Medals and scars
A few years ago I read Warren Wiersbe's, Be Strong: (Joshua): Putting God's Power to Work in Your Life (David C. Cook, new edition 2010). Like most of the "Be" series books it was on point and powerfully convicting. One sentence touched me deeply. "Sadly, we have too many leaders today who proudly display their medals, but they can’t show you any scars.”
Later that day I packed my "I love me wall" in a box for storage. Plaques, diplomas, certificates, awards, commendations, and even a couple of medals from my days at The Citadel were placed in a file box. They've been in storage ever since. At the time I thought all of those emblems of accomplishment were maybe a little egotistical and shouldn't be out there so visibly. It was a shallow move of hollow self-righteousness, however. You see, there were suddenly blank places on my office walls. There weren't any scars to hang in their places. And, who would want to look at scars anyway. But, Wiersbe's point knocked me down a notch. I was one of those comfortable leaders to which he was referring. Plenty of medals, few scars.
At least, no visible scars, yet. We all know that there are plenty of scars, though. Serving him, at whatever level, in a fallen world is going to leave scars, especially when the secular worldview has leaked into the Christian world so subtly. It must be one of the reasons so many pastors and leaders walk away from their calling every month, and so many believers are spiritually bitter. Mostly they are emotional wounds that have healed over---words, anger, criticisms, jealousy, envy, comparisons, mind games, and the fiery darts of an adversary with great aim. For the most part, the only visible scars are the ones of age or recklessness----gall bladders, appendices, cancers, spots, lines, and wrinkles removed, or the wild swing of a hammer. Warren Wiersbe was right. Comfortable church leaders don't have a lot of scars.
Suddenly, we can see the physicality and threat of serving Christ around the globe, especially in the Muslim world. There are plenty of scars there, physical and emotional. The filmed beheading of Christians, even women and little children, broadcast in the most gruesome, vivid pictures and clips reminds us that the prophesies of the Bible are in real-time now, and that scars may actually be the evidences of faith in the years to come. We are shocked and offended by the pictures of people suffering for the sake of Christ. More than that, we may be experiencing reality a little more right now. The scars are suddenly too real.
The Apostle Paul handled beatings, scourging, and imprisonment. Some people questioned his apostolic authority and even his personal commitment to Christ. He didn't defend himself with his Pharisaic accomplishments or education though he certainly could have. When he spoke of his medals it was mostly as a connection to the Jewish people, his own people. When challenged, he wrote, "From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus" (Galatians 6:17). Evidently he bore the scars of suffering and knew that spiritual leadership would require sacrifice and the resulting damage to his body. The marks of Christ would authenticate his leadership and calling as an apostle.
Of course, his scars weren't his boast. He wrote, "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ..." (Galatians 6:14, ESV). Paul, the champion of faith by grace, knew that he was healed by Christ's scars (see Isaiah 53:5, ESV). His faith, then, was not reliant on medals or scars. He had them, mind you, but he didn't show them off. Christ's scars were enough.
There's a scene in my favorite movie Jaws, that resonates right here. The three of them, Captain Quint, Matt Hooper, and Chief Brody were enjoying a snort or two as they stalked the great white shark. They started comparing scars. As they did it they learned things about each other that were notable in the developing story. Some of the scars were visible physical injuries while others were emotional. What was noteworthy, however, is that their scars were the central constructs of their lives, and not their accomplishments. Their scars actually defined them.
And, that may be the point of Wiersbe's quote. Certainly Christian leaders in the Muslim world have scars, plenty of them. As that menace crosses oceans and seas, we may have them too. And, we better be as ready for them when they come, as we are ready for the medals.
But, we are not of those shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
Hebrews 10:39, ESV
Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God, and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
1 Peter 4:16-17, ESV