Saint or Sinner

Am I saint or sinner? When I lower my guard, I easily become confused as to who I am. If not very careful, I slip into thinking God is here to serve me—ensuring my health and well-being. Such line of thought could not be farther from the truth. I was not placed here for my own enjoyment or amusement, never intended for any self-centered pleasure. When I place myself at the universe I lose the heart of a saint and decline into the sad state of sinner. Sin is, by definition, self-seeking. But you and I were created to be saints, not sinners. A saint, by definition, is a Christ-honoring servant. The soul-stirring reality is that I am in this world simply to serve the Master’s bidding. What I want is irrelevant if it is outside the all-compelling desire to know Him and respond reflexively without thought or consideration of consequence. I am not here to leave a legacy or orchestrate memories centered around me. I am here these fleeting moments to reflect the image of Christ. Recall Christ’s depiction of the vine in John 15–the value of the vine is seen in the beauty of its fruit. Go and be beautiful so the world will know the worth of Christ Jesus our Lord. Be a saint, for Christ’s sake.

Dangerous Faith

While many comfortably retreat and debate the efficacy of security and correctness, will you join me in storming the gates of hell? Does not the indwelling Intrepid Spirit compel relentless assault against the kingdom of darkness so we may establish in its stead the Kingdom of Light? Plain and simple, you and I are called to lay our lives down if that’s what is required. The question should never be “how will I die?” but rather “how will I live?”

“I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live….” Galatians 2:20

At the very least, we must come to grips with the reality Christ’s soldiers embrace a dangerous faith and embark upon an epic adventure demanding unwavering allegiance. Make disciples, not excuses.

“If by excessive labor, we die before the average age of man, worn out in the Master’s service, then glory be to God, we shall have so much less of earth and so much more of heaven…. It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed.” (Charles H. Spurgeon)

Joyful Necessity of Abiding

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” (Thomas Paine)

I heard an aged preacher say, “When you get to the end of your rope, you dare not let go.” Painful as it undoubtedly is, it is a gift from God to be allowed to come to the end of myself. Stripped bare, raw, exposed as entirely inadequate—in unrehearsed moments of excruciating enlightenment we learn anew Jesus Christ alone is sufficient. More than that, He is the desired beginning and end of all things, and the joyful substance of everything in between. Grasping “God is love” ignites a spiritual chain reaction of loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. How could a pauper express anything less to his redeemer King? The Lord is teaching me much these days, and the absolute joyful necessity of abiding in Him is front and center of what I’m both learning and being reminded of.

“The final secret, I think, is this: that the words ‘You shall love the Lord your God’ become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us—loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us. He has been in the wilderness for us. He has been acquainted with our grief.” (Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember)

Happy Birthday Oswald

Today marks the birthday of one of my spiritual mentors—Oswald Chambers. He was born July 24, 1874, in Aberdeen Scotland. His ministry of teaching and preaching took him for a time to the United States and Japan. The last six years of his life were spent as principal of the Bible Training College in London, and as a chaplain to British Commonwealth troops in Egypt during World War l. After his death, the books which bear his name were compiled by his wife Biddy Chambers from her own verbatim shorthand notes of his talks. “My Utmost for His Highest” has been pivotal and formative in my personal walk with Christ. I encourage you to check out his writings if you are unfamiliar with Chambers.

Focus

Have you ever endeavored to eradicate some unwanted habit, thought or emotion, only to find it still firmly fixed the next morning, a specter poised to pounce on any hint of weakness? I most certainly have. All too often these internal battles drain our strength and leave us demoralized and defeated. Why try anymore? If I will be the same wishy-washy man tomorrow that I am in my current weakened state, why exert the effort to change?

