Berean Blog

Random thoughts from a Doulos Theos (servant of God)

Location: Rocky Point, North Carolina, United States

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Where's my gas mask?

Greetings once again to all after a lengthy silence. For those of you who still check in from time to time, I thank you and pray this will be rewarding.

School has started again, and this semester finds me enrolled in Elements of Bible Study and Old Testament Survey. One of our first assignments for the latter involved studying the lives of the patriarchs and applying their circumstances to a current life situation in which we may find ourselves or someone we know. A conversation at work last week reminded me of a story from my days in the Corps that merges perfectly with a lesson I gleaned this week from the life of Abraham.

Combat Town

We were training in urban situations, and I should lay the background first. Another sergeant and I each had a small squad with differing missions surrounding Camp Lejeune’s Combat Town. My squad had a primary mission to reconnoiter the town, with a secondary mission to map the area; the other squad had the same missions in reverse. We both knew the town was occupied by a small platoon, but our mission briefings merely stated that the area contained no friendly forces and we had support from neither artillery nor air. Simply stated, “you’re on your own, baby”. No problem – it was a gorgeous spring day, and I was ready.

The town itself is actually a small one, with several one-story buildings and one or two two-story buildings surrounding a three-story town hall. I was positive that the enemy would at least have observers in the town hall, but the whereabouts of the rest of them was a mystery. I had the benefit of knowing each of the members of the enemy force, as well as knowing that they classically had poor “window discipline”, coming too close to windows when observing the area, thereby revealing their own positions.

Coming up to the outskirts of town, therefore, my initial strategy was to lie in wait in the underbrush just outside the town and merely observe. My purpose was two-fold: to possibly force impatience to override discipline on the enemy force’s part, and to allow the other squad’s sergeant to ignore primary orders and force an engagement.

After probably 45 minutes, with my first purpose surprisingly disappointed, my second was predictably not. The other squad entered the town and a firefight erupted. I was shocked to discover that the platoon occupying the town had apparently chosen to man only the town hall, leaving every other building presumably vacant.

This is going to be easier than I thought,” I was thinking as I led my squad through a ditch that paralleled the town and dashed into the back of the town. Although there was a wide open field behind the town that spanned approximately 100 yards, we were unspotted. The enemy had their attention focused on the other patrol that was attempting to take cover in the buildings of the town.

The sun was shining down in North Carolina Spring fashion, and my patrol was intact, unscathed and in good spirits as we got into town and assembled in a building directly across from town hall. Several smoke grenades had merged in the streets with the smoke from hundreds of rounds that had been fired, intermingled with the sweet combined smell of sulfur and gunpowder. I was feeling good!


As I was mentally calculating the logistics of getting my patrol across the street and into the front door of the town hall to begin clearing it, I turned to notice my assistant patrol leader had donned his gas mask, and my feeling of euphoria began to dissipate into irritation as I noticed at least one of my troops was frantically following suit. I interrupted my reverie of bloodlust to admonish this corporal for overreacting and spreading his fear of CS (tear gas) to the rest of the patrol. He apparently assumed the whirls of white smoke swirling through the town from the grenades were actually gas.

We were carrying smoke and CS grenades, so it was a safe assumption that the enemy had equal supply. My irritation sprung from the fact that even if it were gas, the wind was blowing briskly enough to render the gas a minor irritation at best, and the harm he was inflicting on morale and effectiveness far outweighed the effects of the gas – assuming it were gas in the first place.


I had just calmed this young warrior sufficiently for him to sheepishly remove his mask (and made a mental note to make further, sterner follow-up when this was over) when this encounter’s allegedly neutral observer “popped” a grenade on the blindside of the building where we were sheltered. As thick white clouds billowed around the corners of our building into the windows both front and back, that same corporal began to move more quickly than I had ever seen from him, fumbling to once again don his gas mask.

Even more quickly than his jerky, unpracticed motions, my irritation turned to anger. Yelling over the noise of the firefight, I assured him it was only smoke. To prove my point, I took a dramatically large and over-exaggerated inhalation. It was a split second later that my body let me know that I had just taken in two lungful of CS!

My assumption of control over the situation and foolish sense of familiarity had lulled me into a false sense of security. I tried to keep my composure, but I think I still got my gas mask on before he did!

Spiritual Assumption

This story came into my mind as I read of Abraham’s life. Christians occasionally have the tendency to place great heroes of the faith on theological pillars, overlooking the fact that they were human just as we are. An honest look at the life of Abraham reminds us that he was certainly no exception.

The most obvious example that occurred to me was in Genesis 12:10-20, where he presumes upon God’s protection and feels he must lie about his marriage to Sarah. This is a mistake he repeats with Abimelech in Genesis 20:1-18. Glaringly in the first instance, he had just received the promise of blessing by God (12:1-3)! In both of these circumstances, the ill effects caused consequences beyond just Abraham, but all of those involved.

In attempting to understand why, I noticed that an earmark of Abraham’s existence was his communion with God; we see obvious evidence of this in 12:7, 13:4, 21:33, and 22:13-14, in recorded instances of purposeful worship. Yet these blatant errors in judgment I’ve mentioned were times when Abraham leaned on his own understanding instead of letting God direct his paths (to paraphrase Proverbs 3:5-6).

The lesson is that when we wander from the protection of regular communication with our loving Father, we risk stepping into areas from which He would prefer to keep us (and those with whom we come in contact).

But I'm not Abraham

Dear Christian, have you ever noticed that the times you fall the hardest is when you thought you had the firmest grasp on the situation? Ignore the warning signs, overlook the possibilities, pay no heed to others around you, and just forge ahead – what could possibly go wrong?

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to
will is present with me; but [how] to perform that which is good I find
not. (Rom. 7:18)

Oops, forgot about that one. That’s why Paul urged the Philippians to have no confidence in themselves:

For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in
Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Phil. 3:3)

As Christians, we have an enemy…one more real than the enemy I faced that day in the town. He’s watching us (much like I watched the town before entering), and like my patrol that day, we’re on his territory. That’s why Peter warned us:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion,
walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: (I Pet. 5:8)

I know that picturing the Christian life as a battle, or anything remotely resembling difficulty, isn’t exactly in vogue these days. If I were to listen to the Osteen ilk, I could expect nothing but placid prosperity and incessant victory without effort by simply demanding deliverance from God as my cosmic genie.

I’d rather stick with what God Himself said (I Cor. 9:24-27):

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?
So run, that ye may obtain.
And every man that striveth for the mastery is
temperate in all things. Now they [do it] to obtain a corruptible crown; but we
an incorruptible.
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as
one that beateth the air:
But I keep under my body, and bring [it]
into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I
myself should be a castaway.

Don’t assume safety, beloved. Paul pictured this life as a battle in Ephesians six. Keep that armor on…and that gas mask handy!


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