“Clank!” I set the last dish on the towel for Mark to dry.
"Finally done!" I sighed as I wiped my hands on a towel.
I quickly dried off the counter and hurried back to the couch where I had left my book. This was the kind of book I loved - stories from the middle ages about wars, castles, knights, lords and ladies, and great kings. I found a comfortable position and reached for my book, but the book was not there. I looked all under the couch and around the side table. I knew where I had put it, but it wasn’t there. I went into the kitchen where Mark was drying the dishes.
"Mark, have you seen my book?" I asked.
"Yep," he replied, not looking at me. "But you don't get it back."
"What!?" I almost shouted. "You took my book and won't give it back?"
Mark raised his chin defiantly. "Yep. You spend too much time reading. You need to do more productive work - like helping me dry these dishes."
"Give me my book NOW!" I shouted.
"Make me," was Mark's sharp reply.
I was angry. I knew it was wrong, but I didn't want to repent.
I stepped up to him and, grabbing his collar, shook him as I hissed through my teeth, "Tell me where it is!"
In response he gave me a push backward. I felt rage rise up in me and I jumped back at him and gave him a hard shove. He staggered back and hit the counter with a hard thud. Fury burned in his eyes as he scrambled back to his feet and swung his fist at me. I dodged to the right, but my foot slipped in a small puddle of dishwater on the floor. I lost my balance and crashed to the ground, whacking my head hard against the counter. I yelled in pain and squeezed my eyes shut to clear the black spots that danced in front of them.
When I opened my eyes again, I was in an entirely different place. All around me was terrain that looked like the desert that we were used to, with its open ground marked only by shrubs and cacti, but I could see a grand castle on one side and an dark fortress on the other. Mark was still in front of me and he was saying something, but it wasn't him that caught my attention. It was a couple of huge, ugly, evil looking men in full battle armor that were behind him. One had a grizzly battle ax in his upraised hand and was about to bring it down on Mark's head.
"Look out!" I shouted and threw myself against my brother, knocking us both to the ground.
My maneuver saved both of our lives, for the sword blade of a different attacker swooshed over us, right where I had been standing. As I rolled to avoid the blow of the second man that had been standing behind Mark, I felt something bump against my leg. Looking down I realized that I was in full battle armor as well, and the thing that had bumped my leg was a sword scabbard with the word SPIRIT etched on the side. I jumped to my feet and jerked the sword out of its sheath. The enemy warriors all laughed deep guttural laughs and attacked. One swung a vertical blow with his sword and I barely deflected it. The sheer force of the blow nearly knocked my sword from my hand.
I glanced quickly around and noticed that in the place where I had originally been standing, there was a shield with the word FAITH written on it. I deflected another blow from one of the brutes and rushed to the shield.
At that moment I heard Mark scream. He had been knocked flat on his back by one of the evil ones and was about to be run through. I snatched up the heavy shield and threw it with all my might. It smacked hard into Mark's attacker and sent him sprawling. I bounded to Mark's side in an instant and ran the warrior through. After I recovered my shield, I helped Mark to his feet.
"Quickly! This way!" I whispered, tugging on Mark's arm.
We took off at a run toward the grand castle that was on the one side.
“Not so fast!” one of the big thugs roared as they took off after us.
We ran as hard as we could, but they were catching up to us quickly.
“Keep running! I’ll stop them here!” I shouted to Mark as I turned back, sword and shield at the ready.
I deflected the blow of a sword to my left and then swung with all my might at the pole of another enemy's battle ax. The wood handle splintered and then broke, leaving the one enemy weaponless. I made a reckless thrust at his chest and my sword found its mark, but I paid dearly for my carelessness as the flat of another opponent’s sword slammed into my side. I fell, sprawling to the ground right in front of my vicious foes. I looked up in time to see the blade of a sword descending towards my chest. Oh God, help me! I tried to bring my shield up to block but it was not needed, for a gleaming white sword intercepted the steel in the middle of its downward arch. The unknown swordsman followed up the block by a skillful combination of cuts and slices that sent the enemies in retreat.
I rolled to my knees and looked around. In every direction were men in dark armor with evil weapons fighting men in bright shining armor with brilliant swords and splendid shields. It seemed that my brother and I were in the middle of the whole conflict.
"Choose," sounded a booming voice behind me that made me jump. "Which side will you fight for - good or evil, God or the Devil."
I knew exactly what he meant. I had to choose between denying myself in the fight with my brother or hanging on to my hurt pride, angry feelings, and bitterness against Mark.
Time seemed to freeze as I considered.
What good does it do in the eternal perspective if I hold on to my flesh? I heard a voice in my head say.
But he pushed you first, tried to kick you, disrespected you, and would not listen to you, a different voice countered.
