Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
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 and it. 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).
Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength
My dad has discovered YouTube. He had been using the service to watch streaming worship services during the height of the coronavirus lockdown; he has since noted its potential entertainment value. One of his favorite channels is one that plays classic country music from the 1950s and 1960s. Recently, however, he has been watching the videos of hikers along the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide Trails. I use to enjoy hiking in my healthier days, so I have sat down to watch more than one of these videos with him. I have never even contemplated doing a thru-hike of one of the previously mentioned 1,000 mile plus trails, but have admired those who have completed them. As I watched one video of a hiker who undertook the Appalachian Trail to conquer his depression, I heard him use an unfamiliar term: “trail magic.” In another video, a young woman from Opelika, Alabama, used the words in regards to her trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. Curiosity compelled me to look that phrase up. The phenomenon originated on the Appalachian Trail but has since popped up along the other lengthy trails as well.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy defines trail magic as follows:
“1) Finding what you need most when you least expect it. 2) Experiencing something rare, extraordinary, or inspiring in nature. 3) Encountering unexpected acts of generosity, that restore one’s faith in humanity.” 1
As the videos demonstrated, trail magic presented itself in a cooler of cold drinks left at a taxing point in the trail. Or maybe a veteran thru-hiker set up a tent at a spot along the pathway to feed the hikers who came through. It could also be a person volunteering to provide a wearied hiker a ride to his or her nightly lodging when the trail came close to a town offering a hostel or hotel serving hikers. Thru-hikers have no reason to expect that any of these things will happen to them as they make their journey even though it happens enough to warrant a name (i.e., trail magic). That is why it is so appreciated.
When I read that, my mind immediately associated aspects of this phenomenon to what those of us who are Christians call “providence.” How often have we found something unexpected in our life, typically at the most opportune time, that screams “God” to us? In other words, a sudden something that points to God’s hand at work in our lives. No, providence is not a miracle, since it does not circumvent the laws of nature to occur. It works within the established framework around us, making it even more amazing since it can require God’s forethought rather than just a momentary expression of His unlimited power. Yet, it is as appreciated by us as any miracle would be since it satisfies our momentary need, whether remission from cancer or unexpected inflow of funds when presented with a financial crisis.
This characteristic of God has earned Him a unique name first applied by father Abraham, Jehovah-Jireh. Do you recall the reason Abraham called God by that name? God had asked him to offer his only son as a sacrifice. This son was the promised one for whom he had long waited. Yet, Abraham complied. When his son, Isaac, noticing a missing sacrifice, asked his father about it, he replied, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22.8 NASB). After nearly sacrificing his son, an angel stopped Abraham, and Abraham noted a ram with its head stuck in a nearby thicket. Abraham offered the ram as a sacrifice in place of his son and called the location “Jehovah-Jireh,” meaning “The Lord will provide.”
Our path to Heaven is strait and narrow (Matthew 7.13-14). It is, therefore, most welcome that as we make our way through this life that we encounter this celestial trail magic. Let us never fail to thank our God since He is also Jehovah-Jireh.
1 Bruffey, Daniel. “Trail Magic.” Appalachian Trail Conservancy, The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, appalachiantrail.org/explore/hike-the-a-t/thru-hiking/trail-magic/.