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My Medals

It is not the purpose of the author to advocate or celebrate war with this essay. Today he realizes that warfare is much more terrible than boyish fantasies can grasp. The story is told to illustrate an important spiritual truth without making a political or militaristic statement.

As young boys will do, my cousin and I sometimes pretended we were men and in the military. Whoever had the latest toys influenced which branch of service we fancied ourselves part of.

One day, my cousin increased his standing in the ranks. He came up with medals. They weren’t the real thing, of course, just two pieces of gold-colored plastic fastened to colorful ribbons. They hadn’t cost so very much at the dime store, but in a world of make-believe they represented valor. The guy with medals is no longer just a warrior; he’s a warrior who has done something really good.

My cousin let me wear one of his medals, but it wasn’t the same as having two of my own. Worse yet, I wasn’t able to buy any. The medals had sold out by the time I got to the store with enough cash.

I tried the next best thing. I went to the encyclopedia, looked up “Decorations,” dug out paper and colors, and started work. I soon had an impressive array of medals drawn out on a long piece of yellow paper. Unlike my cousin’s generic toys, mine depicted real decorations for specific good deeds. I gave myself a purple heart, and I’m not sure what all--maybe even a Congressional Medal of Honor. I was a paper hero.

Still, the honors didn‘t satisfy. When I pinned my medals to my shirt, I was pinning on a whole sheet of paper, and the yellow paper didn’t exactly look like a uniform. Cutting the medals out and pinning them on individually only partly improved the situation. My decorations still lacked the “real” feel the dime store ones had. They didn‘t get much use. Paper medals won’t make a hero, not even an imaginary one.

Spiritually, I must admit to having made some paper medals too. While I have accepted Christ as my Savior, there remains a tendency to try to make my way to God by being really good. I’ve even had to struggle through the crisis of realizing I’d let my faith shift from Jesus to my own works. I repented, but then struggled with the question of whether my faith was good enough. God’s grace has hung onto me through these bouts of “good enough,” but they haven’t been times of great blessing. My works were like paper medals, a sincere but doomed effort to make myself really good.

The times when I’ve been closest to God were the times when I gave up on me and focused on Jesus. Contrary to what one might expect, replacing my own goodness with simple dependence on Him accompanied increased power over temptation. It led to joy and peace. God seemed near. It wasn’t paper Christianity, but a healthy dose of the real thing.

My paper medals only had to compete with my cousin’s plastic ones. In the spiritual world, self-effort has to compete with the living Christ. His works might be represented by the real decorations officers pin to soldiers’ uniforms. Or more properly, His goodness caused God to declare Him Lord of Heaven and earth. My own goodness, well, it’s still a few scribbles on scratch paper.

The question each of us faces is, “Whose medals am I wearing today? The righteousness He freely gives or the bogus righteousness I can create for myself?”

This work is in the pubic domain and may be copied and distributed freely.


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