The 100th Anniversary of a “Christmas in the Trenches”

ThidGasMaskSomething 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.

The German soldiers began singing in their trench. To the French and British soldiers across No Man’s Land the words were indistinguishable, but the tune was unmistakeable — Stille Nacht. Silent Night!

The British joined them. Then the French. A unified hymn was raised to the Lord God in three languages.

Then, one by one, the soldiers came out — unarmed.

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 played a game of soccer which the Germans won handily. And only after the game did they reveal that several of the players on their side had been teammates back home in Munich on a little club known as Bayern. 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.

This story has been commemorated in a movie entitled Joyeux Noel, and in a song by John McCutcheon entitled, “Christmas in the Trenches”…

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, a soldier who “fraternizes with the enemy” who offers “aid and comfort” 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.

Maybe that is why Jesus and the leaders of earthly kingdoms have such radically different views concerning our conduct toward enemies. Earthly Kings insist on criminalizing “fraternizing with the enemy” or providing them with “aid and comfort.” Yet Jesus said…

You have heard it said, “You shall love your Neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies…” — Matthew 5:43-44

It’s hard to love someone without fraternizing, aiding and comforting them.

I wonder which point of view Christians ought to adopt.

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Thideology News of the Day

• Praise God! The Sudanese woman who was in prison under a sentence of death because she became a Christian has been released. However, as this article points out, her life may still be in real danger. Continue to pray for this sister.

• There are students in Brazil right now sharing the Gospel with people from around the world who have come to that country to witness the World Cup of soccer. Pray that many of them will be saved and go back to their home countries bearing witness to something infinitely more important.

• The folks at The Mission Ball, an organization dedicated to using the world-wide popularity of soccer to spread the Gospel, recently announced the development of The Mission Ball in Hausa. This language, which is spoken in Africa, represents the 31st language in which the Gospel has been translated onto The Mission Ball.

According to His purpose (updated)

NOTE: Last month I posted an essay entitled “According to His purpose.” In it I outlined how God has orchestrated world events (even bad ones) in ways that have opened doors to the spread of the Gospel. I provided as my example how God has given the vast majority of the world at least one shared cultural experience that can be used to bridge the political, national, ethnic and language barriers that divide us. That shared cultural experience is soccer. I concluded the essay with a challenge to believers to find where God is working and join him there.

MissionBallOne organization was WAY ahead of me on this. The people who produce The Mission Ball have already been “using the world’s most popular sport to share the world’s most important message” by producing a soccer ball with the Gospel printed on it (in 21 different languages so far). I am reposting my essay in it’s entirety. Only this time, I’m including a video about The Mission Ball and some links to their organization. So, once again, here is my essay entitled, “According to His purpose”…

When I try to see the world through Kingdom eyes, I am constantly amazed. Things, that on their surface, looked bad, God has consistently used — nay, orchestrated — for his own purposes and ultimate glory. His ultimate purpose is, and always has been, to redeem a people as his own and call them to himself that they might praise him for his infinite mercy and grace.

Thid-WornSoccerBallWhen his Gospel became completely known through the person of Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, the truth of it was extremely limited. This Gospel was confined to a small number of disciples and followers in and around Jerusalem — and yet Scripture declares this message is for all peoples, everywhere.

To make matters (seemingly) worse, Jesus sort of turned the keys over to us — us. He told his disciples (and by extension every Christian since then) to go and make disciples of all nations.

Note: The word Jesus used for nations is ethnos — it is where we get our English word “ethnic.” The idea is much more than merely reaching nation states. It is reaching every ethnos, ethnic group, in the world.

Consider the magnitude of this command. There are geographical barriers, political barriers, cultural barriers, racial barriers and language barriers. In fact, what Jesus commanded us to do is an impossible task if — and this is a big “if” — he had left us to do it alone.

But he didn’t.

In his command to the disciples, Christ also made a promise…

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” — Matthew 28:19-20

There is so much in Christ’s promise. He had already told his disciples that when he left, the Holy Spirit would come to take his place.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” — John 14:15-17

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” — John 14:25-26

We are not going in our own power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the message we carry is not our own. We are to teach in the things Christ commanded. We are taking his Word to the world — a fact which brings its own promise…

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” — Isaiah 55:10-11

Beyond that we have the promise — and the evidence to back it up — that God is working all things according to his purpose for the accomplishment of his goals.

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…” — Ephesians 1:11

“My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” — Isaiah 46:10

“Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” — Psalm 135:6

“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” — Psalm 115:3

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” — Romans 8:28

Just look at how God has worked in history. He used earthly tyrants to make the world more conducive to the transfer of His Gospel. His people were located primarily in Jerusalem and the immediate area. Yet, God used persecution to drive them out into the world. They took his Gospel with them. If you look at the events of history with Kingdom eyes you can begin to see a pattern. You can see how God has been at work through even the deeds of evil men.

Unfortunately we have a tendency to view God’s work in redemptive history as… well… history. We fail to see how he is at work in our world even today, as if the narrative is over and we are mere witnesses to history instead of participants in it. But, we are participants in it. Christ has not returned, therefore there is work to be done. God is still at work — and I recently was made aware of still more evidence of this.

Thid-EnglishFootballDuring the age of colonialism England established quite an empire. In fact, there was a time when England’s empire was so vast that the English had a saying, “The sun never sets on the Union Jack.” Pretty clever.

However, keep in mind that many of the people in the countries conquered and colonized by England resented English rule. Colonization was considered an evil, cruel practice. They did not want to be ruled by England. But there is an interesting twist to this story. Everywhere the English went it was necessary to send garrisons of troops to “keep the peace.” These troops brought English customs with them, sort of a little slice of home. One of the more prominent things they brought with them was football (soccer to those of us in the United States).

