Excerpts from a letter to a friend earlier today…
Last time I talked to you I guess was right after I got back from the trip to VA, and I was on a total high. God has really been dealing with me since then. Let me try to paint an illustration of my life in metaphor. It’s rare anymore that I get the chance to just sit down and write for a couple hours, but I love every chance I get. Forgive the drama, but for once I realize that what we face every day is the greatest drama in history. The reality of spiritual warfare has been shown to me in ways I’ve never seen – or perhaps been willing to see – before; and the only understanding I can connect to it is the world of Bunyan and Lewis’ novels. What really got awakened a couple weeks ago was my vision. Now I see it all…
I lay in the mud, my life bleeding out of me. Through my darkening eyes I beheld a field full of my fallen comrades. My vision was the only sense left to me. Now helpless, I could not escape the sight that had stolen my courage and caused me to drop my shield and run. I saw the enemy still advancing toward us. They never seemed to weary. Repel them ten times, they’d come ten times more. Some were new, but others were old foes, ones I was sure I had defeated years ago. I looked back and saw my friends on the front line now falling back, leaving me behind. Some were walking toward the enemy, hands up, willingly led captive. Others were holding their ground, calling to their fellows to stand. Then there were those like me. Fear took them, and they turned their backs to the foe, dropping their defenses. I watched as they were cut down like so much grass. We had all known better than to run, but we’d done it anyway. Now we were paying the price. We had been running for the refuge where the rest of our detachment stood carelessly ignoring the mayhem before them. A flash of anger shook my fading mind. Curse them. They had waved goodbye to me as I marched out, promised their prayers and best wishes, but refused to march along. “After all”, they said, “someone has to guard the place, stay by the stuff, and keep away from the evil.” Doubtless they were now watching me now with all the sympathy in the world, wondering where I went wrong as they sipped their hot drinks next to the fireplace. But watching the last of the runners fall, I knew there was no one else to blame. I wondered if they ever knew what hit them. I sure didn’t. From the moment I fell, I knew no pain. Like a cut that you don’t feel until after the wound is open and bleeding for a time, I felt something hit me in the back, felt myself fall to the ground, and then nothing. Each moment that passed numbed me more. I couldn’t feel my own pain, couldn’t feel the weariness that had driven me mad when I stood, couldn’t feel sympathy for those bleeding around me. I couldn’t care about my fellow soldiers: those my failure left exposed to the enemy, or those my cowardice had caused to retreat. I felt no fear of the enemy or his devices. My war was over, why should I fear the foe anymore? I was his trophy now. I breathed out my final surrender as my eyes closed and the darkness took me. And it was good. There was no fight. No cries, no pain, no fear, no weariness or hunger or thirst. Only sweet nothingness.
I woke up about noon on Sunday and yawned. Surely this was the life. I stayed up most of the night playing computer games and listening to rage music, after watching a movie that I should never have seen. But why not? I was with friends, having fun, and I could always find some excuse for it, should my conscience – or anyone else’s – threaten to confront me. Sunday, hmmm….. well I could go to church tonight to uphold my reputation and keep everyone off my back, or I could go up to town and gamble with some potheads. It’s funny how easy it is to win money from people when you’re the only one who’s not too stoned to roll dice. Needless to say I decided on the latter. Perfectly excusable in my opinion. They deserved it. Maybe if they lose enough they’ll wise up and kick the habit. Meanwhile I can take that money and afford some more junk food and maybe have enough to take Amber out for drinks Friday. Wait no, can’t do that. Everybody knows her. My reputation would be out the window. Besides, I just jumped all over some guys in PA for doing the same kind of stuff. Whoa. Was I really thinking about doing that? Yikes. Better stick to benign stuff like blowing time on video games and putting people down with my now sharper than ever tongue. Hey don’t you dare point your finger at me. The Bible says, “answer a fool according to his folly.” You’re a fool and there’s your answer. Yeah, so what if my relationships are breaking? I don’t like people anyway. I hate ‘em. I’d be better off alone with my thoughts and studies. Besides, my family and friends and church have hurt me enough. I’m not going to wimp out and go crawling back. They need me more than I need them, especially these ignorant farmers at church. They don’t even realize their culture is a joke to the rest of the world, and isn’t even right to top it off. I don’t need anybody. Hey people: just stay the hell out of my way.
