Don't push me preacher or teacher. Don't water down my salvation by grace through faith by adding in some sense of duty. Don't weigh me down with checklist Christianity.
Then I run headlong into obstacles. I find the challenge is not coming from teachers of the law. The challenge is coming from Jesus Himself. And I want to run and hide from Him when He does this to me.
GOD AS AN EXPEDIENT
In 2008, I read the story of Ernest Gordon, To End All Wars. Gordon was a British Army officer captured by the Japanese during World War II and assigned to the building of the Burma-Siam railway. Each day Gordon joined a work detail of prisoners to build a track bed through low-lying swampland. If a prisoner appeared to lag, a Japanese guard would beat him to death or decapitate him. Many more men simply dropped dead from exhaustion, malnutrition, and disease. Ultimately, 80,000 prisoners died.
In the book, he recounted the horrors of prison camp under the Japanese.
“As conditions steadily worsened, as starvation, exhaustion and disease too an ever increasing toll, the atmosphere in which we lived became poisoned by selfishness, hate and fear. We were slipping rapidly down the slope of degradation… The weak were trampled- the sick ignored. When a man lay dying we had no word of comfort for him. When we cried we averted our heads. Men cursed the Japanese, their neighbors, God. Cursing became such an obsession that they constructed whole sentences in which every word was a curse.
We had no church, no chaplain, no services. Many had prayed, but only for themselves. Nothing happened. They had appealed to God as an expedient. But God had apparently refused to be treated as one. We had long since resigned ourselves to be derelicts. We were the forsaken men- forsaken by our friends, our families, by our Government. Now even God seemed to have left us."
There are times I grow discouraged when I look at the shape of our nation and culture. But I never get mad at God because I fear that we have often done the same thing.
I have to confess that Jesus many times is the catch-all tag on I add to my daily life to make sure I have covered all the bases. He is the insurance policy that I am a good man doing good things.
Deep inside though I know.
He comes as King or He doesn't come at all.
And Kings demand what we don't want to do.... bow and fully submit to their wishes.
WHAT I DON'T BELIEVE
Have I not read the Word?
Colossians 1:16 : For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
Every piece of this life is His anyway! It was made BY HIM and it was made FOR HIM.
My body........BY HIM AND FOR HIM.
My wife.........BY HIM AND FOR HIM.
My children...BY HIM AND FOR HIM.
My job...........BY HIM AND FOR HIM.
Football..........BY HIM AND FOR HIM.
Food...............BY HIM AND FOR HIM.
When I submit to the LORDSHIP of Jesus- I am merely acknowledging what is true anyway. My problem is that I often don't believe He is good and trustworthy. And when I doubt His goodness, it is always good evidence that Satan and sin have been present.
THE HARD NO IS A GOOD NO
I recently heard a report where someone mentioned "The Stanford Marshmallow Test".
The Stanford marshmallow experiment refers to a series of studies on delayed gratification in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel then a professor at Stanford University. In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward (sometimes a marshmallow, but often a cookie or a pretzel, etc.) provided immediately or two small rewards if he or she waited until the experimenter returned (after an absence of approximately 15 minutes). In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI) and other life measures. - SOURCE WIKIPEDIA
What was so interesting about this study was the report on how the two different choices were predicted by the behavior of the children when the researcher left the room.
The children who ate their marshmallow sat and stared at it eventually giving into the temptation and suffering loss.
The children who 'waited for the reward' often got up and looked away or covered their eyes- finding convenient distractions to dampen the desire for immediate gratification.
This has made me re-think what "Integrity" means. My new definition now goes like this tweet I wrote:
"Integrity" is a willingness to say a 'HARD NO' so that your life and words line up with the truth. You cannot have integrity with YES only.
When Christ challenges me- it is a good challenge- not to harm me, but to remind me that only He can protect and provide. Here is the problem... I don't have that kind of integrity. And that is where my pitiful self ends and God's gospel begins.
RESPONDING TO THE CALL- A PRAYER
Lord, please forgive me when I run and hide from You. Thank-you for NEVER stopping in pursuit of my heart. You know I cannot live for You as I need to, so I plead for Your Holy Spirit to so fill me that I respond to all your challenges and requests. Please cast down the darkness that causes me to question Your intent.
You are NOT an expedient. You have NOT abandoned us. You are Lord and we often abandon You.
Every day is a new opportunity to begin again.
THE GOOD ENDING
Look what happened in Ernest Gordon's life!
"The floor in the hut was a sea of mud. And there were the smells; the tropical ulcers eating into flesh and bone, overflowing latrines, unwashed men, sick men. Worst of all was the sweet, evil smell of bed-bugs by the million, crawling over us to steal the little fresh air that still clung to our bones. The swarming flies struck me as obscene."
THE BATTLE WITH REASON AND A TURNING POINT
This time death seemed so much more matter-of- fact. I was resisting the idea.
When? For me was NOT NOW.
ERNEST: Doctors are naturally pessimistic. They are wrong. I am not going to die.
REASON: In case you kick the bucket- leave your affairs as tidy as possible- write your parents what to do when you die. There is no escape.
ERNEST: Life has to be cherished. I’m not one to surrender. But what do I do about it.
THE VOICE OF FAITH: You could live. You could be. You could do. There’s a purpose to fulfill. You become more aware of it each day you endure. This is your task and your’s only
ERNEST: GOOD ENOUGH- I’ll get on it.
