Trust: Combat and Preparation Proverbs 3:5-6
Intro – Talk about Faith, our collective walk in the world, and the chaos that happens around us. Talk about God shaping us, through the Holy Spirit, to be more like Jesus. Talk about Him whittling away our sins and bringing us closer to Him by the trials and tribulations we face.
Deployment to Combat – 2005 - Preparation
Scripture – Proverbs 3:5-6
Proverbs 3:5-6 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Point of Faith – I was walking faith, but it was with a caveat – I always had my pack and could do it myself (or so I thought). God began to work in me with greater emphasis that it was His plan, not mine, which I should focus on...
Story – I wanted to be doing what God wanted me to do. I think He was alright with me going and told me to go by certain events that happened prior. I also think I went because of my family and my obligations to my fellow Marines. I helped in combat in ways that blessed people around me, though I saw and did some awful things. I know I will have to answer for that someday, and hope Jesus’ blood will dampen the wrath that God may feel. But God was preparing my family for the stroke and its aftermath, even though we couldn’t see it.
Sermon – Trust: Combat and Preparation:
Prayer – O God, you are our Creator, our Friend, our comforter, our guide, and our Savior. Let us hear what you have to say in this short time. Let my voice fade away and your Holy Spirit come to tell us how to fight against chaos with your peace that surpasses all understanding. Let us see the bigger picture of you and your nature, character, and grace through the Story of the Littles and our story in the midst of it. We ask it all in Jesus’s name. Amen.
Intro – I stand before you now a physically broken man, but it was not always so. Though there were people more talented physically and mentally then me before my stroke 8.5 years ago, I had a pretty good package of gifting’s from God above. So much so that I was a pretty good athlete, a lawyer, and a Marine. Though there were a lot of faults I had, my gifting’s made me good enough to be a husband, father, partner in a law firm, Marine Officer, and I was blessed to find Christ and begin a relationship with the Triune God.
I didn’t know what God had in store for me, and the three trials that have rocked and changed my family, my church, and beyond stated when terrorists struck the South Tower of the World trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. The lives of Americans, the known world, and my family were intertwined with the happenings of 9/11 for at least a decade and have changed the way we and others look at the world for perhaps generations. But God used the facts of this world to prepare my family and beyond us to look more like Jesus, by trusting Him. Let me explain...
I was a small guy growing up, and not much has changed. But I was physically coordinated and born with what my pastor calls a “Warrior Spirit.” I went to University of Texas and tried out for the baseball team, like my brother who was on the baseball team from 1985-86, only I was in for a shock – there were really good players at Texas. So based on the fact that I was not good enough, the coach did not accept me as a “walk on.” Realizing I had made a mistake in not trying to get better, I played semi-pro for a couple of years, and then quit, thinking I had other gifts that I could pursue. The Coach – Coach Gustafson, asked me to be a manager for my last two years of undergraduate studies, and I accepted.
Then, I went to law school at UT, and graduated in 1992. Midway through law school, I found the Marines Corps – or maybe it found me. It was a match, and in my view all that UT law school was not - the Marine Corps was. It was a place of structure, of do’s and don’ts, of the right way and the wrong way to do things. There was grey all over UT law school, which was great training for a lawyer, but something I didn’t expect. At the time, it was everything law school wasn’t, and that attracted me. It was also something that I dreamed about from a very young age...
I told my Dad and my Step-mom, Kim, about the decision to join the Marine Corps. When I told them I had something to tell them, they made a reservation at the Headliner’s Club, an old club at the top of a building in Austin, Texas, a very nice club. As I told them about my decision, they were thinking I would tell them something else, and were in shock! They handled it nicely, and my Dad said – and I’ll never forget this – “Whatever you do, hold onto Amy Parmeter” – they thought I was going to tell them I was going to marry Amy! I did, by the way, and it was the best thing that’s happened to me, other than my relationship with God!
Unfortunately, I was in the wilderness from a Faith standpoint. The Lord was not through with me, and slowly brought me to Him through characters and events...
