About Dan C.

Retired U.S. Army Special Forces SGM (28 years). Currently employed as a government contractor. Member of Christian Military Fellowship (www.cmfhq.org) for 30 years. Married for 43 years to the lovely Dee; three children and 6 grandchildren.

Sharing Christ in a Hostile Culture, Pt 3– Our Duty, Our Great Privilege, and Our Highest Calling

In Part 1 of this series of articles, Be Available, we shared real examples of how doors seem to just ‘open up’ for sharing the message of the gospel, and what can happen when there’s a willing and available gospel messenger ‘on location’.

In Part 2, Situational Awareness, we compared our ‘Situation’ as believers in Christ – our status, and true citizenship, with our condition (situation) before repenting of sin and believing Christ.

This article focuses on understanding the nature of the believer’s role in sharing Christ with the world around us. Bear in mind that God, being GOD, is able to save lost sinners in any way He chooses to do so, with, or without our involvement. At the same time, it’s important to remember that God has not only provided for the salvation of His people (through Christ); he has chosen the means by which he saves lost sinners. – the preaching of the gospel (sharing Christ). This means that fur you and me (and all believers) sharing Christ with a lost world is at least three things; Our Duty, Our Great Privilege, and Our Hignest Calling!

Our Duty

18And Jesus came and said to them (the disciples), “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mathew 28:18-20)

You might be thinking that there is no command for personal evangelism in the above passage of scripture, I beg to differ. Jesus’ command, to ‘make disciples’, by its very nature requires sharing the message of the gospel. Disciples are only produced from saved; blood bought sinners. Jesus disciples (followers) were commanded to make disciples of those were already believers and preach the message of the gospel to those still lost so that they could then be made into disciples.

Our Great Privilege

God not only provided the way of salvation of His people in the death and resurrection of His Son, He also decreed the means whereby men are saved.

13“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 14How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:13-15)

The above passage is crystal clear. Those who call on the Lord will be saved. Calling on the Lord means believing in Him. To believe they must first hear the good news (evangel). For them to hear, someone must preach Christ to them. Those who share the good news are ‘sent’ by God to do so.

Dear friends, WE ae among those who are sent to share the good news! The Great Commission was given specifically to Jesus’ immediate disciple, but it was meant for all believers for all time.

God has chosen to use flawed you and me to share His perfect message of salvation! How is that NOT the greatest privilege bestowed on God’s children?

Our Highest Calling

I recently read an article in a local newspaper about an F/A-18 Super Hornet weapons system officer who was actually the first female pilot to bomb ISIS from an F/A 18. Here is how she described ISIS and her role in the bombing:

“They are a horrible crop of humans, with an utter disregard for human life,” she said. “To witness that, day in and out, to witness mass murder, you have such an understanding. I’d trained for so long to protect innocent people on the ground, and when I saw that violated, and to finally use my skills to do that and use weapons, there is no higher calling.” (Emphasis mine)

With no disrespect to either a fine Naval officer or anyone who fights global terrorism, I have to confess that the immediate reaction of this old soldier was “But there IS a higher calling!” – to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world around us, and often hostile culture in which we live.

In many churches these days much is made of living our best lives now, discovering our special purpose for our time on planet Earth, and even achieving our ‘dream destinies’. Friends, I suggest to you that all of those things are merely temporary at best. I also suggest to you that our duty and great privilege to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a lost world, and the eternal consequences at stake (heaven and hell), define the great commission as the highest calling a blood bought child of God has received from heaven!

Be blessed!

 

Food for Thought Concerning Personal Evangelism

Last week, I was in the middle of my early morning indoor cycling routine and skimming through Facebook. I came across a FB post that had as a very sincere comment, the following:

“We are to invite people to the Banquet in Heaven. 

Evangelism is 3 parts:

1. Determine if they are lost or saved. 

Do you know or hope you will go to Heaven? 

2. Plan of Salvation. 

3. INVITE THEM to Heaven!

Years ago I witnessed to a man but did not invite. I attended his funeral. I wished I had invited him.

Last year I invited a man. 2 weeks later his daughter called and said he had died. 

I have peace. I hope he is in Heaven, if he is not it is because he chose to reject JESUS. 

Popular Preachers who speak against sinner’s prayer and altar calls are pharisees causing cowardice. I witnessed to an Atheist. Told him TODAY you will accept or reject JESUS, or reject HIM, told him the consequences of each choice. He said:

“I really don’t want to reject JESUS.”

I left the following reply, hoping to start a discussion with “Bob” (not his real name):

1. It’s not our job to ‘determine’ whether a person is saved or not.

2. I believe that it’s the Holy Spirit who issues the invitation. We might speak words of invitation, but the Holy Spirit opens hearts dead in sin to answer the invitation and causes them to respond.

