Where’s Waldo?

Pearl Harbor Day is a day to remember the vicious attack on our country at the naval base in Hawaii December 7, 1941. Our Pacific fleet was destroyed or severely crippled by the surprise attack of the enemy and is arguably the most bloody attack by a foreign power on our soil (with the exception of 911) in our history. We pause today to reflect on the events and to give thanks for the stunned, but quick-thinking servicemen and women who responded immediately and courageously to treat the wounded and rescue those in the water or trapped by the ruins.

When I think about our all volunteer military, I can’t help but notice they are ready in a flash to engage the enemies of the United States wherever they may be. Our forces are quickly deployable and so well-trained and equipped that they are mission ready when the call comes from the President for action. There are times when soldiers go AWOL from their positions of responsibility, but historically the overwhelming majority are always present, on time, and ready to move into position.

Aboard a warship in the United States Navy, the call to “general quarters” is a call for every sailor to prepare for battle. Off-duty, on-duty, and sleeping crew members report to their battle stations and prepare for attack and defensive operations. Each individual has been trained to quickly suit up and get into position. In fact the fate of the vessel and the very lives of the crew depend upon their fluid, professional, unified, and efficient action.

In stark contrast to our amazing military, the modern American Church has no understanding of what it means to take up battle stations and engage the enemy. In fact, Christians by the thousands (regardless of denomination, organization, label, or tag) are simply AWOL from their God-called positions in the body of Christ. Some do not know what they should be doing. Some have not been trained to do their job. Many more have been graced with the knowledge of their call, equipping for that call, but they have not responded to the call of the Holy Spirit to general quarters. The indifference to committed, faithful, and fruitful service in the Church handicaps efforts to reach the lost and directly results in lives lost for eternity, not just the physical life taken on a natural battlefield. To be plain, people are in danger of going to hell because many Christians are not at their battle stations to engage the enemy and rescue the perishing.

The situation reminds me of the old “Where’s Waldo?” books and posters where you try to pick him out of very colorful and busy illustrations. In the sea of dozens and dozens of people doing a variety of strange, unique, or amusing things in a certain location, the job of the reader was to identify Waldo with his striped shirt, bobble hat, and glasses, and distinguish him from the “red herrings” placed there by the artist to throw the reader off.

The question can be asked of believers in the United States today – in the sea of people are we easily distinguishable or do we just blend in with a compromised world view, standards, priorities, and ethics? In the sea of people do we stand out because we are actively engaged in the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ or do we resemble the background or objects in the illustrations, immobile, inanimate, and lifeless? We can and should ask ourselves, where’s Waldo? – where’s the serious, committed, faithful, rooted, grounded, fruit-bearing, always there Christian?

I want to challenge you to heed the call to “general quarters” and man your battle stations for we are truly at war in this world spiritually. This is not a time for us to be absent, unengaged, listless, lifeless, indifferent, or apathetic. We need to have such conviction of presence that the whole world knows we are here, that we are on the job, that we are at our stations. We do not need our commander and chief asking the angels, “where’s Waldo?”

How can you tell if you are more Waldo than spiritual commando? Waldos, unlike the commandos, are those in the body of Christ hiding from church services, prayer meetings and personal devotions, Bible study, giving and tithing, service, and evangelism and outreach. Commandos act while the Waldos sit in the pew or comfortable padded church chair watching the commandos do everything. Waldo’s have more important things to do like shopping, eating, traveling, watching sports, or just everyday life. Some Waldos search high and low for an excuse to be absent, uninvolved, and detached. Waldo’s, instead of letting children be a strong motive to get to church, use them as an excuse to be absent. Waldos, after engaging the church to believe with them for employment, once employed use that same job as an excuse for not worshipping with the family of God. Waldos are famous for their disappearing act from local churches – all local churches. Despite exiting from even pagan places of employment with the requisite notice for consideration, believers today will simply disappear from their church family with no word or reason. Waldos somewhere developed a warped sense of individualistic centrality believing that the focus of the church should be about serving them rather than being challenged, trained, and encouraged to serve others. Finally, Waldos tend to make commitments but then find every reason in the book why they cannot be faithful to those commitments. From missions pledges to ministry service, the church often has to scramble to take up the slack Waldo creates by being away from his battle station.

