In 1951, two to three miles off the coast of Point Reyes, California, a military plane went down after battling faulty electrical issues and then eventually running out of fuel. The plane made a crash landing in the ocean and to make matters a little more terrifying, it was a Great White shark haven. There was one Army service man who managed to escape the aircraft, but once in the water he had no idea where to go. It was in the early morning and the fog was too thick to see through. Knowing he had to do something, he simply chose a direction and began to swim. After a couple of miles of swimming he finally, to his relief, reached land. Later on in life he’d go on to become the star of several Hollywood movies, direct his own movies, and even star in movies that he himself directed! His name was Clint Eastwood.
He got lucky. Occasionally, that happens in life. We flip a coin, spin a bottle, or make a random turn and it all ends up working out in the end. Accidental fortune might happen in some areas of life, but not when it comes to our spiritual lives. There won’t be anyone in heaven who says, “I have no idea how I got here. I just randomly went through life and made the right choices, I guess!”
If we’re looking for a deeper faith, a closer walk with God, or directions along the narrow way, we’ll have to be intentional about that.
Psalm 25:5 reminds us that not only does God guide us into all truth, but that this is a path that must be taught.
Thanks to MrBallen, popular millennial YouTuber, I reacquainted myself with the incredible story of Roy Benavidez through his video, “This man died 37 times.” His story, from childhood to death, is incredible. But it was his heroic acts on May 2, 1968, serving in Vietnam as an Army Special Forces Airborne team that he survived his most incredible, heroic feats. He was shot, hit with grenade shrapnel, bayoneted, and clubbed with numerous injuries so serious that at one point he was mistakenly put into a body bag, presumed dead. He charged with a helicopter rescue team so suddenly that he left his machine gun behind, armed with only a Bowie knife. He ran repeatedly into enemy fire at point blank range and continued bouncing back until he successfully rescued eight soldiers who undoubtedly would have been killed without him. When Ronald Reagan gave him the Medal of Honor 13 years later, he told White House Reporters, “You are going to hear something you will not believe if it were a script.” The Mexican-American orphan, raised in poverty and determined to serve his country, stared death in the face armed with little more than a devout faith and a devotion to his fellow soldiers. This after stepping on a land Mine in 1965 on his first tour of duty, after which doctors proclaimed he would never walk again. To the utter disbelief of medical personnel, he walked out of the hospital less than a year later and had qualified for special forces less than two years after that (additional information via psywarrior.com).
Schools, parks, and even a Navy ship have been named in his honor. He was often referred to as the man who could not be killed. He is a military legend. But, ultimately, in 1998, diabetes did what an array of enemy fighters trying their hardest could not do. It took his life.
No one would want people to know this divine fact more than Mr. Benavidez would: “…it is appointed for men to die once…” (Heb. 9:27). Solomon adds, “For the living know they will die” (Ecc. 9:5). The sons of Korah echo, ” For he sees that even wise men die; The stupid and the senseless alike perish..” (Psa. 49:10a). The message is clear. One may evade death repeatedly, but not ultimately. Only the second coming of Christ will avert the unpreventable appointment with death (cf. Gen. 3:19).
What can and must be prevented is what the book of Revelation four times refers to as “the second death” (2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8). It is powerful, painful, and punishing. But it’s avoidable. Christ died to defeat the power of physical death and the justice of spiritual death (Heb. 2:14-15). Jesus is the greatest hero of time and eternity, who faced death and overcame it to live forevermore and offer eternal life to those who follow Him (Mat. 16:24-27). He faced the worst that the most powerful enemy of all could throw against Him, and He utterly defeated him andit. We needed rescue, and Jesus delivered us. Surely no one who understands that would choose to remain where he or she will eternally die. Physical death is sure. Spiritual death is not. God still pleads, “Choose life in order that you may live” (Deut. 30:19).