2. I believe we are to invite them to Christ for the forgiveness of sin, which IS an invitation to heaven!

First of all, know that I’m not bashing “Bob”. There was a time I shared a lot of “Bob’s” approach to evangelism. The desired discussion has yet to take place. I’m still praying. I want to ask “Bob” WHY he placed so much emphasis on the need to issue “invitations”, although I think I know. He felt badly when he had witnessed to but NOT issued an invitation (to Heaven), but at peace when he witnessed AND gave an invitation. You see, if a personal invitation is NOT given and the ‘witnessee’ dies and ends up in hell, at least some of the blood is on the hands of the ‘evangelist’. If an invitation is given and the receiver of the invitation rejects Jesus and dies, the ‘evangelist’ bears no guilt. He can breathe easy. He did his job.

I believe such an approach to be faulty, and for the reasons I stated in my reply to “Bob”.

1. It’s not our job to ‘determine’ whether a person is saved or not. That’s God’s business. The best we can do is find out what a person thinks his/her eternal destiny might be and go from there. We could be speaking to a genuine believer who lacks assurance of salvation for one reason or another. Besides that, there are a LOT of folks who are SURE they are heaven bound, but for the wrong reasons. Still, at the end of the day, only God know who is/isn’t saved. We are to proclaim the gospel to everyone – saved folks need to hear it again also.

2. I believe that it’s the Holy Spirit who issues the invitation. We might speak words of invitation, but the Holy Spirit opens hearts dead in sin to answer the invitation and causes them to respond. (See Lydia in Acts 16). When God has opened a heart to hear, that heart WILL eventually hear and a sinner will be saved.

2. I believe we are to invite them to Christ for the forgiveness of sin, which IS an invitation to heaven! I have yet to find an “invitation” to Jesus (or “Heaven”, for that matter. What I find is a command to “repent and believer the gospel”, given by Jesus himself.

Concerning “Bob’s” assertion that those who do not use the “sinner’s prayer” or have altar calls are cowardly Pharisees…well, some might be, but many might not be. That was completely uncalled for. They might not use either in their evangelistic efforts simply because neither one is used anywhere in the New Testament. There certainly might be a call to face one’s sin, repent and come to Christ, but no specific reciting of the sinner’s prayer as a mandatory act. “Altar calls” are a human invention that started with “the anxious bench” in Charles Finney’s day.

What’s the point of all this? It’s simple.

God is sovereign in the salvation of sinners!

_____________

Comments are encouraged.

Be Blessed!

Sharing Christ in a Hostile Culture Part 2 – Situational Awareness

I find it interesting that the first paragraph of military combat orders cover the battlefield “Situation”, followed by “Mission”. Many of us might think that a statement of the missions would come first.   ‘Situational Awareness’ (SA), a term familiar to many of us, means nothing more than recognizing your circumstances; knowing what’s going on around you. For instance, a military commander must be aware of the total situation (enemy and friendly) around him and his unit on the battlefield, as well as the bigger ‘strategic’ picture.  Total situational awareness is essential for successful military operations against any enemy, on any battlefield, for any warrior.  As Christians, and warriors in the Kingdom of God, we need to maintain complete situational awareness as inhabitants of planet earth (the battlefield environment), as well as our Commander’s intent (God’s strategic picture).

Sadly, we often lose focus of both our battlefield environment and our Commander’s intent, for a variety of reasons, ranging from our tendency to focus almost exclusively on ‘personal’ growth and fulfillment, to applying human wisdom and worldly principles to the operation of the ‘postmodern’ church as a whole.  At both levels, the result is that the Lord of the harvest, the Holy Spirit, sits in the back of the bus as we arrogantly occupy the driver’s seat!

Dear readers and friends, it is past time to regain our ‘situational awareness’ and overcome our spiritual ‘nearsightedness.’  For that task, we need to ‘begin at the beginning’ of our lives as Christians and go from there.  In a familiar and often quoted verse of Scripture, the Apostle Paul tells us:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

What a promise – the greatest makeover of all time!  When we place saving faith in Christ, we step out of darkness and into the light, passing from death to life!  We are given a new nature in Christ as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our being, giving us a desire to serve God and the power to live a life of obedience to Him. This is common knowledge, not rocket science.

Our ‘makeover’ is so complete that in another of his letters to the early church, Paul presents what is a mystery to limited human logic.

