Sunday Thoughts: Matthew 18:6-9

If you were to see us not in our Sunday best, but in our spiritual armor, in our TrueSelves, what would you see? A congregation of beauty? Coiffed and pampered? Polished plate, gleaming and shiny? Our swords sheathed and our guns holstered? Maybe clean, on parade soldiers, unsoiled and unspoiled by war?

No, my dear friend, no.

You would see a congregation of scarred, maimed amputees. You would see intense listeners, leaning forward in their seats. We fight our exhaustion. We push through distraction. Our swords are in our laps, blades bare, guns drawn and ready.

Row after row after row of bone-tired warriors with missing eyes, fingers, arms, and legs, gather together. We wear dented, miss-matched armor covered in blood and gore. We’re broken, weary to the point of tears, hungry, and never out of the fight.

Look deeper. Look at our gossamer souls. Do you see the holes? Do you see the daily deaths we die to ourselves for one another? Over there is a battle with sin not going so well. Up front is a disfigured saint still gnawed at by a particular temptation. Back there is a weeping soul who fell yet again into the same trap. They bend under the weight of the battles they have waged this week. They stop their ears to lies and unbelief.

Do you see the dreams sacrificed? Do you see the wants set aside? Do you see the here and now given up? The prayers prayed during the dark of the night? The trials, great and ordinary? The hatred of sin? The suffering endured? The pain of refining? The constant ruthless severity with which each saint turns blade and bullet on his own heart and flesh to rend and fight the corruption within?

This isn’t clean.   

This isn’t pretty.

This is war.

Battle.

Look at us on the path to heaven. We have sacrificed beauty and ease here for glory there. We are the scarred, amputated, broken, weary warriors. We are the ruthless.

We are the loved.

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Not Without Hope

 

Me: How are you? (giving him a big hug)

Ron: Better now.

This. This is what I will miss. This little ritual that we had when we saw each other, that doesn’t really matter, but meant so much to me.

I first met Ron when he came down to visit his children who had moved to Texas and joined our church and a church plant we were part of. We often teased him and Joan that we were holding their children and grandchildren hostage to force them to visit more often. Ron fit easily in our church making me wonder if he wasn’t just a Texan at heart. Him and Dad, and a few other pastors I can think of, must have all shopped at the Reformed Baptist Pastors Hawaiian Shirt Shop. Before I had my own health issues, we spent many Wednesday nights at Chick-fil-a with Ron and a handful of others talking about theology, history, confessions, books, and movies. We enjoyed several movie nights whenever Ron was in town over at his daughter’s house.

What made me love him most though was how he invested in my husband, as a young preacher. My man doesn’t make friends easily. He loves his church and loves his family, but is a true introvert with only a handful of close friends. He and Ron took an instant liking to each other. I think it was their mutual love of the Old Testament. Ron would email him lists of books to read and constantly gift him books. That’s how the name Yankee Dad came about. Ron passed a book to me right as the service was starting on a Sunday and said, “Tell Price this is from his Yankee Dad.”

That’s what Ron meant to us.

Ron was one of the first people we told about my husband considering finishing up his Bachelor’s Degree so that he could go to Seminary. Ron had suggested it, talked with my husband about it, encouraged him to pursue it, and promised to pray for us. I was so excited to keep him posted on our progress.

A little earlier this summer, Ron joined me in the sound booth at church that I was managing, and gave me a gift. It was a book of letters Esther Edwards Burr wrote to her best friend. He said it reminded him of Pride and Prejudice as he read me a passage from it. Then he handed me a second copy and asked me to pass it to Stephanie, his “literary girls” he called us. I couldn’t me honored or in better company.

This was one of the last conversations we had. He preached one last time for us. And that was it.

The Lord took him home.

I can’t even type that without crying and yet it’s not a crying without hope. It’s not an angry crying, a bargaining crying, or depressed crying. It is the tears of a soul who has had to say good-bye for a time to another soul they loved. It’s is crying with HOPE. Hope and faith and love. This was not a mean death caused by some cosmic bully, but a kind and good going home of a faithful servant. Yes, we miss him. Yes, we all think of all the hopes we had of many more years of Ron’s faithful preaching and teaching and friendship. But, we trust the Lord that this was good.

