To “carry” or not to “carry”— is that the question?

pistolFirst, I want to acknowledge that I love to hunt, and love to shoot guns as much or more than anyone else, Christian or not. My leisure time almost always centers on rifles, shooting, and hunting. If I didn’t love ministry so much, I would certainly spend my life as a hunting guide. I am content to hunt or join others who intend to hunt.

Second, I am probably the worst example ever to advocate pacifism. Before my second career as a minister, I worked 29 years for the Air Force designing weapon systems. I estimate that somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 people have died by the weapon systems that I helped design. And yes, I still value my contribution to the security of my country and to the security of our allies.

So, as someone who loves guns and who spent an entire career designing weapon systems that kill people, I believe that of all people, I have a responsibility to ask myself and others about the theology of those who “carry” or consider using a weapon, concealed or not. In particular, I find it extremely interesting that I keep running into stateside ministers who carry a concealed pistol. And I confess that I have tended to support their choice to carry a concealed weapon.

Some ministers point to the obvious insecurity of our society. For instance, drug addicts recently tried to steal the air-conditioner condenser coil at my office, stole my own deer rifle out of my garaged truck, and stole a new nail gun off my back deck. In the USA, my city is rated as the third most dangerous city with a population under 200,000. So I find myself honestly asking if I should join the ranks of ministers who “carry.”

But since I am a missionary, I also keep asking myself about missionary martyrs, “What if missionary Jim Elliot had carried a pistol?” How might that “turn of tables” have affected history and the Kingdom of God? Was his death possibly a part of God’s plan? What if the Apostle Stephen had carried a sword? Was his death possibly a part of God’s plan? What if the Apostle Paul had carried a sword when he was arrested and flogged? Or for that matter, what if Jesus had carried a sword? Was His comment, “All who draw a sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52), meant merely for Peter in that instant, or is it meant as a broader theology that applies to me? How does Matthew 5:39 apply to me, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” For Christians like me who have designed weapons that kill people, these are hard words to hear. So of all people, I think I have the right to ask myself, and you, to reflect on what these words possibly mean.

The Apostle Paul fled over the Damascus wall at night, presumably to escape being murdered. But does that mean that I should carry a pistol for my personal security, or the security of my family? As far as I can tell, the New Testament never calls me to seek personal safety at the expense of others. Since Jesus never told the Roman centurion (Matthew 8: 5-13) to get out of the business of killing, I hope that my previous career is honorable to Him. I find plenty of Old Testament examples of killing. Interestingly, I find no New Testament examples of killing to obtain personal safety. I ponder why.

As a New Testament Christian and especially as a missionary, maybe I should stop focusing on the law (that is, trying to determine the right or wrong in preserving my personal safely) and instead focus on how He is calling me to live. As a lifestyle, I am repeatedly called to put absolute trust in Him. Presumably that trust includes a trust that He will protect me until such time that He calls me “home.” So I ask myself, “If I buy a pistol for protection, who am I trusting?” That is, what is my deeper motive and what is driving that motive?

This I know for sure about motives—I am called to absolute dependency on God. Both the Old Testament and New Testament repeatedly address that deeper motive.

I enjoy the book of Joshua—it recounts epic battles. In the midst of those battles, however, God says, “Do not be afraid” (Joshua 10: 8). God throws the enemy into confusion and even kills them with giant hailstones, “Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel” (Joshua 10:14). Instead of relying on his army, Joshua depended on God to control the battle. From Joshua, I learn two things: First, God controls my life and safety, not ISIS, not immigrants, not the president, not the military weapon systems that I helped design, and not even the local drug addict who recently stole my deer rifle. Second, God tells me, “Do not be afraid.” So I am challenged to trust God, and to reject fear. Presumably, trusting God empowers me to reject fear. These principles are not simply Old Testament laws, they indicate deeper motives that drive a New Testament lifestyle. Perhaps I can trust Him just as Jim Elliot trusted Him.

So, should I obtain a pistol to protect my family? If my deeper motives are to trust God and to reject fear, maybe I should ask a different question. Dare I ask, “Can I trust God to protect my family in a better way than I can protect them, myself? Am I depending on Him absolutely, or am I wanting to buy a pistol because I fear? Once again, my motives look like a primary issue. Is fear driving my motives toward self-dependency or is dependency on God my motive? These are hard questions for me to ask. My childhood heroes were John Wayne and Audie Murphy. Considering the crime rate in my city, this kind of faith is much more difficult than carrying a pistol. This kind of faith seems radical, even distasteful. Frankly, I’d find it easier to carry a pistol.

Mark 4:23-27, relates the well-known story of Jesus calming the sea. Jesus slept through the storm because He had complete faith in God’s power over His safety. Jesus slept peacefully even while the disciples expressed terror. And Jesus scolded them, not for failing to requisition a boat with higher walls, but for failing to have faith that God would protect them.

In Luke 8:36, Jairus came with a request for Jesus to raise his daughter from the dead. Jesus said, “Fear not, only believe.”

And in Matt. 28:17 Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Somehow I always thought that God had given Satan authority over earth. But Jesus now says that all authority on earth has been given to Him. Since He now has all authority “on earth,” can I trust His power right now even when crime or death come my way? Honestly, to carry a pistol seems like an easier choice, and for me, a cheaper type of faith.