If these sentiments sound familiar, I offer a word of encouragement. What I have learned and am still learning is that the goal of eradication is achieved through the exact opposite approach—filling. Rather than straining to remove unwanted thoughts or behavior, strive to fill your mind, time and attention with love and adoration for Jesus Christ. Which is more effective to induce transformation—focusing on what is wrong in me, or beautifully obsessing over what is right and perfect in Him? By personal experience, I recommend the latter. I am not suggesting a laissez-faire or cavalier attitude toward failure, an easy way out. Instead, I am offering a way up. Set your sights on Him and the obsessions that threaten to rip your heart to shreds will loose their hold and drop like chains from a freed man. Precious liberty awaits those who come again and again to stand amazed in the presence of the Nazarene.

Consider this truth from lyrics to a hymn composed by Helen Howarth Lemmel in 1918, inspired by a tract given to Lemmel by a missionary friend of hers, Lilias Trotter, entitled “Focused.” The pamphlet contained these words: “So then, turn your eyes upon Him, look full into His face and you will find that the things of earth will acquire a strange new dimness.”

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace

Oh soul, are you weary and troubled?

No light in the darkness you see?

There’s light for a look at the Savior

And life more abundant and free

Through death into life everlasting

He passed, and we follow Him there

O’er us sin no more hath dominion

For more than conquerors we are

Oh turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:12-14 | ESV

Freedom

Freedom and independence demand a two-fold sacrifice—sacrifice on the part of those who secure and defend that freedom, as well as those who benefit by living free. Freedom is fragile, thereby requiring constant and courageous vigilance. All too frequently we disregard what is incumbent upon those who thrive in an independent state. Liberty is never a second-hand burden; it is a double-edged sword requiring individual responsibility. Rather than nonchalance and entitlement, choose gratitude and responsibility.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” – Ronald Reagan

Shadow Rider

I learned long ago that nothing about me is enough—not good enough, smart enough, talented enough—the list continues ad nauseam. The very best of me emerges only fleetingly and even then is merely a thinly veiled version of the despicable me in default mode—a shadow rider striving desperately to conceal the dominant dark side, shrinking from the light while longing for it at the selfsame time. What is demanded is not self-improvement or selective enhancement but transformation, and transformation comes only through death and resurrection. “A guilty conscience is a great blessing, but only if it drives us to come home” (John R. W. Stott).

Just in the nick of time, enter Easter. Praise be to Christ our risen King, He proffers life through death, brokers eternity from finality. Christ bids me come and die so that I may be raised to new life in Him and by Him. I will never be adequate in my current state. Only the Cross and empty tomb are enough.

Intervening Against Injustice

I wept as I watched the recording of Ukrainian President Zelensky as he addressed members of Congress yesterday. After delivering most of his speech in Ukrainian through a translator, Mr. Zelensky closed by speaking in English:

“Peace in your country doesn’t depend anymore only on you and your people. It depends on those next to you and those who are strong. Strong doesn’t mean big. Strong is brave and ready to fight for the life of his citizens and citizens of the world. For human rights, for freedom, for the right to live decently, and to die when your time comes, and not when it’s wanted by someone else, by your neighbor.”

As Mr. Zelensky delivered these statements in English, Senator Angus King said later, “There was a collective holding of the breath.”

President Zelensky closed his historic address with statements that should not be ignored or easily dismissed:

“Today, the Ukrainian people are defending not only Ukraine, we are fighting for the values of Europe and the world, sacrificing our lives in the name of the future. That’s why today the American people are helping not just Ukraine, but Europe and the world to give the planet the life to keep justice in history.

“Now, I am almost forty-five years old; today, my age stopped when the hearts of more than one hundred children stopped beating. I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths. And this is my main issue as the leader of my people, great Ukrainians.

“And as the leader of my nation, I am addressing the President Biden, you are the leader of the nation, of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world; being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.

“Thank you. Glory to Ukraine. Thank you for your support. Thank you.”