An interesting thing about football is that it is available to anyone who has access to rags or bags (from which a ball can be fashioned) and an open space to play. This makes it attractive to people who can’t afford sports equipment. The indigenous peoples under English rule took to this game with a passion. When the English left their colonies, football remained. It is played by the same rules everywhere and is the single most popular team sport in the world.

Thid-StreetSoccerIt is estimated that three billion people watched the 2006 World Cup Final — that’s approximately half the globe doing the same thing.

Look at what God has done.

Think back to all the barriers that faced the disciples when Christ issued to them the great commission. Now there is a breech in every one of those walls — geographical, political, cultural, racial, and language. There is at least one thing that is a shared cultural experience for just about every ethnos that exists. And whether you call it football, fussball, futbol, futebol or soccer, we all have an initial means of contact and communication. What a wonderful tool to use to engage someone so that the Gospel may be shared.

This game may very well be the second most multi-cultural phenomenon ever. Second only to this one…

“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 5:6-10

This global game is most certainly a gift from God — a golden opportunity — but it’s not the only one. Look around you, brethren. Try to see with Kingdom eyes. Where is God paving the way that his Gospel might spread and his name be glorified? He’s still at work.

Let’s join him.

And, if you want to join with other believers who have already joined God in utilizing the avenues He has provided, you might want to consider joining the folks who produce The Mission Ball

To learn more about the ball go here.

To read the text printed on The Mission Ball go here.

To support this ministry or purchase a Mission Ball go here.

According to His purpose

When I try to see the world through Kingdom eyes, I am constantly amazed. Things, that on their surface, looked bad, God has consistently used — nay, orchestrated — for his own purposes and ultimate glory. His ultimate purpose is, and always has been, to redeem a people as his own and call them to himself that they might praise him for his infinite mercy and grace.

Thid-WornSoccerBallWhen his Gospel became completely known through the person of Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, the truth of it was extremely limited. This Gospel was confined to a small number of disciples and followers in and around Jerusalem — and yet Scripture declares this message is for all peoples, everywhere.

To make matters (seemingly) worse, Jesus sort of turned the keys over to us — us. He told his disciples (and by extension every Christian since then) to go and make disciples of all nations.

Note: The word Jesus used for nations is ethnos — it is where we get our English word “ethnic.” The idea is much more than merely reaching nation states. It is reaching every ethnos, ethnic group, in the world.

Consider the magnitude of this command. There are geographical barriers, political barriers, cultural barriers, racial barriers and language barriers. In fact, what Jesus commanded us to do is an impossible task if — and this is a big “if” — he had left us to do it alone.

But he didn’t.

In his command to the disciples, Christ also made a promise…

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” — Matthew 28:19-20

There is so much in Christ’s promise. He had already told his disciples that when he left, the Holy Spirit would come to take his place.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” — John 14:15-17

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” — John 14:25-26

We are not going in our own power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the message we carry is not our own. We are to teach in the things Christ commanded. We are taking his Word to the world — a fact which brings its own promise…

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” — Isaiah 55:10-11

Beyond that we have the promise — and the evidence to back it up — that God is working all things according to his purpose for the accomplishment of his goals.

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…” — Ephesians 1:11

“My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” — Isaiah 46:10

“Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” — Psalm 135:6

“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” — Psalm 115:3

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” — Romans 8:28

Just look at how God has worked in history. He used earthly tyrants to make the world more conducive to the transfer of His Gospel. His people were located primarily in Jerusalem and the immediate area. Yet, God used persecution to drive them out into the world. They took his Gospel with them. If you look at the events of history with Kingdom eyes you can begin to see a pattern. You can see how God has been at work through even the deeds of evil men.

Unfortunately we have a tendency to view God’s work in redemptive history as… well… history. We fail to see how he is at work in our world even today, as if the narrative is over and we are mere witnesses to history instead of participants in it. But, we are participants in it. Christ has not returned, therefore there is work to be done. God is still at work — and I recently was made aware of still more evidence of this.

Thid-EnglishFootballDuring the age of colonialism England established quite an empire. In fact, there was a time when England’s empire was so vast that the English had a saying, “The sun never sets on the Union Jack.” Pretty clever.

However, keep in mind that many of the people in the countries conquered and colonized by England resented English rule. Colonization was considered an evil, cruel practice. They did not want to be ruled by England. But there is an interesting twist to this story. Everywhere the English went it was necessary to send garrisons of troops to “keep the peace.” These troops brought English customs with them, sort of a little slice of home. One of the more prominent things they brought with them was football (soccer to those of us in the United States).

An interesting thing about football is that it is available to anyone who has access to rags or bags (from which a ball can be fashioned) and an open space to play. This makes it attractive to people who can’t afford sports equipment. The indigenous peoples under English rule took to this game with a passion. When the English left their colonies, football remained. It is played by the same rules everywhere and is the single most popular team sport in the world.

Thid-StreetSoccerIt is estimated that three billion people watched the 2006 World Cup Final — that’s approximately half the globe doing the same thing.

Look at what God has done.

Think back to all the barriers that faced the disciples when Christ issued to them the great commission. Now there is a breech in every one of those walls — geographical, political, cultural, racial, and language. There is at least one thing that is a shared cultural experience for just about every ethnos that exists. And whether you call it football, fussball, futbol, futebol or soccer, we all have an initial means of contact and communication. What a wonderful tool to use to engage someone so that the Gospel may be shared.

This game may very well be the second most multi-cultural phenomenon ever. Second only to this one…

“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 5:6-10

This global game is most certainly a gift from God — a golden opportunity — but it’s not the only one. Look around you, brethren. Try to see with Kingdom eyes. Where is God paving the way that his Gospel might spread and his name be glorified? He’s still at work.

Let’s join him.

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