Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mortal Combat


Make plans by seeking advice; if you wage war, obtain guidance. Proverbs 20:18

The armies numbered in the tens of millions. There were tens of thousands of tanks and planes. Each side was determined to wipe out the other. Few military operations in history continue to generate the interest as the war between Germany and Russia.

For a time, both sides practiced a policy of no retreat. They would stand and fight for hours, even days, nonstop, no sleep, no dinner breaks, just shooting round-the-clock. The Russians even had lines of soldiers behind the frontline troops. If any troops retreated, they were shot by their fellow Russians positioned behind them. German armies occasionally found thousands of Russian bodies that they didn’t kill . . . they were mowed down by their own soldiers when they tried to retreat. The Russians even welded the doors of the tanks shut with their troops inside so they would not be able to get out. There was no use in retreating. Their only option was to plunge ahead into the German lines.

Can you imagine how brutal such a policy was? No retreat. No withdrawal. In the end, that policy hurt both sides. The Germans lost hundreds of thousands of troops that they might not have lost if they allowed retreating and regrouping; the Russians lost millions. Neither side showed very much concern for their own troops. The Russians often left their own wounded on the battlefield to fend for themselves.

The war between Germany and Russia was mortal combat such as the world had never seen. In the end, both sides counted their casualties in the millions. It was a no-holds-barred, all-out, conquer-or-be-conquered, winner-takes-all war drama. See why this war continues to generate interest?

There is another reason why this war interests me. I see it as a type for the kind of war we are in, those of us who believe in good and evil, light and darkness, heaven and hell. We are literally in a no-holds-barred, all-out, conquer-or-be-conquered, winner-takes-all war drama. No quarter is given by the enemy. Losers face a prisoner-of-war camp . . . the Bible calls it a lake of burning sulphur for the devil and his army (Matt. 25:41).

There is no retreating in this war either. Jesus said that no man who looks back is fit for the plow. We forge ahead. In Matthew 16, he said we storm the gates of hell. We are an army on the march.

I know this makes it sound pretty dramatic. It is dramatic. Even though we may not always be conscious of the war we are in, God is always aware. The devil is also always aware. The battle costs the life of Jesus. It may cost you yours . . . but it doesn’t have to. Jesus lived and died to free us from the power of the evil one. "You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).

"Make plans by seeking advice; if you wage war, obtain guidance." Fortunately, in this spiritual war we are in, we have advice and guidance from the Lord himself. As long as we continue to fight on the side of he who is "the way, the truth and the life," we will have victory.

Warren Baldwin

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Land Mines


The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble. Proverbs 4:18,19

Into the black of night shines the first gleam of dawn, dispelling the darkness and giving sight to our eyes. This experience of first light and the ability to see is a metaphor for the spiritual light that shines into our hearts when we follow the way of godly wisdom and walk in the path of righteousness. The righteous can see the dangers of foolish living because God’s light, mediated through the wise words of the Sage and other godly teachers, enlightens their heart. In the wisdom of Proverbs, such behavior as anger, resentment, adultery, excessive spending, gossip, miserliness, inconsiderate humor, lying, violence, theft, laziness, incessant talking, and unreflective speech are foolish and sinful. The wise pursue the path away from these things, continually seeking the light of God.

The wicked do not live in the light but in the darkness, so they can not see the dangers that follow sinful and foolish living. They stumble along, as in the black of night, losing friendships, getting into trouble, losing their money, constantly arguing and fighting, shattering families, and they "do not know what makes them stumble," even though it is their own behavior. Two common responses of foolish people to the harm that comes into their lives is, "It is someone else’s fault" and "Why am I always so unlucky?"

I’ve learned that even those who pursue the light, and try living wisely, encounter situations that make them stumble and they do not know why. They try to maintain healthy attitudes of love and gratitude and they try to live righteously, but they occasionally find themselves inexplicably acting out of character. They may explode in anger, flirt, accept the amorous overtures of a stranger, act immorally, or tear down another’s reputation. How can ten or fifteen years of righteous living be disrupted by such unusual behavior in a good person’s life?

A preacher meeting with a young ministry couple told them, "If you have any unresolved issues in your lives, address them now, early in your marriage and ministry. If you have any neglect, abuse, deep-seated anger, or aberrant behavior, get it out and address it now. Seek counseling if you need help identifying and addressing some of the problems. A few years from now the pressures of marriage, family and ministry will squeeze you like a sponge, and if you don’t have your inner issues resolved, they will erupt out of your life with ugly and destructive force."

My friend and fellow preacher, Leslie Chapman, says we all have land mines in our lives. A land mine is an explosive device used by the military during a war. It is buried just under the surface of the ground, typically on a path frequented by the opposition. An enemy soldier walking along will unknowingly step on the land mine and trigger the mechanism, causing an explosion that will surely maim, and possibly kill, the soldier who stepped on it and others standing nearby.

Usually after a war land mines are removed. But, they can’t always be accounted for and some remain in place even after hostilities have ceased. Many of the land mines Russia buried in Afghanistan in the 1980s were not removed at the end of the war, and years afterwards civilians were injured and killed when they unsuspectingly stepped on one. The force of the bomb, which should have been exploded during the initial hostilities, remained buried and out of sight, and caused its destruction years later against innocent people.

Land mines in our lives are like that, too. Even after righteous living for many years, an event or conversation can trigger a land mine that has been buried in our lives for years, even decades. The trigger might be a perceived slight, an injustice, financial pressure, changes in the home, business failure, and a host of other things. The trigger takes us back, immediately, to the emotions of the abuse, unresolved hurts, anger or moral failure we experienced years before. In nanoseconds we relieve the original experience and feel the emotions of it. So, when we react to the trigger event, we are not responding to it like we think we are, but the to unresolved event from years before. And, like the land mine, we explode with destructive force against innocent people who had nothing to do with our original problems.

