I grew up in an extremely patriotic family. My grandfather was in the Navy and was a Pearl Harbor survivor. He was in the shower when the attack happened and spent the first half of the battle in a towel—the second half without a towel. This is real life Braveheart kind of stuff.
My dad was in the Navy and served in Vietnam. He built runways for American planes to land on, all of which are still there to this day. I was proud of him and I was proud of my country.
I grew up in the 80’s watching Top Gun and singing “God Bless the USA” while I waited for the Cold War to turn hot. It never did. The Berlin Wall crumbled. The Soviet Empire collapsed. America kicked ass.
So after barely surviving high school I decided to join the Marines. The recruiter tried to explain college benefits, but I didn’t care; my eyes were fixed on the poster of the guy hanging from a rope under a helicopter. He was covered in camouflage and weapons. I wasn’t signing up for college benefits; I was signing up because “I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today…” That was the hymn I’d grown up singing.
I’m now in the Mojave Desert for a month long training exercise. I’m covered in camouflage and weapons, just like the guy in the poster. Strangely, sitting next to my rifle is a Bible.
Just prior to leaving on this exercise I had a conversation with my wife in which she informed me that it was not ok for me to use my very colorful Marine Corps vocabulary around our daughter, who was two at the time and learning to talk…and repeating everything that was said. So prior to getting on the plane I “just happened” to notice a rack full of Bibles and Daily Bread Devotional guides next to the chaplain’s office. I grabbed one of each and made a deal with God, “I’ll read this thing every day. You help me not cuss around my little girl.”
I had no idea what I had just gotten myself into. I started reading the Bible cover to cover and God began to speak. Mountains and stars surrounded me in the desert sky. Nature displayed the majesty of God while the Bible exposed the crudeness of my life. Jesus towered above it all. Grace and mercy flooded my soul as the One who is love captured my heart forever.
I returned home and my wife and I started going to church. It was a small fundamentalist church and I appropriately got rid of my entire music collection and anything else lying around that was “of the devil.” Strangely they were more concerned with me giving up alcohol than giving up my weapons.
Somewhere along the way a bug bit me. Unlike a virus that attacks hard and fast, this bug carried a more subtle virus. I’m hard pressed to know exactly when I was bit, but I can point to the location that it happened. It was in Mark 1:14-15, “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news [gospel] of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’”
Somewhere in that location I begin to understand that the gospel was about the kingdom of God; it was not simply about me going to heaven when I died. I had been bitten by the kingdom bug and the effects of that bite slowly began to settle into my system.
It was no big deal at first, but later it began to cause major problems for me. If the kingdom of God were a present reality, then my allegiance was due to Jesus and his kingdom today. This meant that I had to take serious the Sermon on the Mount and its call to turn the other cheek, to love my enemies, and to pray for those who persecute me. This meant that I was to be counted as one of those who was “turning the world upside down…acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7)
On to the present…
Because the gospel is true, it changes everything. I no longer want to be like the guy hanging from the helicopter. I want to be like the guy hanging on the cross.
The guy hanging from the helicopter is covered in camouflage and weapons in order to kill his enemies. The guy hanging on the cross is covered in mercy and love in order to forgive his enemies.
I want to be like the guy hanging on the cross, wrapped in mercy and love, declaring his forgiveness…from sea to shining sea.
“And this good news [gospel] of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations…” (Matthew 24:14)