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Saddle Up

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I have a terrific method for falling asleep. It doesn’t matter how relaxed or how anxious I am, it works. Even if I have the weight of the world on my shoulders, this method does the job almost every time. It’s not a sleeping pill, a special exercise, or a secret diet. I don’t count sheep, take hot baths, or drink warm milk. No, my secret method for falling asleep almost anytime of the day is - television! Yep, turn it on and within minutes I am fast asleep.

Take me to a movie theater and, except for the rare action-packed western, as soon as the opening credits finish rolling, I am gone. It drives my dear wife, Frances, crazy. I feel bad for her because she wants to discuss the character relationships and the deeper meanings of the story and the drama. All I remember is the opening music.

While on a recent business trip, I finished a series of all day meetings and returned to my hotel room exhausted. All I could think about was collapsing in bed, calling Frances to pray with her, and going to sleep. As I finally settled in for the night, I flipped through the channels looking for a news program. Suddenly, I stumbled upon a movie that I first saw thirteen years earlier.

Heroes and Villains

Tombstone is the story of legendary lawman, Wyatt Earp, his brothers Virgil and Morgan, and the Shakespeare-quoting, dentist-turned-gunslinger sidekick, Doc Holliday, as they cleaned up Tombstone, Arizona, in the 1880’s. Just like my first viewing of this movie, I was riveted. I was no longer tired or exhausted, but sat straight up, drinking in each scene of triumph of good over evil.

As the story unfolds, the Earp brothers are retired from law enforcement, have left Dodge City, and are settling down with their wives in Arizona, looking for some peace and quiet. Tagging along with them is the ubiquitous, tubercular Holliday. Little do they know that the town is run by a weak mayor, has a crooked sheriff, and is under a virtual siege of terror from the marauding Clanton and McLaury gangs, along with the bloodthirsty outlaw, Johnny Ringo.

The Earp brothers have no interest in cleaning up another town. But after the local U. S. Marshall is gunned down in the streets in front of terrified women and children, steely-eyed and flinty Virgil Earp is persuaded to become the new Marshall, deputizing a young and idealistic Morgan, and a reluctant and resentful Wyatt.

Soon after he arrives in Tombstone, Wyatt encounters Johnny Taylor, the town bully. Taylor is a big, loud, burly, insulting hulk of a man with a nasty looking six-shooter bulging out of his shoulder holster. The men folk don’t dare confront this intimidating lout. They cower in his presence. As the bully sits at his table, Wyatt walks up and stands over him.

“Is something on your mind”, shouts Taylor, sneering at this man who has the audacity to challenge him. “Just want to let you know you’re sittin’ in my chair”, the stone-faced Earp firmly replies. Taylor quickly gets up from his chair to dispense with this annoying, and obviously naïve, newcomer. Wyatt stands firm. With no hesitation, he begins slapping the bully across his mouth. “You gonna do something, or just stand there and bleed?”, he taunts the startled bully. Wyatt grabs the Taylor’s pistol, unloads it, and tosses it to the man behind the bar, telling him, “Hang this on the wall as a trophy!” Then, he takes the man by the ear and tosses him into the street.

When Marshall Fred White is shot by a drunken Curly Bill Brocius, Wyatt rushes into the street, grabs the outlaw, disarms him, pistol whips him with his own gun, and arrests him. The crowd wants Curly Bill hanged on the spot. But, Wyatt insists that he will be jailed and stand trial before a legitimate judge so that justice will be served.

The Clantons and McLaurys ride into town, thundering down the street as townspeople flee their galloping horses. Virgil scoops up a young child in the street and rushes him to safety. As he hands the child over to his mother, he looks into her face and sees the scars from the abuse she has endured. Through Virgil’s piercing eyes, the compassion in his heart and his thirst for justice for those living in terror are ignited. His earlier refusal to take on another lawless town changes to a sense of duty and he puts on the badge.

The story builds to the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral where Virgil, Wyatt, Morgan, and Doc Holliday confront the taunting Clantons and McLaurys. The most famous showdown in the history of the west lasts but three minutes. In the end, three bad guys lay dead, several are wounded, the rest of them flee, and the Earps and Holliday stand tall. Yet, afterward, they are betrayed by the town Sheriff and accused of murder. Virgil is gunned down in the streets and left with a paralyzed arm. Morgan is assassinated as he plays billiards. A beaten down Earp family is driven from town.

But an impassioned Wyatt stays behind and, with what Doc Holliday calls “the reckoning”, the two of them round up a posse and go after the rest of the Clantons and McLaurys, finishing the job they started at the OK Corral. Holliday finally meets up with his nemesis, the murderous Johnny Ringo, and wins the duel between the two lethal gunfighters.

