. Do we want to squander this opportunity by being more concerned about the infringement of our religious freedom (inward focus) than we are about the eternal destination of countless souls (outward focus)?  Let’s be the Church that Christ commissioned us to be.  Let’s be heralds of the only true and lasting hope there is.  Beacons of light in world growing increasingly darker.

My Advice – In Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential campaign, strategist James Carville coined the slogan “it’s the economy, stupid!”  There was no way Clinton was going to win the election against the incumbent George H.W. Bush, on foreign policy.  Bush’s credentials were impeccable and he had just orchestrated a stunning military victory over Iraq. Winning not just the war but significant approval ratings.  But he was becoming vulnerable due to a weakening economy.  Whenever, Clinton’s campaign got side-tracked on other issues they would re-focus the campaign with the rallying cry of “it’s the economy, stupid!”  As we all know, Bill Clinton won that election more than President Bush lost it.  The Church can learn a lesson from this.  In carrying out the Great Commission, our focus should be less on the first amendment, and more on “it’s the Gospel, stupid!”

The time will come when we lose all religious freedom. “They will lay hands on [us] and persecute [us]. They will deliver [us] to prisons, and [we] will be brought before [the authorities], and all on account of [His] name.”  My brothers and sisters in Christ.  In that day we may find in our eyes the same fear that would take the heart of men and women without the hope of Christ.  And if a day could come when the courage of the Church fails, when it forsakes the Gospel and breaks all that binds it to the Great Commission, let it not be this day.  An hour of demons and shattered freedoms when the gates of hell could prevail and the Church Age come crashing down, let it not be this day!  This day we fight for the Gospel!  By the faith we hold dear on this decaying earth, I bid you stand with Christ! (A shameless adaptation of Aragorn’s speech before the black gate in “The Return of the King).

Let this be our witness.  “But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” (Luke 21:14–19, NIV 1984).

 

What’s Happened Here?

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Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  (John 15:12–13, NIV 1984).

My Musings – The following video reveals how my Uncle (Earl Brewer) was killed in action (KIA) in WWII. The family never was able to learn the circumstances, only that he was KIA somewhere in France and the date (July 7, 1944). That is until today.  The man in the video was in Earl’s squad, and is telling the story of that engagement following a reenactment in the town (Beaucoudray) in France where it happened. He mentions Earl by name (about fifteen minutes into the video), heard Earl’s last words and was looking him in the eye when he died. The entire story is fascinating, and to the Brewer family enlightening.  For many years we wondered what happened there?  Eerily, this was my Uncle Earl’s last thought in life.

The man relating the story crossed the channel on D-Day+3 as a replacement in my Uncle’s squad (my Uncle was the squad leader).  So it seems likely my Uncle came across with the invading forces on D-Day, landing on Utah beach with the rest of the 357th Infantry Regiment.   Over two days in early July (6th nd 7th) they engaged the enemy in close quarter trench warfare (so close that each side could only use their artillery sparingly for fear of hitting their own troops). Our men fought until they ran out of ammunition and could fight no more.  Unable to be re-supplied, their only option was surrender or be slaughtered.  In one of those ironic “twists” of fate, there was an artillery explosion in their midst as the enemy lined them up.  Having surrendered to avoid death, my uncle was struck in the chest by shrapnel.  Moments later, he uttered his last words, something to the effect “what’s happened here?” And then he breathed his last.

Obviously, I never knew my uncle, my dad was only twelve when Earl was killed. The only image I had of Earl was his formal service portrait that hung in my grandmother’s living room.  Even at an early age I was curiously drawn to that portrait.  Wondering what he must have been like.  What he might have accomplished had he not been killed serving his country.  An estimated 75-80 million souls perished in that war, with countless spouses, parents, children, brothers and sisters left to grieve and wonder the same thing.  My uncle’s family grieved twice.  Once when they had that dreaded visit, (I regret to inform you…) and a second time (a few years later) when Uncle Earl’s body was returned to his final resting place.  But there was a bit of joy in the grieving as well. In another of those peculiar twists of “fate,” my grandmother gave birth to her youngest child (there were twelve in total) on the very day that her oldest son was killed.  One child drawing their first breath as another breathed their last.

