Peace on Earth

Something remarkable happened in December 1914. On a battlefield in France — the “Western Front” of World War I — the armies of Great Britain and France were facing the army of Germany. They had been killing one another for weeks. And yet, one night, as Christmas approached, compassion held sway.

German soldiers helped French soldiers carry their wounded back to their lines. The English and the French helped the Germans bury and honor their dead. Then, rather than return to their lines and aim their guns again, the soldiers shared chocolate and cigarettes with one another. They shared stories of home. Showed one another photos of their wives, their children. They met one another for the first time, not as nameless, faceless uniforms they’d been ordered to kill, but as people.

You can read the entire account of this World War I Christmas truce here. It has been commemorated in a movie entitled Joyeux Noel. It is a remarkable story.

There is an interesting aspect to this story — the chain of command from the respective armies had issued standing orders against this sort of thing. It was a court marshal offense. You see, if a soldier “fraternizes with the enemy” he might discover what these men discovered — your enemies are people, too. The soldiers on all sides were disobeying direct orders, risking courts marshal and even being shot, in order to show compassion to fellow human beings.

Now, let’s take this a step further…

All of these men came from cultural backgrounds that claimed to be Christian. Now, I know not everyone who claims to be Christian is actually Christian (Scripture makes this abundantly clear) but, for the sake of argument, we will assume these men at least had a basic knowledge of Scripture and some measure of respect for it’s teachings — if only because it was their cultural background.

What they did in their direct disobedience to their respective chains of command was exhibit obedience to the very words of Christ, Himself…

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” — John 13:34-35

Jesus commanded believers to love one another. In fact, it would be a sign that they really are His disciples. Their commanding officers, in effect, had ordered them to kill their brothers in Christ. On this night, they decided to obey Christ, instead.

Now, before you send me e-mails directing me to Romans chapter 13 and arguing that God has told us to obey those in authority over us allow me to point out this…

These soldiers called a truce during a time of year when we commemorate the birth of Christ. Consider the biblical account of this…

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. — Luke 2:8-11

Who was born?

Christ the what?

The LORD.

HE IS LORD! His commands come first. He is Lord over everything, even the laws of men and their institutions. I recommend you read Lord of the Law (particularly Part 4, Higher Law) for a better understanding of this concept.

He commanded we show love one for another. Who does the Bible say we should obey — God or men?

Now, you may object and say, “Okay, fine. These three armies came from Christian cultures. Maybe they ought not to have been fighting. But what about armies from non-Christian cultures? To fight such an army would not be killing a brother in Christ, is that okay?”

Let me answer with an account from Scripture…

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” — Luke 10:25-29

This lawyer is offering a similar objection. Christ answers him with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The point being to show love to everyone — even those our culture tells us we should despise.

Never forget: the Kingdom of God is comprised of the elect from every tribe and language. Look forward to that day…

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” — Revelation 5:1-10

The word here translated as “nation” is the Greek word ethnos. It is where we get our word “ethnic.” The Kingdom of God is comprised of people from every ethnic group. So it really does not matter who our earthly kingdoms order us to kill. The army we would see through our gun sights is almost certainly populated with God’s elect.

The announcement of Christ’s birth concludes this way…

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” — Luke 2:13-14

Those “with whom he is pleased” refers to God’s elect — those he will bring to faith in Christ. The apostle Paul said he “endures all things” for their sake.

Do we?

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A Lesson from “Schindler’s List”

The highly acclaimed 1993 film Schindler’s List is based on a true story — and it contains a very real, very valuable lesson every Christian ought to consider.

The film begins in Krakow, Poland in 1939. The forces of Nazi Germany, led by the SS, begin rounding up Jews for relocation to ghettos — and later to concentration camps. Meanwhile, a German businessman named Oskar Schindler arrives in the city in hopes of making his fortune supplying arms to the German army. He is a member of the Nazi Party and bribes members of the German army and SS in order to gain lucrative contracts. He begins by operating a factory making army mess kits.

However, Schindler does not know a lot about running a business, so he hires a man who does have some business sense to help him run his factory. The man he hires is Itzhak Stern, a member of Krakow’s Jewish Council with contacts in the business community.

Schindler hires Jewish Poles to work in his factory because they cost less than Catholic Poles. The Jews who work in his factory are deemed “essential” to the German war effort and are allowed outside the ghettos. Later, when Jews are packed into trains for transportation to concentration camps and “extermination,” the Jews in Schindler’s factory are allowed to stay.

Things begin to get a little complicated when the SS officer in charge of Krakow, a man named Amon Goeth, develops a taste for blood. He likes to kill Jews for little or no reason — including the Jews at Schindler’s factory. During the course of the war Schindler has to go to greater and greater lengths to justify the Jews in his factory and to try to get more Jews hired. It is an attempt to save their very lives. Schindler has to bribe Amon to accomplish this.

As time goes on Schindler has to utilize more and more of his resources to save the lives of Jews in Krakow. So…

…what does any of this have to do with Christians?

Only this: Like Oskar Schindler we live behind enemy lines and we have both limited resources and limited opportunity. For a short time we have the opportunity to use the resources God has given us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a world that is lost and dying. The day will come sooner than we think when we will be called home to be with Christ — our chance to reach the lost forever gone.

I know most Christians realize this to be the case. What I fear is that we do not know the extent of the situation.