Peace conjures a number of different images in our minds; from hippies to nature’s beauty to inner calm to lack of anxiety. Nearly every group of people in the world craves peace as no rational human being wants to live in constant upheaval. We all want to have peace, but our world somehow is still getting worse and worse. Why is this? The prince of this world is not a being who desires peace (II Corinthians 4.4; Ephesians 2.2; John 12.31). His very existence is dedicated to bringing down anyone who believes in God (I Peter 5:8) and he has no care or concern for the fate or well-being of anyone on this earth. Total, lasting world peace will never be possible as long as time continues (see Romans 8.18-25: sin caused the earth to be subjected to futility).
Total, lasting world peace may not be possible in this life, but this does not mean the world cannot experience any peace at all. How can we experience peace in our lives?
Firstly, it has to come from us. The world will never act in a way that brings peace. Anytime the world wishes to better its conditions, it incites civil unrest in the form of riots, protests, and other not-very-peaceful behaviors. Christians, however, are called to be different. I Timothy 2.1ff tells us that praying to God on behalf of all men, for kings, and all who are in authority, will allow us to lead quiet and tranquil lives in all godliness and dignity. We can have peace by being obedient to government authorities – even if we do not agree with them politically – because God put them in place (Romans 13). If we want peace, we have to show that peace by how we live. Since man is naturally attracted to peace, our quiet, godly lives will draw others to Christ.
Secondly, even if our world is in chaos we can have inner peace. Philippians was written to break up a nasty fight between Euodia and Syntyche. To have the “peace beyond what we can understand,” they had to rejoice in the Lord, be reasonable, not be anxious, and reach out to God for their every need. The same applies to us today! Do we get our joy from God or from worldly pursuits? Are we worried about meeting personal needs or do we rely on God (see Phil. 4.19; Matt. 6.25)? Do we try to fix our own problems, relying on our own strength, or do we place them in God’s hands and work with His guidance and providence? The Christian life is not easy, nor is it always peaceful, but the inner peace that a faithful Christian experiences, knowing that his/her name is in the book of life and that nothing in this short life can disrupt God’s love for them makes every struggle in this life worth the pain.
If we want peace we have to be that peace. We have to live peaceful lives. We have to submit to governing authorities (as long as it is within the parameters of godliness). We have to be unified as a church. We have to look to God for all of our needs. We have to trust that He will take care of us, even if that isn’t in this life. If we can do these things, we will have peace.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the event which drew our country into World War II. 2,343 men were killed, 1,143 were wounded, and 960 unaccounted for or missing. The Japanese chose Sunday to attack as it was the most relaxed day of the week for the servicemen. Many were still in their pajamas or having breakfast when the attack began at 7:55 that morning. Kermit Tyler, an Air Force lieutenant serving as the officer on duty that morning, told the radar operator not to worry about the large blip on the radar screen. He thought it was a flight of U.S. bombers coming from our mainland. Instead, it was the first wave of attackers. Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the airstrike leader for the Japanese carrier force, could see that Pearl Harbor was totally unaware of the impending attack. He radioed back a coded message, repeating an abbreviated word three times—“to ra, to ra, to ra”—meaning “lightning strike.” The transmission began at 7:49, undetected by the soon-to-be victims of the attack that began a mere six minutes later (read more here).
Among so many significant facts, what we most remember about the attack on Pearl Harbor was how utterly surprising it was. No one stood vigil, considering the possibility of it. Like its later counterpart, “9/11,” and even natural catastrophes like Pompeii, the Galveston hurricane, the 2004 tsunami, or Mexico’s El Chicon volcano, serious and deadly events can occur without warning. With our most sophisticated technology and detection systems, we are without the ability to forewarn about the greatest surprise that will ever be.
Paul says that the resurrection of the dead of all time will occur “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52). Paul and Peter both refer to “the day of the Lord” as that which will come “as a thief in the night” (1 Th. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). Jesus warned that the day could be a disaster, a trap that comes on one “suddenly” (Luke 21:34). He taught that it will come at an hour unknown to everyone (Mark 13:32-33).
