Cover Photo: Marine Colonel Richard “Bucky” Mendelow
Preparing For War
It was a Friday in August 1994. It was hot. Coastal North Carolina is hot. I was flying carrier-based attack jets while assigned to a tactical electronic warfare squadron based at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. In those days, Friday afternoons were centered on getting all the aircraft safely on deck and heading off to the Officer’s Club to blow off the week’s steam.
I was making my way through the parking lot toward my burgundy 1993 Anniversary Edition Corvette. I had bought the car in my effort to be a living cliché of a jet pilot.
My commanding officer intercepted me before I could escape. He told me to report to the base Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (pronounced “skiff”) because in a few hours, I would be leading a strike in support of the invasion of Haiti as the United Nations sought to depose the military regime that overthrew the duly elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
How bizarre is that? One minute, I’m planning my assault on the O’Club bar, and the next, I’m planning to lead a strike package from North Carolina, to hit aerial refuelers off the coast of Miami, to provide airborne tactical electronic warfare support for military operations in the Caribbean… where they have cruise ships, cigars, and drinks with umbrellas.
Like all Marine Corps aviators, in addition to my flying job, I had a ground job. I was the Quality Assurance Officer for the maintenance department of my squadron. In that capacity, I was responsible for the quality of work of over 130 Marines on six Top Secret 90-million-dollar carrier-based attack jets.
My life consisted of flying, leading Marines, completing reports on the mission readiness of our aircraft… and trying to be Tom Cruise from the movie ‘Top Gun,’ who paradoxically, or ironically, was trying to be me. Whether paradoxical or ironic, in those next days, I learned a lot about Marines and people in general.
To digress, when Marines are not deployed, they are at their home base, preparing for deployment. It’s considered by most to be painfully mundane. We refer to this continuous preparation – the relentless cleaning of weapons and gear, the unending training, the boring administrative duties, and the many inspections – as being “in garrison.”
As one of the officers responsible for the Marines’ attitudes toward their work, I noticed that Marines get testy “in garrison.” Sometimes, they imagine that the Marine Corps exists for them, rather than them existing for the Marine Corps, their nation, and the free world.
And I noticed that if you tell a Marine that they will be deploying to a combat zone in short order, they forget about their entitled attitudes, their corvettes, their Ray Bans, and the Officer’s Club, and they get very focused and very intentional.
I think the same is true of Christians. In the comfort of today’s Christianity, with the great music, the colored lights, the ubiquitous smoke generators, the coffee, flavored creamer, and doughnuts in the lobby, and the safe messages preached from the pulpit, it’s easy for Christians to think that we’re “in garrison.” This is perilous, aimless, detached, self-interested thinking.
What if they learn that we are at war?
Christianity Is Not What We Do For An Hour On Sunday
Christians who think that we are “in garrison” on Sunday will find themselves overwhelmed on Monday. Simply put, as the new week brings the challenges and needs of a struggling world, they will find themselves woefully unprepared to face those who hate God.
Look around. Use any metric. Whether divorce statistics, the epidemic of fatherlessness, rising suicide rates, rampant drug abuse, the prevalence of obesity, widespread, chronic anxiety, or the teen pregnancy crisis, spiritually, under the influence of those who hate God, this nation is in a death spiral.
And Christians should be able to see from the continuous loss of key spiritual terrain that the passive thinking of God’s people is neither warriorlike nor effective. At the dangerous intersection of our faith and the secular world, we are not very focused or very intentional.
In our “garrison” lives, we have forgotten that we are at war and that we are warriors. Like the victims of a surprise attack, we are startled and on our back feet wondering what’s happening.
In shock, we question the things we see in the world as though they are new and ours is the first generation to be relentlessly attacked by evil. It’s sad for us and even sadder for our children.
At this point, there can be no doubt. If we do nothing, evil will degrade everything good, everything holy, and everything virtuous.
Perhaps after the attack on Israel, we now realize that we can’t allow “garrison” thinking to shape our reality. The quality of our work as men and women redeemed by Christ for service in the kingdom of God demands vigilance. The enemy doesn’t rest, and neither can we.
Christians are never “in garrison.” In the perversity of these days, we must realize that there is no rest from the fight, and we exist for the church and not the church for us. Though the battle is the Lord’s, we serve our Lord.
Our mindset must change. Having used some of the world’s most technologically advanced weapons and having done several combat deployments on the ground and in the air, I can attest that the most powerful weapon is the warrior mindset. Thinking of oneself as a warrior and committing oneself to the ideals of courageous and sacrificial service for a greater good and a higher purpose create powerful alignment in our lives.
1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” As this verse suggests, there is darkness and there is light. Neither is passive and their clash on the spiritual battlefield of this earth is the context of our faith.
For this reason, we are called to bring God’s love and power to bear through our active devotion to Christ, seeing those who are lost in darkness with compassion and seeing equally clearly the enemies who prey on the lost.
Only in that awareness will we come to understand the call to be about our Father’s business with urgency and resolve.
If battles are won or lost first in the mindset of the warrior, then war is won or lost first at home in the mindset of the people who are forced to wage war. History teaches that in the presence of evil, righteousness cannot be passive or divided.
America won World War I when American men and women stood together, sacrificing isolationist ideas to commit American resources to the defeat of the Axis Powers.
America won World War II when American men and women produced the weapons – men, material, patriotism, and resolve – that would be employed in Europe and the Pacific to defeat Nazi and Japanese imperialist evil.
Spiritual war is no different.
Lord And Savior
First and foremost, spiritual battles are won at home when men submit themselves to Jesus Christ as the Lord of their lives. They are won in tearful repentance as men take up their Bibles, leave their old ways behind, and accept their responsibilities as warriors and the spiritual leaders of their households.
The spiritual war is won when Christians are collectively willing to sacrifice for our God, for His Truth, for His glory, and to improve the world in which our children live. It’s won when we are willing to stand firm at the intersection of our faith and the world. It’s won when Christian families attend church and contribute as part of the church community. It’s won when Christian voters elect Christian representatives to government office, to the judiciary, and to school boards, resisting submission to godless authority. It’s won when Christian shoppers support Christian businesses and deny support to atheist, godless corporations that attack Christian values. And it’s won when Christians resist cultural pressure to conform to the ways of a perverse world.
At the same time, we must be cautious. Winning the spiritual war requires love according to the truth of God. Hate has no place. Nor can we submit to humanism and the failed ways of men. 1 Peter 2:12 puts it like this, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.”
If You Stand For Nothing, You Fall For Anything
Like my unique experience planning to lead a strike from my home base on a sunny, summer afternoon, Christians have been called from complacency. We face a determined foe. The battle is first in our hearts and in our homes, and then it’s all around us. And this is strange because it goes against what we’ve been taught is normal.
One minute we’re in church, feeling good about ourselves and the next thing we know, we’re at war. Maybe you’re explaining to your five-year-old why the man at the gas station had purple nail polish and breasts. Maybe you’re helping your teen with a homework assignment for Health Class and it turns out to be about homosexual sex practices. Maybe, you’re watching pro-Palestine rallies around the world following the attack of religious barbarians on God’s chosen and you realize the people in the rallies don’t care about the Palestinians. In truth, they’ve just found a culturally appropriate way to hate Jews by supporting antisemites.
However strange and sad, it’s real, it’s here, and it’s time to go to war. Our passivity has emboldened the enemy, and the bill is now payable in full.
G. Michael Hopf said, “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.” I’ve also heard it said that “Jesus did not die a horrific public death so that we could live a comfortable private life. Whatever the quote, it’s this simple; we cannot stay “in garrison” any longer.