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Holy Self-Defense

“Holy Self-Defense” by Keith Wagner
“Responding to God’s Mercy” by Keith Wagner

Holy Self-Defense
by Keith Wagner
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

My son works in the ferrous castings department for Honda Manufacturing. He operates vats of molten steel. To protect himself from the burning metal he wears protective clothing. That is his defense from serious injury. He is covered from head to toe. Every part of his body is protected from the fiery sparks that come, flying in all directions. Occasionally he gets burned, since there is no body covering that can keep him safe 100 percent of the time.

As people of the faith we occasionally get burned too. Unfortunately we live in a world where evil exists. There are mean-spirited people. There are diseases and harsh weather conditions. There are forces beyond our control. There are systems and even governing bodies which impose rules and policies that are unfair or restrict our freedom.

Years ago I was part of our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate where we built homes for people who couldn’t qualify for a conventional mortgage. It is a good program. It not only creates new homes, it creates new citizens in the community. It also gives families a sense of pride in the home they helped to build. One time I made phone calls and wrote letters to the Habitat Headquarters in Americus, Georgia. Due to some technicalities they were withholding a large grant that was rewarded to our local chapter. We were trying to do something good, but sometimes bureaucracy inhibits our efforts.

That put our group on the defensive. We had to make sure that all our bases were covered. We had to dot every “i” and cross every “t” in order to keep our program strong and viable.

When the prophet Joel proclaimed “Holy War” I believe he was saying that as people of faith we need to have a strong defense. We need to protect ourselves from a cruel and sometimes hostile world that we live in. We need a strong faith, one that will help us to live in God’s love, be at peace about who we are and make our lives fulfilled and meaningful. I believe we are defending ourselves against those things that defeat our faith, like selfishness, pride, hopelessness, carelessness and lack of discipline.

I am a veteran of Vietnam. I served in the US Navy on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin. In no way did I ever believe that the Vietnam War was a Holy War. That being said I was still part of the campaign.

I was a supply officer. My job was to ensure that our crew of 5,000 men and our ship had everything we needed in the way of supplies, repair parts and food. During the time I was stationed on the ship I learned that we had to work together as a team. As Joel said, “Rally to each other’s help.” I didn’t carry a weapon or fly a fighter jet at low altitudes over Vietnam. Instead I was responsible for the supplies we needed to keep us afloat, stay fed and secure.

In the officer’s wardroom I dined with the pilots who flew those jets. I was amazed at their bravery and courage. We wore the same uniform and like them I was an officer. I didn’t have their skills but they treated me as an equal. They were dependent on those of us in the Supply department to maintain their planes with parts and flight gear. They were taught by quality instructors. They were also trained with highly sophisticated systems. And they had to have self-discipline to stay alive and carry out their mission.

Perhaps Joel wanted his people to be disciplined; those who were willing to learn, study and grow. Pilots who flew missions over Vietnam were in constant threat of enemy fire. They had to land their planes on the flight deck in rough seas, the darkness of the night and on only 300 feet of runway. What the pilots did was dangerous so they had to know what they were doing. Fortunately they were prepared through education and training.

While at sea, ships that are operating do not have time to return to port and take on supplies. They have to receive supplies at sea while cruising. This is known as underway replenishment. An underway replenishment can take 6-8 hours. Span wire rigs are stretched across the water from ship to ship. They are steel cables that have a great deal of stress on them. The supplies are pulled with motors from the supply ship to our ship then back again. The underway replenishment is highly complex and without teamwork it could never happen. As a supply officer it was my duty to be in the hangar bay and oversea my men who were removing supplies from the elevators with forklifts and taking them to the supply processing area.

One time we were replenishing in rough seas. At one point the seas were crashing over the elevators and the both the supply ship and our ship were bouncing up and down and from side to side. I feared for my men and all those who were handling lines, unfastening the cables that dropped the supplies to the elevators. It was dark, since most of our replenishment events took place at night. At one point a voice came on the intercom and a sailor shouted, “Break away, break away!” One of the span wire rigs had separated and cables flew all over the place. Fortunately no one was hurt. Since the ships were dangerously close and the rigs had been compromised the two ships had to separate and end the replenishment to avoid collision.

