I leaned my head over to one side and spit on the dried leaves in front of me. Frowning thoughtfully, I took a deep breath, and in the gruffest, most masculine voice I could generate, said to Billy, “Well… waddaya think, Joe? Can we take out that machine gun nest?” We were lying on our bellies near the bank of what we referred to as “the big gully,” a six- to eight-foot-deep dry creek bed that ran through the woods behind my house. In the shadow of those woods and hidden from the world, multitudes of life-or-death conflicts took place, and incredible acts of heroism were commonplace. The epic battle before us on this occasion was prompted by a bunch of “Nazis” who had ambushed our patrol.
“I dunno, Sarge,” he replied. “But if you can keep him busy and cover me, I’ll try to circle around and get him from behind.” “Awright,” I grunted out in response. “You sneak around that way, and when you throw your grenade (a fist-sized rock), yell real loud, and I’ll come runnin’ up from here and take care of anybody left.” As “Joe” crawled off to my left, grenade in hand, the annals of combat gallantry displayed on the banks of the big gully were about to record a new entry.
Games with Different Headgear ~
The video games we had in those days were all internal and missing things associated with today’s virtual reality — things like artificial graphics, electronic hookups, awkward headgear, and, oh yeah, … the price tag. Our games may have been a bit short on computer-generated special effects, but they never needed recharging, and the physical action involved required a lot more than wiggling our thumbs. Material enhancements were always a welcome addition, though, and in this case, visual realism was jacked up a notch by my uncle’s WWII Army hat and the military surplus bayonet hanging from my belt. The hat might have fallen down over my eyes if it hadn’t been for a set of ears that my uncle said reminded him of looking at the rear end of a 1948 Ford sedan with both back doors open, whatever that meant.
In those days, almost without exception, soldiers were viewed with honor and respect. Their victories were enshrined, their exploits made legendary, and their courage revered. Most of us guys wanted to grow up to be one. We were sheltered in those early years from the harsh realities that real soldiers faced, and knew nothing of the tears that stained the pillows of their families back home. In the battles we fought along the banks of the big gully, our side always won. Our enemies were always vanquished, and any blood we shed was limited to an occasional skinned knee, or a covert attack from chiggers, ticks, and mosquitos.
A Spiritual Perspective ~
Playing soldier along the banks of the big gully was fun, and while it failed to reflect the kinds of things brave men and women in uniform really face on our behalf, it laid a kind of mental groundwork for the future. Children invent their games and construct imaginary battles because real warfare exists, and real enemies populate the grownup world. What we see in the physical realm has deeper and more profound implications in the spiritual realm and that brings us to our point.
When Jesus Christ calls us to come to Him, it isn’t an invitation to join some kind of religious social club, as it all too often appears. There’s a real enemy at work in the world whose intention is to inflict death and eternal suffering to every one of us. His destructive power is real, and the war against him and his influence is real. The consequences of losing are huge, and Jesus offers protection and security that cannot be obtained without Him, but there’s more . . . All those who come to Him are also enlisted and equipped for active duty in the one opposing force against evil that exists.
Significant Similarities ~
As we honor those courageous men and women who committed their lives to defending the freedoms we cherish and the nation we love, let’s not forget those who are veterans of another kind of army, and who fight a different kind of enemy in a different theater of battle. They are soldiers, too. We don’t sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” much anymore, but maybe we should. Multitudes of Jesus’ followers have made the ultimate sacrifice as well. Paul echoed the implications of their commission:
You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. 2 Timothy 2:4 (NKJV)
And he established the expectation of their role like this:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:11-12 (NKJV)
When the soldiers we honor this Memorial Day enlisted, they had to say goodbye to their families and the lifestyle they had known. They submitted to a different authority and swore allegiance to the homeland they were willing to die to defend and preserve. They changed their wardrobe and were required to wear garments that identified them as soldiers. They were subjected to rigorous training in order to strengthen them and prepare them for the battles that would come. They were assigned specific duties and tasks and held accountable for their performance in a structured system that ensured a coordinated effort on the battlefield.
In light of Jesus’ calling, that sounds familiar doesn’t it? Playing soldier was appropriate when Billy and I were kids, but if we were seen running through the woods throwing rocks at an imaginary enemy today, we’d look pretty pathetic, and in the spiritual realm it’s even more so.
Maybe as we celebrate Memorial Day another chorus of “Onward Christian Soldiers” wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Ron’s new book, “Right Side Up Thinking in an Upside Down World ~ Looking at the World through the Lens of Biblical Truth” is available now!
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