Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Soldier

The Soldier

A Shortstory/ Allegory/ Parable of the Christian’s Connection to the Church

            You’re sitting in a vast open field of green grass, on a La-Z-Boy chair, in front of a big screen with a top of the line surround sound system. The sky is blue, the birds are singing and life is good. Okay, except for that nagging guilt in your heart about a few things, and those problem people who keep coming around once in a while messing with your plans and dreams. But other than that, life is great. This field represents your life. Down the center lies a massive stone wall that can’t be crossed. You’ve always wanted to try, but you never seem to find the time.

Then, all of the sudden one day, something grabs your attention. You turn slowly and notice, for the first time ever, that there’s a door in the middle of the great wall. Amazed by this discovery, you sit and stare at it trying to decide if it’s new, or if it could really be that you’ve just never noticed it before. A curiosity grows in your heart and you decide to go and investigate. When you approach the door you begin to see that there are some markings on it written in something wet and red. You touch it and examine your finger. It’s blood!

The writing says, “‘Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.  I am the door: if anyone enters in through me, he shall be saved…’ – Jesus Christ, Son of God.” Somehow you know that this door was meant for you to pass through and that someone named Jesus, Son of God gave His life to put it there. You reach down and turn the knob and pull open the door. The smell of smoke, and dust comes wafting through and instantly the loud and ferocious clamor of a great battle overwhelms your ears. You step into the threshold of the door and an arrow hits the doorframe inches from your head with a splintering thud! Before you can react another arrow hits the forehead of a helmet you didn’t know you had put on! You look up and there are three more flaming arrows already in the air, heading your way! Some unknown force from within guides you to take a quick step to the side and dodge the arrows only to step on something. You look down and see a black book lying at your feet. You don’t realize it yet, but you will learn that the person in you who just guided your heart towards that book for the first time, and the book itself, are your greatest sources of help in a battle that will be the most difficult thing you’ve ever faced.

What you haven’t been made aware of yet is that while on Satan’s side of the wall there wasn’t much resistance against you. He had you where he wanted you and where he wanted to keep you—as far away from loving and worshipping God as possible. And so no fighting was necessary. But when God drew you to the Door and guided you to step through, it was like turning around in a mighty flowing river to try to swim against the current instead of with it. Now that you have chosen to go to God’s side of the wall, that enemy begins to attack you. The Christian life—though the most rewarding life—is also a very difficult path met with much resistance.

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            Much time has passed. You’ve been fighting in sweat and tears for three long and dreary months. One day while patrolling an area you recently took from the enemy, you are hit with the sudden chaos of battle. You’re being ambushed! Darts and arrows fly through smoke and dust in all directions. Not knowing what to do, you fall down to the ground and hold your wooden shield over your head and cower amid the onslaught. From under your shield you see the feet of the enemy’s soldiers gather and press ever closer, laughing in mockery and saying things like, “Where’s your courage now, Christian? Where is your God and all his famed power?”

Just then you hear a mighty yell behind you and you see the enemies’ feet stumble back in fear. The sound of clanging metal and yelling hits the air again like a sudden wave. After a few moments of the fearsome cacophony, all sounds cease and the air grows cold and still. Confused, you eventually get the courage to try peeking out from under your shield. There’s no one there. You sit up and lower your shield looking around. All you can see is freshly stirred ash and dust in the low light. As you catch your breath, the thought suddenly hits you and you wonder where you are on the battlefield. Just then a breeze blows, and as the dust begins to settle and the scene is slowly revealed, you realize that you’ve been pushed back several hundred yards and the enemy’s servants have begun to lay the foundations for a new stronghold tower in the territory that you’ve just lost, again. You’re exhausted, wounded and overwhelmed. Frustrated at how the war has been going, you throw down the small black guidebook and the sword you made into the dust and cry out in aggravation. You can’t figure out why gaining ground against the enemy is so difficult. You’ve tried every strategy and plan you can think of but nothing seems to last for long.

After resting for a few minutes you hear a kind voice from behind you say, “Here, drink this.” Startled, you turn and lift your head to see a bright shining gauntlet holding out a cup of cool clear water. Your eye traces the length of the outstretched arm and you see the kind, but strong face of a soldier. In amazement, you survey the bright steel armor from head to toe. You’re impressed at the massive blazing sword in it’s sheath and the tall silver shield held in his other hand. The water instantly cools and relaxes you, filling you with renewed strength.

“Come,” he says. “Let’s take some rest while the enemy is regrouping. I will introduce you to your fellow soldiers and start you in your training for battle.”

“My fellow soldiers?” You reply, confused. Up until this point, you had never seen another soldier fighting on the battlefield with you. It was always you against the enemy and all of his forces.