The Lion Awakens

As I sat there, I wondered why, after all these years, I was still drawn to this movie. During the years in between, I became born-again and devoted my life to Christ. I wasn’t watching violent shoot-‘em-ups that contained foul language any more. What was it about this movie that had me glued to the screen?

Tombstone is a guy flick. It’s rough and earthy. Tough, rugged men fight bad guys, protect women and children, and bring law and order by spilling their own blood. They shoot and they get shot. They stand tall and they ride hard. Guys watch movies like this and live their lives vicariously through the bold and courageous characters. The stories call out the slumbering warriors in us who, deep inside, yearn to be bold heroes to our wives and children, and faithful soldiers to our Commander God.

Guys love to watch westerns, football games, boxing matches, and police dramas. We shoot hoops, play golf, catch fish, and hunt deer. We compete in business, at play, with our neighbors, and for the girl. We are burdened by the heavy weight of our roles as husbands, fathers, leaders, and guardians. We live in a culture that tells us to be nice, quiet, domesticated, and tolerant. Yet, we often find ourselves struggling with lust, anger, depression, and defeat. Our real battles often center on self-doubt, fear of failure, loss of integrity, and erosion of character.

But, under our nice guy images, a lion sleeps. Behind our polite facades, a tiger paces. Beneath our buttoned down shirts are wings of an eagle that begs to soar. We have an irresistible drive to take charge and, with a sense of urgency, stand firm, fight the good fight, protect and defend, and win the battle. God has created us to be warriors in His battle – gunfighters – and He draws us to the action. Unfortunately, our sinful nature all too often redirects us either into retreat or to misuse our weapons in abusive or selfish ways.

Our culture and our church have disarmed us. We are on the sidelines. We have allowed ourselves to be shamed into retreat, believing that our maleness is offensive, oppressive, domineering, and abusive in its essence. We believe that our first duty in our walk of holiness is to be polite and understanding. We believe that the virtues of meekness and humility must be manifested in our silence.

Yet, we lose ourselves in the lives and legends of the Wyatt Earps of the world. We are drawn to their exploits as they exhibit a long lost art. Unfortunately, the Earps, the star quarterbacks, the slam-dunkers, and our other earthly heroes are decidedly poor examples of what God expects out of us as His men. With all the swaggering bravado that the Earps blast onto the screen, they are still vulgar, hard-drinking, gunslinging gamblers who walk in their own strength. They stand tall, but their knees do not bow before their Lord.

God’s Mighty Men

God, in His infinite wisdom and grace, provides us with powerful lessons in Biblical manhood – lessons that teach us who God calls us to be. The men who pave the way for the coming Messiah display the faith, integrity, and character God calls us to have. The men who build Christ’s church are warriors, fighters, and defenders who lay their lives on the line and teach us how to run His race.

Enoch walks with God and has daily fellowship with Him. Noah is obedient in the face of ridicule and against human wisdom. Joseph maintains his character and integrity even though he is sold into slavery, tempted, and slandered. Abraham lives a life of enormous faith, not knowing God’s destination for him. Moses displays godly leadership in the desert for forty years. Joshua is a courageous warrior who follows the Lord. Daniel refuses to compromise his faith, even at the cost of his life. David devotes his life to pursuing God’s heart, leading his Mighty Men in battle, and presiding over Israel’s growth into a great nation. He stumbles, falls, and repents.

John the Baptist preaches Christ, challenges the Pharisees to their faces, and is beheaded. Stephen boldly proclaims the Gospel and is stoned. Peter and John take the good news of the risen Christ to the public square and are beaten and jailed. Paul travels the known world building the Body of Christ and is persecuted and humiliated – yet writes most of the New Testament. Most importantly, Jesus Christ demonstrates holiness, boldness, leadership, humility, integrity, and purpose. He goes to the cross when he could have taken the easy way out. He dies for us so we can live. He will lead and win the war that ends all wars at the Apocalypse.

The Call to Battle

As we proceed through these series of studies, we will explore God’s men in the Bible and learn how to build our faith, character, integrity, and discipline. We will hear His call to us as husbands, fathers, and leaders in our church and community. He will show us how to be assertive, courageous, and trustworthy, while at the same time be His humble servants. Finally, we will hear His call to battle – His battle.

So, put on the full armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the boots of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. The lion roars, the tiger runs free, and the eagle soars. Through the power of God, the filling of the Holy Spirit, and with Christ as our leader, we join the battle and the victory is assured. When the dust settles, we live forever in the Commander’s house.

Until we go to be with the Lord, we are living in Tombstone. It is a lawless town. The Clantons and McLaurys are here. Johnny Ringo lays in wait outside our doors. Our women and children desperately need us. The bride of Christ needs us. God is calling us to be Joshuas and Davids, Stephens and Pauls. Our Marshall is in town. You are called. Saddle your horses. Consider yourselves deputized.

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