My Advice – “What’s happened here?” or “what’s going on here?”  We all go through situations where we could be saying the same thing.  Perhaps not as dire or final as my uncle’s, but troubling nonetheless.  We all are going through a tough situation now, with an enemy that is not quite as visible or recognizable as the enemy my uncle faced.  In his situation, he knew exactly how to fight, and what not to do when he could fight no more.  Today not so much.  But the question, “what’s going on here?” is well worth contemplating?  Is there more going on here than a deadly virus?  I’m not getting political here, but what might God want us to learn and understand during this time of trial?  Let’s make sure we learn it.

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.  (Abraham Lincoln).

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Facing Down Fear

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“I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.”  (2 Timothy 1:3–9, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “He knew sometimes some fear can be good. When you are afraid things are going to get worse if you don’t do something, it can prompt you into action.  But it is not good when you are so afraid that it keeps you from doing anything.  He decided if he ever got the chance again, he would get out of his comfort zone and adapt to change sooner.” (from “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, M.D.).

Fear can paralyze.  Especially when we feel powerless to do anything about what is causing the fear.  When the “foe” we face is “faceless” and is poorly understood.  But there is very little that should cause such concern in those of “sincere faith.”  For what is there that can cause us any lasting harm?  “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Luke 12:4–5, NIV 1984).

No one has that power over God’s children.  So, do not give in to a “spirit of timidity.”  Move out of your “comfort zone.”  Confront your fears with “a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”  Do this by “fanning into flame the gift of God.”  “Adapt to change.”

  • And what is this gift? – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  (Ephesians 2:8–10, NIV 1984).
  • And how do we fan this “gift” into flame?Try prayer.  Try the Word.  Try fellowshipping with and being accountable to other believers.
  • And how do we adapt to change? – “Do not conform any longer to the pattern [spirit of timidity] of this world, but be transformed [fan into flame] by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  (Romans 12:2, NIV 1984).
  • And how do we renew your mind? – “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”  (Philippians 4:8–9, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Let’s live a holy life.  “Not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.

Chariots of Fire

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When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked.  “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.  (2 Kings 6:15–17, NIV 1984).

My Musings – How many times in our lives have the angelic hosts protected us from harm?  We clearly have no idea.  But if His eye is on the sparrow, I am certain that nothing escapes His attention when it comes to us.  And if when troubles do come (“in this world you will have trouble“), they need not dishearten us (“take heart, I have overcome the world“).  We can learn from them.  We grow character during them.  We can be witnesses through them.  Because nothing touches us that does not first pass through His hands, and which His grace is not sufficient to sustain us through.  And when “the time has come for [our] departure,” may we be able to say that we have “fought the good fight, [we] have finished the race, [we] have kept the faith.”  (2 Timothy 4:6–7, NIV 1984).

My Advice – It may seem at times that “those who are with them,” or that which is against us, are more than “those who are with us,” or that which is for us.  But it just “ain’t” so.  We may be tempted to say “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?”  But we should open our spiritual eyes and not “be afraid.”  For “if God is for us, who can be against us?”  (Romans 8:31, NIV 1984).

Saddle Up!

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Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9, NIV 1984).

My Musings – This is a charge given specifically to Joshua.  What could he possibly have to fear?

  • He Succeeded Moses, the only person that God spoke with face-to-face.  Talk about a tough act to follow.
  • But because Moses messed up, God did not allow Moses to lead the Israelites into the promised land.  Something that Moses had been anticipating for over forty years.  Better not mess up, Joshua.
  • And now Joshua was being told to cross over the Jordan to lead these “obstinate, stiff-necked” people to battle multiple kingdoms (Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites), drive them out, and take possession of the land.  No small task for a group of wandering nomads.

Yet Joshua “saddled up anyway.”  Why wouldn’t he have wanted to run the other way?  Not because of the subject of his  faith (capability of accomplishing the task at hand), but because of the object of his faith (capability of the One commissioning him for the task at hand). “No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (Joshua 1:5, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Do you have a tough act to follow?  Are you afraid of messing up?  Do feel inadequate for the task you face?  I know this charge was given specifically to Joshua, but I believe we can appropriate it for ourselves.  “Have I not commanded you?”  If God calls you to it, He will see you through it.  So, “be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged.”  Because “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”  (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV 1984).  If God has indeed called you to it, you don’t have to scared to death. Saddle up. Ride to victory, not retreat.  He “will never leave you nor forsake you.