Columnists > Soul Food

Fruit or firewood?

Faith on the offensive keeps the forces of darkness bottled up

Issue: "Federal Testing," Sept. 13, 1997

Winston Churchill knew the principle-you only win wars by going on the offensive-but he was tortured by the application at Normandy.

He knew that storming the beaches there would be a logistical nightmare unparalleled in the history of warfare. As historian Stephen Ambrose explains: Getting the troops ready for D-Day would be like moving Green Bay, Racine, and Kenosha--"every man, woman, and child, every automobile and truck-to the east side of Lake Michigan, in one night."

The Allies had to make sure all the personnel and material arrived at the right time. The weather had to hold out. The beaches had to support the tanks and armored carriers. The Allied forces' desperate attempts at surprise had to be successful. With inland roads and rails in great supply, the Axis were capable of immediate and quick reinforcement. The Allies weren't. If Hitler guessed right about the Allies' landing, he could make the going far too ugly for Allied troops to be successful.

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Hitler also knew another principle, but he chose to ignore it. His mentor, Frederick the Great, had warned that "He who defends everything, defends nothing." Hitler believed that his empire demanded absolute defense of every inch of ground he had gained.

That belief may have cost him his empire.

Christians can learn much from these two examples. Jesus taught that "every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 4:10). Like Winston Churchill at Normandy, Christians should be on offense in their faith. Too often, we're obsessed with not producing "bad" fruit, but the history of God's people is a history in which apathy, inaction, and unfruitfulness anger God more than anything else. It's the perpetually dormant trees that get cut down.

But it is also true that when we try to defend everything, we defend nothing. We need to be offensive-minded, keeping the forces of darkness so bottled up trying to stop us that they haven't time to take back ground that is already gained.

There are spiritual lessons for us here: If we believe non-Christians will not enjoy an eternal destiny in heaven, we betray our faith when we do nothing and say nothing about the gospel. Sometimes we are too concerned about offending our neighbors, preferring that they should spend an eternity burning in hell than that we should spend five minutes feeling a little hot under the collar.

And there's a political lesson here, as well. Our government has become too large. The burden of taxation has become excessive. Unneeded regulations hinder economic growth. In this situation, to do nothing is to lose the war. To become obsessed with creating a more pleasant image, a more likable spirit, and a more cordial atmosphere is to play into the hands of those who are satisfied with the status quo.

True, a dormant tree doesn't create any enemies. It doesn't produce anything that offends its neighbors-no dropped fruit on the ground. But what is an unfruitful tree good for? Jesus' answer is refreshingly blunt: firewood.

Going on the offensive doesn't necessarily mean being obnoxious and insensitive, but it does mean we don't sacrifice the mission in favor of a more pleasant process and reputation.

Clearly, Jesus knows that in our action, we might produce a few apples that have a spot here or a broken stem there. That's to be expected. The real shame is taking up space while producing nothing but lifeless branches. When Jesus promised that "the gates of hell would not prevail" against his church, he was assuming an assault would eventually be launched.

May we not disappoint our commanding officer.

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