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            The soldier leads you away from the front lines, through some rough terrain, and finally to a small building with a doorway at its entrance. As you approach, the door’s handle turns and it opens on its own, and bright light floods in from the other side.

“This is the church,” he says.

“This shack?” you reply.

“No. In here,” he says motioning through the door.

As you step through you see an endless hallway of countless numbers of doors on both sides with stairways to floors above and below and forward as far as the eye can see. After a short walk down the hallway and up one set of stairs to the next level the soldier stops and turns to face a tall, red wooden door.

“This is my door,” he says. Then, seeing the confused look on your face, he smiles. “Forgive me, I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be new to the battlefield. I should have been more sensitive. You see, once you cross your own individual battlefield to join God’s army, God places His Spirit inside of you to guide you. You’ve probably felt Him gently turning your thinking and choices and insight in battle. With the Holy Spirit living in you, you now have a link through your door to the battlefields of every other soldier of God. God has designed it this way so that we can help each other win victories and conquer territory in one another’s lives, instead of fighting alone. God divides his army into battalions. Some groups are smaller, some are larger, but each one is a family, and a unit. I am part of a battalion, and I’d love for you to join us. God has charged each battalion with fighting our own individual battles, while at the same time, helping those around us to gain ground against the enemy too.”

The idea of an army on your side helping you fight begins to seep its way into your mind and the feeling of hopelessness starts to fade like the darkness at dawn. Your eyes begin to lighten and you feel a great weight coming off of your shoulders. As you step through the tall door into his life and his battlefield you are greeted by a warm light shining through the leaves of beautiful tall trees covered in oranges, apples, and other types of fruit.

“Wow” you exclaim as you step out into his field and spin around to see all the beauty of a well-tended garden, with brooks of clear water streaming over rocks into ponds full of water lilies and colorful fish. It’s a far cry from the dusty rolling hills of your barren life, where smoke often makes it hard to see and only a few types of grass manage to carve out an existence. And even when you can see into the distance, the horizon is dotted with the towers of strongholds behind which, the enemy is plotting.

Then a thought hits you. “Where is your dividing wall?” you ask carefully, not wanting to offend. “Where is the wall that divides God’s territory from Satan’s territory in your life?”

He stops walking and turns and smiles with an understanding smile.

“It has been torn down,” He answers. “Over the years, with God’s power and the help of my fellow soldiers, we have not only defended this side of the wall, but we have taken the enemy’s lands and properties and conquered the whole field for God’s name and God’s glory.” Then he pauses. “Well, not the whole field. Do you see that meadow over there?” He says pointing to his left.

“Yes,” you reply.

“There is a large thorn bush over there in the shadows of that great oak tree. And under that thorn bush there are three holes that lead down to a network of tunnels and caves, and Satan still claims this underground space as his own. You wouldn’t know it was there if you didn’t know exactly where to look because it is well hidden. And it’s embarrassing to me that he has managed to hold it for so long. And I’m praying that God will give me the victory before the enemy attempts to retake more land. He will never be satisfied until he has my whole field and can destroy every last bit of life you see growing here.”

The moments roll on and the soldier teaches you more and more about the battlefield and about winning victories and holding them. Together you discover that you haven’t listened to the Holy Spirit’s instructions like you should and you open your guidebook far too little. After some time, he encourages you that it’s time to go back before the enemy takes any more land in your field. As you walk back through his door into the open hallway, you see many other soldiers of various sizes and with different degrees of armor on—Men and women and children coming out of their doors and walking through the hallway, some with just a bit of leather armor and a wooden shield like yours, some in chain mail, some in solid bronze armor, and some in the same shining steel of your friend. Some look to be well experienced, some seem to have faced recent defeats and are injured or scarred. All of them are closing their doors behind them and walking as if in a hurry. The scene reminds you of an ant colony.

As you arrive back at your door, you turn and glance over your shoulder for one last look out of curiosity. To your amazement, all of the other soldiers are gathering in a battle formation behind you. You look up at the tall silver soldier beside you and he looks down and smiles.

“Now that I’m here seeing what’s happening, I can remember this day in my own life. It’s been so long, I’d almost forgotten. My life has been without major battles for so long that sometimes I almost forget what it is to fight. That’s partly why it’s so important for me to spend time fighting alongside others in their battles. It does me good to remember God’s grace in a battle again—to remember the days in which God first showed me the church and the church first came to my aid. It makes me thirsty for more victory again. I can only imagine how excited you must feel to see what you’re seeing. The Spirit within each of us has directed us to the knowledge that you need help getting started. He knows the strategies of our enemies better than any of us do, and he is the messenger of our beloved Captain, Jesus Christ. We will join your battle and help you win many victories in the Spirit’s strength and for God’s glory. We will train you to understand and follow your guidebook faithfully, and to follow the Holy Spirit within you. We will show you where your armor is, how to put it on, and how to use it effectively. We will block the blows of the enemy as he tries to strike you down. We will help you tear down his strongholds brick by brick and log by log.”