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:6 

This is a bit more difficult for human logic to grasp, but notice the past tense verbs in this verse. Paul is saying that as Christians, although we physically remain here on planet Earth, we have already been ‘raised up’ and ‘seated with Christ in the heavenly realms.’  Paul partially explains this mystery in more easily understood terms a bit later in the same chapter:

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. . .” Ephesians 2:19

A citizen is a legal resident of a nation, country or state.  Paul is saying that, at the moment of salvation, our ‘legal citizenship’ status changed!  One could say that if before we received Christ, we could have visited the ‘heavenly realm,’ we would have been ‘illegal aliens.’  We are not like the child born to an American military family overseas, who has dual-citizenship status until he or she is 18 years old and needs to make a decision.  We are NOT dual citizens.  Now listen to the Apostle Peter in one of his letters to the early church:

“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” 1 Peter 2:11 

Do you see the contrast here? Paul tells us that at one time we were ‘aliens and foreigners’ to God’s household, while Peter tells us that as Christians we are now ‘aliens and strangers’ in the world in which we live!

Why is the world in which we live ‘foreign territory,’ why are we ‘aliens and strangers in it,’ and how do we apply these truths?

First, we need to understand that the world in which we live is not, the world that God created and pronounced ‘good’ and ’very good’.  In fact, Scripture tells us that the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden affected more than just our little piece of turf.  There is a clear description of the present condition of God’s creation in Romans 8:17-24, in which we find the following:

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Romans 8:22

All of God’s creation is somehow tainted, polluted by sin, and in need of redemption.

Scripture also gives us an interesting description of the state of the human race after the fall of Adam, as well as a who seems to be controlling things (the god of this world).

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Ephesians 2:1-2

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:4

As believers, we are citizens of the household of God, with a new ‘landlord,’ servants of the Most High God, no longer bound by the god of this world.  And as members of God’s household, we are now foreigners and strangers to the world we live in and enemies of the ‘god of this world.’

If you still aren’t convinced of your citizenship as a Christian, listen to the words of Jesus from his high priestly prayer:

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (John 17:13-16)

I have come to the inescapable conclusion that we are living behind enemy lines!  Perhaps this has caused your thought process to pause for a moment of speculation.  Maybe it came to a screeching halt because your first reaction was “No way!”  Then hear what the Apostle James had to say to believers in his day who were becoming a bit too ‘friendly’ with the fallen culture around them.

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” James 4:4

If you still aren’t convinced that we are living in enemy territory, I encourage you to read James 4 in its entirety, followed by Jesus’ words to his followers in John, chapters 15 and 16, concerning what to expect from the world that is hostile to God.

All of the above leaves with an inescapable question: “Why are we still down here?”  That might be connected to the second paragraph of a Combat Order – “Mission”. More to follow.

The Holy Spirit in Evangelism and the Salvation of Sinners

Evangelism

In the above quotation from J.I. Packer’s book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. we can see the work of the Holy Spirit in at least there ways.

1.  The Holy Spirit Empowers the evangelist.  While it is true that the message of the Gospel can be presented as if it’s a matter of mere facts, or an intellectual exercise, the sharing of the Gospel message In the power of the Holy Spirit carries with it  certain Divine authority that is not lost on the hearer.

2.  The Holy Spirit opens the heart of the hearer to receive the Gospel message. While it is also true that the Gospel message can be heard by anyone at all, a God-opened heart guarantees that it will be taken to heart, received with gladness, and a lost soul saved for eternity. No better example can be found than the woman Lydia in the 16th Chapter of the book of Acts.

3.  The Holy Spirit no only empowers the evangelist and opens the heart of the sinner, He also empowers the new born believer to live for God and serve Him from that day forward.. It is the Holy Spirit that works in the Christian both to desire and to do what is pleasing to his Lord. (Phil 2:13).

Food for thought………….

If you are interested in a review of, or obtaining Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, go here for either or  both.

Apologetics for Dummies

“What is apologetics?”  Well, the term comes from the Greek word “apologia”, which simply means “a verbal defense”. Christian apologetics would then be a verbal defense of the Christian faith.  The most important passage of scripture pertaining to Christian apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15:

“…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence,”

There are three basic types of apologetics; classical, evidential, and presuppositional.

Classical apologetics has been called a two-step method. The first step is to prove the existence of God, using various arguments with really long names. Once the existence of God is proven, we can proceed to prove that Christianity is true.

Evidential apologetics does not attempt to prove the existence of God, but jumps straight to proving Christianity is true from various forms of evidence (historical, archeological, biblical).

Presuppositional apologists argue that we must presuppose (assume) the truth of Christianity and show that every other worldview (and religion) is false.

If you are reading this, you might have already concluded that while classical and evidential apologetics are not difficult to understand, you suffered a brain cramp when you got to the presuppositional approach. Perhaps explaining how these approaches apply to sharing our faith with unbelievers can clear things up a bit.

If I am a classical apologist sharing my Christian faith with an unbeliever I would first try and prove the existence of God followed by the truth of Christianity.

If I am an evidential apologist sharing my faith I would try and prove Christianity to be true by using various evidences pointing to its truth (history, archeology, the bible).