At the end of Schindler’s List the war comes to an end. Oskar Schindler is able to see first hand the crematoriums where Jews were murdered. Although he knew there was work to be done, and he was doing it, he did not realize just how grave was the situation. When he finally sees, and realizes the horrors of Nazi Germany he wept openly, broken that he had not done enough. Here is the exchange between him and Itzhak Stern at the end of the film…

Oskar Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just… I could have got more.

Itzhak Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.

Oskar Schindler: If I’d made more money… I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I’d just…

Itzhak Stern: There will be generations because of what you did.

Oskar Schindler: I didn’t do enough!

Itzhak Stern: You did so much.

Oskar Schindler [looking at his car]: This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people.

Oskar Schindler [removing Nazi pin from his lapel]: This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person, Stern. For this.

Oskar Schindler [breaking down in uncontrollable sobs]: I could have gotten one more person… and I didn’t! And I… I didn’t!

On the day we face our Lord Jesus Christ I suspect we will realize just how grave is our situation. We will realize that we had opportunity after opportunity to witness, to share, to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ — and we didn’t. What will we say…

“I had an opportunity to share Christ with my neighbor, why was I so afraid?”

“My car, for the amount of money I spent on my car I could have funded a church plant in Nepal for a year.”

“This watch! This watch could have provided Bibles to a poor congregation in the Andes Mountains!”

“I didn’t do enough!”

“I could have paid for one more Bible. One more Gospel tract. One more missionary… and I didn’t! And I… I didn’t!”

The apostle Paul, while in prison, wrote a letter to young Timothy and said…

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” — 2 Timothy 2:8-10

Paul said he endured “everything” for the sake of the elect. For the people out there in the world who will run to Christ when they hear the Gospel.

Are we willing to “endure everything” for their sake?

What earthly treasures are worth more to us than the very lives of the elect who are still out there…

…waiting?

Note: My wife originally came up with this analogy during a discussion in our Sunday School class. She is a smart lady and gets the credit for this idea — all I did was put it in written form. She also writes her own blog at porkchoptuesday.com.

The blessing of… persecution?

Kencho Kinle is a Christian brother who lives in the mountainous kingdom of Bhutan — an area dominated by Buddhism and shamanism. And not a day goes by that he does not share the Gospel door-to-door. As a result, he and his family were cursed by a sorcerer in the area. His wife and three of his children have died. Read his story here.

He is persecuted for his faith…

…and he views it as a good thing.

“It is necessary to be persecuted,” he said, “the work of God becomes greater.”

Contrast the faith and perspective of this dear brother with the prevailing attitude infesting the Church in the west. We pray to avoid persecution. We ask for comfort, health, wealth and the like. Those who preach messages of prosperity draw crowds by the thousands — while we have brethren who risk their very lives to make Christ known.

Of these two brands of Christianity, which one to you suppose is being blessed?

A Christian’s Primary Focus

Collin Hansen has written a fine essay examining how Christians ought to prioritize their limited time, treasure, and talent — it’s entitled Mission Critical and can be read in its entirety over at The Gospel Coalition.

Essentially his essay takes a look at what is the primary responsibility of any Christian. While many in the church would argue Christians should invest their time in the political process so that our society might reflect the principles of Scripture, Hansen leans more toward a Gospel-focused mission. And I agree.

The Great Commission was not a call to build great societies, it was a call to build Christ’s Church. Our goal is not to force people to adhere to biblical principles through the enforcement of law, it is to have them embrace biblical principle through hearts changed by the Holy Spirit.

Don’t forget, the law was given to us to show us our need for a Savior. We are incapable of obeying the law. The law condemns us…

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. — Romans 3:20

To make matters worse, Jesus pointed out that keeping the letter of the law is insufficient.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” — Matthew 5:21-22

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” — Matthew 5:27-28

According to Jesus, the sin is not in the action itself, the sin is embedded in the heart. The action just reveals the sin already present. This is a much tougher standard.

So, if we succeed in owning the political process and passing laws that perfectly mirror Scripture and we further succeed in convincing men to follow that law, what have we really done? We have succeeded in getting men to behave as something they are not (because the sin is still present in their hearts) and we have made the world a better place to go to hell from.

That’s it.

For this reason I consider politics to be a dangerous distraction for Christians. It prevents us from keeping the main thing the main thing, which is to share the Gospel and let God change men from the inside out.

Hansen concludes his essay with a quote from Abraham Kuyper, the noted Dutch theologian. And, as is always the case, the noted theologian said it better than I ever could…

“I give thanks that so many Christians look at the social decay around them and want to make a difference. We should remember, however, the wisdom of theologians who have gone before us. In particular, Abraham Kuyper’s “Sphere Sovereignty” distinguishes between the responsibility of the state, society, and the church. What we see now in the West is a breakdown of society, which includes families, voluntary organizations, and local communities. The government has overstepped its responsibility by seeking to occupy this sphere. Our financial crisis and political stalemate should disabuse us of any notion that the government is capable of replacing these so-called mediating institutions.

But neither can or should the church bear this burden; otherwise, it will lose sight of the unique mission Jesus gave us. And that would be a critical loss indeed for all who need above anything else to hear and believe his liberating gospel. Perhaps if we trust God to demonstrate the power of this gospel to save, he will rebuild the fabric of our torn society.” — Abraham Kuyper

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