Two weeks ago CH Harki preached on “Faith.” He spoke from Hebrews 11:1-16. It starts out: “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” and it goes on to remind us of:
o Abel’s offering
o Enoch being taken to heaven without dying
o Noah building the Ark
o Abraham going to the far country – a foreigner in this world
o Sarah’s faith for a son
What really impress me are verses 13 and 16:
All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. ~ Hebrews 1:13, 16 NLT
Now that’s faith! Would you still believe up until your last breath if you hadn’t yet seen it? Sobering thought …
Last week, we were fortunate to have Mr. Pete and Ollie from Team Xtreme join us to share about “God Almighty.” Did you enjoy that? If you did enjoy it, you need to make it a point to let our Garrison Chaplain, CH Simmons, know and please thank him for making it happen. When you let us know – let Garrison know – that you’re enjoying things that the Chapel is offering then we’ll be able to do more things – get more support. I’d also like to thank those of you who helped us clean up afterward. Thank you to CH Broderick and the Fellowship Team for that great meal afterwards. Again folks, if you enjoy the fellowship meals then voice your support and volunteer to make it happen once a month. It only works if we do the work
The title of my sermon is “Identity Crisis. What I’m about to share with you is a devotion from Our Daily Bread titled “Situation Excellent.”
At the First Battle of the Marne during World War I, French lieutenant general Ferdinand Foch sent out this communique: “My center is giving way, my right is retreating. Situation excellent. I am attacking.” His willingness to see hope in a tough situation eventually led to victory for his troops.
Sometimes in life’s battles we can feel as if we are losing on every front. Family discord, business setbacks, financial woes, or a decline in health can put a pessimistic spin on the way we look at life. But the believer in Christ can always find a way to conclude: “Situation excellent.”
Look at Paul. When he was thrown in prison for preaching the gospel, he had an unusually upbeat attitude. To the church at Philippi he wrote, “I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel” (Phil. 1:12).
Paul saw his prison situation as a new platform from which to evangelize the Roman palace guard. In addition, other Christians became emboldened by his situation to preach the gospel more fearlessly (vv.13-14).
God can use our trials to work good in spite of the pain they bring (Rom. 8:28). That’s just one more way He can be honored. ~ Dennis Fisher
A few other things were going on here as well: General Foch … like Paul … and like our Hebrew 1 “Faith Heroes” walked in faith! They believed that God was going to accomplish his purpose and they executed their missions accordingly. Each of these people understood who they were and what their purpose was. More importantly – they were fully aware of whose they were. They knew their identity.
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ~ Philippians 2:1-11 NLT
Most of you all don’t know this … but I was in a fraternity when I was in college. That’s right … I was in Sigma Alpha Epsilon. This is rugby jersey is from the college I went to … Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, TN. Besides wearing rugby jerseys in college … I wore the loafers (I called them boat shoes) … tan slacks … oxford shirt … patterned tie … blazer … pledge pin … and a pony tail. Come to think of it … I guess I was more like Chris Farley in Tommy Boy than your stereotypical fraternity boy.
I went to college after my first tour with the Navy so I was 22 when I enrolled and 25 when I graduated. And just so you know … this was about three or four years before I came to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior. But one of the best “takeaways” I got out of college and more specifically from the fraternity … was The True Gentleman.
Has anyone heard of The True Gentleman? The True Gentleman is the creed of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. It’s a sentence – a long sentence – that is the best definition of a gentleman that I’ve ever heard. It’s expected that when you pledge the fraternity, you memorize and recite The True Gentlemen in front of all the Actives. Allow me to give you a bit more history on the True Gentleman: “the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis used it in a manual. The author was denoted there as one John Walter Wayland. But before that …"The True Gentleman" had actually first appeared in The Baltimore Sun as part of a competition for the best definition of a true gentleman with Wayland's submission being crowned the winner.”