If I am a presupposition apologist I would begin with the assumption (presupposition) that what the Bible has to say about anything and everything is true, and allow that to inform personal evangelism.

Let’s use the existence of God as an example.

The Bible tells us in Romans 1:20-21 that all men ‘know’ God, but they suppress the truth they already know). If that’s true, why would I need to ‘prove’ the existence of God to an unbeliever?

The Bible also tells us that the natural man hates the God he knows exists (Rom 8:7-8). If he hates God he hates Christianity, and probably all religions.  If that’s true, why would I spend a lot of effort trying to make attractive (Christianity) something the unbeliever absolutely hates? Think Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS). President Trump could tell folks that breathing clean air is good for them, but the TDS afflicted would deny it because Trump said it.

Unfortunately, much, if not most, of today’s evangelism attempts to do just that – make Christianity attractive to the unbelieving ‘seeker’, assuming that they are seeking after someone they hate. Incidentally, the Bible also tells us that no human being seeks God (Rom 3:11). (There’s another presupposition).

So how should we share Christ with unbelievers? Might I suggest the way the Apostle Paul did?

Paul  preached Christ crucified for the sins of men and left the rest to the sovereign God who opens human hearts to hear and respond to that simple message. If you want a good example, read the story of Lydia in Acts 16. Call that his ‘marketing campaign for Christianity’ – a far cry from all of today’s marketing campaigns to get unbelievers through the front doors of our evangelical churches.

You could even call Paul’s approach to evangelism ‘Calvinistic’. The TULIP (not invented by Calvin) just might express what the Bible actually teaches.

What we call the ’Arminian’ approach relies on the libertarian freewill of lost men (and women) and their ‘natural’(straight from the womb) ability to respond positively to a gospel message. That gospel message however, must be attractive to the unbeliever, meaning that the ‘offensive’ gospel that Jesus died for sin is a non-starter.

So that’s one old guy’s take on apologetics practically applied to sharing Christ. If you want to get into more detail concerning the three types of apologetics, feel free to do so. We have Goggle!

____________

If you want a demonstration of the presupposition approach to proving the existence of God, go here

Sharing the Gospel in a Hostile Culture, Part 1 – Be Available

It’s not exactly rocket science that our American culture seems to be more hostile to public expressions of Christianity with each passing day. Christian values across the board are ridiculed when they run counter to a society’s prevailing values and attitudes, and it’s nothing new. At the same time, sharing the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is both the mission and great privilege of all believers. So how are we to accomplish this mission knowing that merely expressing our faith in public settings outside of our respective faith communities?

This is the first in a series of articles addressing this all important issue from the personal perspective of an old soldier who just wants “to leave something behind” (to quote the title of a Sean Rowe song) that might help others traveling along Gospel Highway.

As the above title states, the first step is to just ‘be available’. It sounds easy, but it might be more difficult that it sounds. While all of us have at one time or another told God (not without a certain amount of pride) that we are available to do whatever he commands us to do, who among us has not taken a step backward when faced with very real consequences of exiting the jump door of a high performance aircraft into unknown darkness. Paratrooper metaphor aside, it can be scary. So before you declare to our Savior your willingness and availability to share His gospel with the world around you, consider the cost in terms of what it will mean in your personal life. Are you ready to be open about your Christian faith, no matter what? That’s the starting point. Keeping your faith to yourself isn’t an option.

While I might not know you, I do know that if you are available, God will use you. Here are a few examples I know of from within the Special Forces community.

  • ·A small detachment of SF soldiers were training in the Allegheny forest in Pennsylvania. One of the men was known by all of the men to be a Christian, although he didn’t advertise it. Another of the men, a team medic, was dating a girl from Boston who was a Christian and talked about God now and again. The entire detachment was sitting around a camp fire in the woods (non-tactical) and the medic started talking about his ‘Christian’ girlfriend from Boston and asking questions.
  • ·An SF Battalion field headquarters was established in the Cape Cod area for a training exercise. During the exercise one of the SF soldiers in the Bn died when both of his parachutes failed during an infiltration operation in upstate NY. His name was Bob and he was a strong believer. The Bn Commander in the Cape Cod location wanted to have a memorial service for Bob and asked for someone who was close to Bob to visit with the local minister who was to mold the service in the field headquarters. As a result of the meeting, the entire field headquarters heard a clear presentation of the gospel message, from the commander (LTC) on down.
  • ·An SF “A” Team Leader (CPT) was killed over Lockerbie Scotland in 1988 returning from an exercise planning event. The Pan Am aircraft was destroyed by a bomb. One of his Team Sergeants, an E-8, who had served his Team for a year before being reassigned to another position in the 10th SF Group, was a believer and all of the team members knew it. The former Team Sergeant attended the funeral service at the SF Chapel at Ft. Devens. When the casket bearers were walking from the chapel to the waiting hearse, the former Team Sgt’s eyes and the eyes of the casket bearers met and a silent reminder of the finality of death passed between them.