My government leaders tell me that terrorists want to kill me. My police tell me that drug dealers are willing to kill me to steal my possessions. Some believe that anarchists and foreign leaders are about to tumble our government and interrupt our supply of food, water, and energy. But Jesus challenges me to look deeper to identify my personal motives. In practical terms that drive motives and behavior, I ask myself, what does “Fear not, only believe” mean?

Perhaps “to carry or not to carry” is not really the most appropriate question after all.

For those wanting to read more about this subject, we recommend John Howard Yoder’s What Would You Do? available at https://www.amazon.com/What-Would-John-Howard-Yoder/dp/0836136039/.

Finding a balance between compassion and safety

136475-370x400-jsw_antique_balance_scalesYesterday, the news services noted that almost 100 churches across America are telling our president that his recent ban on immigrants from seven countries fails to find the right balance between compassion toward refugees and protection of Americans. I felt proud that churches would speak up, until I started to reflect on what scripture says about balance. Then I felt convicted.

Scripture never instructs Christians to seek a balance between compassion and safety. What if missionary and martyr Jim Elliot had sought a balance between mission and safety? What if the Apostle Stephen had sought a balance between mission and safety? What if the Apostle Paul had sought a balance between mission and safety? Or for that matter, what if Jesus had sought a balance between mission and safety? The Bible never calls me to safety. As a Christian and especially as a missionary, I am called to risk everything, especially safety.

I am called to absolute dependency on God, not on America’s might or even on it’s immigration policy. In Joshua 10: 8, God says, “Do not be afraid.” Thus, God is in control of life and safety, not ISIS, not immigrants, not the president, not the military, and not even the local drug addict who recently stole my deer rifle.

Mark 4:23-27, relates the well-known story of Jesus calming the sea. Jesus slept through the storm because He had complete faith in God’s power over His safety. Jesus slept peacefully while the disciples expressed terror. And Jesus scolded them, not for failing to requisition a boat with higher walls, but for failing to have faith.

In Luke 8:36, Jairus came with a request for Jesus to raise his daughter from the dead. Jesus said, “Fear not, only believe.”

In Matt. 28:17 Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Since He said “on earth,” perhaps I can trust His power right now even between me and whoever comes my way.

Insights of Dr. Jim Davis

I’m going to start by reading a short passage from “Where He Leads Me: an Account of a Lifetime of Serving God.” If you want to read more about Dr. Jim’s life, please see https://www.amazon.com/Where-He-Leads-Me-Lifetime/dp/1515192687/.

IMG_9193 - Copy“I [Jim] was born August 2, 1929. My Dad [Charlie] who could neither read nor wrote, rented 20 acres of land and a small two-room house. He had one mule to farm cotton. Our family life revolved around farm work. Up at or before dawn, and to bed – in good times – shortly after dark and working hard all the time. We went to school in winter but only when we weren’t needed for work.

One room or our home served as kitchen, dining area and living room while the other served as bedroom for the family. We had an outdoor toilet, a well and hand pump, but no electricity.”

In every way, Jim relished his heritage on a simple Arkansas farm. From my earliest memory, I can still hear him sing:

“Johnson had an old gray mule, his name was Simon slick
He’d rall his eyes and shake his tail, and how that mule could kick.
and he’d go heehaw uh uh, heehaw uh uh, comin’ on down the trail.”
[out of respect for your ears, I will refrain from trying to singing the other three verses]

Continuing from Where He Leads Me: An Account of a Lifetime of Serving God:

“In the spring of 1945 the flood waters came. I was working in the water about 14 hours a day. I was 14 years old and trying to do the work of two young men. One morning after working all night, I needed to repair the Farmall tractor. Dad went to get parts. He found me when he returned, unconscious under the tractor, covered with oil, hemorrhaging blood.

The doctor came and told my parents I was dying of tuberculosis. He said I had to go to the tuberculosis sanatorium in Boonville Arkansas. He said that I’d be there for whatever was left of my life.

[Since there was no tuberculosis medication in 1945, it was an automatic death sentence.]

One day after spending 15 months in the sanatorium, a very well dressed man came into my room. In a booming voice he said, I’m a minister with the Assemblies of God church and I’ve come to tell you Jesus loves you!” I was bitter; here I was dying of TB! I told him to leave, I didn’t want what he was selling, told him he was a liar. “God loves me? I hate any God that would treat a young man the way He’s treating me. Leave! Get out!” I shouted. He left, but he also left a Bible. One night I was so angry, hurt, bored, and alone, in pure desperation I picked up that Bible and started reading. I don’t know what passages I read, but I accepted Christ as my Savior that night. When I awoke the next morning I took a deep breath: it didn’t hurt! When the doctor came I told him it didn’t hurt. His response, “You have tuberculosis for life. It will hurt.”

After four x-rays, they confirmed that I no longer had tuberculosis.”

There is a famous radio personality from the mid-1900s named Paul Harvey who use to say that in addition to any events, there is the “rest of the story” behind the events.

Today I want to tell you the rest of the story:

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