The Conscientious Objector

You have probably never heard of him.  He was born on February 7, 1919, and died on March 23, 2006.  He was a Seventh Day Adventist, an ordinary man whose extraordinary faith and courage has left an indelible mark on the combat history of our nation.  He never touched a gun or killed an enemy soldier, but the heroic exploits of Alvin York and Audie Murphy pale in comparison to what he did.  He was the first conscientious objector to win our nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.  His name is Desmond T. Doss.

As a young boy growing up in a Christian home Desmond was appalled to learn of the story of Cain and Abel.  He could not understand why a man would kill his own brother.  He vowed to never take another man’s life.

When the attack on Pearl Harbor ushered the United States into World War II, Doss thought it was his patriotic duty to enlist.  That first night in the Army barracks as he knelt beside his bunk to pray, his fellow recruits taunted him and threw their boots at him.  When he refused to train on the Sabbath he was ridiculed.  When it came time for rifle qualification he was belittled for refusing to touch a firearm.  He enlisted to be a medic and refused to train with the .45 pistol issued to medics.  Doss did not surrender his convictions and vowed while others would enter the battlefield to take lives he would be by their side to save lives.  One of the commanding officers in his battalion, Captain Jack Glover, told him if he refused to carry a rifle he would never stand beside him in battle.

Despite the repeated humiliation heaped on him by the officers and men of the 77th Infantry Division, he never took offense nor compromised his faith.  When the 77th was deployed to the Pacific Theatre, in one engagement after another, Doss distinguished himself in providing lifesaving aid to those who fell in battle.

Eventually the 77th was sent to Okinawa to reinforce the American troops attempting to take the island.  The Japanese had retreated to the Shuri escarpment, a plateau three hundred feet above the island.  The last fifty feet was a vertical climb.  The Americans called it Hacksaw Ridge.

The Japanese were well entrenched.  In nine successive assaults the Americans had reached the plateau only to be thrown back by withering artillery, mortar, and machinegun fire.  On April 29, 1945, A Company tried again.  As the day closed, A Company was forced to retreat leaving seventy-five casualties behind.  During the next twelve hours, Doss climbed to the top, alone and under constant enemy fire, he bound the wounded and rescued every single man by dragging each one to the edge of the escarpment and letting them down by a rope.  Doss later said that as he let each man down to safety he prayed, “Lord, let me get one more.”

A Company having failed and now decimated, B Company was charged with the next assault.  Doss recommended the men pray before going into battle.  Lt. Goronto called the men together saying, “Doss wants to pray.”  Doss led the men in prayer.  Then B Company climbed up for the assault.  They were able amidst the fiercest fighting yet, to secure a foothold and stave off a Japanese counterattack.  When the rear command asked how many casualties they had sustained, the B Company commander replied none of his men had been killed or wounded.  Stunned by this report, the rear command asked how this had been done without a single casualty.  Amazed himself, the B Company commander gave the only reply he could muster, “Doss prayed!”

As the Americans held their foothold on Hacksaw Ridge the Japanese repeatedly counterattacked attempting to throw them off the escarpment.  In one of the ensuing battles Captain Jack Glover was felled on the battlefield by an exploding Japanese artillery shell.  Slowly bleeding to death he was pleasantly surprised to see the face of Desmond T. Doss at his side.  Doss had crossed two hundred yards of open ground under enemy fire to bind Glover’s wounds and drag him to safety.  The man who said Doss would never stand by his side in battle was glad to see him crawl to his aid.  Doss said of himself, “I was not a conscientious objector, I was a conscientious cooperator.”

Jesus declared, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).”  This Memorial Day I pray we remember the sacrifices others have made to secure the freedoms we enjoy.

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Pentecost Sunday

Today, May 19, 2013, is Pentecost Sunday.  This day plays an important role in the history of Israel and the Church of Jesus Christ.  Since some have expressed an interest in knowing more about it and its impact on us today, I thought I would share some biblical insight about its place in the heart and history of believers.

Pentecost, along with Passover and Tabernacles, is one of three Jewish feasts or festivals established by God for the nation of Israel as a celebration and memorial of God’s blessings on the nation and key historical events in the nation’s history.  Each of these feasts call for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate.

Pentecost is a memorial of God giving His Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, and is also a celebration of harvest or first fruits.  The term Pentecost means “fiftieth day” because it is observed fifty days after the Festival of Passover.