It’s time to stop being a Waldo and start being a commando for the cause of Christ. How blessed we are that Jesus was not “missing in action” that day so long ago. Thank God our Christian forefathers were not AWOL when it came time to stand up for religious freedom. The heart of a nation and millions of souls are on the line and we must respond. It’s time to come out of the background, trade in your striped shirt for the armor of God, and man your battle station. Instead of the church wondering where you are – where’s Waldo?, I hope you will say today, “Here am I, send me.”

The Good Soldier

During my first pastorate in Hopkinsville, Kentucky I was privileged to serve some of the finest men and women of the greatest military in the history of the world. Many of the Airborne and Special Forces units were just returning to Fort Campbell following their successful deployments during the first Gulf War. I always enjoyed ministering to the military and appreciated their level of commitment whenever they would join the church. If they said they were with you, they meant it. I understood then, as I understand now, the right to the freedom of speech and religion that I enjoy as a spiritual leader is not the product of some document but the result of blood shed by our brave men and women in uniform who defend our rights and liberties. Just like faith without works is dead, so too, words written in a sacred state charter are meaningless without the will to fight for them.

Perhaps the greatest example of courage and commitment by the men and women of our fighting forces came during the challenging days of World War II. I recently discovered an amazing fact about my family. My great-grandfather on my father’s side, John Urban, originally came to this country from Dubvra, Czechoslovakia and settled in the small midwestern town of Livingston, IL to raise a family. Raised under a socialist system he used to poke fun at the “progress” in our country saying, “you now cook outside and go to the bathroom inside…I don’t think that’s progress.” But, when it came to duty and allegiance to his new homeland, John did his civic duty and registered for the draft – at 64 years of age! It’s interesting to me in a day when people claim to be too young or too old to make a difference, this immigrant was willing to wear the uniform if it meant getting the job done in Europe.

The Apostle Paul admonished his spiritual son Timothy to, “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs–he wants to please his commanding officer” (2 Timothy 2:3). The picture of the soldier is one of total commitment. They are told when to rise, when to go to bed, what to wear, where to serve, what job to do, etc. The great need in the body of Christ today is to take Paul’s words literally and seriously and begin to serve the Lord with an even greater level of commitment. When we experience the new birth we become conscripts in the Lord’s army and we are no longer our own but Christ’s. He now must increase while we decrease. The only way to stem the dark tide sweeping spiritually across our land (more diabolical than the original Nazi threat) is for believers to take seriously their place and assignment in the body of Christ and perform their duties admirably, skillfully, and faithfully.

I mean think about the price that was paid by the amazing Big Red One Division during World War II. From the invasion of North Africa to the storming of Omaha Beach on D-Day to the push into Germany across the Rhine River, the First Infantry Division went on to heroically hold on during the Battle of the Bulge and eventually occupied the Remagen bridgehead. By the end of the war the Division had suffered 21,023 casualties and 43,743 men had served its ranks. The Big Red One had won a total of 20,752 medals and awards, including 16 Congressional Medals of Honor. At some point one would think that this brave unit had done enough, but they kept giving and giving until the final victory. The modern Church needs to receive a big dose of the courage and commitment like this legendary military division.

I met a World War II veteran in rural Christian County years ago while ministering to his family. He didn’t like to talk much about what he had been through but he eventually shared his military experiences with me. Over time Pee Wee became ill. I realized my love and appreciation for our military and his service specifically was possibly a door to begin to share with him about someone else that shed his blood for all of us – Jesus Christ. In the context of sacrifice for the greater good of others he not only understood but accepted Jesus Christ while lying in a hospital bed battling a brain tumor. I didn’t have the customary “decision card” and literature one might have received in a church setting so I wrote his name, the date, and the statement of his faith in Jesus on a napkin I found on his hospital food tray and handed it to Pee Wee. I was told after his death that he slept each night with that napkin under his pillow.

It seems so insignificant to say thank you to individuals who gave so much for our nation, but I want to encourage you to personally express your gratitude to those that have served and to the families of those that have fallen in battle at some season in our nation’s history. I also want to challenge you to live up to Paul’s standard to become a soldier in God’s Kingdom, ready to fight, execute, and go wherever the commander orders. We cannot thank our military enough for both their service and their standard of commitment and excellence in the performance of their duties.