ON THE GLORY OF GOD AND GUNS
I do not have a phobia about weapons. My earliest memory of a firearm was during a visit to my grandparents hillbilly home in Hodgesville, West Virigina. A large muskrat was minding his own business walking next to a stream across the road, and my Uncle Gene came out with a rifle and summarily executed the hapless creature. I thought it was the greatest thing I had ever seen in my 6 years of life experience. This probably stirred within me some sort of instinctual need to kill wildlife. Assassinating a bullfrog in New Mexico by covering him with giant black ants was particularly memorable, though no weapon was involved. According to Dr. Phil, I should have grown up to be a serial killer, especially after test firing my first BB Gun on my younger brother from close range. Of course I did not shoot him with a BB, but rather filled the weapon with grit and coarse sand then promptly blasted him in the face to test the accuracy of my marksmanship. He retaliated with a baseball bat. That is a battle of family lore. But it was not until I was 13 that I scored my first major kill: I was excitedly exploring the woods with the bow and arrow set I’d received for Christmas, when I spied an evil possum sitting up in a tree. Yes, we all know that possum are by nature evil, and must be exterminated when opportunity arises. My first arrow pierced his side, and with a snarl he scurried down the tree and into a hole in the tree trunk near the ground. He was in full retreat, but when I bent down to observe his death throes, he had the audacity to bare his teeth in most menacing fashion. For that impropriety I dispatched him with an arrow down the throat. I must rescue my reputation and report that this did not provide me with the satisfaction I had anticipated. I went home somewhat depressed, and cannot recall shooting anything since that time. I imagine that the disturbance I felt had something to do with God not appreciating me slaughtering one of His creatures without cause or purpose. At the least I could have hauled the possum home for Ma to toss into a stew…though more likely she would have tossed me out the back door as a stewed rabbit was as wild as it got around our Ohio home of my teenage years.
Fast forward 37 years, and I still find firearms a fascinating subject, particularly since they have vaulted to the top tier of American dinner table debate and conversation. No debate however down here in Guatemala, from where I am currently writing this memo. In Guatemala in fact, I am in love with guns, particularly the machine guns being carried by the policemen who have been guarding my wife and I and our team for the past 12 days. Seems my friend recently had a pistol stuck in his face and was relieved of his passports and cash. This was followed by death threats and kidnapping warnings. Thus the guards, insisted upon by the local police commander, who piled into the back of our pick up en route to church the other evening, with the barrel of one machine gun pointing directly into my colleague’s thigh. I politely noted this “irregularity” to the guard, and he obligingly pointed the weapon out the tail gate of the vehicle. My friend thanked me for saving his right leg, and I then informed both guards that should there be an incident, they were morally obligated to save me first before any Guatemalans, as I was the “Gringo”, and naturally their commander would be far more upset about my death than he would for one of the locals. They found this to be quite humorous, and it is always good to win over an underpaid, angry Central American policeman to your side by lightening his burden with laughter. We had only one incident during the past week, and that was while driving a dirt, country road at night, when we came upon an overturned load blocking our forward progress. When we stopped, another pickup with bright headlights immediately came up behind us – classic road set up for robbery of unsuspecting missionaries. You never have seen a machine gun armed policeman jump out of the back of a truck so fast, pointing directly at the lights of the pickup behind us. My buddy yelled, “shoot first and ask questions later….we’ll back you up as witnesses that you were defending us”! Wow, I knew at the moment that I was definitely “not in Kansas anymore”. Thankfully, our guard exercised wisdom and restraint, ascertaining who was in the vehicle first – – which is really good otherwise I would have had the death of a farmer, two kids, and a large pig on my conscience.
Back to the dinner table conversations raging across America. I live in Alaska now, where gun ownership is a particularly passionate hobby and hunting is a means of provision for the majority. Being previously a New Yorker for 25 years, and a Long Islander at that, most of the gun culture of my childhood was gradually chipped away, not by political opinion, but simply by lack of necessity. We don’t kill animals on Long Island, unless we are being attacked by a rabid squirrel or raccoon, or we mow down one of the far too many deer in Suffolk county. But in Alaska now, the debate rages around us. It is clear that no one will ever be able to disarm Alaska. It would be tantamount to a civil war. The 2nd Amendment is safe and sound in our midst. And I for one do fully appreciate that freedom to hunt, own a firearm, protect life and property, and resist tyranny. Even though I presently own no weapons (please do not inform any of your potentially thieving distant cousins), I can appreciate the passion of my neighbors and church friends who do.
But I’ve said above that I find the current debate fascinating, and I explain this by highlighting my dilemma as a missionary and evangelist. I am driven by a passion to see God’s grace invade the lives and families of the multitudes around the world who are lost, impoverished, and without hope in this broken world. Confronted monthly by astounding poverty in multiple nations, looking into the eyes of hopeless multitudes, I am moved again and again and this passion of God instilled into my soul keeps me returning to these scenes of horror repeatedly, not only because I am called to this, but also because I know and carry a solution. I try not to impose the weight of this particular calling on others, as I know all men are assigned to each their own sphere; yet I am at the same time required to convey God’s heart on the matter to thousands of men across North America so that many might feel the passion God feels and desires, that we who are so enlarged in our prosperity might find it within us to be moved on behalf of the needs of others. And herein lies my dilemma, for as one who has labored 30 years to “see men moved” by the heart of God, I am suddenly seeing men moved with a passion beyond anything I’ve ever witnessed.
Men who have silently in churches for years now suddenly arise to declare that “they’ve had just about enough and they will die to defend their Constitutional right to bear arms”. Men who are shy, the last ones into the sanctuary and the first one out, are newly emboldened in the “FaceBook Wars” to denounce, proclaim, and profess their allegiance to this most holiest of privileges, the 2nd Amendment, more sacred than life itself!
I am passionate for our Constitution, but astonished at this newly discovered fire in the bellies of men who have long sat cold under the preaching of the Word. I am desperate to harness this newly discovered fire, channeling it into something eternal, into someone worth saving. If we could take a tenth of the passion released in these past months by Christian men on behalf of 2nd Amendment issues, and channel that into the mission of the church of Jesus Christ, I believe we might just make some significant progress in reforming our wonderful United States of America.
Perhaps a sleeping giant has been awakened, and indeed we can truly hope that “all things will work together for good”. Perhaps an awakened passion for something temporal might alert us to the ground we have lost on far more sacred issues, such as the sanctity of human life, moral purity, and personal integrity. Perhaps men whom we have deemed immovable, have shown us that they are willing to stand up and be counted after all.
But if we are to be counted, let us be counted for those things that identify us most clearly with the one Who made quite clear by His own sacrifice that people are worth both living and dying for, and a man whose passions are reserved for only those things that concern his own life and well being is a man who has lost his compass and missed the greatest pleasures that this journey offers: the pleasure of living in defense of the defenseless; for indeed, “he who would save his own life will lose it, but he who loses his life for Christ’s sake will find it”.
In closing, I tip my hat to all who strive to protect the purposes and privileges of the 2nd Amendment, and I for one will always be quick to defend my home and family with whatever weapon is at hand. But in the meanwhile, I strive to keep sight of my greatest weapon, my most sure defense, and my unwavering security that can never be taken away: a life lived in submission to and for the glory of our Almighty God and His Son Jesus Christ.
San Jose Del Golfo, Guatemala