I won’t forget the look on my husband’s face, the mixture of sadness and burden, when he came to tell me the news. I won’t forget him changing in a matter of minutes the Bible study he was doing to teach on death for a Christian and how is okay to grieve. I won’t forget him weeping himself through the study. 
Already, I’ve heard of two cases where moms were able to speak of the Lord to their small children because of this. How happy would that make Ron? My house is going to be filled up with Renihans for his Memorial Service. How happy would that make Ron?

This death didn’t shake my faith, it only confirmed it further. Death’s sting has been removed because we will gather together again, glorified, and with our Lord and each other.

One of my favorite quotes is “Never out of the Fight” from Lone Survivor. As a Christian, we’re never out of the fight against sin and temptation. We are always battling our own lust and pride and hate while dealing with the consequences of the fallen world around us. We’re never out of the fight.
But, Ron is.

Ron is out of the fight.

His battle is done.

Done. Can you imagine not fighting against the sin nature still inside you? How weary are you of committing the same sins over and over, of never being able to do anything perfectly, of never truly completing something? How ready are you to see Christ? To be united in perfect love with your church family with no more bickering or misunderstandings? How ready?

Ron is there. Now.

He is out of the fight.

He is with Christ.

That is why I can weep in hope and even with joy.

I will miss my Yankee Dad. I will weep for the things that didn’t happen, and for the family he left behind who I dearly dearly love. But I will see him again.

Lone Survivor

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Let’s get this out of the way first.  Deanna, you can’t see this movie, though I wish you could.  Second, prepare to put on your Christian-colored glasses. Ready?  Good.

I think war movies are important.  I think they help us civilians connect with the men and women who are fighting and serving.  I think they help civilians realize the cost to our soldiers in a way a dry history book never can.  Don’t get me wrong, you should read about the great sweeps of history.  The changes in power, the wars won and lost, the how and the why behind those victories, but you don’t want to lose the human element.  You don’t want to forget that while one country is winning a war and the other is losing, someone’s son, brother, father, husband, nephew, grandson is out there bleeding and dying.

More importantly, I think war movies have great value in a spiritual sense.  We are in a spiritual battle.  We are called to spiritual warfare.  Do you know what that means?  Do you have any sense of what war takes?  Do you understand the training and dedication needed to fight a war?  Paul and the other apostles didn’t pick their language at random.  The Holy Spirit inspired them.  He chose the language of war to describe our fight against sin, both inside us and around us.  Watching war movies and reading warrior stories helps flesh out that illustration. It helps you understand the bond we are to have in our local churches.  We are soldiers, brothers and sisters, together.  We should act like it.  Don’t let yourself be removed from war and warriors in some vain attempt at earthly peace that will never happen.  See the illustration, and be strengthened by it.

There are a few movies I have found helpful in fleshing out some of the emotional sides of history, and expanding my understanding of spiritual warfare….or, maybe these are just my favorites:

Band of Brothers – This series follows Easy Company, who suffered devastating losses during WW2 to their ranks, from basic training to the end of the war.  It gives you a sense of the way war broke these men and the bond between soldiers. I actually recommend you watch the series before reading the book.

Saving Private Ryan – This was the first war movie I saw in the theater.  I watched it the night before my brother shipped out.  After seeing that movie, I begged him not to go, but he’d already signed the dotted line.  I’m glad he didn’t listen to me as an 18-year-old.

We were Soldiers – based on the book with only a few historical inaccuracies, this film features one of our greatest American heroes at his finest, Hal Moore.  It shows his dedication to his troops and his skill in battle.  This movie doesn’t get into the Vietnam argument – should we be there or not – but focuses the viewers’ attention on the families left behind as the boys fight and die.  It shows Moore’s dedication to bring his boys home, dead or alive.  I highly suggest reading the book as well as watching the movie.

Black Hawk Down – Vietnam was over by the time I was born.  Obviously, I heard about it, it was still being widely discussed and all those broken men were coming home, but it wasn’t my war.  The fight in Somalia was the war of boys a few years older than me.  I didn’t really learn about this war until a few years after it happened.  This movie shows how quickly things breakdown on the battlefield.  I watched it while my brother-in-law was in Marine basic and my brother was still deployed.  I prayed a little more faithfully for them after watching this film.  Again, I highly suggest reading the book as well as watching the movie.