We share these examples solely to demonstrate what can happen, in God’s providence, just because you are available, without any overt actions on your part. No initiating religious conversations, passing out Gospel literature, or “I’m a Fool for Jesus, Whose Fool Are You?” bumper stickers. God opens doors. All we do is walk through those doors and let God be God. Seeds of the Gospel are sown and souls are eternally saved.

I leave you with a question.

Are you available?

Be blessed as you grow in Christ!

Is Christmas Christian?

by Phil Ryken December 26, 1999

Today is December 26, the day after Christmas. By now most of us are recuperating from the frenzied holiday rounds of parties, shopping, driving, visiting, entertaining and of course the giving and receiving of gifts. Many of us are repentant of our avarice on the one hand, and probably all of us are sick of the commercialism and exploitation. Perhaps now is not the time to ask the question I am going to offer, “Should we do it?”

By asking that question I do not mean, “Should we be greedy or materialistic? Should we buy into the exploitation and worldly mythology?” I do not expect many Christians to have trouble with that question, even if avoiding those things is not quite so easy. But the question I want to ask is this: “Should we even have Christmas? Should we observe it at all? Should Christians, as an expression of fidelity to the God of the Bible participate in the cultural-religious phenomenon that we call Christmas? Is it a damaging and dangerous product of a godless culture that Christian parents and friends should steer clear of as being unfaithful to the Lord and unhealthy to us and our children?

There are more than a few Christians who agree with this assessment, who just say “no” to Christmas altogether and who follow their words with action. No wreaths, no Christmas tree, no stockings, certainly no Santa Claus and no reindeer. One such Christian, Dr. Alan Clifford, writing in Britain’s Evangelicals Now publication, says this:

Christmas was the result of a growing tendency of the Roman Church to meet paganism half-way… . If Christmas is without a true Christian basis, it should be scrapped.

Christmas as a “Worship Innovation” By no means is this an isolated view. Perhaps the Christians most famous for abhorring Christmas were the Puritans. We often quote Puritan writers here and generally look to Puritan Spirituality as a model of biblical Christianity. Indeed, it was their emphasis on obeying the Bible that we so admire that also led them to treat December 25th as any other day. The principle that governed the Puritans in this matter, as in many others, is the “regulative principle.” What this principle basically states is that God determines what is appropriate for worship, and He communicates this through His Word. Any human innovation, however well-meaning, is bound to be corrupted by our folly and sin and encroaches upon God’s holy prerogative. The Puritans were quite serious about this principle and often suffered persecution on its behalf. We honor their stands against the rites of the Roman Catholic church and the empty formalism of the Elizabethan Anglicans. It was because of the regulative principle that the Puritans refused to worship Christmas as they had opposed many other extra-biblical “innovations”.

Pagan Roots for Christmas?

Another strong reaction against Christmas comes from the charge that the holiday has pagan roots. The argument runs like this. December 25 was the date of the Roman Saturnalia festival, a wild orgiastic pagan rite focused on worship of the sun, and it was also correlated with various tribal pagan festivals associated with the winter solstice. As was argued above, Christmas represented just one of many Roman Catholic attempts to win over the ignorant and godless masses by putting a Christian label on an existing, idolatrous structure. Christmas, under this view, is just one of many Catholic innovations, like those that ushered in adoration of the saints and the veneration of Mary, both of which we vehemently reject.

In a recent spin through the internet, I came across a web site for witches, listed among web sites honoring Christmas, which gleely recounted the pagan roots of just about every bit of Christmas symbology. The yule log represented the wheel of time, the lights of Christmas recall the sacred fire and the birth of the Sun-King, while the evergreen was a symbol of fertility that recalls the student of the Old Testament to the Asherah pole so condemned by the prophets.

A Christian Apology for Christmas

With all of those arguments lined up, it is tempting to agree. Why not just get rid of Christmas, and with it all the materialism and greed that comes with such an unholy alliance? In response, and in defense of a Christian Christmas, I offer the following response. First of all, I do not argue for Christmas on the basis of the calendar. Scholars have long argued that it was very unlikely that shepherds would have had their flocks out during the coldest time of the year. So too, it is argued, it was most unlikely that the administratively efficient Romans would have ordered a census during the a month when travel was next to impossible. No, I do not argue for Christmas on the basis of December 25, the selection of which does seem to have been based on pre-existing pagan celebrations rather than historical accuracy.

