The Veteran Christian

maxresdefaultIn today’s American culture, the term Veteran is often times perceived as being synonymous with general service as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. The word is used to separate those who have deployed and returned from conflict with enemy forces from the majority of the force. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have seen a cultural transition to where service men and women have repeatedly completed tours and the populace just operates under the assumption that every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine have been to ‘hell and back’ while accomplishing great things for our nation. I do not mean to belittle national service in any way – far from it! But when we consider the actual definition of the word (something to the effect of ‘having knowledge and experience from long service in an occupation’) we find a plethora of other uses and applications.

Have you ever been described as a Veteran Christian? I was, and it changed my perspective on Christianity dramatically. The week of Veteran’s Day 2015 ushered in a typical Southern Baptist, pro-military service honoring those who currently serve and have served in the past. My Pastor had us stand and be recognized. As one of about three active duty service members standing in a solid crowd of retirees, I experienced several thoughts.

Foremost, I thought about how far away retirement seemed and how awesome it was to be around so many who were strong enough to stick it out to the end. Secondly, I thought about how interesting it was to have such a gem of a Church in close proximity to my base with so few active duty members present. Lastly, I felt a surge of something that felt like pride, emanating not from me, but the congregation. I took a few cursory glances and discovered that out of those of us standing, some were smiling, a few seemingly uncomfortable, and some just patiently (or not) waiting to sit down again.

It was those who remained seated that swelled the Church with that intense level of love and support to the point where you could savor it. They represented all of the loved ones who sacrificed alongside their service member(s). They were the youth who looked up to the forces with either wonder or desire for their own achievement. They were the elderly who had weathered conflicts that younger generations only read about. And they all, in those moments, looked around and cared for us, genuinely thanked us, and we all reflected on our own experiences.

205157The applause subsided and we were again seated. The Pastor started speaking and I settled in for what I thought was going to be a quasi-State of the Union address for our Christians serving in the Armed Forces. I was wrong. He called for all Christians to stand, even those visiting and passing through, those who were not integrated members of the Church. Approximately ninety seven percent of the room now stood. The Church fell quite silent.

The Pastor continued, “There are many Veterans among us. But what about Veteran Christians. We honor those who serve to fight our nation’s wars, but how often do we honor those who fight on the various fronts of our spiritual war?”

I was dumbfounded. I had always been raised to respect elders and listen to the wisdom of the experienced, but never before had it truly occurred to me that terms like ‘Prayer Warrior’ could exist or be attributed in that same military sense with regard to spiritual warfare. I looked around again and couldn’t help but focus on the elders with new eyes. How many years of prayer had those lips spoke? How many hymns and praises had those voices sung? How many cries to God had those hearts wailed among tears? How many souls have been won for Christ through those people? How many…?

To my surprise, the Pastor defined a Veteran Christian as someone who had been a Christian for more than three years. That seemed like an awfully short period of time in my opinion, but then again, theoretically a Soldier may become a Veteran within their first year of service. (And time in service does not entirely dictate one’s personal convictions, performance, or enthusiasm.) He began to seat people incrementally by years in Christendom. He started with those who were still new Christians – those with three or less years under their belt. A few people seated themselves to include my wife and oldest son, who now joined my youngest son (who remained seated as he has not yet truly come to Christ).

The Pastor picked up the pace. Those with five years; those with ten; fifteen, etc. He called twenty and still I stood. I was floored to think back and realize that I came to Christ two decades ago. I seated myself when he called twenty five and the Holy Spirit took over. I couldn’t believe how much time had gone. People shoot for twenty as a goal for retirement from military service. I had already hit that period as a Christian without realizing it. Additionally, the truth of my past came crashing in on me and I was humbled before the Lord in my heart and mind as I realized how much of that time I had wasted, sinned, and failed to repent/account for my actions. I was by all rights a Veteran Christian, and not just because of years since I was saved…

While a Christian, I had strayed to the point of pure detriment. I made poor choices. I had repeatedly failed to uphold my household to the Lord. My marriage almost failed. I was dangerously close to becoming an alcoholic. I was angry and hostile and reclusive. I was not a positive example for my children and wife. I was a cancer in my own home; a less-than-lukewarm Christian who claimed the title but didn’t even bother talking the talk, much less walking the walk. My wife, a relatively new Christian was the catalyst God used to keep my family on track as I failed. There I was with twenty years and my wife was the one serving as God requires. I realized that I had squandered so many opportunities and missed so many critical pieces to our lives in Christ in those moments.

Ironclad-movieBy the time our Pastor had reached the most senior Veteran Christian in our congregation, he was between eighty and ninety years. Again, that’s not living years, but years as a born again Christian! This was a critical turning point in my life and a springboard for my service for God. Everyone has a ministry and although I am no Pastor, Minister, Chaplain or Missionary, I am a Veteran Christian. I have gained much experience over the course of my life thus far and with God’s help in newfound realizations, I can use these to encourage, uplift, and even hold others accountable. My ignorance and shortcomings over the years have opened a pathway for me to connect to others with issues people don’t want to discuss. I refuse to spend another twenty years failing to act. I know how to serve my country as a Veteran, but I really needed to start serving God’s kingdom accordingly.

I challenge all my fellow Veteran Christians to do the same. Use your talents, play to your strengths and draw on all your lessons learned to support one another just as you would your seniors, peers, and subordinates in military service. Be a Veteran for your family. Be a Veteran for your Church. Be a Veteran for God. Harness that wisdom and embrace the opportunities God has given you, embracing even the worst of circumstances to draw yourself closer to God. Doing so may just help lead others to experience the same. Let us equip ourselves and our fellow Christians for our everyday spiritual battles just as we would (and do) for our fellow service members. If you will train as you fight for war on earth, embrace the same dedication to duty for the eternal war!