The courage and bravery of the men in supply, deck crew and all those who were involved in the replenishment event was amazing to me. Through that experience I realized that without teamwork lives could have been lost. Thankfully we survived due to our strong defense.

* * *

Responding to God’s Mercy
by Keith Wagner
Psalm 51:1-17

When we say, “have mercy on me” we are asking God to forgive us. I believe that most folks know God is a forgiving God, but few actually ask God to forgive them. It is confession that leads to forgiveness and forgiveness that leads to fulfillment, but more importantly, responsibility. The psalm reminds us also that we must be contrite and be willing to say to God that we have failed. That is not always an easy task. We tend to rationalize our behavior or just admit we are only partly at fault. Until we can sincerely take ownership of our mistakes we cannot expect God to forgive us. In other words, to ask forgiveness is just the first step. The next step is asking God to “create in us a new heart.” That means we are asking God to prepare us so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

Darrell Waltrip is a professional stock-car racer. He has a reputation of being “the guy folks loved to hate.” When crowds booed, he’d kick the dirt and smile. But then things changed. He miraculously survived a Daytona 500 crash. He began going to church with his wife, Stevie. He and his wife began to try and have a family, but they were unsuccessful. One day their pastor came to visit and said, “Your car is sponsored by a beer company, is that the image you want?” Darrell had never given that a thought. The more he thought about it he discovered he did care about his image. He remembered his pastor’s words but he didn’t know if his car owner would change sponsors. Amazingly, (or perhaps not), an opportunity opened for him and he signed with a new racing team that was sponsored by a laundry detergent company. In the next few years Darrell’s wife gave birth to two daughters and in 1989 he won at Daytona.

Waltrip prepared himself by changing to a sponsor that genuinely reflected his beliefs. No longer did he have to be concerned as to what his fans might say about him. To ask God to create in us a clean heart means, like it did for Waltrip, that our lives result in new behavior. This was also true for David. David resolved to be fully dependent on God in the future. He said, "Restore to me the joy of they salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit."

How we live out our lives is crucial, especially for young minds and young hearts. The best way to teach is by example. One time there was a woman who was driving a very expensive luxury car. She was waiting patiently in a crowded parking lot at a shopping mall. Finally, she saw a man carrying packages heading toward his parked car. She followed him and waited as he loaded the packages into his trunk. Finally he got into his car and backed out. Just as the woman was preparing to pull into the open space, a young man in a little sports car, coming from the opposite direction, pulled into the space ahead of her. He got out of his car and began walking away. The woman was livid. She shouted to the young man out the window of her luxury car, “Hey, young man! I was waiting for that parking place!” The teenager responded by saying, “Sorry lady, but that’s how it is when you’re young and quick.” At that moment the woman put her car in gear, floor-boarded it and crashed her car into the sports car, crushing its right rear fender. “What the heck are you dong?” the young man shouted. The woman responded by saying, “Well son, that’s how it is when you are old and rich.”

The psalmist is talking not about words but about the language of the heart. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”

In his book, When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, Rabbi Harold Kushner told about an incident that happened at a funeral home. A business associate of his father had died under tragic circumstances. He accompanied his father to the funeral. The man’s widow and children were surrounded by clergy and psychiatrists, all trying to ease their grief and make them feel better. They knew all the right words, but nothing helped. They were beyond being comforted. The widow kept saying, “You’re right, I know you’re right, but it doesn’t make a difference.”

During the viewing a man walked in, a big burly man in his eighties who was a legend in the toy and game industry. He had come to the country illiterate and penniless but had built up an immensely successful company. He was known as a hard bargainer and ruthless competitor. Despite his success he had never learned to read or write. He had been ill lately and his face and his body posture showed it. He walked over to the widow and started to cry and she cried with him. The atmosphere in the funeral home completely changed. The man was speaking the language of the heart. He opened up the gates of mercy where clergy and professionals could not.

Like the psalmist proclaimed this man had a truly contrite heart. He was sorry for the woman’s loss and expressed it with a genuine response. “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”


StoryShare, March 6, 2019 issue.

Copyright 2019 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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