In the second chapter of Acts is a record of what occurred on the day of Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ.  On that first Pentecost the letter of the Law was given, on this Pentecost the Spirit of grace filled the first fruits of the faith.  As the 120 in the upper room reeled from the overwhelming advent of the Spirit, they began to speak in languages that flowed effortlessly from their lips.  This inaugural Pentecost Sunday is held throughout Christendom to be the day the Church was born.

Jews who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Festival of Pentecost heard God glorified and the Gospel proclaimed.  But they soon began laughing at the disciples because they appeared to be drunk.  Peter rises and gives the first sermon of the fledgling faith.

“Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem…these men are not drunk, as you suppose…but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: and it shall be in the last days, God says, that I will pour forth of My Spirit…and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…even on My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit…”

When Peter finishes his quote of Joel, he begins to preach of Jesus who was crucified and died, but in keeping with King David’s prophesy, He rose from the dead, and that Father God has exalted Him at His right hand, until His enemies are defeated.  Peter declares this is “Jesus whom you crucified.”

When the crowd that had assembled “heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren what shall we do?”

With the Spirit of conviction heavy on the heart of the crowd Peter does not hesitate, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Three thousand souls were added to the Church on its birthday.

If I were asked to estimate the number of Bible colleges and seminaries within the borders of the United States, I would feel safe in saying there is probably a greater number of such institutions here, than there are in the rest of the world.  Yet, despite this, our nation for the most part seems to be in a headlong hedonistic hurry into oblivion.

I have a great respect for biblical scholarship.  I attend seminary myself and I am pursuing a Master of Divinity degree.  But I also recognize no amount of scholarship will ever supplant the need for a genuine move of the Spirit of God to convict the hearts of men, women, boys, and girls of their sinful ways and the need for Jesus Christ.

We need to free the Holy Spirit from whatever pneumatological box we have locked Him in and give Him free reign in our lives, our churches, and our ministries.  Otherwise we might as well scrawl “Ichabod” across the doors of our churches and quit pretending to be something we are not.

America needs a move of the Spirit of God as never before.  Peter said, “For the promise [of the Holy Spirit] is for you and your children and for all who are far off [in time], as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” Acts 2:39.

I wrote this to remind us of the Church’s first Pentecost Sunday, and even though it was the first, it doesn’t have to be the last.

God Was There

Before the origin of the universe there was nothing.  Then there was an incredible release of energy and all the matter that will ever exist in the universe came into being in a very short period of time.  Inorganic (non-living) matter came first and was followed by organic (living) matter later.  The universe as we know it will one day cease to exist.

This statement is a macro-narrative of the universe, or as some would say it is the big picture of things.  Is this statement the view point of theoretical physicists, the Bible, neither, or both?  If your answer is “both” you are correct.  This macro-narrative of the universe is held by theoretical physicists and the Bible.

I share this observation to show the Bible is not necessarily inconsistent with the theories of the scientific community and the factual discoveries made by scientists.  The two do not always agree though and here is why.

Science is the discipline of observation whether it is observing natural phenomena in the field or experiments in a laboratory.  Scientists are very good at observing, qualifying and quantifying what they observe, especially given the technological advances in the tools used in their continued research.  They are very good at observing, but not so at speculating.

When scientists theorize about what happened in the distant past, or what will happen in the future they are speculating about things beyond their ability to observe.  In almost every instance where scientists have speculated about the past and the future, they have repeatedly been proven wrong once their speculations were subjected to objective verification.

As long as the coelacanth was thought to be extinct for the last 60 million years, it was easy for scientists to speculate that its three pairs of flesh-lobed ventral fins were rudimentary legs, making it a transitional life-form between fish and amphibians.  They speculated it could walk on land, dwelt in shallow, coastal areas, and had lungs as well as gills.  Those speculations collapsed like a house of cards hit by a leaf-blower when a native fisherman caught one in his net between the waters of South Africa and Madagascar in 1938.

Here is the first wrong speculation and it’s a biggy.  They said the coelacanth was extinct.  Mark Twain once said, “the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  In like manner, scientific reports that the coelacanth is extinct have been greatly exaggerated.

Beginning in 1986 Hans Fricke began observing (take note of that word) the coelacanth in its native habitat.  His observations revealed the coelacanth is a pelagic, an open, deep seas fish, and does not inhabit shallow, coastal waters.  The coelacanth swims everywhere it goes and never attempts to use its three pairs of lobed fins to walk, even on the ocean floor.  Autopsies of dead specimens reveal it is a true fish with gills and no lungs.

Fricke remarked that the coelacanth has been resistant to evolution remaining “virtually unchanged” for more than 60 million years.  That is a scientific observation that corroborates what the Scriptures declare in Genesis 1:24, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind.”  In other words God created living creatures to replicate themselves, not to evolve.

