Sunday, September 23, 2007

Be All You Can Be

The slogan, "Be All You Can Be" was the U.S. Army's tag line for 20 years. A few years ago, they changed the slogan to "I Am An Army of One" because the old message campaign lost its resonance with the Army's target audience of 18-24 year olds. Call me old-fashioned, but I liked Be All You Can Be.

I almost enlisted in the Army out of high school and then came close once more in college with the Army ROTC program. To me, military service shows dedication and love for our country and the ideals for which we stand. Besides the patriotic component, I was drawn to the slogan which I have already mentioned "Be All You Can Be." I knew boot camp would take me to my ultimate limits and I would come out better for it. It is said that they break you and build you back up better than before. In the end, you learn who you are -- physically, mentally and emotionally. You create new limits and standards for yourself, which are higher than they were before. In the end, you become part of something whose sum is greater than its parts. Hence why I do not like, “I Am An Army Of One.”

I have been thinking about the concept of “Be All You Can Be” from a Christian perspective and how it might apply to our lives as believers. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." When we become believers, a transformation takes place and we become new. Living up to the standards that the transformation places in us is not easy, or Paul in Romans 12:1 would not tell us to "present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." A previous pastor of mine said that Paul makes this statement because a “living” sacrifice continues to fall off of the alter, as opposed to those in the Old Testament that die one time. We must continually die to ourselves by putting aside our own selfish desires and replacing them with God’s. Each time we fail to live up to the standard that God has set for us (falling off of the alter), we must climb back up.

I sometimes wonder how often we as Christians think about passages like 2 Corinthians 5:17. We are new creatures, with new standards -- higher standards. What if one day we woke up and found out that we were royalty in some distant country, how might we change? Romans 8:17 says that we are “fellow heirs with Christ,” so in a sense, we have a royal calling. If we would just realize our God-given gifts and calling, imagine the impact the Church would have in this world for the sake of Christ. When tempted with sin, if we were to consider that what we have been given through Christ is superior and sin is beneath our God-given calling, how often would sin win? But this is all certainly easier said than done.

I have recently found a new appreciation for athletics, especially at the professional level. Such individuals train their bodies until they are machines. Martial arts is of particular interest to me. These fighters must patiently keep their wits while under attack and wait for the perfect moment to counter. Just as in physical sport, we need to train ourselves to control our behavior. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified."

Physical training hurts, but it is what builds muscle. The muscle tissue that is torn during such exercise comes back stronger the next time. After months of training, one can run farther, lift more weight, etc. Such is the case with spiritual issues and sin. While we may "fall off of the alter" a few times (or miss the gym for a few days), we must continue to deny ourselves what is not good for us. While I often fail, it helps for me to think of the calling given to me by God -- to be like Christ. While such a goal is unattainable on this side of eternity, it gives me something to strive toward -- to Be All I Can Be. I try to discipline my body, as Paul notes in the verse above, so that when I am tempted to sin, I do not follow through. Just as with physical activity, it is hard at first. But after a while, it becomes easier.

The ultimate goal is for such behavior to become second nature. To willingly sacrifice my own desires for those of someone else - namely God or my neighbor. The ancient Greeks had a saying, "Either with your shield, or upon it,” which meant, after a battle, a soldier must come home either with their shield or carried home on it. It was said by Spartan mothers to their sons before they went out to battle to remind them of their bravery and duty to Sparta and Greece. Losing one's shield meant desertion. These soldiers trained so their reactions during battle were second nature. They had such confidence in their fighting skills that they were fearless. If they did receive a mortal wound, then they died for a cause higher then themselves. That is a standard, more so an expectation, that is worth emulating today. Except our ultimate allegiance is not to any man-made construct, but to the teachings of Christ. Our fearlessness does not come from our own courage, but that which is given to us from God. Such a standard is not manifested in a physical battle with another, but it is a battle against our own selfishness.

It is impossible to do this unless we are trying to Be All We Can Be in the name of Christ.

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