“But what about your lands and your territories?” you exclaim in overwhelming gratitude. “You can’t leave your lands unattended.”

“Over time we have learned, by the Spirit’s power, how to fight on our own fields while helping out in the battles of a limited number of people around us too. And when we fight your enemies with you we will, at the same time, be winning battles in our own hearts. When I saw a new door near our section of the great hallway, I knew we had a potential new recruit. I decided to invite you to join our battalion, and I have summoned our troops together to wage war on the enemy’s gains in your life. I’m glad I found you when I did. We have much work to do on your field. Stay close to my side and remember what I’ve taught you: if you fight with any other strategy, it will fail. Will you let us join you?”

“Gladly,” you answer.

“And will you also help us?”

“Certainly. It’s the least I could do to thank you all,” you respond.

“Then let us begin,” says the silver soldier pulling the face guard of his helmet down over his smile.

Then you watch as he draws his sword and steps through the threshold into the dark smoke of your life signaling the others to follow. One by one they pass by on either side of you until they all vanish from sight. You decide to pause for a second to thank God for coming to your aid through friends. While you pray, a nervous excitement swells within you. Just then, you feel movement in your right hand and look down. The small, black guidebook slowly alters its shape until it has transformed entirely into a small, double-edged broadsword—sharp, and ready for battle. Remembering the words of your new friend, you unsheathe the dull self-made dagger of your own efforts which has failed you in battle so often, and you drop it to the ground. Reaching up, you lower the face guard on your helmet and position your small wooden shield high in front of you, and step into the darkness—with hope.


The Hidden Smile of God – A Book Review

“With great spiritual privileges comes great pain. It is plain from scripture that this is God’s design: “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:7, “for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me – to keep me from exalting myself!” Great privilege, great pain, God’s design. So it was with Bunyan, Cowper, and Brainerd. But they did not all have the same pain. For Bunyan it was prison and danger, for Cowper it was lifelong depression and suicidal darkness, for Brainerd it was tuberculosis and the ‘howling wilderness.’

What was the fruit of this affliction? And what was the rock in which it grew? Consider their stories and be encouraged that no labor and no suffering in the path of Christian obedience is ever in vain. ‘Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face’” (14).

So ends the preface to John Piper’s book, The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd. God has greatly used this book to illustrate biblical truths about himself to me, and to solidify my trust in His sovereignty.

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There can be no harder test of your trust in God than to face suffering that comes straight from His decree and design. It would be one thing if a person caused you hurt. God would still have allowed it, but there would have been an intermediary choice maker who was most likely in sin. But when there’s no one standing between you and God during your time of pain, that is when trust is most potently tested. It is difficult to know that your suffering comes (in a different sense) straight from God’s hand – meaning that he designed it and intends to use it in his plans. But it’s that very truth – that he intends to use it – that has brought me the most comfort through the past year and a half. Even today as I write this, my fiancée, Anna, and I are facing new trials and are finding comfort in the truth that God is somehow using it for good. She keeps saying to me that, “God is doing a thousand things in everything he is doing,” a very helpful and needed reminder.

INTRODUCTION:

Piper wisely begins the book with an introduction that highlights the fruit accomplished in their suffering before delving into the darkness of their experiences. Also, he handles the question of God’s role in our suffering (designer yes, but not implicated in sin).

“The afflictions of John Bunyan gave us Pilgrim’s Progress. The afflictions of William Cowper gave us [hymns like] “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” and “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” And the afflictions of David Brainerd gave us a published Diary that has mobilized more missionaries than any other similar work. The furnace of suffering brought forth the gold of guidance and inspiration for living the Christian life, worshipping the Christian God, and spreading the Christian Gospel.

There is a certain irony to the fruit of these afflictions. Bunyan’s confinement taught him the pilgrim path of Christian freedom. Cowper’s mental illness yielded sweet music of the mind for troubled souls. Brainerd’s smoldering misery of isolation and disease exploded in global missions beyond all imagination” (19).

“We are the beneficiaries today of the fruit of their affliction. And God’s design in it is that we not lose heart, but trust him that someone also will be strengthened by the fruit of ours” (38).

