What Valor Is Not

The crack of gunfire rebounded just inside the school building’s walls. Instinctively, the guard recognized what was happening. He cowered, waiting  outside the building, until the relentless sounds ceased.

Several things suggest the guard didn’t fulfill his expected role. His primary duty was to keep the students secure from danger. He wore the uniform. For years, he had accepted a paycheck for the job, knowing of the possibility of just such an event. I don’t even have to mention his name or the school where he worked. You already know who I’m talking about. And what you think of him isn’t positive.

You’ve probably been in a group of people talking about someone like this. One guy proclaims his bravery and says, “If I were in this situation, I would rush in there and disarm that shooter before he knew what hit him…” You know the one. People shy away from admitting that they feel uncertain what they would do if they were in that school guard’s position. Then this guy who always talks before he thinks proclaims his bravery. Everyone knows he is almost always the first one to break and run in the face of danger.

“Stolen Valor” is a term applied to the phenomenon of people falsely claiming military awards or badges they did not earn, service they did not perform, Prisoner of War experiences that never happened, and other tales of military derring-do that exist only in their minds. The person who never served in the military but wears a uniform to public events, complete with medals, is stealing valor from those who actually served. He accepts the attention and tells stories he may have heard on television.1 If caught, he always has an explanation. “Oh, I just wanted to show my own appreciation for people who served because I have so much respect for them.”

Becoming proficient in playing certain war-like video games has nothing to do with valor. It’s a game, and there are no dangers involved, except wasting money and time instead of doing something productive. There is no bravery or sacrifice in such a game. While they are sometimes used by the military to train troops to fight, outside that realm, they are counterproductive to useful life.

Doing something that seems brave to receive acclaim for it is not valor. There is such a thing as counterfeit valor. Counterfeit valor will always have an angle of personal gain of some kind. And nobody becomes valiant at the moment valor is needed. If there is valor, it has developed over much of the life of the person.

Today we live in the shadow of superheroes. A new one is created for the theater regularly. The ones we knew years ago undergo metamorphosis to be able to do battle with the great powers of darkness. (As if the real world doesn’t have enough of its own darkness to deal with!) People in the theater seats are in two categories. They may glory in the unrealistic story of such a being winning over impossible odds. Or, they may become inspired to become a real hero, just because they see parallels with the society we all live in.

Valor is not only found in the military and when people are at war. It must also be said that not all people of valor are Christian. I am convinced that God is working in all people to build them and to draw us all to a closer relationship with Him. Christians are not perfect people. God is working within each one to form His Character in us. We all react differently. We are individuals. We each respond to stimuli differently than others do. He is leading all people through their experiences. It is up to us as individuals to respond to His leading.

In the Bible, Naaman was commander of the Syrian military. God had worked through him to defeat Israel and teach them a lesson. One of the captives his forces took was a young Israelite girl who now worked in his home. Still, he was called a mighty man of valor.2 Through the narrative, we see how God directed events to soften his heart.

There is a lot to learn in Namaan’s story that we will explore later. For now, be careful of two things. The first is that we don’t consider ourselves higher and better than who we really are. Second, remember that God is working to develop in you the highest character to live the very best life and to accomplish the most amazing things in our lives. You can be a powerful blessing to those around you. Where does it all begin? That’s the next installation of Valor life.

For now, Live Valor.

Questions to ask yourself. If you feel like it, you can even share some of your responses in the comments.

  1. Looking back, when do I see God forming a step toward valor in me?
  2. How would I like to see valor affect my life?

1 Thomas Ruyle, https://www.stripes.com/news/veterans/what-is-stolen-valor-1.107359

2 2 Kings 5:1, 2 NKJV

©2020 Gary Wagner

A Tribute to My Mother, Emma Rose

Mothers are unique. Yours is yours and mine is mine. Even if we had the same mother, her relationship with each of her children is different. That’s what makes a mother unique to each child. That’s a good thing. Along the way in our lives, most of us get to where we prefer our mother over those who are mothers of other people. It becomes more that way the older we get, and the older they get.