Ichthyologists, people who study fish, are already speculating about the future of the coelacanth which will probably prove to be as accurate as their speculations about its past.  But I think God will be proved right again; the coelacanth will probably remain virtually unchanged.

The Bible is not a science textbook, but when the revelations contained in it overlap into a statement on the realities we observe to be true, it has never been proven to be wrong.  For instance, Job 26:7 says God “hangs the earth on nothing.”  The fact of the earth floating in space without support was proclaimed in Scripture thousands of years before the telescope was invented or Galileo published his findings.

And the truths declared in the Bible remain unchanged, whereas modern science remains in a state of constant flux.  Theoretical physicist once thought the universe began with a Big Bang 13.7 million years ago, but since the discovery of the Higgs Boson, also known as the God particle, they now say the universe is probably 13.81 billion years old.

As science gains more knowledge those time frames are subject to change, but the Scripture’s revelation in Genesis 1:1 remains unchanged, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  Whether that beginning was earlier or later than 13.81 billion years ago means little to me.  What is important to me is God was there.

A Reasonable Faith

In the early seventies I attended a weekend training session to prepare me to teach the youth of our church the January Bible Study for that year.  The study was entitled God/Man Alive, it was a teaching on the incarnation of Christ.  Our teacher in that training session was Dr. Harold Songer.  At that time he was the Assistant Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

During the course of the training session Dr. Songer dismissed the account of Jesus walking on water as an optical illusion, and His forty day fast as being a partial fast and not an absolute fast.  I was surprised by his statements and challenged him on both points.  It was my first introduction to the liberalism that almost engulfed Southern Baptist Seminaries and threatened to sweep them over the precipice of orthodoxy.

Songer maintained Jesus was walking on the shoreline in Matthew 14:22-33 (there are parallel accounts in the other Gospels) and, when His storm-tossed disciples saw Him from the boat, He appeared to be walking on water, but in fact was not.

The narrative goes on to report that Peter called out to Jesus, that if it was indeed Him, to ask him to come to Him on the water.  Seemingly without hesitation, Jesus beckons Peter, “come.”  Peter steps on the water and begins to walk toward Jesus on the sea, but takes his eyes of Jesus, and when seeing the wind and waves his faith falters.  He begins to sink.  But Jesus stretches out His hand, and grasps Peter’s.  Having rescued Peter, they both return to the boat and Jesus calms the wind and the sea.

I told Songer his optical illusion explanation did not conform to the biblical scene or explain how Jesus arrived at the boat.  He ignored my point and insisted it is impossible for anyone to walk on water.  When he claimed Jesus did not go without eating for forty days, I showed him Luke 4:2 where it reads, “He ate nothing in those days.”  Songer once again dismissed the biblical account by saying a man cannot live without eating for forty days.

It is common for unbelievers to raise the miraculous events recorded in the Bible as an objection to its trustworthiness, but it is uncommon for believers such as Songer was supposed to be, to levy the same concerns.  Maybe Songer was attempting to defend the Scriptures from these sorts of objections by offering a plausible rationale.  Who knows why Songer said what he did?  But I know typically discounting the biblical record raises equally difficult questions that are hard to answer.

I have found it to be the case that when a person repents of his or her sin, and turns in faith to Christ, they no longer question the miraculous in Scripture.  When a person becomes a “new creature” in Christ, the old way of thinking passes away and he or she sees the Bible in a new light (2 Corinthians 5:17).  When one experiences the miracle of the new birth, it is hard to deny the other miracles one reads about in the Word.

Then there is the nature of miracles themselves.  While the Christian cannot prove divine intervention occurred, skeptics cannot disprove them either.  It seems clear God has ordained that the nature of the supernatural must be embraced by faith without which it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6).  Many base their doubt in miracles on whether they have witnessed or experienced one themselves but lack of experience is not proof certain that others have not experienced or witnessed a supernatural event in their own lives.

Most people doubt the supernatural in the Scriptures, because to accede would imply the Scriptures’ moral dictates are from God and are true.  Embracing the miraculous has moral implications.  Biblical probity, if practiced, offers the best and most efficacious means of addressing and eradicating society’s ills, but we ignore them to our detriment.

Rather than offering farfetched stories that are unbelievable, the Bible when seen through the lens of a believer presents the best picture and explanation of the reality in which we exist.  The Scriptures are the clearest window that discloses the truth in every area of life. The believer is not an unreasonable fool.  No, ours is a reasonable faith.