While it will surprise everyone, the coming of Christ will be a devastating event for the great majority of mankind. For them, it will infinitely exceed the loss of physical life. It will be an everlasting loss (Mat. 25:46; 2 Th. 1:9). Yet, God has made preparation eminently possible. He desires escape for everyone (2 Pet. 3:9). One can be prepared for that day and be saved from harm and for something inexpressibly superior. Those of us who have discovered the way of preparation must hold fast to it (cf. Heb. 3:6) and strive to share this vital information with as many as possible. The sudden coming of Christ need not be a defeat, but can instead be the harbinger of the greatest victory ever. May Paul’s inspired exclamation be our song of victory: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:54b-55). Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20)!
A couple of days ago, many of the major conservative news outlets broke the story of former Navy SEAL and current chaplain Lt. Col. Wes Modder who was removed from duty and threatened with expulsion from the military. An office assistant, a young lieutenant junior grade officer, showed up last December with two “Equal Opportunity representatives and a five-page complaint documenting grievances against the chaplain” (foxnews.com). The officer, who turns out to be homosexual, had constantly drilled Modder with questions about his views on the matter. The ensuing handling of the case appears very unfavorable for a person in a position of spiritual guidance trying to use the Bible as the guide in helping people with right and wrong on such matters as sex outside of marriage and homosexuality.
Time will tell how this plays out, but we are living in different times. It appears that one of the more unconscionable crimes against society is to promote an objective standard of right and wrong which dares to call specific behaviors and lifestyle choices “sinful.” Readers of my blog have written me and told me they have seen posts of mine occasionally labeled as “hate speech” (I would invite the reader to peruse my archives in search of inflammatory, derogatory, or unkindly written articles). I have seen writers who would profess to be Christian and/or religious who are caustic, obnoxious, and unnecessarily offensive in tone and manner. Such hurt the cause of Christ and do not reflect His spirit. Hateful speech is, by biblical standards, sinful speech. Scripture speaks against it (Gal. 5:20; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8). It also exalts godly speech: “Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (Pr. 16:21), “Let your speech always be with grace” (Col. 4:6), “In speech…show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:12), and be “sound in speech which is beyond reproach” (Ti. 2:8).
But, when we let the world—without knowledge of what the Bible actually teaches—define “hate speech,” we will often get things turned upside down. We will have evil called good and good called evil (Isa. 5:20). We need to remain convicted in the belief that nothing could be more hateful toward a person than to have the opportunity to tell them the truth about anything God has revealed in Scripture and speak lies, whether to comfort, avoid offending, or to validate what God will not condone. We must reach out to anyone who rebels against the will of God in love, but what could be more hateful than encouraging anyone along a path that leads away from Him? Any word of false comfort and hope is the ultimate hate speech!
In March, 2006, I spent nearly an hour walking in Belleau Wood, a 200 acre tract behind the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery about 50 miles east of Paris, France, accompanied by Kathy as well as the preacher for the Eglise du Christ in Paris, Roland Mohsen. Seeing the World War I cemetery, chapel, and memorial was exciting for me, given not just my love for history but my special interest in “The Great War.” It was in those woods that the U.S. Marines made their first big impression on the whole world. At a 1923 ceremony for an American battle monument there at Belleau Wood, the Army General who led the Marines in the decisive battle against the Germans, James G. Harbord, said this: “”Now and then, a veteran … will come here to live again the brave days of that distant June. Here will be raised the altars of patriotism; here will be renewed the vows of sacrifice and consecration to country. Hither will come our countrymen in hours of depression, and even of failure, and take new courage from this shrine of great deeds” (Kozaryn, Linda. “Marines’ First Crucible: Belleau Wood.” 6/18/98. Armed Forces Press Service).
The Marines won a hard-fought victory, at great price requiring such persistence. The memorial erected on that ground has been an inspiration for countless soldiers as well as those from many nations who have stood at that spot. Now, almost 100 years after the battle, memories have faded and fewer go to that spot for inspiration despite the predictions of General Harbond.