I remember my mother with fondness and love. There was one night when I was about ten or twelve. Three of my younger brothers and I had not been particularly obedient as the evening hours grew late, and Dad hadn’t come home yet. I don’t remember the details well. What I do recall is that we had done something wrong for long enough that Mom sent us all to bed early. Some punishments she left for Dad to take care of, but I had learned not to push things that far. The price was too high.

On this night, even lying in bed I still felt powerful enough that I exclaimed out loud from our room to her in the adjoining living room. “We’re supposed to obey you because we love you, not because we are afraid of you!” I guess I thought those words would hurt. Maybe she would change her mind. There was no response. But the words did hurt.

It only took an instant for them to begin hurting me, too. I quickly became ashamed of myself for being so brash and hurtful to someone I loved. Especially since I deserved the punishment. I also recognized that she had done me a favor by not waiting until Dad got home to deal with it. I began to cry out of my shame. Still no response.

Finally, I got up and walked sheepishly into the living room. Mom was sitting there as if she knew I would be there sooner or later. I apologized, cried a little more, and fell asleep with my head in her lap. Things were different after that. I had a lot more respect for Mom. That doesn’t mean I was a model son. That never happened. But, she was a model mom.

Men, whatever the incidents were in our own lives, we have to know that we owe a great deal to our mothers. Mothers not only suffered giving birth to us, but as they raised us and feared for what might happen to us. For what we might become. If you are adopted, you can be sure that your mother anguished just the same over you. Most likely if you are taking time to read this, you are turning out pretty well. You care enough to read about a tribute to my mother. You must care about yours too.

My mother has been gone now for eleven years. There is a resurrection coming. I look forward to rejoicing for part of the coming eternity with her. Part of what being a son means is that we recognize the great debt we owe our mother. Being a man of valor includes being surrendered to the God who can build you to be a man she can be proud of for eternity. Are you letting Him build you to be that man?  If not yet, now is a great time to begin. Live valor.

The Connection is Made

It was early May,1973. I walked into my first Bible class in the school in Phnom Penh. Sitting eagerly before me were a dozen orange-robed, bald-headed Buddhist monks. They were generally proud of their English prowess. Taking this class showed them how much they understood the language. We didn’t focus at all on the conversational aspect, but on the Biblical text before us.

In a social gathering later, they would explain to me what I already knew very well. They weren’t really taking the class to learn about the Bible. They just wanted to pay less and still practice their English. “Ah,” I replied, “but you are learning the Bible.”

Two of them showed real interest. One in particular was going through great personal struggles and family loss. “Why isn’t Buddha helping me?” “Maybe you are being drawn by the God of heaven.”

Someth finished his time as a monk and showed up the next evening wearing a baseball cap to cover his shiny head. He had a lot of questions about this new God. Over time he would surrender to the love of His Savior. After he was baptized I spoke with Someth about working as my assistant and interpreter. He agreed. He did an excellent job.

Less than two years later, Pol Pot focused his attention on the capital city. He already had most of the country. It was frightening to hear the accounts of his methods of purifying the country. He became known as the purest practitioner of communism. He was not afraid of purging everyone who might have any interest or capability of striking back at him. He and his troops were brutal. During the next five years the Khmer Rouge would mercilessly kill approximately 2 million of the nearly 5 million people in the country.

Someth had made his way with his family to near the border of Viet Nam. He had hoped to find some safety there. He found none.

He began a slow march bacross across Cambodia to chase the rumors of peace and protection in Thailand. He took his small family and about 16 other people and led them through the killing fields. He would find a “safe” place to leave his charges and hike on ahead to find the next safe place for them. All the while, trying to avoid the blood-crazed soldiers.

He would collect his family, take them to the new-found place and repeat the process again. Over and over again. It took them two years to traverse the whole country. Crossing the river into Thailand would be a problem. Both Khmer Rouge and Viet Cong troops were waiting along the frontier for those who dared try to escape them. Many lost their quest at this point, just before victory.