The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe. ~ John Walter Wayland. Virginia, 1899
I don’t expect any of you all to have an “A-ha” moment from me reading The True Gentleman but I do want you to know how much that sentence has impacted my life. Think about it – I was a guy who didn’t want to know God but something like this – truth like this – was put in front of my face … and I had the faith to believe it. Like I said, we had to read it – memorize it – and then recite in front of the whole fraternity ... and if we jacked it up … well, I can’t tell you what happens to those guys.
But the reality was this: I latched on to that creed. It was something that I bought into hook, line and sinker. I still try my best to live by that standard every day. I read it often and try to use to some extent in most of my sermons. I’ve used it quite a few times over the years when writing papers for graduate work. It’s the attitude with which I want to be identified.
I don’t get it right sometimes but that’s who I aspire to be. Sometimes my conduct does not proceed from goodwill at all. Sometimes I wear my feelings on my sleeve and sometimes I simply blow self-control out of the water in certain circumstances. And sometimes … I’m simply not very compassionate. But I still want to be that guy … that gentleman … and I have faith that God will complete his work in me so that I can be a True Gentleman more often and more consistently.
So how does the True Gentleman mesh with the Gospel? I’m pretty sure that John Walter Wayland was familiar with Scripture if not a believer. Let’s look at Philippians again as well as The True Gentleman and see how they complement one another.
Philippians: “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love?” The True Gentleman: that’s definitely thinking of the rights and feelings of others rather than your own, right? The Bible tells us that the greatest show of love is laying down your life for someone else; most times that’s as simple as being kind.
Philippians: “Any fellowship together in the Spirit?” The True Gentleman: “Who appears well in any company” … that’s Jesus.
Philippians: “Are your hearts tender and compassionate? The True Gentleman: “Who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity.” If that’s not definitive of Jesus then I don’t know what is!
Philippians: “Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” The True Gentleman: “Who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another.” How hard is that? How many of you will step back so that someone else will get the glory? That’s tough sometimes.
Philippians: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The True Gentleman: folks … Jesus did not flatter wealth, He did not cringe before power, and from what we just read together, He didn’t boast of his own possessions or achievements. In fact, He gave up all that He was … so that you and I could be elevated. Think about that …
This reminds me of the Downhere chorus of “How Many Kings.”
How many kings step down from their thrones? How many lords have abandoned their homes? How many greats have become the least for me? And how many gods have poured out their hearts, to romance a world that is torn all apart? How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
So … I’m thinking about all these things … Philippians … Jesus … the True Gentleman … Downhere … all because I’m currently taking a class on Pastoral Counseling … and … I’m about to preach a sermon. As I’m praying … I’m reading … and God drops a nugget in my lap cause He knows I’m hungry. My first assignment in this class is to read David G. Benner’s book The Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. I get about 27 pages into it and that nugget I’m hoping for turns into a meal!
How many of you know that there are times when God speaks so plainly that it’s unnerving – exciting – but unnerving? This was one of those times. Dr. Benner had listed 27 identifying characteristics that supported his claim that Jesus was/is the model soul shepherd – one who cares for souls. Benner defines a “soul care as the support and restoration of the well-being of persons in their depth and totality, with particular concern for their inner life.” He goes on to write, “Shepherds lead their sheep to places of nourishment and safety, protect them from danger, and are regularly called upon for great personal sacrifice. They are characterized by compassion, courage, and a mixture of tenderness and toughness.”
Benner shares some identifying characteristics of Christ. The whole point of this sermon was for you … and me … to take back our identities. Quick one: how are we in the military identified from those outside the military? Uniforms, haircuts, etc. How about within? Unit patches, combat patches, special identifiers like Airborne, Air Assault, Ranger or SF tabs, and so on and so on. So we are identified by who we are and by whose we are – which unit we’re in.