Furthermore, I acknowledge that the great majority of Christmas symbols seem to have originated in pagan idolatry. Nonetheless, I think the holly branches, which the druids may claim for their own, also does a pretty fair job of reminding us of the crown of thorns that rested on Jesus’ brow, as well as the drops of blood that purchased my salvation. When it comes to the Christmas tree, I do not care what Germanic pagans believed. When in a darkened room I turn on the lights of my Christmas tree I hear only one voice. And it cries out with these lovely words of grace: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isa. 9:2). And I hear the words of the Apostle John, saying of my Lord, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men… . The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world” (Jn. 1:3, 9).

Paganism, of course, is no religion of its own. It merely crafts lies about the created order which itself testifies to God. The Old Testament often confronts idol-worshipping lies and even seizes pagan symbols for the Lord who made and owns them. The image, for instance, of the Lord riding on the clouds in power is a blatant conquest of an image widely used in the mythical literature of the idolatrous god Baal. In that respect, I smile to think of St. Boniface, one of the great missionaries to the pagans of Europe around the time when Christmas was invented, using the evergreen tree to show that what they worshiped as an object of idolatry better points to the living God and the eternal life He offers in Jesus Christ.

But even that is not my best reason for loving Christmas. My best reason comes from a gathering that took place in a park near my home in the East Falls section of Philadelphia just a couple of weeks ago. There, hundreds of my fellow citizens, the majority of whom I am sure are nominal Christians at best, joined their voices for a night of caroling. Of the 18 songs we sang, 13 were Christian hymns celebrating the birth of a Savior in glorious biblical language. I tried to keep track of the biblical doctrines that were flowing from their lips but I finally lost track: sin, atonement, the Incarnation, God’s holiness, the power of the Word, the Second Coming, the Kingdom of God, eternal life and resurrection of the dead. As Paul said about other matters we might say about this singing in the open air of Philadelphia: “Against such things there is no law.”

I respect that regulative principle of the Puritans, and even agree with it as a binding precept of our own denomination. But Scripture does permit, even mandate, the preaching of the Gospel, the singing of songs of praise, the reading of Scripture, and the praising of God in the open air. I am grateful to Christmas that many thus praise God and even worship Him fitly on this day, with hopes that they would honor Him with more and ultimately all of their lives.

I acknowledge that much about Christmas does injustice to the regulative principle, and we certainly want to be careful in this regard. But it wonderfully does justice to the redemptive principle, for which the Son of God came from heaven to earth, that He might claim and deliver a world that was lost in darkness.

_________

© 2019 Tenth Presbyterian Church.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. ©2019 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org

“De Oppresso Liber”

clip_image002 “De oppresso liber”, commonly translated “to liberate the oppressed” is the motto of U.S. Army Special Forces. The phrase stems from the exploits of World War II Office of Strategic Services Jedburgh/Sussex Teams operating behind the lines in France. Colonel Aaron Bank, father of United States Army Special Forces, and his teams enabled the French Resistance to grow and oppose the occupying German Army.

Although the phrase “to liberate the oppressed” might not be an exact grammatical and literal translation, the point is well made. Liberating oppressed peoples has always been a primary goal of U.S. Special Forces.

Perhaps one of the greatest symbols of oppression in the history of mankind was the Berlin Wall. We were stationed in Berlin between 1984 and 1987. When we were stationed in Berlin in the late 80’s, we were able to capture a picture of a small part of the Wall that depicted the goal of German people living on both sides:

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The need to liberate oppressed peoples is nothing new, nor is it a goal or mission reserved for the temporal realm.

God raised up the Prophet Isaiah to accuse the leaders of a rebellious nation of not caring for the oppressed and remind them of their obligations as rulers:

“Learn to do well:
seek judgment,
relieve the oppressed
judge for the fatherless,
defend the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

Perhaps the most significant of the church fathers, Augustine of Hippo recognized that liberating those who are oppressed was one of the solemn responsibilities of pastoral ministry. In a sermon celebrating the anniversary of his ordination as a Bishop he eloquently described how he saw his duties:

“The turbulent have to be corrected,
The faint-hearted cheered up,
The weak supported;
The Gospel’s opponents need to be refuted,

Its insidious enemies guarded against;
The unlearned need to be taught,
The indolent stirred up,
The argumentative checked;

The proud must be put in their place,
The desperate set on their feet,
Those engaged in quarrels reconciled;
The needy have to be helped,

The oppressed to be liberated,
The good to be encouraged,

The bad to be tolerated;
All must be loved.”

(St. Augustine, Sermon 340,3: CChr.SL 194, 920.)

Oppression has many faces and affects all levels of society. The list of oppressors and oppressed people groups is too long to try and list here. At the same time, alleviating varying types of oppression (or perceived oppression), both from America’s past and existing today, has become a priority and matter of debate in secular society as well as the church. ‘Social justice’ issues have been declared by some to be integral to the message of the gospel itself instead of an outcome of having embraced the gospel that Christ died for our sins.