Someth somehow successfully got his whole group across the river and found a nearby village where they could rest. There he found people from SAWS (the Seventh-day Adventist World Service). He had helped distribute relief supplies to many through this group. He found the representative and asked, “Do you know Gary Wagner?” “Yes, he is our director. His office is in Bangkok.” He sent me a cryptic note. It said simply, “I am here. Help” The message was delivered.

It took a couple days before I could get to hm, but I went as quickly as I could. It was a sweet reunion. After the celebrations of refamiliarity, I asked him a hard question. “Someth, there is little in this village I can help you with. We have built a church in the next village and we need a pastor. I would like to take you there, but the United Nations will not allow me to take you from this village by Thai roads to the next village. Can you take your people back across the river, upstream about 15 kilometers and come back out there? I know it is very dangerous. You don’t have to do it.” “Yes, I will do it”

And he did.

There is so much to tell, but this is getting long already. Someth began teaching the people of the newly sprung up refugee village about Jesus. His congregation grew to over 200. At one baptism the Thai Mission president came to do the baptizing. What a day of rejoicing. The group picture shows how many were baptized. Someth is far left, circled.

Today I was sharing my pictures with the staff at the Cambodian Mission office for their worship. They know so little of their ecclesiastical history. No one has written it. As I told of this baptism and showed the group photo a voice came from the audience. “There is me in the picture!” I asked him to point himself out. He is circled in the center of the group. Hang Dara was led to this village and to this church by a thief who had intended to rob him and possibly kill him. He didn’t want to become a Christian, but finally through Someth’s patient teaching he accepted Jesus.

Why was Dara in this audience? Today he serves as the executive secretary (number two man) in the Cambodian Mission. For these many years I have wondered what God would do with the sacrifices made by people like Someth. Today He made the connection for me. What an amazing revelation. What an amazing God!

Society’s Life Trophies

I doubt you have ever seen car quite like this one. I don’t believe there is another one in the world quite like it. It rides the streets and back highways of the island of Cuba. You may recognize obvious elements of a late 50’s Cadillac. If you do, you are also thinking that you didn’t know they made those in a station wagon. They did. That is, they made them in a hearse.

Still, this one has some of the recognizable elements of the hearse while also exhibiting numerous design points of other cars. There are also some things that are obviously not from any car make. They are redesigned by necessity to function for the needs of the road this rare gem haunts. I am amazed at what the mechanics and autobody men of Cuba have done. These drivers are very proud of their cars, and they have every reason to be.

Let me bring this down to you and me. As I mentioned in my last post, we were made in the image of God.1 Every man, woman, and child is given the potential to live to be examples of God’s character and handiwork. Every one of us is intended by Him to be perfect in all our ways as He is perfect.2 As we look at ourselves, we know that while we may have some of the outward trimmings of goodness, we all fall far short.3 This is a fact of life.

Add to this, the examples we see in our society are like the Caddy in the picture. How are we supposed to know how to be like God wants us to be if we don’t know what that looks like? Today, we get unclear messages from the worlds of media and entertainment, from education and government, and even from the church! All of society seems to be trying to not only lead us away from God’s design, but forcing us away from the life He intends us to live.

It is no wonder if you feel a bit confused. Does God still want us to live that old-fashioned way? We live in the 21st Century. Things are different now.

Well, I have heard that, too. It is easy to see that things are different. Much different. In some ways that is good. But when it comes to morality and honest, faithful living, any decline from the standard God set is frankly a move toward immorality and evil.

So, who are you and what are you here for? Are you simply supposed to follow every fad and show you can be whatever the situation calls for? Should you be a friend to everyone by participating in whatever they want to do? Do you let others mold you according to their idea of fun or morality or political correctness? 

Are you trying to be a trophy of our messed-up society? And if you are, how do you keep up with that when their ideas change with the next new “in thing” to come along? What is the standard? What is right? Yes, what is truth?

Real values don’t change with every political campaign. The values of this country are the same as they have been since God led valiant men and women to establish a nation and a constitution based on biblical principles written by Moses thousands of years ago.

