Monday, April 17, 2006

Of Grace and War

Last week I went to a man's house to do some work there. I knew as soon as he called me that it was ordered of the Lord as I had met him nearly a year ago and saw first–hand the epitome of a defeated and downtrodden man that survived the first battle of Vietnam at the la Drang Valley. I went prayed up, ready and willing to see what the Lord had in store. I was a bit anxious though as he's quite intimidating and coarse and I'm far from an evangelist.

When I got there, he came out and I made sure not to ask him how he was – I already knew the answer. So, instead I greeted him with a "great to see you!", which actually received the same result. He, as expected immediately began to talk to me in his carport about his latest woes and sadness (justly so). I felt compelled to ask him to sit down as it's hard for him to stand. I then sat on the ground to listen. 15 minutes or so later, I jumped in, doing nothing more than showing him he had my attention and interest. His life does intrigue me as he's endured more hardships than most men would endure in 50 lifetimes. He shared much of his Vietnam experience – a dozen of his friends dying in his then 20 year old arms, his throat being slit by Vietnamese soldiers, being run through by bayonets and shot several times, etc. He has every right to be bitter, to be angry, to be hurting. He was speaking so angrily and rageful about it all, as you might expect. It is as real to him as if it were yesterday. What surprised me though was that he kept making God references and quoting Scripture throughout his dialogue. It, of course got my attention and turned my thought process a bit in another direction. Could he know the Lord? I began to silently ask the Holy Spirit to guide my words and be His mouthpiece in all of this as I truly had no idea what I was to say.

A while longer, after much listening and q and a, I brought everything back to his "God" comments. I asked him if he was a Christian to which he responded, "Yes. I am." I thought to myself, Ok Lord, my thoughts of this encounter and plans are all now out the window as I was expecting resistance and distance to God matters. I dug deeper, asking him about his salvation, His thoughts on his life and what it had become, etc. We discussed back and forth about many things regarding the Lord and life. I then asked him if he would mind if I would pray for him. At this point everything took a major turn. And I mean major.

This 61 year old Vietnam vet, scarred, torn and battered to the point that he cannot even stand up straight or walk more than a couple of feet at a time began to weep uncontrollably. He said he'd give all that he had in this world for someone to pray with him, then he reached out his hand for me to hold. I stood and prayed over him as he sat there weeping. Oddly, I never even closed my eyes as I felt that the Lord wanted me to see before my very eyes His heart for people. How He can break, with ease, even what we see as unbreakable. He continued to weep as I prayed. Prayer for healing of his physical body, as he's in pain 24/7, healing of the scars of war that I cannot even begin to imagine, healing of wasted years full of anger, hate and pain.

As I stopped praying, he told me he had never seen such a thing. A normal guy like me praying for him? We talked about how the church is failing and so many seem to not even care anymore. How "God's people" are often more into show and fake concern than they are interested in real life matters and struggles. We discussed things that actually matter – in eternity.

He then began to encourage me, saying how much he loved me. He kept just repeating "I love you. I love you" as he began to weep again. So much so that he went back into the house for a bit. He returned within minutes and we picked up where we had left off. He then started weeping again about all that he had done during the war. Killing, anger, pain, remorse. As he cried he kept saying "Joel, I wasn't a killer. I wasn't a soldier, I was a child." I asked him about when he accepted Christ and he knew immediately. 9 years old, at church with his mom – no wavering. But he then asked me "but how does one ever REALLY know?" – I knew right away that this was the reason for the whole meeting. He then shared how ever since the war, the devil had always told him he was no good anymore– undeserving of Heaven and had no chance to be whole again – even as specific as visions of his name not being found in the Book of Life and Jesus casting him away. That he would be damned to hell for what he had done. He said, although noone knew, he cries about it everyday. He said he begs God everyday to forgive him and allow him to escape hell despite what he'd done. He had no assurance, no peace. So we talked about this for quite a while. I had my Bible in the truck as the Lord now led me to share the parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20, that I had just read that morning. I shared with him how the Lord has no favorites. The man who accepted Jesus at 6 years of age and lived what we would see as "a perfect life" is no more God's son and no more "deserving" of grace than he is, despite years of a sadness, remorse and bad decisions. What an example. I read the entire passage to him and he sat there silent. (I would later offer him the job I was there for free as an illustration of how his salvation can't be earned or purchased – and it spoke volumes)

Much more discussion took place as I encouraged him. He then began to encourage me again in return saying, "Joel, you have such an uncanny way with people. I've never seen anything like it - and I've seen it all. Noone can get to me. If you're not meant to be a preacher then I don't know who is!". I had to laugh – the Lord is so good. He truly prepared the way just as I had prayed. Kenneth's "soil" could not have been any softer, despite what it looked like on the outside.

I never shed one tear the entire time I was there. There was no big rush of the Holy Spirit felt….by me. No thunderous voice of God speaking. No emotion on my end whatsoever really – other than the simplistic joy of being used by the Lord to touch a man who sat at home alone day in and day out pondering his wasted life and waiting for death. But God says I want to breathe life into that which is dead – where there is life, death can no longer reside.

God is moving.

For information about the movie "We Were Soldiers" that was written about this specific Vietnam battle, go here.

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