Twenty-eight years ago yesterday, Task Force Ranger was deployed on a mission to capture the lieutenants of a warlord who had been wreaking havoc on the people of Mogadishu, Somalia. Authorized as part of Operation Restore Hope, the mission goal was to gather intelligence that would lead to the capture of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. This particular raid differed little from multiple previous raids on which high value targets and intelligence were rolled up without incident. Find the bad guys, grab them up, exploit any new intelligence, and eventually neutralize Aidid and free the people of Somalia from his reign of terror.
The plan had a lot of elements and moving parts. A large contingent of helicopters would deliver a team of commandos from a secretive Army special forces unit known in popular culture as Delta Force, and that team would assault the target. Four separate teams from the 75th Ranger Regiment would also be inserted by helicopter and would provide perimeter security around the target while the assault team did its work. Those helicopters would also circle the area and provide close air support as necessary. At the same time, an armored convoy of nearly a dozen trucks and HUM-Vs was going to make its way through the city, arrive at the target, and spirit the recently captured prisoners back to the base. It was a plan these men had repeatedly executed without incident.
But things quickly began to go south. A young Ranger missed the rope out of his helicopter and fell 60 feet to the ground. Shortly after the Delta assault team had rolled up its targets, a Blackhawk helicopter with the call sign Super 61 was shot down. Both pilots were killed, and two of the bird’s crew chiefs were seriously wounded, but two Delta snipers on board survived and quickly worked to establish security around the crash site. About 20 minutes later, another Blackhawk with the call sign Super 64 was also hit by an RPG.
Super 62, another Blackhawk, inserted two Delta snipers to help secure the Super 64 crash site and any survivors. Super 62 was then hit, but managed to fly out of the direct area before setting down. Super 68, which inserted a combat search and rescue team at the first crash site, was also hit by an RPG. And while all this was happening, the original assault forces on the ground were fighting off a hostile local militia force that had them surrounded on all sides.
Their communication was spotty, they didn’t know precisely where each helicopter had gone down, they were taking heavy casualties, and were pinned in by an enemy force that numbered in the thousands.
The story of these men and their heroism in the first week of October 1993 was immortalized in the book and later movie “Blackhawk Down.” All told, 19 men lost their lives during the Battle of Mogadishu and its aftermath. Two of them — Delta snipers Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart, the men on Super 62 who demanded to be on the ground so they could rescue their friends — were awarded the Medal of Honor for giving the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their friends and their country that day.
I bring this story up because it is an extraordinary example of courage under fire, courage in the face of death, the courage that leads a man to put his own life on the line to save that of another. Courage is what will be required if we wish to rescue this country from the mire of insanity in which we find ourselves.
The current state of affairs in America calls to mind the apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy. When Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy, he was under house arrest, but he was free to receive visitors, send and receive letters, and move about as he pleased. When he wrote this second letter sometime around 67 or 68 A.D. during Nero’s horrific persecution of Christians and Jews alike, Paul was chained in a dungeon, awaiting his own execution. His friends had deserted him. He was cold and hungry and alone. He knew death was imminent.
But Paul didn’t use the letter as an opportunity to complain. He didn’t use the letter to demand deliverance. His purpose was to encourage Timothy, whom he feared might become timid in the face of suffering and persecution, to set his mind on Christ and persevere for the sake of the Gospel.
In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul reminds Timothy that “you were not made with a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control.”
When you look at the original Greek, you learn that the English translation doesn’t quite capture what Paul is trying to say. The Greek word that is translated into “fear” here is “deilia” (pronounced dye-LEE-uh). Richard Trench, an expert on biblical Greek, notes that there are three Greek synonyms for this word “fear” — one that is always meant in a negative sense, one that is generally neutral, and one that is usually positive, like fear of the Lord. The version used here in 2 Timothy — “for you were not given a spirit of fear” — is very much the bad one. A far better word for what Paul was exhorting Timothy to avoid is COWARDICE. “For you were not given a spirit of cowardice, but of power and love and self-control.”
Cowardice, of course is the polar opposite of courage. It is the deliberate failure to do what is right for fear of what will happen as a result. This verse, from Paul’s final letter to one of his last remaining friends in Christ, is the only time that word — deilia, cowardice — appears in the entire New Testament.
Exchanging Truth for Lies
Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of good news to bring you today about our current situation. The Great Deceiver is no longer lurking in the shadows. Instead, he is out in the open and on the march. He is attacking every major institution in the country: business, military, sports, entertainment, education, and yes, even the church. He is telling you that sin is virtuous, that virtue is evil, that boys can become girls and vice versa. He is rapidly convincing huge swaths of this country to exchange truth for a lie.
We have gone from a country that worshipped and celebrated God and those who love him, to a country that tolerated God, to one that was annoyed by God and His people, to one that openly disdains and hates anyone who doesn’t worship at the secular altar of the state. Christian culture seems to be waning, while cancel culture is ascendant.
Mark my words: you may not care about cancel culture, but cancel culture cares about you. In the very near future, every single person in this room will be targeted for cancelation. No one will be spared. And what this new era will demand from us is not complacency or vacillation. What the moment demands right now is courage.