Our purpose here is to learn to be the kind of man or woman who God is building to lead your family in a way that prepares you for whatever is coming. Don’t be surprised if He doesn’t stop with your family. Our churches, communities and country need valiant men and women as leaders now, just as we did in 1776.

God has a plan for you. It starts with you surrendering to Him. I’ll address that in my next post.

Follow and like Valor Life on Facebook @ValorLifePublic so others will join us in the discussion. Share with your friends who are moving in this direction or need to. Let them know we are learning to grow one step at a time to be men and women of valor.

#Live Valor.

Open Up. What have you noticed about the changes in our cultures expectation of men and women? What do you think about it? 

  • 1 Genesis 1:27
  • 2 Matthew 5:48 (see NLT)
  • 3 Romans 3:23

CUBAN ROAD TROPHIES

One of the serendipitous experiences of an American male traveling to Cuba is seeing the parade of 40’s and 50’s American cars cruising the streets of Havana. Of course, we know we are going to see that, but the sheer frequency of the sightings is surprising. You just want to stop and admire them. It’s like living in a perpetual car show. Until you get up close.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of the cars are perfect, or nearly so. After all, how many of us actually remember what a real 1958 Chevy fender and tail light originally looked like. We just admire the artistry and engineering. We conjure up the sights and sounds (often from movies we have seen) of such vehicles racing down a quarter-mile dragstrip. Oh, the power! Oh, the masculinity!

Here’s where the needle scratches across the record with a terrible screeching sound. Am I showing myself to be old by using these illustrations?

Nonetheless, we all know the adage, “beauty is only skin deep.” Of course, this statement means different things to different people. Beautiful people often deplore the saying, and not-so-attractive people revel in it. Have you noticed that we judge what is supposed to be the truth by the way we feel about it rather than by unchanging standards? We have come to the time when truth no longer exists unless I agree with it and it benefits me.

Back to Cuban road trophies. I am not bad-mouthing these stunning cars on the Pearl of the Antilles. It is amazing what their owners have done without being able to pick up the phone and order replacement parts for the last sixty years.  

I rode in the 1955 Ford Fairlane in the photo. The smooth, nearly perfect looking skin and shiny paint job impressed me. Anyone who merely watches this beauty drive by would be duly impressed. Back in high school, I rode around with my buddy, Mike in his ’54 Ford. This car was much better looking than Mike’s.

A Cuban Road Trophy

That’s where the grandeur often (but not always) stops. The proud owner let me know that the upholstery was being replaced to match the outside. That’s good because the seats did look like Mike’s, right down to the bare metal floors. He didn’t say when that improvement would be finished. And when he started the car, the engine wasn’t the original 223 CID straight six, much less the 272 CID Windsor V8. There was no smooth purr, but rather the choppy rattle of an east European diesel. It felt like riding in a truck.

Many of these cars are rebuilt from scratch after accidents. They look reasonably close to original, but there may be very little of the Detroit workmanship still in them. Frankly, though, they are real testaments to the ingenuity of the Cuban craftsmen.

All this brings us to my point. We were made by God in His image to be perfect and to live forever. Through all these generations of genetic mutation, it is actually surprising that many of our species still look quite good. Humanity has been through some pretty rough times. Some genetic researchers actually wonder why we haven’t become extinct many times over.1

We may even look good physically and/or morally/spiritually, but be terrible people inside. “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder,”2 and a whole list of other things also mentioned. You may find some of these things in your own heart. There’s more to muse about in these words. I’ll be doing so here in the coming weeks and months.

I may look great, but if any of the things in this list are in my heart, everything else is just a shiny paint job covering the real me. Each of us needs to take a close look at the person we really are. Looking good is a poor alternative for being good. Are you a Cuban road trophy, or the real deal? What are you here for? I’ll explore this in my next post. Do you know someone else who is struggling with purpose and reality in their lives? Share this post and invite them to find their answers.

Open Up. Tell us if you ever wish you could be a shinier example of the person you are? What keeps you from it?

Follow Valor Life on Facebook @ValorLifePublic. Do you have a friend who needs to read this message? Share it with them today.

1 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/evo.12195/full

2 Mark 7:20-23, New Living Translation