Land mines in our lives can take several forms. For some, significant pressure can lead them to explode in wrath and rage. They may make harsh accusations and even threats. When the rage subsides and emotions settle, they will ask themselves, "What just happened? Why did I do that? I’m not even that upset with the guy, in fact, he is my friend."

For someone else, significant stress and pressure, particularly if it is at home, may lead them to seek relief in the wrong set of arms. But, feeling failure or lack of appreciation at work can be triggers for immoral behavior, too. Someone dwelling excessively on self-pitying emotions and thinking "I deserve to be treated better," is a prime candidate for an affair. There is a man or woman out there who is equally desperate for attention, and will readily grant you the understanding and affection you seek.

Land mine explosions are not limited to angry eruptions or adultery. They can include belittling humor, pornography, stealing, lying, and violence. A land mine explosion is any behavior that is foolish or sinful and is out of character for the person performing it. After their aberrant and unusual acting out they wonder where the bad attitudes and behavior came from. Like the man walking in darkness, they do not know what made them stumble.

You can not undo a land mine, but you can learn from it and even profit from it. Here are some suggestions for dealing with the land mine episodes in your life.

One, own the emotions and behavior. Yes, it may have been out of character, but you said it or did it. You are guilty, so admit it. Denying, minimizing or dismissing the sinfulness and destructiveness of your actions will not erase them, but will simply re-bury the land mine, readying it with another deadly charge. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8). Openness and honesty are the beginning steps to shine light into the darkness of our hearts and purge the evil.

Two, Take stock of what happened. What was the trigger that made you explode? Why were you so unstable and combustible? Have similar events happened in your past that you never addressed then? Is it possible that these past experiences are lying just under the surface of your heart and are too easily activated? Talking to a friend or even a counselor may help identify patterns in your life and behavior that will reveal unresolved issues.

Three, don’t blame anyone else for your current problems or even past ones. Parents who were neglectful, siblings who were abusive or former employers who were unappreciative may explain some of your unstable tendencies, but simply blaming them will not relieve you of the problems. The problems are yours to deal with.

Four, make amends when possible and appropriate to anyone you have hurt. Apologize, make repayment for anything you have damaged or taken, seek reconciliation. A third party may be necessary to help with this.

Five, work on your character. Continue walking in the path of righteousness. Seek God’s will for all things in your life. Pray for strength in your areas of weakness. Do not leave the land mines in your life unresolved. Left unattended they will eventually explode, and the damage they cause can be irreparable.

Through Christ we have been set free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2). But, even though we have crossed from death to life in Christ, the heart continues to be a battleground where the old man of sin and the new man of righteousness struggle for control. We have to submit to the Spirit of Christ that now reigns in our hearts and is actively working to purge the sinful nature. "Therefore, do not let sin (a land mine?) reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires" (Rom. 8:12).

God is working to purge our lives of darkness and the foolishness, sin and land mines that proliferate in it. Submit your will to his, humbly and honestly admit sin, and seek God’s work in your life for character transformation.

Warren Baldwin

Friday, January 1, 2010



Praise the LORD. Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD. Let the name of the LORD be praised, both now and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised. The LORD is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of their people. He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the LORD. Psalm 113.

Are you afraid of God? I don’t mean do you fear him. To fear God means to respect him and hold him in awe. The Bible speaks of the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom and of being in relationship with him. Deuteronomy asks, "And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?" (V.12-13) This verse connects fearing the Lord with having a relationship with him.

But some people are afraid of God, much like we might be afraid of an angry grizzly bear or a murderer holding a weapon. They view God as harsh and judgmental and fear that God will vent his anger against them in cruel ways. Most of us have a sense of our own sin and wrongdoing, and we may fear that God will judge us harshly and punish us painfully because of that sin, rather than forgive us if we repent.

We are we the first people in history with such a view of God. Ancient people, such as the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, were afraid of their gods. I say gods because they had many gods, not just one. They feared that their gods were cruel and vindictive. In the ancient mythologies gods were very much like human beings in their attitudes and even sinful behavior, and if they didn’t feel like they were getting enough attention from the people they could punish them severely. They would exercise their power in cruel ways.

To appease the anger of the gods the people would worship. But, their worship was not motivated by love and gratitude for the good things the gods did; their worship was motivated by fear. They hoped to appease the anger of the gods so the gods would not vent their anger against them.

As part of their worship and appeasement the ancient Sumerians, built temples or shrines to honor and worship their gods. Then, they would build their houses around the temples. The whole town was built around the shrine. They made it as elaborate and beautiful as they could, hoping the god or goddess would like it. The hope of the people was that if the god liked it, he wouldn’t destroy the town because he wouldn’t want to destroy his beautiful temple! The bottom line is, the Sumerians did not worship their gods because the gods were good and kind, but because they were powerful and vindictive. They were afraid.

Contrast that with the beautiful sentiment of Psalm 113. Here, the Psalmist extols the wonderful virtues of the God of heaven. God is powerful enough to be enthroned in heaven, but he is also kind enough to lift the poor from their misery and seat them with princes. He is also mindful of the barren women longing for children.

The God of Psalm 113, the God Christians worship, is a good God who sees the suffering of people and is concerned for their welfare. He loves his people and is moved to help them.

We are moved to worship this God not because he is powerful and mean, but because he his powerful and kind. He provides for our needs and we respond in love and appreciation. "Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?" What a blessed people we are to have a kind God like this, one who elicits in us the desire to worship, not because we have to, but because we want to, with a heart overflowing with gratitude.

Warren Baldwin