All of the above aside for a moment, I would like to ask you a question, and here it is:

“What is the single most dangerous and cruel form of oppression that has existed throughout the history of mankind and still exists today?”

I’ll give you a hint or two.

  • It exists in every country/nation on Earth and has affected every person that has ever been born since the fall of Adam.
  • It’s not oppression between people or groups of people,
  • It has eternal consequences.

(Insert 30 seconds of quiz show music……….)

And the answer is……………SIN.

The greatest oppression that has ever existed in the history of humanity is sin’s oppression of every single person born after the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden.

Adam and Eve were created with a desire to please God, but also with the ability to disobey. Disobey they did, with disastrous results to follow and affect everyone ever born thereafter.

The Bible tells us about those who are lost to God and separated from Christ by sin:

The lost are slaves to sin.

“Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness.” (Rom 6:16)

The lost are also spiritually dead.

The Apostle Paul told the believers in Ephesus that

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—” (Eph 2:1-2)

The lost are condemned already.

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18)

That’s a really short list of passages that speak of the oppressed condition of all those separated from God and apart from Christ by sin. Perhaps the harshest description of the lost in the entire Bible is something else Paul told believers in Ephesus:

The lost are the “children of wrath”.

“…we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Eph 2:3)

No earthly oppression can ever compare to the oppression caused by the sin that is in the world that resulted from the disobedience of the first Adam. And there are many who live their happy and content lives oblivious of their condition in abject slavery to that sin.

But there is GOOD news! We don’t have to despair!

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

This is the very reason Christ came to Earth so long ago – “to seek and save that which was lost”. That was His mission on earth – the mission that was announced to His earthly father Joseph:

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21)

“De Opresso Liber”

Food for Thought (Dietary Tidbits) on the 16th of December, 2019

It’s really interesting how life shapes our dietary habits. At any given moment in time, how we view food, and the consumption thereof, changes. One person’s eating habits will invariably differ from everyone else’s, both in food preferences themselves and preferred mealtimes/schedules. Take the ‘DanDee’ couple in Fountain, Colorado. This is a septuagenarian couple that has been married for 44 years and are now empty nesters. Their journey together has resulted in having lived, as a military family, in various types of on-base military housing in several places here and abroad. There are grown children and grandchildren to dote upon. It’s been an interesting and wonderful journey through life!

If you haven’t figured it out already, this is Dan, the guy whose military career lasted nearly 30 years and by whose side the beautiful Dee has remained through all of the ‘stuff’ of life.

So back to food. On this particular morning I found myself thinking about our different breakfast habits. Dee loves her bacon (must be crispy) and eggs and will probably have both in her small breakfast when she gets up later. As for me, it was up really early to let our little Maltese, Betty Jean, out in the back yard (snow covered) for her regularly scheduled early morning business. I cranked up my work laptop to check on some things, knowing there would probably be a delayed opening of Schriever Air Force Base, where I am currently employed. It’s almost 6 AM now and I’ve already accomplished a few necessary things, including taking care of the snow in the driveway and sidewalks, which made me hungry. Being a bit hungry, I found a small pastry to go with a second mug of coffee (Kuerig & Sumatran Reserve). That’s when I thought about Dee’s bacon and eggs, my own eating habits, and how they have been shaped over time by life circumstances.

I remembered being a teenager and my Dad asking me if I ‘lived to eat’ or ‘eat to live’. I used to panic if the fridge wasn’t full of food, you see. Fast forward to a military career, mess halls (now consolidated dining facilities but the food is probably not much different), K-rations, C-rations, LRPs (Long Range Patrol) rations, and MREs (Meals Ready to eat). At times it was living off whatever nature had to offer. All of those wonderful menus will develop a great appreciation for wonderful meals prepared at home and shared with family.

Then my thoughts turned to our spiritual diets as believers in a great God and most gracious and wonderful Savior. The Christmas hymns in the background also contributed to the present condition of a heart so full it feels like it might burst! I have been so greatly blessed!

Back to diets. When I think of all of the various sources (and quality) of spiritual nourishment that I have consumed through the years, a few things really stand out. There are definitely comparisons to be made with the aforementioned types of cuisine a profession of arms afforded me. Then there is being able to eat a home cooked meal with family and friends. There is nothing like it! It’s not exactly going from starving to feasting, but awfully close.

The years spent as a child of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords have taught me that the written Word of God should be the main component of a good spiritual diet. Everything else in life should be measured by its golden text.

Then we have the ‘dinner table’ around which sit family and friends. That ‘dinner table’ seems to be available whether here or abroad, as we fellowship with other believers in local churches, military chapels, small group Bible studies, and even we happen to meet another believer on the street or in the workplace. How awesome is that?!!!!!