CHAPTER ONE:

Piper recounts the events surrounding the long imprisonment of John Bunyan, which prompted Bunyan to pour himself into Bible study and to write as extensively as he did. It has been said in reference to the apostle Paul that much of the New Testament’s existence is owing to his long periods of imprisonment. Though Bunyan’s works came after the close of the scriptural canon and are not God-breathed, the same thing could generally be said about his active writing career. His passion to dig deep into God’s Word and then to correspond with his church in writing has given us many great works, not the least of which is Pilgrim’s Progress.

“This, in the end, is why Bunyan is still with us today rather than disappearing into the mist of history. He is with us and ministering to us because he reverenced the Word of God and was so permeated by it that his blood is ‘Bibline’ –the essence of the Bible flows from him.

And this is what he has to show us. That “to live upon God that is invisible” is to live upon the Word of God. To serve and to suffer rooted in God is to serve and suffer saturated with the Word of God.” (78).

CHAPTER TWO:

If there has ever been a man who fits the description of a troubled soul, William Cowper was the man. His mother died when he was 6 years old and his father sent him away to school. His courtship and engagement to his loving best friend was suddenly broken off by his father-in-law to be and she remained single for the rest of her life due to grief. They corresponded in writing but were never married. His shaky career was derailed when mortal fear of a public interrogation-like job interview sent him into what would be the first of 4 major valleys of depression in which he would repeatedly try to take his own life.

“In 1786 Cowper entered his fourth deep depression and again tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide…He wrote his last original poem in 1799, called “The Castaway,” and then died…

William Cowper’s melancholy is disturbing. We need to come to terms with it in the framework of God’s sovereign power and grace to save and sanctify his people. What are we to make of this man’s lifelong battle with depression, and indeed his apparent surrender to despair and hopelessness in his own life?” (98-99).

““Immediately I received the strength to believe it, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He had made, my pardon sealed in His blood, and all the fullness and completeness of His justification….” One might wish that the story were one of emotional triumph after his conversion. But it did not turn out that way. Far from it.” (93-94).

“God moves in a mysterious way,

His wonders to perform;

He plants his footsteps in the sea,

And rides upon the storm.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,

The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy, and shall break

In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,

But trust him for his grace;

Behind a frowning providence

He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,

Unfolding every hour;

The bud may have a bitter taste,

But sweet will be the flower” (80).

CHAPTER THREE:

When I really enjoy God, I feel my desires of him the more insatiable, and my thirstings after holiness the more unquenchable….Oh, for holiness! Oh, for more of God in my soul! Oh, this pleasing pain! It makes my soul press after God….Oh, that I may feel this continual hunger, and not be retarded, but rather animated by every ‘cluster from Canaan,’ to reach forward in the narrow way, for the full enjoyment and possession of the heavenly inheritance. Oh, that I might never loiter on my heavenly journey!” (122).

To read Brainerd’s writings and to meet the man in person would likely have seemed to be two contrasting experiences. His relationship with God and his love for scripture poured out with passion in his writings. But his solitary personality, gloomy moods, and almost constant, debilitating struggles with health would have made him a solemn roommate.

Piper gives enough background about Brainerd’s struggles to help us understand where the gloominess comes from. His tuberculosis made life difficult, let alone trying to minister to the native villages that he travelled to. His desire and vision for ministry seems not to have been realized (at least not what he dreamed of accomplishing). But the limitations he faced in public ministry were made up for in God’s blessing of the influence of his writings on many others who would take the gospel around the world.

“We turn finally to the question, what was the fruit of Brainerd’s affliction?….As a result of the immense impact of Brainerd’s devotion on his life, Jonathan Edwards wrote, in the next two years [after Brainerd’s death], the Life of David Brainerd, which has been reprinted more often than any of his other books. And through his life the impact of Brainerd on the church has been incalculable. Beyond all the famous missionaries who tell us that they have been sustained and inspired by Brainerd’s Life, how many countless other unknown faithful servants must there be who have found from Brainerd’s testimony the encouragement and strength to press on!” (155).

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CONCLUSION:

Piper’s main purpose in this book is not merely to recount the difficult events of the lives of three faithful servants of Christ. His purpose is to use those accounts to solidify our confidence in God’s goodness even in the middle of our trials.

“The afflictions of John Bunyan and William Cowper and David Brainerd were not for naught. The pebbles did not drop in vain—neither in their own lifetimes, nor in the centuries to follow. God has breathed on the waters and made their ripples into waves. And now the parched places of our lives are watered with the memories of sustaining grace” (164).

The waves of cause and effect resulting from Heather’s cancer and death have just begun to travel through time. But I am confident in God’s design despite those plans involving my pain. I trust Him. I know it has brought Him glory. And I know it will continue to do so in His perfect way.