Once in a while the ol’ conscience would come up with a good jab. “Joel we haven’t seen you at church for a while…”, “Hey Joel check out this poem on double-mindedness, it’s awesome!” or “hey Joel can you pray for me? I’m really fighting with lust in my life”. Right, sure, I’ll make sure and mention you next time I pray… which’ll probably be right after I invent a better light bulb. What’s happening to me? Why can’t I care anymore? ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch! Stop it! Okay time for the music fix. Don’t think, just listen. Like scratching an itch, it doesn’t help anything, you just feel so much better. And the more God called, the louder the volume got. I had music all day every day. I had to. I couldn’t bear to be alone with my thoughts, alone with the realization that I was embracing a life of apathy that I’d long denounced. How is it that we become the thing we hate most? The music would follow me to sleep at night, to guard against dreams of a reality that I knew still existed somewhere…
Somehow through the darkness I heard my name, faint as a whisper. “Joel… my soldier, my son. Hear me.” What the? Who? “Your name is Joel. It means Jehovah is God. Your name is my name. From your mother’s womb have I called you. Your story does not end here.” The Commander’s voice? It can’t be. My music must not be loud enough. Better find something to drown this out before… “Live. Breathe. Rise. Fight. Find your strength in me. Stand again. Your brothers and sisters need you. All history watches you with the angels. They call you to take up your sword again, waiting for you to believe that you are here for such a time as this.” NO! I can’t. I’m just a middle class working guy who lives in Iowa, what can I do for anyone? “I have called you a prince in my kingdom.” I’m weak. I’m afraid of my own shadow. My life of training is broken on my own cowardice. You don’t want me. I’m defeated.
“But I AM NOT DEFEATED. You are in my hand, and I will never let you go. Nothing can separate you from my love. Not fear, not pain, not death. You don’t have to be strong. My strength is made perfect in weakness.” I can’t I can’t I can’t… I… I… I MUST. ‘LIVE!’ the voice commanded. Breath filled my lungs. I could feel again. I could feel the cold rain splashing on my face and the weight of my armor. I could hear the clash of arms and the shouts of men and angels; of powers and principalities locked in mortal combat. ‘SEE!’ My eyes flickered open, and I turned my head toward the fort and saw the line, intact but still withdrawing, far behind me. I turned my eyes toward the enemy lines. On the left and right I could see them advancing rapidly, but directly in front something stood between me and them. My vision cleared and I saw pairs of feet shod in bright steel. There were my friends standing, shields locked together in a semi-circle between me and the enemy. They’d come back for me. Their shouts sounded over the chaos. “Steady! Hold them!” “He’s one of us!” “Do your worst, we stand together!” Darts whizzed past and blows came but they stood unwavering, despite their own wounds. ‘RISE’ The voice was stronger now. I rolled over slowly and pushed against the mud with all my might. I got to my knees and stopped to breathe again, savoring the taste of air. My shield, the last thing to fall, lay in a puddle beside me. I picked it up and leaned my weight on it, struggling to my feet. Now I could see the enemy in front, dealing blows to those protecting me. ‘FIGHT!’ The command now came clear as a bell. Slowly I staggered over to my sword, lying in the mud right where I’d dropped it. I picked it up and wiped off the blade. It’s my turn now.
Taking a final look at the safety of the line and the fort behind me, I turn toward the enemy with new fury. There is no more retreat. Enough of my cozy little life and my selfish plans. Christ in me, my friends around me, the gates of Hell before me. We are not the church of the tomorrow. We’re the church of TODAY. The revolution starts here, now. There was a time God turned the world upside down with some fishermen and a tax collector. He can do it again with you and me. All He needs is some faith to work with. So all you other people out there who bear the name Christian: lead, follow, or get out of the way. God send it. Rain your spirit on us. Bring us to the gates of Hell. We trust your promise that they won’t prevail. Our victory is in you, and that’s final.
Pssssst…. Hey, world? BRING IT ON!!!!!*
*Thanks to Naomi for inspiration and to Josh F.B. Dispenza for use of his copyrighted phrase. “bring it on” is a registered trademark of JFBD industries, Buffalo, NY.