Bullets, Bunkers and the Unflinching Faith of a Country Boy
I hope you’re enjoying your summer. I have been praying for you this week, that God would uphold you with his right hand and satisfy your soul with the richness of his presence (Psalm 63).
I have often made the point, either in verbal or written form, that the message of the gospel is not “live strong,” nor is the trajectory of the Christian life an upward progression but a downward one. Despite commonly cherished North American values, the goal of our sanctification is for us to become less independent, less self-assured, and less autonomous, and instead more aware of our need for grace.
The call to follow Christ is a call to renounce all self-reliance and despair of any saving trust in our human ability.
But this is a hard pill to swallow. We live in the Marvel Comics age, where superhero movies gross billions of dollars. Self-determination sells. No one wants to be the guy who has to be rescued by someone else. And while there’s nothing wrong with cheering on a cape-donning and forehead-bedazzled celluloid wonder-woman (coming soon to a theater near you) or rooting for a shield-heaving soldier, God hasn’t called us to single-handedly save the world. He doesn’t want us in the mirror flexing our own muscles—physical or spiritual; he wants us on our backs, with our stiff necks broken, our haughty spirits smashed, and our callous hearts crushed … so that he can make us truly alive. So that he can give us real joy. So that his power would be made perfect in our shortcomings.
As J.I. Packer contends, “For Christians, weakness should be a way of life.”
Now, it must be said that the result of depending on God, rather than our own strength, is not timidity, cowardice or pusillanimity. To the contrary, as I have also articulated over the years, those who recognize who God is and who we are in Christ are actually the most courageous people you’ll ever meet.
Consider the story of Alvin C. York. Sergeant York, who hails from my own tiny hometown (in middle Tennessee), was one of the most decorated American soldiers of World War I, receiving the Medal of Honor for his heroic acts against German forces.
On October 8, 1918, York and sixteen other recruits were dispatched before sunrise to take command of a railroad post in northern France. As they approached their target, they were peppered with bullets from hill-perched Germans bearing machine guns, leaving nine Americans dead and several others wounded. Incredibly, through a series of bizarre events and a remarkable display of bravery, York was able to stave off the rapid fire from dozens of men, and, with the use of a single handgun, detain and capture 132 German prisoners. This remarkable feat has his name mentioned among other icons like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.
Though he was naturally afraid, York never contemplated surrendering, prompting the question: What would possess someone to march headlong into an enemy’s enfilade?
It certainly wasn’t his confidence in his own ability. The self-effacing York never claimed to be particularly gifted or athletic. Neither was it is personal fortitude. York’s aw-shucks demeanor caused no one to confuse him with Superman. What sustained him? His biographer provides the answer: “Alvin knew Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and he was secure in his identity as a Christian.”
In his diary, York, himself, described the situation this way: “We went out on the main road and lined up and started for the front and the Germans was shelling the road and the airplanes was humming over our heads, and we were stumbling over dead horses and dead men, and the shells were bursting all around us. And it was then that I could see the power of God … it was there that I could look up and say:
“O Jesus, the great rock of foundation,
Whereon my feet were set with sovereign grace.
Through shells or death with all their agitation.
Thou wilt protect me if I will only trust in Thy grace.
Bless Thy Holy Name!”
See, true courage comes from being rooted in Christ and the sonship we’re granted by faith in him.
Living strong, from a biblical perspective, is not about digging deep and “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.” It is realizing how hopeless and helpless we are on our own, and then resting by faith so fully in what Jesus has done for us, that we are eager to make sacrifices for our neighbor (without worrying if they’ll reciprocate), quick to tell others about our Savior (without fretting over whether they’ll reject us), willing to forgive others when they wrong us (without requiring them to be perfect), and, eager to take great risks in life (without fearing even death). Because, for those who are in Christ, what’s the worst that can possibly happen? Even in death, we are immediately ushered into the presence of our Savior, the one who said:
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28-31 ESV)
Summer is here. Get your superhero blockbuster movie on. And don’t forget the popcorn. Just remember: God’s not called us to save the world by our own strength. He has called us to be weak, and to rest in the shadow of his wing, wherein we find the courage to be bold and do audacious things, recognizing if we fail, it’s ok. God’s got it covered.