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On a lonely midwinter day, I and a couple hundred other soldiers took a flight across the ocean. Boarding that commercial airliner, we stowed our gear and fastened our seat belts just as we had so many times before. It all seemed so routine. But the next time they opened that door, "routine" vanished like a dream. The sights, sounds, and smells that bombarded our senses were overwhelming. It was a whole new world. It was like nothing we had seen before.
When that door swung open, heat and humidity rolled over us like a tsunami. Every pore in our bodies seeped sweat. And the smell was something else: a strange brew of jet fuel, sewage, rotting vegetation, and smoke. It exploded in our nostrils.
This was Vietnam.
It looked like the depiction of a war zone that you might have seen in the movies. But this was no movie. There were no marching bands. No cigar-chomping John Wayne to welcome us. No swaggering George Patton to fill us with courage. No shouts of "Rangers lead the way!" Just a single, somewhat tired GI pointing to a line of waiting buses, engines running. His message was simple; thousands of GIs had heard one or another of its variations:
"Welcome to the war."
Just like that. Welcome to the war. Somewhere around three million Americans would experience the shock and disorientation of those first few moments in country. Yet it was different for every one of us. From the security of home to the uncertainties of war overnight. One moment we were standing on familiar soil surrounded by parents, wives, children-people who loved us. The next moment we were in a whole new foreign and hostile world, surrounded by people who actually wanted to kill us.
Welcome to the war.
You're in a War Zone Too
It's that way for you too, Christian. One minute you were safe and warm in your mother's womb. A minute later someone was dragging you kicking and hollering into a whole new world. Then, just to show you what this new reality was going to be like, somebody hauled off and slapped you on the backside. And all along the way, growing up, you've wondered why life felt kind of rough ... why so many times it felt like a battle.
It's because life-especially the Christian life-is a battle.
Every Christian is a walking battlefield. Every believer carries deep within himself a terrible conflict. And most of us will gravitate to anything that will help us win the battle. Call it the battle between the flesh and the spirit. Call it the quest for the victorious Christian life. Call it what you want. But it's a flat-out knock-down-drag-out war. And when it's over, you want to be among those who are still standing.
The principles of war are taught in military academies all over the world. In most ways, spiritual warfare is no different than physical warfare. Every soldier who expects to not only survive but win must understand and employ these principles in his own daily battles "against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12b, NIV).
That's what this book is about: understanding the principles of war for the career soldier-the true aim of every believer.
Back to Vietnam ...
The buses that tired GI pointed us toward weren't exactly Gray Line tour coaches. They were brutish, olive-drab hulks. Their windows were covered with steel mesh to deflect any objects (grenades, for example) that might be thrown in our direction. Our jet-lagged minds began to focus on the unmistakable indicators that we were in a war zone. A multiple-row perimeter of barbed wire, punctuated with sandbagged bunkers and an occasional guard tower, designated the "secure" area. Metal symbols marked off the mine fields. Buildings were surrounded by waist-high walls of sandbags.
And then it happened.
Just as we shuffled off the buses, sirens went off as though on cue. People around us began moving toward the bunkers. Somewhat witless and wondering if this was just some kind of orientation drill, we fell in with the trotting hordes, yellow-orange dust filling our noses. Once in the bunkers we got the scoop from those who knew-we were about to taste our first "incoming."
It turned out to be a couple of 122mm rockets fired harmlessly into the compound by the Vietcong/National Vietnamese Army (VC/NVA). The missiles didn't hit a target of any consequence, and they seemed more intended to disrupt and harass than do any actual damage. But if anyone had doubted that GI's initial greeting, no one did now. This really was a war zone.
Eleven o'clock that night found me sitting in the military air terminal waiting to catch a C-130 (a four-engine behemoth that looked like a military bus with wings) north to Nha Trang to join my unit, the Fifth Special Forces Group. Ten other newbies waited with me.
And then-those cursed sirens again! When they went off this time, we dropped to the floor, slipped our heads under the chairs, and waited. I had to chuckle at the sight of "America's best"-heads on the ground, fannies in the air, waiting for the inevitable.