Forging Ahead –
We went on active duty in 1993, and it was incredible. You know, sometimes you have a sense that that is where your talents lie, and this was no exception. I was – vocationally - home! But my family came first, and so in 1996 we moved back to Texas. The Eagle, Globe, and Anchor was emblazoned on my heart. I am a Marine and will always be so. Semper Fidelis (which means “Always Faithful”)!
So, I had gotten out of the active duty and – it turns out - the drilling reserve for family. In fact, I left command of a reserve unit – Wpns Co, 1st Battalion 23 Marines – because our unit’s summer drill was scheduled at a time when my second child, Ashley, was to be born. It was an easy call for me to make, but the Battalion CO decided to find a new company commander (which was his right to do). I asked the CO, what billets (or openings he had) at battalion, and he told me all that was available was a Watch Officer. Well, I was a Major, and a Watch Officer was a First Lieutenant’s job (which was two ranks below me), and someone who “watches” the command and control center, but doesn’t do anything keep a log. I knew that I had to leave the battalion, then, and so I thought my Marine Corps career had ended, and I was alright with that (after all, I was a Major of Marines, a rank higher than I thought I could achieve), for family was first!
Well, 2001 came and it looked like a whole different world, but I – as I grew in faith – knew that I only would get back in if God wanted me to...but it was hard. The Marine in me kept me in a struggle – I wanted to be where the Marines were – on the front line. But I was fine until I thought I heard the Lord calling. It was not until January of 2004 that I began to feel something stirring. For example, in March, I watched Nick Berg’s beheading, and thought of my family and the position I would take with them, and the Marines that were fighting the enemy in Iraq – if I did not go, someone else would! But the main thing in my mind was to go only if God told me to go – nothing else mattered. The steps that occurred over the next six months told me that not only was God okay with my going, He – in my opinion – wanted me to go.
Illustration – King Hezekiah 2 Kings 18 – 19
Now before you say God wouldn’t send you to war, think of King Hezekiah in the Old Testament. In 2 Kings 8-9 we learn about the rule of King Hezekiah. He trusted in the Lord and the Scripture say not one of the Kings of Judah, what is called nowadays The Southern Kingdom, was closer to God then He was. He took down the Asherah Poles and stopped the Worship of Baal, and he also tried to stop paying tribute to the King of Assyria.
King Sennacherib tried to make an example of Hezekiah, and so Hezekiah ended up paying tribute to his anyway. But that wasn’t enough. The army of Assyria came down and nearly removed The Northern Kingdom from the map, then set its sights on Jerusalem. Because Hezekiah kept the Law of Moses, though, God spared the city of Jerusalem, even though they were outnumbered. He even gave Hezekiah another fifteen years to live, because of is mercy. Why, because Hezekiah trusted the Lord, even when the odds were against him and Jerusalem, and the Lord came through for Judah as a result. King Hezekiah is the biblical example of Proverbs 3:5-6 lived out.
Scripture - About now you are probably looking for a Scripture that I’m going to point to, and there are many, given the breadth of 9/11 and the story that is unfolding in my family, with this Sermon being the first trial. I will give you an old favorite of mine, one that was handed down to me by a young Captain in the Marine Corps as I began to walk out of the wilderness and back to God in the mid-90’s. His name was Charles Feldmann, and we couldn’t have been more different and yet the same. It was at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego, and it was on a book he gave me called Point Man, by Steve Farrar, which is an excellent book, by the way.
It was Proverbs 3:5-6, and it was about Trusting in God. (give a little time for them to find it). It says:
Proverbs 3:5-6 New International Version (NIV)
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
I must be quick to mention, if you haven’t already gotten the picture, that this passage was given to me in the mid-90’s, and I was still trying to follow its instructions in 2001 and beyond. Maybe that should tell you all you need to know about me and my slow walk to God. Anyway, the passage is under the Fear of the Lord part of Chapter 3 of Proverbs. It is a word from Solomon and the Wisdom writers, and tells us how to live under God’s will and pragmatically. From Verses 5-6, we are told to trust in the Lord, submit, and He will make your paths straight.