The ‘dinner table’ still exists when we are alone and by ourselves. We might be the only human being in the room, but in reality, we are never alone! Within us lives the Holy Spirit – leading, comforting, and guiding. Before us is a Bible, God’s very words to us, feeding us absolute truth and never-failing guidance for our lives. In addition to God’s very words to His children, in our day, with all of its technology, we also have a veritable plethora of resources available to us to help us along the way. There is so much out there that we need to have a discerning eye when we pick and choose what resource to use.

One such resource for this guy has been the set of Discipleship Training Objectives available through Christian Military Fellowship. To share what the CMF DTOs have meant to me would require another article. (If you think this is a shameless plug for something, you might be right, but then again you might be in error. I just wanted to put it out there.) If you are interested in what they might be about, contact me.

My encouragement to you is really think about your spiritual sustenance as you grow in faith and serve in the Kingdom of God, a citizen already, with an eternal home in heaven waiting for you when your pilgrimage here is done and you hear the words of your Savior – “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Be blessed, today and forever!

Sinner, Save THYSELF?

I asked a question instead of making a statement for a reason. If I ended the title with a period or exclamation point, a lot of folks might end up with apoplexy (cerebral hemorrhage). After all, I doubt that a believing Christian of any stripe (Calvinist, Arminian, Calminian, or otherwise) would dare suggest that we save ourselves. Also, at the end of the day, my personal opinion is not relevant. Thus, the question.

But ‘WHY the question?’, you might be asking. Well, I’m going to tell you why I ask it.

You see, concerning the salvation of lost men, there are only a few conceivable options concerning who does what leading up to someone actually being saved. The ‘actors’ involved are but two, God and lost sinners. Our options:

1. God saves us (sinners) all by Himself.

2. God saves us with our help.

3. We save ourselves with God’s help.

4. We save ourselves all by ourselves.

Of those four options, let’s get rid of No. 4, that we save ourselves all by ourselves, which seems to be a ridiculous idea. It’s not new and was actually articulated the 5th Century by a man named Pelagius (and his chief disciple Celestius) who taught that we are quite capable of living holy lives without God’s help – that the human will at birth is not inclined toward either good or evil, and whether we perform good or evil acts is a matter of unencumbered free will decision. We do what we do based on decisions we make, apart from anything outside of us pushing us in one direction or the other. We literally can ‘save ourselves’.

That leaves us with three remaining options. Let’s look at No 3. – that we save ourselves with God’s help. That option takes into consideration the sequence of actions that take place on the road to salvation, specifically that while God sent Jesus to die for our sins, it’s our free will decision that makes salvation a reality in our lives. In other words, God made it possible for us to be saved by the death of His Son, but we close the transaction with an act of the human will. I think there’s a bit of sound logic here, but I don’t know anyone who would sign up to the idea.

On to No. 2, that God saves us with our help. I think this is by far the prevailing opinion of most evangelicals, although we balk at the idea of ‘helping’ God save us. You could call it the ‘fallback’ position from No. 3, since we would never actually say we save ourselves, but at the same time, a human free will decision to follow Christ is still in play, as the deciding factor in our salvation. God did 99% of the saving, with our free will decision being only 1%. God did His part, now we do our part. That sounds good, but if we ‘contributed’ anything to our salvation, don’t we have ‘reason to boast’, whether we do or not? If yes, that would be a violation of Eph 2:8-9.

So…….that leaves us with No. 1, that God saves us all by himself. The other 3 options have been eliminated. You can believer that, or we can play at being ‘hypothetical’ and assume No 1 is the truth of the matter. IF No.1 is the truth of the matter, what does that have to say about our receiving Christ as Savior? It goes without saying that a human decision of some sort is involved, does it not?

Let’s get hypothetical again. IF a human decision is involved in the salvation transaction (and let’s assume it is), and IF a strictly human decision would give us reason to boast (prohibited), what does that say about our decision to follow Christ? Does it mean that God is the source of our decision?

Well, IF there are two ‘actors’ in our little scenario, God and a sinner, and IF the sinner can’t take credit for his decision, God, by default, must have brought about the decision. Not only that, God must have done something so powerful that when faced with the truth of the gospel message, the sinner’s greatest desire in this life is to say ‘yes’ to Jesus! What happened?

I think it was a ‘God’ opened heart! We see the perfect example in Acts chapter 16, with the conversion of Lydia in Philippi. Lydia listens to message of the gospel presented by the Apostle Paul, God opens her heart to really pay attention to Paul’s words, and Lydia is saved and baptized. Read the story for yourself.

God opens hearts to hear the gospel in order to save sinners, and God never fails. When sinners with God opened hearts hear their condition in sin, along with God’s solution in Jesus Christ, lost sinners run to the cross!

So there you have one old soldier’s thoughts concerning our starting question “Sinner, save THYSELF?”

I would love to hear comments, thoughts and questions.