This time the rockets actually hit something, something not far away: a fully loaded F-4 Phantom fighter jet. The explosion was enormous. Ordnance blew in every direction, raining shrapnel on the roof of the terminal. It wasn't funny anymore.
By three o'clock in the morning, I had completed the flight to Nha Trang, checked in with the duty NCO, dragged my duffel to a temporary "hootch," and flopped onto a cot for at least a couple of hours' sleep. But those sirens followed me! I stumbled from the cot, grabbed my helmet, and fell in line with the stream of people moving toward the perimeter bunkers. I remember thinking, Less than twenty-four hours in country and three rocket attacks! Three hundred sixty-four days to go!
This time there was more of a show: "Spooky" was on patrol in the area. That was the nickname for the C-47 gunships armed with what amounted to multibarreled Gatling guns-each capable of firing six thousand rounds a minute, one of which was hosing down the hills west of the perimeter where the incoming was thought to be originating. The night sky was lit up with the arcs of tracers and the eerie, gray glow of slowly descending flares. It was both fearsome and beautiful.
The Christian life is like that, isn't it? Fearsome and beautiful.
Welcome to the war.
Do You Really Believe It?
But wait just a minute. You don't really believe it, do you? You think all this "battle" talk is just some fired-up ex-soldier running off at the word processor.
That just illustrates the danger: The problem for many Christians is that they have no concept that they are actually living in a war zone. Like newbie GIs in a foggy, sleep-deprived daze, many Christians trudge half numb through this life, oblivious to the perils all around them. The war zone indicators are all there, but we act like it couldn't possibly be real.
All too often, Christians become casualties-shot to pieces in a war they didn't take seriously. I can't get out of my mind my former friends that were destroyed-pulled down by the temptations around them. Some of their names and faces flash across my mind even now.
Men I studied with in seminary.
Men I served with here at Good Shepherd Community Church.
Good men who loved God.
Just recently one of the leaders in my church fell to adultery. Satan's artillery shot straight through his heart, and the shrapnel cut through the chests of a lot of others standing nearby: a wife, some wonderful children, several of us fellow pastors, a bunch of friends, and really the whole church family. Like so many others, he became battle fatigued and dropped his guard. And the enemy picked him off. It's happened too many times over the years, right in our own church.
I seldom see many of these good people in formation anymore. They're too wounded to fight, too shamed to care. I suspect that in the night watches they lay in their own shadows, moaning deeply.
Oh, it's a war all right. And we've got to learn, in the apostle's words, to "stand firm" (Ephesians 6:11). That's a very military term, ordering you and me to hold on to the high ground at all costs.
Yes, this is a combat zone. And the enemy has a thousand weapons to aim at you. Sometimes it's just small-arms fire. Sometimes it's heavy artillery. Sometimes it's a deadly booby trap hidden under innocent-looking turf.
The enemy knows how to slip past our perimeters, doesn't he? Somehow the dark side seems to know just where our buttons are-and how to push 'em. It may be something as small as flying off the handle at some guy tailgating us or as profound as falling off the marriage bed into the arms of another. Small or heavy, it's all destructive. And death dealing. In Paul's words, each of us needs to be a "soldier in active service" who constantly refuses to "entangle himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier" (2 Timothy 2:4). If we're not, we're going to get picked off in this battlefield.
You don't think so? You're still unconvinced?
Have you ever noticed how life often feels like it's just chock-full of battles? You know what I mean; it's both in us and all around us.
Pick a newspaper-almost any newspaper, any city, any day-and read the headlines. The overwhelming majority are negative. And painful. They deal with trouble, pain, death, fear, destruction, loss, disaster, struggle, scandal, and hurt. Whether it's an accident on the freeway, a hurricane in the South, a crime on the street, a dictator in the Balkans, a child drowned in a pool, a dip in the market, or the adulterous affair of a prominent leader, the headlines are largely dark. This is a troubled planet, and people are hurting and dying everywhere.
Let's finally face it, Christian. This is a war zone.