Only there is and was struggle and chaos in the world, even then when the Scriptures were written. In 2004 I was thinking of going to combat, where chaos is paramount and the rule of the day. But Proverbs 3:5-6 is not saying that it is easy or even that it is not fraught with evil. Only that if you walk according to God’s way, it is good and for a purpose. Walking in God’s way means doing what is righteous and promotes justice. One other thing I might mention regarding Proverbs 3:5-6. Part of an American dream is self-reliance. Yet here again we have a paradox, for the people of God are the most resistant to coercion or control by humans. The self-reliance which Americans dream of is tied to Jesus Christ, for any un-Godly self-reliance is a house of cards, that will fold when the going gets tough. For the sake of argument, I was going where the going gets as tough as it can, in this world...
Proverbs 3 is a summary of correct human behavior toward God (vv. 1-12) and toward other people (vv. 21-35).
Verses 5-6 are part of the teaching on the “fear of the Yahweh, or the LORD.”
Verse 5: To be in awe of God, though, requires that you trust Him, which verse 5 says. This is, in my view, contrasted to the worldly way, or earthly way of doing things. This “self-reliance,” that is so typical now of Americans, even American Christians, who trusts in their own insight, power, and wealth. By trusting in themselves, they are not trusting in God and committing idolatry.
Verse 6: In all your ways submit, or more technically accurate “know” Him, bears a lot to say in six words. “Ways” refers to all human conduct. Nothing is excluded, from hidden to plain sight; with friends and enemies. “Knowing God” is the Old Testament way of describing a close relationship with God. We know Him so well that we act like Him in all ways. Doing justice, for example, was God’s will in the Old Testament. Knowing God meant that you would do justice when the time came for it in this world.
Family – Though I went, my family and particularly Amy had what I consider the toughest duty of all; to watch, wait, and see (with no power but prayer to throw it the situation). I had a seven year old son, Sam, a five year-old daughter, Ashley, and a one and a half year-old daughter, Sarah. I think I am still not as close to Sarah as the other two because I was gone during the phase of her life where she needs and wants bonding!
I sit and listen to the stories of Amy watching every night to see Marines drive up in a vehicle to tell her that her husband is gone to think of the nightmares she had and has about that. Three kids and all alone to take care of them! I know there are single Moms and Dads in the house – and I purposely put Amy in that condition for 10 months. When I think of Sam’s baseball, and Ashley’s dance, and Sarah – so young, so sweet, so innocent – it’s a struggle to keep from tearing up - and I missed all of that and more.
Yet, it seems – looking back on it now - as if God was using that to prepare us for something more significant.
So, to boil it all down, I volunteered for Iraq and went in January 2005. I did it for three reasons: God – in my thinking - was okay with it; I couldn’t stand for issues (like protecting my family and standing up when it counts) and not go; and if I didn’t go, someone else in the Marines Corps would, like my friend now-Colonel Terri Zimmerman. I must say that most everyone, though admittedly shocked, supported me, from my family, to the church, to my law firm. For example, my law firm paid the difference between what the Marine Corps paid me and my draw. My extended family and my church rallied around my family and walked with them through the ten months I was gone.
I didn’t quite know it, but it was hard on Amy. She didn’t quite get why I went (and still has questions about it), and all she could see was I was leaving her to care for three children, and possibly not come back at all. The fear was real for her, and she waited six months and 18 days while I was in the combat theatre for the car and two Marines to get out and tell her that I was gone and would not be coming home alive. She had to trust in God, because I had left her! And the body of Christ took care of her until I returned.
What I didn’t know, and what she didn’t know, was God was preparing her and me for something that He had in store for our family in the future.
The Work-up and Iraq -
It’s funny how things work. Here I was, volunteering for a year’s active duty, and the Division Staff Judge Advocate (who I worked for in the legal chain), had a proposal for me. It seems that I was being assigned to the 2nd Marine Regiment, and the Division SJA had a problem. It seems that an active duty Major (I was a Major, too, at the time) had less time that I did as a Major, and so I really should be the Regimental SJA, and he be the deputy. So the Division SJA thought he would throw me a curve ball: he would make me the RSJA, but in order for that to happen, I would have to extend my time from 1 years to 2 years. Don’t you just love how the Devil plays with you down here? I declined, saying that my family and my firm had the understanding that I was volunteering for 1 year, not two, but that he could order me to stay and I would. The chess match ended there, for he didn’t want to order me, and so I was the DSJA.