Suffering anywhere should break believers’ hearts; however, we are not called to simply grieve over injustice. We are commanded to intervene. Are we sincere when we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?” Will we act for those who cannot act and defend those who are defenseless? Consider carefully God’s own admonition:

“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4, ESV)

(Photo from http://www.wuft.org)

Sleep Quietly in Your Beds

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” (Sir Winston Churchill)

For those who consider Russia’s relentless and unprovoked attack on the citizens of Ukraine as an unfortunate humanitarian crisis from which we are securely insulated in the scheme of things, it may serve well to remember what Neville Chamberlain learned too late—tyranny allows no room for isolation.

“On September 30, 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain received a rowdy homecoming after signing a peace pact with Nazi Germany. For days, dread had blanketed London like a fog. Only a generation removed from the horrors of World War I, which had claimed nearly one million of its people, Britain was once again on the brink of armed conflict with Germany. Hitler, who had annexed Austria earlier in the year, had vowed to invade Czechoslovakia on October 1, 1938, to occupy the German-speaking Sudetenland region, a move toward the creation of a ‘greater Germany’ that could potentially ignite another conflagration among the great European powers.

Just two days before the deadline, Hitler agreed to meet in Munich with Chamberlain, Italian leader Benito Mussolini and French premier Edouard Daladier to discuss a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. The four leaders, without any input from Czechoslovakia in the negotiation, agreed to cede the Sudetenland to Hitler. Chamberlain also separately drafted a non-aggression pact between Britain and Germany that Hitler signed.

On a rainy autumn evening, thousands awaited the prime minister’s return at London’s Heston Aerodrome, and the thankful crowd cheered wildly as the door to his British Airways airplane opened. As raindrops fell on Chamberlain’s silver hair, he stepped onto the airport tarmac. He held aloft the nonaggression pact that had been inked by him and Hitler only hours before, and the flimsy piece of paper flapped in the breeze. The prime minister read to the nation the brief agreement that reaffirmed ‘the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.’

Summoned to Buckingham Palace to give a first-hand report to King George VI, Chamberlain was cheered on by thousands who lined the five-mile route from the airport. After his royal audience, Chamberlain returned to his official residence at No. 10 Downing Street. There a jubilant crowd shouted ‘Good old Neville’ and sang ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.’ From a second-floor window, Chamberlain addressed the crowd and invoked Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s famous statement upon returning home from the Berlin Congress of 1878, ‘My good friends, this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time.’

Then he added, ‘Now I recommend you to go home and sleep quietly in your beds.’ As Britain slept, the German army marched into Czechoslovakia in ‘peaceful conquest’ of the Sudetenland. The bombers did not roar over London that night, but they would come. In March 1939, Hitler annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia, and two days after the Nazis crossed into Poland on September 1, 1939, the prime minister again spoke to the nation, but this time to solemnly call for a British declaration of war against Germany and the launch of World War II.

(From an article by Christopher Klein, Jan 3, 2020: https://www.history.com/news/chamberlain-declares-peace-for-our-time-75-years-ago)

Erasing Regret

I envy those who honestly say they live with no regrets. I am not numbered among them, and as I enter my sunset years I am resolved to remove or rectify as many as possible. One of those regrets is the absence of military service. Nearing high school graduation in 1978, I went with a group of young men to Beaumont, Texas and took the US Army entrance exams for enlistment upon graduation. My test results were strong and combined with the fact I was graduating number eight in my senior class, the Army recruiters offered to assist me in entering the United States Military Academy at West Point. Having always dreamed of serving in the United States Army like my father, the prospect thrilled me; however, I sought counsel from some respected individuals and they steered me toward a different tack. I chose the college route, embarking on a forty-plus year journey of pastoral ministry, missionary service, and academic settings, leaving no room for military service. A year ago, I decided to remove this major regret and accepted a commission as an officer and chaplain in the Texas State Guard, a branch of the Texas Military Department along with the Texas Army Guard and Texas Air Guard. I find each step forward in my military training and chaplaincy ministry extremely rewarding, a lingering remorse erased by the grace of God and support of my wife. My advice is carefully examine your regrets and prayerfully act to erase as many as possible while you can.

CH (CPT) Dane Fowlkes