New Authority for a Marine

Written by M. Larson and Colonel Lee Bendell

navy“Who am I to counsel and advise 600 men?” I asked myself. “And what really are my values?” I had never examined my beliefs before. But now that I had been promoted to lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, I felt I had to.

At Annapolis, I was put in charge of a battalion of midshipmen–about 600 men. I also became faculty representative for the first class.  That meant is was my duty to advise and counsel the midshipmen who were administering what they called their honor concept. I felt a heavy weight of responsibility to all those bright young future leaders!

One day a former Navy friend of mine called me. He operated a Christian bookstore in Annapolis.

“When can I see you, Lee?” he asked.

“You can come over to my office right now, Jim,” I answered.

After we talked for a while, Jim asked me, “Lee, are you a Christian?”

I looked at him in surprise. “Well, er, ah,” I stammered. “I think I am.”

Self examination

He talked to me about Jesus Christ and about the importance of attending a church where God’s Word was preached. But the thing that nagged me in the days that followed was that one question: “Am I a Christian? I’ve been baptized. I belong to a church and attend it regularly. But does that make me a Christian?”

I thought about the Apostle’s Creed I had recited in church all my life. Did I really believe all that? “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, crucified and risen from the dead”–heaven, hell, and Christ’s coming back “to judge the quick and the dead?”

Then some other friends spoke to me about attending a church where they said God’s Word was preached. Finally I said to my wife, “Honey, we don’t hear the Bible taught in our church. Why don’t we try another?”

So we did. We also joined a home Bible class my friends invited us to. At both I was confronted with something I had never heard before: God’s plan of salvation. We’re all sinners. But God loves us; He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to die for us. In order for us to truly be Christians, we have to repent of our sins and trust Jesus Christ as our Savior.

I knew I had never done that. But as I thought about it, doubts assailed me. The biggest one was, “Can I be a marine officer and a genuine Christian at the same time?” It was one thing to be an uninvolved professing Christian and quite another to be the fervent kind our friends were! Yet it became very evident to my wife and me that they had in their lives and their relationships with their teenage children something we didn’t have. We admired it and desired it. So I felt compelled to find out if what they were telling us was true.

Thinking like a military officer

What is the authority behind these salvation messages we’ve been hearing? I wondered. Military officers follow this procedure: When we report into a new base, we immediately start studying its particular book of regulations and procedures. Thus we know how to act. Thus we find out the authority.

So I tackled the procedure book for Christianity, the New Testament. As I read through it, I came upon Paul’s word to Timothy: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:14-16).

“That’s it!” I thought. “That’s the authority!” Now the salvation verses my friends had shared with me came alive with meaning!

I suddenly saw myself as a lost sinner (see Romans 3:23). In my heart I knew “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The further promise of that verse held out hope to me: “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Prepared to live or die

Not long after I trusted in Jesus Christ, I was sent to the war zone to command a battalion of 1500 men. How glad I was that my family and I were now on praying ground! My family and our Christ-honoring church back in Annapolis upheld me in prayer. I prayed for my men. Our battalion, although in heavy combat activity, gained a reputation of accomplishing its missions with very low casualties. I knew the Lord was answering prayers!

I had to meet with all new men who joined my battalion. I imparted to them conventional military wisdom such as: “Be sure to wear your flak jackets, keep your helmets on, take cover when we have incoming heavy artillery.”

Then I shared my personal testimony with them. “Men, I want to tell you that in combat your life is on the line every day. I just turned my life over to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. On a day-to-day basis, He is answering my prayers; and I believe that He is not only taking care of me but of this whole battalion. I encourage you to also trust in the Savior, Jesus Christ!”

I was blessed to have two fine committed chaplains in my battalion. Working closely together, we saw many men trust Christ as their personal Savior. This “salt” permeated our battalion. We assigned lay leaders within the platoons. In chapel services God’s message of salvation in Christ was proclaimed.

God with us in action

God protected us all. One day I suddenly heard the voice of one of our company commanders coming over the radio. “Skipper, we’re receiving heavy fire. We’re pinned down and can’t move!”

“Hold what you’ve got!” I exclaimed. “Take cover. We’ll get you some supporting fire!”
A few minutes later another voice tinged with fear came through. “Skipper, the company commander’s been hit! I don’t know how bad it is, but I’m in charge now!”

We managed to join the pinned-down company and with our reinforcements were able to pull them back and bring all our wounded with us. How I thanked God for answered prayer! Yes, I learned on the battlefield, while still a new Christian, what “pray without ceasing” meant.

Another time when the amphibious tractor I was in ran over a land mine, it exploded. I sailed through the air and landed on my head. But I wasn’t hurt! I considered it a miracle of God that not only my life was spared, but those of the men who were with me.

Thus I found that a Marine officer not only could be a dedicated Christian but by being one, he could be a far better leader of men! After 30 years in the Marines, I retired after becoming a full colonel. My wife Gloria and I have continued to serve the Lord, seeking to help others know and live for Him.

Air Force pilot at a crossroads

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