Now why would I tell you that story? Because I felt, and told Major Mike Sayegh’s wife, the other Major, that I would take care of him (to the best of my ability) over in Iraq, and I stayed true to my word. I even went on the first combat mission, Operation Matador, in part to protect him. To be truthful, I also did it because the Marine Corps motto is First to Fight, and on the tip of the spear, and where is the tip if not engaged in battle? I believe that God did have me over there, caring for the Marines in Bible Study, and doing what was ethically right, even though there was chaos and primal feelings that were rampant.
The Church –
Now what I didn’t know, but have since learned, is that our church was undergoing a transformation of its own. It started way back when the five families drew up a constitution and bylaws that would allow people to worship God without any of the trappings that a patriarchal society and religion show. But it was also a church full of mission and purpose.
The mission and purpose were there and just needed an action to get them going. Though there were plenty of preparatory actions, the three things my family went through – according to some – transformed Sunset Canyon Baptist Church (“SCBC”) into not only believing, but doing also to the nth degree.
You see, though you may not know it by looking at me, the rest of my family is cherished and loved in the church. With Amy, as sweet as can be, and the three children – Sam, Ashley, and Sarah – who were so young when I left for combat duty, there was a hole that the church quickly filled up – along with our extended family, of course. In fact, SCBC is known as the Family, and they acted like one to us. Amy trusted the church to reach out like the body of Christ, and it did.
They were there when I couldn’t be: to care for the family, cook meals to boost what Amy did herself, mowed the yard, and comforted when hope was lost and I seemed so far away. You see, preparation did not only happen for my family, it was happening in the church, also!
In Iraq – Trust
I got to Iraq in February 2005. We did a replacement with the 7th Marine Regiment in Al Anbar Province, which is in the western portion of Iraq. We had three battalions, 3/25 at Haditha & Hit, 3/2 at Al Qaim, and 1st LAR, which is a Light Armored Recon Battalion in Ar Rutbah. Our first Operation as a stand-alone regiment was Operation Matador, which was in the Al Qaim area (near Syria). I went to Al Qaim and went out into the field at night for operations. As I put on my helmet, and got my gear squared away, I said a prayer, and got in our HMMV. Then I went out past the gate, and into the night (with no lights or anything giving away our position). I didn’t know what lay in store for me or the regiment that I was attached to, but I said a prayer of trust. I trusted that God would look out for me and the regiment to which I was attached. I trusted that God would look out for my family if I should pass away. And I trusted that God would be with me always, there or in eternity, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Bring it to the Congregation -
I said at the beginning that I am a physically broken man. And that is true. I am broken on the outside. But everyone is broken spiritually. The spiritual part, or the inside is what is really important. And inside, though the world thinks I’m broken (and I do, too, sometimes), I am whole because of Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit living inside me! Are you?
So what does this sermon have to do with you! A nice story, a Scripture from Proverbs, and a biblical story thousands of years old; what does it have to do with your life and living in this world today?
Everything! Because “trust” in the Lord, and being in a close relationship with Him makes life in this world better and more peaceful. We have so many things to worry about, but the truth is we don’t have to worry at all. We just have to trust. What does trust look like for you?
Trust is knowing it will all be well when the bills are higher than your income. Trust is knowing that the medical news, whether it be the big “C”, the baby born with cerebral palsy, or the father with dementia, is just the beginning of a life that will bring your family closer to God, and be alright (after the tears!). Trust is knowing that this world will bring devastation like you’ve never known, including divorce, and that God still has good things in store for those who love the Lord and are called to His purpose (Rom 8:28). Trust is knowing that God is God, and you will be alright because He is sovereign, and cares for you as His child.
I know it’s not easy. My life has not been at times. But I have a peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7) because I trust that what my eyes see is not the end of the story. It’s what God sees that matters, and I trust in that even when it’s looking bleak down here on this earth. My life is a testimony that with God, anything’s possible (Matt 19:26). Let’s pray.
God, you are bigger than even we at our best can see. Make us revel in Your mystery, and believe what we cannot yet see, but what Your Word tells us. Let us trust in you and not in our own selves, especially when it looks like there is no way out. The way out is with You, till eternity. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.