I began today by talking about the courageous acts by the men of “Blackhawk Down.” On Saturday, I had the privilege of watching a number of those men receive Silver Stars for their heroism in Mogadishu on that day 28 years ago. To see them assembled was to see a cross-section of America: seemingly ordinary men from every background who pushed each other to do extraordinary things. These men didn’t do what they did because of a lack of fear. Quite the opposite. They did what they did IN SPITE of their fear. Doing things you’re not scared of is easy. Doing something knowing full well that you might be fired or abandoned or even killed is not easy at all. They did what they did because they had faith in their mission, they had faith in their training, and they had faith in each other.
Courage Will Cost You
A very dear friend of mine was one of those men, and I was honored to be present at that medal ceremony on Saturday at his invitation. A devout Christian, he often gives lectures on leadership not just to battle-hardened commandos still on the job, but to Christian groups as well. He gave a speech several years ago where he talked about the events of those days in Somalia nearly three decades ago.
At one point during combat in Mogadishu, he told the audience, he was convinced he was going to die. He was convinced he wasn’t going to make it home. And in that moment, this man — a pipe-hitting, body-stacking, door-crushing, terrorist-hunting commando with the best skills and training on earth — didn’t ask God to save him. He didn’t ask God to make his enemies melt away.
“I’d said a lot of prayers in my life in that point. I’d asked for protection a lot of times,” he said. “But that day I felt like it was the end. I didn’t pray for protection. I prayed that I wouldn’t be a coward. I wanted to be able to fight to the end and make my country proud and make the men on my left and right proud.”
That right there is courage. That resolve, the deep understanding of human nature, the full awareness of the consequences. That is courage. Doing the right thing, the loving thing, the selfless thing knowing that it might cost you your job, or your reputation, or your friends, or your family, or even your life. That is courage. It’s not the Hollywood depiction of the Superman who has no fear that defines courage. No, courage is knowing full well that doing the right thing will cost you dearly, and doing it anyway. God clearly answered my friend’s prayer, as everyone who knows him will attest. And He will answer yours as well.
Small Acts of Great Courage
The good news is you don’t have to be an elite commando under fire in a faraway land to show courage. You have the opportunity every single day, in every aspect of your lives, to demonstrate courage. And the great news is that you don’t even have to go train for years around the world to exercise this courage, because the God who made you gave you the power and love and self-control you need. He tells us right there in Paul’s letter to Timothy.
That courage can take many forms. Jack Phillips, a baker in Colorado, decided he would not design cakes with messages that defy God’s commands for us. Baronelle Stutzman, a florist, made a similar decision. Tanner Cross, a coach and school teacher, stood up and said he did not approve of deranged transgender policy being peddled in government schools. Nick Sandmann, a high school student, stood up for human life in the face of attacks from left-wing activists and the media.
That courage can take the form of reading the Bible to your kids. Of refusing to gossip at work. Of going door to door to make sure your community’s government is actually responsive to the people it represents and who pay its bills. When the culture tells you that you must believe X or Y, refusing to do so is a wonderful act of courage. Courage in 2021 can be as simple as refusing to go along with racist indoctrination of your children or at your workplace. It can be telling your colleagues that their embrace of sinfulness makes you uncomfortable.
Courage is standing up for pregnant moms who feel like they have no options and encouraging them that they can always choose life. It means standing up to an evil and corrupt media regime that seeks your destruction, or modeling for your children what it means to stand up for what you believe in.
The Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn summed up this ethos in an essay entitled “Live Not By Lies.” Every time you refuse to go along with the culture’s lies, either quietly or loud enough for everyone to hear it, you are engaging in a revolutionary act with the potential to change history. Solzhenitsyn’s essay answered the question that we are all constantly asking ourselves today: what can we do? Here’s what he wrote:
When violence bursts onto the peaceful human condition, its face is flush with self-assurance, it displays on its banner and proclaims: “I am Violence! Make way, step aside, I will crush you!” But violence ages swiftly, a few years pass — and it is no longer sure of itself. To prop itself up, to appear decent, it will without fail call forth its ally — lies. For violence has nothing to cover itself with but lies, and lies can only persist through violence. And it is not every day and not on every shoulder that violence brings down its heavy hand: It demands of us only a submission to lies, a daily participation in deceit — and this suffices as our fealty.
And therein we find, neglected by us, the simplest, the most accessible key to our liberation: a personal nonparticipation in lies! Even if all is covered by lies, even if all is under their rule, let us resist in the smallest way: Let their rule hold not through me!
And this is the way to break out of the imaginary encirclement of our inertness, the easiest way for us and the most devastating for the lies. For when people renounce lies, lies simply cease to exist. Like parasites, they can only survive when attached to a person.
Persecution is Imminent
We are in the midst of a new era of full Christian persecution in this country. And absent divine intervention and nationwide spiritual renewal, it is going to get worse. As Christians, this is our lot in life. Christian, make no mistake. We will be persecuted, and we will suffer because of what we believe. As Christ told his apostles, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
That reality of suffering has always been there, we’ve just been insulated from it, until recently, as citizens of a country that was founded on biblical ideals. But the truth is that suffering and trials and tribulations are coming and no one is going to be spared. Christ Himself, who was perfect and sinless in every way, was hung on a cross, and according to tradition, all but one of His apostles was martyred (the lone exception, John, was exiled to Patmos, where he recorded Revelation).
Thankfully we know our reward. Our futures are assured. Our sins are forgiven and our salvation is guaranteed. And lest we leave here on a down note, I will leave you with the same affirmation that Christ left His followers before He began His final march to the cross: “In this world you will have trouble, but be courageous, for I have overcome the world.”