THE MIRACLE ON THE RIVER KWAI
A Christian named Dusty appears in the Death House- talked, cared, comforted, washed, soothed, salved- “ I’ll clean out the pus”- fed- served- sacrificed- indomitable optimism- gets Ernest to a clean hut
CHRISTIANITY IMPRESSES ERNEST
“On occasions we marched into the countryside on labor details- we saw the difference in Christian natives, we saw the differences between the Christian way and the Oriental one.
Usually we were treated with indifference and contempt. Our plight meant nothing to the yellow –robed Buddhist priests. Why should it? They were on their way to salvation by non-attachment… there was no place for mercy in their philosophy.
But we once came to a village where we received a treatment so different it astonished us. There was mercy in their eyes. We were given cakes, eggs, bananas, medicine, and honey. Later we learned that this village had been converted to Christianity by missionaries. The Japanese found out about their friendly behavior and punished them severely for it.”
CHRISTIANITY IMPRESSES THE CAMP
One event in particular shook the prisoners. A Japanese guard discovered that a shovel was missing. When no one confessed to the theft, he screamed, "All die! All die!" and raised his rifle to fire at the first man in the line. At that instant an enlisted man stepped forward and said, "I did it."
Enraged, the guard lifted his weapon high in the air and brought the rifle butt down on the soldier's skull, killing him. That evening, when tools were inventoried again, the work crew discovered a mistake had been made: No shovel was missing.
One of the prisoners remembered the verse, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Attitudes in the camp began to shift. With no prompting, prisoners began looking out for each other rather than themselves.
ERNEST DEBATES DUSTY
ERNEST: Why doesn’t God do something?
DUSTY: Maybe He does… maybe He does… but we just can’t see it right now. Maybe our vision isn’t so good right now. “for we see as in a glass darkly”. I suppose that eventually we will see and understand.
ERNEST GORDON BEGINS TO HEAR THE BIBLE- Dusty reads the Book of John out loud.
“I lay back on my sleeping platform and let my mind dwell on these words. There was truth in them. Both Dusty and Dinty exemplified it.
For the first time I understood. Each man had a faith that lent a special grace to his personality. It was a power and presence greater than themselves. There was a life infinitely more complex and beautiful that I had ever imagined. True, there was hatred… but there was also love. There was death. But there was also life.
GOD HAD NOT LEFT US. HE WAS THERE WITH US- He was calling us to live the divine life in fellowship. I was beginning to be aware of the miracle that God was working in the Death Camp by the River Kwai.
THE MEN MAKE ERNEST THE ‘CHAPLAIN’-
ERNEST: I can’t possibly do that.
“Our men think you can do it. They know you are a fighting soldier and you’ve been to the university”
ERNEST: What good will it do?
“Perhaps we haven’t understood Christianity right in the past. We need to know if it’s absolute ‘dingo” or not.”
“I had to throw out the doctrinal expression that Christianity was only for nice people who had been brought up in nice homes and gone to nice schools where they had learned to do nice things. Heaven for this group was a kind of perpetual tea-party with thin cucumber sandwiches and smoky-tasting tea served in fine bone-china cups.”
At each successive meeting the numbers grew.
Through our readings in the gospels we gradually came to know Jesus. He was one of us. Like us, He had no place to lay His head, no ffod for His belly, no friends in high places. He too had known bone-weariness from too much toil; the suffering, the rejection, the disappointments that make up the fabric of life.
As we read and talked, he became flesh and blood. He was suspended on the cross and tormented with the hell of pain; but he had not been broken. He remained free and alive, as the Resurrection affirmed.
We experienced His love…passionate, other-centered…in fellowhip of freedom and love we found truth, and with truth a wonderful unity, of harmony and peace.
CHRISTIANITY TRANSFORMS THE CAMP
Organized service teams- they start to minister and improve conditions. Assign duties- visit sick- listen- encouraged- diligently did our daily charge-
The cross became central- God was not indifferent to suffering- He suffered so we could serve. No one knew the answer to the mystery- but we saw that much of suffering was caused by man’s inhumanity- selfishness- greed- some suffering was inexplicable- but we knew that God was not indifferent to pain.
We stopped complaining- we were not absent from pain, but faith allowed us to walk through it. Suffering was no longer locked up in our house of self-pity.
Laughter was heard in the camp- Worship services were started- A school was started- language and music was taught. Christmas came to camp.
THE LAST IMPOSSIBLE HURDLE- FORGIVENESS
“IT’S HARD TO BE A DISCIPLE, LORD”
We were beginning to understand that there were no easy ways for God- so there were no easy ways for us.
Carloads of Japanese wounded begin to pour in. "The Japanese did not care a tinker’s damn for their own wounded. These men were in a shocking state. I have never seen men filthier. They were the enemy, more cowed and defeated than we had ever been."
Without a word most of our officers begin to help them.
An Allied officer screamed from another section in the train, “What bloody fools you are! Don’t you realize that those are the enemy?”
“Have you never heard the story of the man going from Jerusalem to Jericho?”
“That’s different- that’s in the Bible- these are swine!”
“We are called to the least of these whether we like it or not.”
"It was time to let Jesus be my Savior and my LORD."
“As I journey with those of the Way I see the victory over the impersonal, destructive and enslaving forces at work in the world has been given to mankind because of what Jesus has done. This is good news! God, in Christ has shared his suffering. He has not shunned the responsibility of freedom. He shares in our saddest and most painful experiences. He comes into our Death House to lead us through it.”
DO I HAVE ANY EXCUSE TO NOT BOW TO THE SUFFERING KING AND GET ON WITH HIS CALL?
IF GOD CAN TRANSFORM A DYING PRISON CAMP, CAN HE NOT ALSO REVIVE A NATION? WHO AM I TO GIVE UP SO EASILY?