Okay, forget the newspaper. Just look right around you. No need to step out of your own neighborhood. Some time back I did a little battlefield inventory of the comfortable, suburban neighborhood where we lived for twenty years and raised our boys. It's a middle-class neighborhood lined with respectable homes, shaded by mature trees, and occupied by your typical workday families. No ghetto. No gangs. It's actually a very desirable place to live.
My inventory didn't have to go very far before the stories got negative. My mind simply surveyed the pain within a half-dozen homes immediately surrounding ours. I didn't interview anyone; I just took stock of the most obvious wounds that everybody knew about. Next door lived a friend that was dying of cancer. Up the street there had been a teenage suicide. Across the way a little family was aching over a son's sexual orientation. Down the road a home was missing a father because he was in prison. Another home was facing up to incest and sexual abuse charges. And another was dealing with the fallout of attempted murder.
It shocked me. I had known about these things as they happened along the way, but I had never actually tried to add them up. The war was worse than I'd realized.
And then there was me.
Just the other day, I was driving home on Interstate 84 after four wonderful days of vacation. All of a sudden, into my world of peace and comfort came a little red car. He must have been doing over eighty. I was in the passing lane, just moving by the vehicle to my right. That little red bomb roared up to within what seemed like a foot of my rear bumper. And stayed there! It felt like he'd attached his radiator to my tailpipe, as though we were engaged in some kind of midflight refueling exercise. He just parked on my rear bumper, riding my tail and acting like the road was his.
And in that instant, something in me wanted to do battle. Just that quickly, hot anger seared through my veins ... and there was a war brewing.
Somehow I managed to choke back the desire to retaliate. I fought off an almost overwhelming urge to do battle. Down the road a ways, after my pulse had slowed a bit, I patted myself on the head for being a good boy.
Oh, but it was close.
Continuing to drive (and steam), I realized there were two battles going on simultaneously-I was fighting a war on two fronts. One was outside, with my external circumstances and the irritation they caused. The other was inside, with my eternal soul and its attitude. For me, it seems the internal battles are usually the larger and the longer.
Sometimes life just feels like it's lived in a war zone. We're always going up against something-fighting issues, fighting time, fighting lawlessness, fighting city hall, fighting spouses (unfortunately), fighting ourselves -just plain fighting. And most of the toughest battles are down inside our chests-facing off with one temptation and attitude after another.
As we drove down the road that day, my mind continued to wander through the atlas of spiritual warfare all around us. I thought about Kosovo and the hundreds of thousands of displaced, disoriented people. Children unable to speak and looking lost. Distraught mothers, their faces contorted by pain. Grown men unable to stop weeping. I thought of the Jewish Holocaust, Stalin's purges, the rape of Nanking, two world wars, Korea ... and, yeah, Vietnam. And that's just one century. The injustice is staggering.
Then there was my friend's little girl.
Recently a fellow pastor in another city faced a battle, the likes of which I hope I never know. His eleven-year-old daughter, while baby-sitting the neighbor kids two doors down, answered a knock on the door. She did everything right: She kept the door locked and denied the stranger entrance. But the intruder simply forced the door open and brutally raped the little girl.
When I heard of it, something in me screamed to do battle. I wanted to go to my friend, arm the two of us to the teeth, and go after the rapist. To be honest, everything within me at that moment wanted to kill that man, to remove his loathsome presence from this world and send him on to judgment.
This unjust war rages on a thousand fronts. I'm reminded of that Bible-toting president of the United States that wagged his finger at the American people and said, "I did not have sex with that woman." And, when there were no alternatives left and he was trapped like a rat in a corner, he confessed. Then, claiming to have repented, he mounted a vigorous legal defense. Didn't sound like repentance to me. Whatever happened to simple shame and genuine contrition-let alone truth and justice? Whatever happened to truthfulness and authenticity? Seems like they're all casualties in this pervasive spiritual war.
A while back I had coffee with a man who was so deep into pornography that his family was coming apart at the seams.
Excerpted from Spirit Warriors by Stu Weber Copyright © 2003 by Stu Weber. Excerpted by permission.
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