For the last several days, I’ve been mentally devouring the sermonic masterpieces of men like V.P. Black, Franklin Camp, Roy Lanier, Bobby Duncan, Wendell Winkler, and others at a great audio site called preachersvault.com. Most of the men on that site have transitioned from time to eternity. My heroes have always been preachers, and I appreciate the depth of understanding and motivational value found in listening. I recall the incredible blessing of attending the 1988 Faulkner University Lectureship, where brother Winkler invited men who at that time were 65 years old and older. Only 18 years old, I sat with my dad, who was also in attendance, to hear Camp, Black, Hugo McCord, Winfred Clark, Rex Turner, Sr., Bob Hare, Leroy Brownlow, George DeHoff, Basil Overton, and many others. Over a quarter-century later, I still revel in the memories of those lessons.
Military memorials may begin to fade with time, but the value of good Bible teaching only grows with the passage of time. There is great reward in taking the time to sit at the feet of seasoned students of Scripture, drawing from their deep wells of knowledge. These opportunities are not just relegated to days gone by and various media selections. Try prepared, studied Bible class teachers, guest speakers, and local preachers. Those of us in those positions need to be challenged to go deeper and make truth live more powerfully. Those of us who hear need to value this treasure in earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7). Won’t you reserve a few spots in your heart for heroes whose weapon is the sword of the Spirit?
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was formed in 1958 for technological advancements and has been responsible for so many of the gadgets and conveniences we enjoy today. They use a variety of means to “both advance knowledge through basic research and create innovative technologies that address current practical problems through applied research” (darpa.mil). SRI International, one of the agencies DARPA partners with, “has taken inspiration from the giant mound of insects, to create their own swarms of tiny worker robots that can put together mechanical assemblies and electronic circuits” (Michael Trei, dvice.com). The military has given thought to using these robots to rebuild and repair, even in the midst of battle. Who can foresee where this technology may show up in our daily lives?
People can be incredibly brilliant and innovative. There is no limit to our imagination and invention. Yet, this (and many other examples) points up to God in at least two ways. First, our intelligence points to an intelligent designer. Moses informs us that we are made in the very image of our Creator (Gen. 1:26-27). Second, our brightest developments and designs are drawn from what God’s created world. Solomon once admonished, “Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler, Prepares her food in the summer And gathers her provision in the harvest” (Prov. 6:6-8). They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. How ironic that in a world growing more unbelieving, mankind keeps paying tribute to the wisdom and power of the One who made it all.
Ernest Pusey was the third-oldest person in the world the day he died at age 111 on November 19, 2006. Nine days before, the man who had worked 32 years for General Motors and drawn retirement for 48 years entertained a visit from Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Bush was delivering something a bit overdue to Pusey-the Victory Medal he had earned from fighting in World War I from 1917-1919. He was a sailor in the Navy, charged with patrolling the seas around the British Isles. He went to church each Sunday and was able to walk from a friend’s car into his trailer (he preferred living there to nursing homes). A man extraordinary for longevity and survival, “Ernie” was a true hero remembered by his country on Veteran’s Day if a bit overdue.
Repeatedly, Bible writers speak of our Christian service in military terms. We are like soldiers, not serving at our own expense (1 Cor. 9:7). Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25) and Archippus (Phile. 2) are referred to as Paul’s “fellow soldiers.” Paul urges young Timothy to behave properly as a soldier of Christ, telling him to endure hardness and avoid entanglement in the affairs of daily life (2 Tim. 2:3-4). Our Christian soldiering is implied through the imagery of the “whole armor of God” in Ephesians 6:10-17. But, when do we receive our “honor” and reward? We may want the world to appreciate and acknowledge our faithful service in our battle for souls, but that will not happen. We may suffer and struggle on the battlefield, stuck in the anonymity and anxiety of the trenches without fanfare or commendation. We will have to wait what seems like a long time before receiving “official recognition” for our tour of duty. Yet, our reward will be imperishable (1 Cor. 9:25) and eternal (1 Thes. 4:17)! Don’t lose heart. God will not forget your service for Him (Heb. 6:10).