Lone Survivor – The movie for my war.  I watched those towers fall on 9/11.  I watched President Bush declare war on terrorism.  I listened and prayed as my fiancé, now husband, seriously considered joining up, and my brother, now home, expressed frustration at being home.  This was a war I saw.  But I saw much of it through the eyes of the media, and through the eyes of a happy girl busy planning her wedding and getting ready to run her first business.  I also wasn’t into military history just yet.  That came a few years later.  So, I watched this war from the sidelines, never really affected by it, other than to be proud of our troops.

About a week ago, I went on a father/daughter date with my Dad to see Lone Survivor.  Now, you may recall that I’ve already read the book by the same title, and loved it.  I followed all the news I could get my hands on about the movie for the last few months, and familiarized myself with Marcus Luttrell’s story.  I wasn’t disappointed.  The movie is gritty, as accurate as it can be for a movie, moving, well filmed, well acted, and even has Marcus as a background SEAL, which I almost yelled out in a movie theater, but instead just whispered to my Dad.

When you watch a war movie after reading the book, it’s like getting all the highlights of how someone you know died or was broken.  The book gives you insight into the heart and mind of the soldiers it’s about, and then the movie gives you the visuals.  It’s a rough way to learn about war, but I find it works well for me.  The men involved and the events stick in my brain when I’ve both read the book and watched the movie.  My Mom(in-law) asked me if I cried when I saw Lone Survivor.  I told her yes, but not through the whole film, just the beginning, middle, and end.  I mean the thing opens up with a corkboard covered with pictures of Murphy, Axe, Danny, and Marcus.  The real guys, not the actors.  The real heroes.  How could I not cry?

Lone Survivor wasn’t filmed like an action flick.  There were very few slow motion scenes, massive explosions, or acts of ridiculous physical gymnastics.  What it did show was how difficult it is to hold things together once the bullets start flying, how important the bond between our SEALS is, how well trained they are, and how heroic this team was.  The movie is violent, but I don’t think it’s indulgent.  It wasn’t violent just to be violent.   It was violent to help the viewer see and know what these boys suffered.

I think just about everyone needs to see this film, or read the book, to know and understand modern warfare.  It’s gonna make you mad.  It’s gonna make you proud of some Texans.  It’s gonna make you proud of our SEALS.  It’s gonna help you understand the cost of war.  They lived it.  They died in the fight.  These are the real American Heroes.  Not actors, not entertainers, not athletes.  Soldiers.  These soldiers.  Murphy, Luttrell, Axe, and Danny are the Heroes of my generation and my war.  Don’t forget them.

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“Never out of the Fight”

For two hours, I sat tensely in a movie theater unsure of the emotional impact of seeing four men I’ve read a lot about actually fight for their lives.  I’ve read about their parents, their friends, their wives and fiancés.  I’ve read the accounts of their families waiting to find out if they were alive or dead.  I’ve read about the funerals given for these men.  I’ve read Marcus Luttrell’s own account of being on Murphy’s Ridge while his brothers died around him.  I was tense and armed with lots of tissues.  But I thought it was important to see this film.  I thought it was important to remember them.  I’m thankful for how many people are aware of them now.  To be honest, I might have been a little more excited about this film, than the Hobbit.  Why?  This story is real.  These are real, earthly, flesh and blood, American Heroes.

What did I take away from it?  Go see it!  I can’t wait to see it again.  I respect our military more than ever, and wish our media did the same.  If they did, we might not have lost those men that day.  But, deeper than that, richer than that, more long-term, more enduring, I dovetailed Lone Survivor with the message preached the Sunday before:  ” A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)  The church is commanded to love the members of its local congregation.  Love the person hardest for you to love in your church family.  If you want an earthly, visual example of loving one another, go see this movie.  Be inspired to get back in the fight, to stand, back to back, shoulder to shoulder with your fellow soldiers, your fellow church members, and fight against sin and the evil one.  We have a greater war to fight, the only good war.  We have a greater captain to follow, the greatest Captain.  We can’t see this war.  We can’t see the wounds, battle scars, and bullet holes in one another as we sit in our pews and live our lives, but they’re there.  We’re never out of the fight.  Love your brothers and sisters sitting next to you on Sunday morning.  They’re your family.  They’re your brothers in this war.

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