Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
Many of you may remember seeing the movie Saving Private Ryan. The movie is not for the faint of heart, particularly the opening scene. All the ugliness and brutality of war is graphically portrayed so that the viewers would understand the depth of sacrifice the dead and the survivors made for freedom. (There is also a TON of foul language in the movie, so if you should decided to watch it, keep that in mind. It’s a bit hard to listen to.)
I come from a long line of veterans. Both of my grandfathers served in World War 2. My mother’s dad didn’t give his proper age and joined up at 17. My father’s dad was a Navy chief who also served in Korea and Vietnam. My own father joined the Army Rangers (voluntarily) to serve in Vietnam because he believed that if America was at war, it was his duty to serve. They all survived, for which I am truly thankful. They each carried the scars of war—friends lost, horrors witnessed and nightmares to live with.
The survivors of combat possess a view of man, life and death that the rest of us cannot grasp with the same intensity. They have learned, first-hand, the cost of obedience. They have learned what makes a good leader and a rotten one. They know what it is to face death, and what they owe to those who gave up life.
I don’t know much about what my forbears did in the war. It wasn’t something they talked about much. It was a very private facet of their lives. I know my Father was a medic, that he ate some pretty nasty food in Vietnam, that he helped an amputee survive, and that he has earned several medals including the Silver Star. I don’t ask him for details because I know that the memories stir up nightmares and deeply painful memories, but I know and appreciate that his time as a soldier is part of who he is, and I am thankful for the sacrifices he made for us. I know only a part, but I respect him. I respected him when I lived under his roof and the more I get to know him, the deeper the respect.
In Saving Private Ryan, the men under Captain Miller’s command had a running bet on what Miller did prior to being in the military. They trusted their commander, they knew his bravery, they had confidence in his decision-making and they knew that he would obey orders—even the orders that seemed crazy. In spite of all they did know, they were completely in the dark about his pre-war life.
There is a critical moment in the movie, when Captain Miller decides not to shoot a captured German soldier after taking a machine-gun bunker. One of the soldiers loses his head. They had lost two soldiers and the captain had decided not to execute one of the enemy soldiers responsible. He rants and screams at the captain about his poor decisions.
He gets in the Captain’s face and shouts, “I’m done with this mission!”
One of the sergeants runs after him and growls, “Don’t you dare walk away from your captain,” and points his pistol at the man. All the men begin to shout. Some try to talk the captain out of the mission.
Miller calmly looks up and says, “Sarge, what’s the pool up to on me right now?”
Everyone looks at him like he’s crazy.
He says, “I’m a school teacher. I teach English Composition… at Thomas Alva Edison High School. I was a coach on the baseball team in springtime. Back home, I tell people what I do for a living and they say, ‘well, that figures,’ but over here… it’s a big mystery.”
All the men are stunned into silence.
They realize that he is a man with a wide range of intelligence, character and bravery. He only revealed more of himself when it was necessary. This knowledge brought the men back to themselves and what they were fighting for. He wanted the war to be over as much as anyone of them, but he was willing to see the mission through to the end.
He says, “If this mission means I get to go home, then I’m going to do it.”
They continue their mission and follow him…to the very end.
Knowing their commander deepened their trust and respect. They had a greater willingness to follow him.
They were willing to die with him.
Side note: I know some of you are saying, ” what about the coward?” Well, he was just that—a coward. Knowing what he knew about his commander had no lasting effect on him. He cared more about self-preservation than the lives of his comrades. He was afraid to carry out justice. He was afraid to step into the fray to protect others. I am confident that all the men were afraid, but they did not allow their fear to control them. They trusted their commander. They pressed forward in spite of their fears. The coward did not.
I’d like to ask you: Who is your captain and how well do you know him?
We live in a battlefield. It may not be strewn with visibly dead bodies or battered by explosions and machine-gun fire; yet we have a spiritual battle waging all around us. This is the battle of right and wrong, of—dare I say it—good versus evil, of truth versus lies. God wants our hearts and minds. So does Satan.
We belong to one unit or the other.
There is no Switzerland.
No neutral ground.
So whose army are you in?
If you are a Christian, then God is your commander-in-chief and Jesus is the Captain. When we sign up to serve, we are supposed to obey orders and follow wherever He leads us.
Consider the following questions:
Do you think He is trustworthy?
Why would you follow Him into the fray?
If He calls you to Him, would you brave the flying bullets (i.e. personal attacks, loss of business/property/wealth, alienation, hate speech) to reach His position or would you cower in fear?
Are you certain that He has your best interest at heart?
Do you have confidence that he will get you home (i.e. heaven)?
Are you prepared to follow him on whatever mission, even if it means losing your life or property?
If you do not know God and do not know the expectations He has, how can you follow orders? How can you decide what to do when the commander isn’t shouting commands?