So as a Christian … where should we get our identity? From Christ! Jesus Christ is who we – as believers – should be emulating. Think of it as looking into a mirror. When you physically look in a mirror … you see yourself. How about your spiritual mirror? Is Christ reflected? We should see Jesus as our reflection … and others should see him in us as well.
James tells us, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.” ~ James 1:22-25 NLT
“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT.
So all this build up because I want to share with you a challenge or two … actually 27 challenges. The overarching one is know your identity. If you’ve given it up at some point then take your identity back. If you’ve never had an identity then I plead with you to assume the identity of Christ today! Be a True Gentleman. Be a Virtuous Lady. Have the same mind as Christ. Be the Christian … the Christ follower … who the world says is not out there anymore.
All right … back to the 27 identifying characteristics of Jesus as the model soul shepherd. I wanted to give you all 27 but for the sake of time I’ll share 10 of them. Remember … these are characteristics of Jesus … as a soul shepherd … as a man of God caring for souls. I have taken them and said, “If this is how Jesus is … then this is how I need to be … this is how Christians should be.”
1. Be a Christian who meets people where they are.
o A lot of times we forget that especially when we’ve followed Christ for a very short time or a very long time. Remember … we all sin and we have fallen short of the glory of God. The key is to stay hungry and humble.
2. Be a Christian who is compassionate.
o Jesus brought hope for the helpless, rest for the weary and love for the broken hearts
3. Be a Christian who acts out of an explicit moral context but never condemns.
o What does that mean? Love the sinner; hate the sin! Remember when Jesus told the mob that brought him the “woman caught in adultery” … “Let any of you without sin cast the first stone.”
4. Be a Christian who speaks with authority.
o You have the Word of God … the foundation for truth in our existence … never back down or shy away from that reality … or that authority.
5. Be a Christian who asks probing questions.
o Don’t stay on the surface with your relationships or encounters. Every human being has an innate desire to be known. That’s one of the greatest things about small groups. Even for an outsider or new follower, small groups are a place where you can safely go deeper. I encourage you to get involved in a small group somewhere.
6. Be a Christian who is scandalously inclusive.
o Jump back to the woman caught in adultery … but this time, which one of you is going to cast the first stone at the homosexual … or the alcoholic … or the or the guy who you know is abusing his wife behind the scenes? Most of the people out there are not in here because they think we’re going to condemn them or not include them. The Church should be a hospital for broken souls.
7. Be a Christian who never minimizes the cost of discipleship.
o Be like Jesus did with the rich young ruler … lay it all out there. Don’t mince words that will pierce the heart of a person’s motivation.
8. Be a Christian who prefers dialogue over monologue.
o How many of you have ever really sat down and had a conversation with a wall? How about paint as it is drying? What about grass as it is growing? You get my point, right? We must interact.
9. Be a Christian who never allows your own needs to get in the way of meeting the needs of others.
o Smack me in the face! Who thinks of the rights and feelings of others rather than his own. No greater love than laying down one’s life for someone else.
1. Be the Christian who challenges people to never settle for less than God’s best for them
o This should be a no brainer … but a lot of folks are walking around with no brains. Let’s give them some brains … some hope … some direction!
So let me sum things up: walk in faith, our God is a mighty God, the situation is always excellent in that equation: faith + God, have the same attitude as Christ, be a True Gentleman, look in the mirror daily to check yourself, take back your identity if you think you’ve lost or given it up, establish your identity in him if you haven’t done so already, be the Christian who God has called you to be, and never forget … we have the greatest message of hope the world could ever hear – go out, be the Church, and give somebody else that hope.
 Dennis Fisher, “Situation Excellent,” in Our Daily Bread, vol 58, Numbers 9, 10, & 11 (RBC Ministries: USA, Dec – Feb 2013-14), Jan 10.
 Downhere, “How Many Kings,” as performed by Downhere, © 2006 Centricity Music Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.) Germain and Martel Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)
 David G. Benner, Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 23.
 Ibid., 25.