So what? Is that really that big in this spiritual warfare?
It's so hard to let go and just forgive him, and how do you expect to apologize after the way he treated you?
The voices argued on in my head. I knew I had to choose between the two, but it was so hard.
"Remember what Jesus has done for you - how He has forgiven you and cleansed you from all your sin!" came the booming voice again. I bent down and resolutely picked up my sword and shield. Rising to my feet, I turned and pointed the sword of the Spirit at the dark warriors then charged at them with a righteous fury.
I met my first foe head on. He wielded his ax in anticipation but his face now showed fear. My sword and the ax blade collided in a resounding clash of steel and a shower of sparks. The warrior swung from the left with his heavy battle ax, but I caught the blow with my shield of Faith and countered with a series of cuts, slices, and thrusts with a skill that was not my own.
A blow from the handle of the enemy's weapon glanced off my helmet of Salvation and momentarily put me off balance. My opponent seized this opportunity and brought his ax back for a final vertical swing that would end my life. I didn't have time to think and my actions seemed to be from instinct. I stepped in towards the man and drew a dagger. Before my foe could react, I plunged this weapon into his abdomen. He sank to the ground without a sound and I returned to the use of my sword.
Enemy after enemy fell to the sharp blade of the Spirit. I did not know it, but my success was causing the whole army of light to move forward and press the dark warriors back. I fought almost clear through the enemy lines when suddenly a warrior around my size blocked my path, wielding a heavy mace. Having taken down many other foes much larger than this one, I immediately attacked. To my surprise he easily countered all my cuts and slices.
Instantly the voices of argument came back into my head and distracted me. Are you sure you can go through the embarrassment of repenting of your anger and admitting you were wrong?
Of course, when God has done so much for me, how can I not do the same for my brother?
Do you realize that repenting would be letting him win, have his way, and letting him think he was right?
You would have to give up every inch of self-respect you have and totally trample over your own ego. There is no way you can do that, not after everything that's happened and not after how he treated you. You can't!
My mind was whirling and my opponent took full advantage of it, landing hard blows on my thigh, shoulder, and head. My armor protected me from serious hurt, but I knew that I must win the mental battle before I could defeat this foe. The words You can't, you can't rang through my head like a chant while my opponent landed blow after blow on me. How could I give up my pride and admit that I was wrong? I couldn't.
Suddenly, I broke out of my trance.
I shouted out loud in response to the tempting voice inside, "You're right! I can't do it myself, but in the power of Christ I can, and I will deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him! All the forces of evil cannot stop God's power in me!"
I followed up my words with a powerful series of blows that sent my enemy in full retreat as he vainly tried to protect himself from my swinging sword.
I brought in a cut from the left, a thrust on the right, and a powerful vertical slice on the warrior, each one finding its mark, but this enemy would not give in. I pressed in hard, dealing blow after blow on him as he steadily gave ground. With a desperate swing my enemy slammed the mace into the side of my head where I had hit the cabinet. Pain shot through me and I nearly lost my footing. My foe took advantage of this and came forward with a cry of rage, but his foot caught on a root and he toppled forward. I prepared to run him through but he rolled over at that instant and I caught a glimpse of his face through his upturned visor. Shock ran through me as I recognized it. It was the face that looked back at me in the mirror every morning--my own face!
This enemy that I was facing was me; the part that wanted my own pleasure, the part that wanted my own way, the part that wanted to be angry at Mark. I couldn't bring myself to make that final thrust.
Then the same booming voice sounded behind me, "You must kill the Old Man and his deeds to truly serve God. The Old Man hates you and only seeks your destruction."
For a moment longer I hesitated, and at that instant the fallen warrior swung his mace upwards into the pit of my stomach. I fought the urge to buckle over in pain. I knew what I must do, so I plunged my blade downwards into my Old Man, my flesh, my self.
Immediately, a surge of pain beginning in my sword swept through my whole body, and I felt as if I had been the one stabbed. I collapsed to the ground in agony, but I had done it. I had died to myself, to all my hurt feelings, to bitterness and anger, and to my pride. I knew that I would have to do it time and again. I lay panting on the ground next to my fallen foe, victorious through Christ. I let out a sigh and closed my eyes in exhaustion.
When I opened them again, I was no longer on the battlefield.
I was laying on my back on some sort of bed. Directly above me was a white office ceiling. My head throbbed and I felt as if I couldn't move. What is this place? I thought as I looked around as best I could without moving my head.
"Josh, you awake?" I heard a timid voice sound behind me that sounded something like Mark's.
"Yes, I'm awake," I said, "Where am I?"
"This is the emergency room. Mom brought us here. You blacked out when you hit the counter," Mark said. His eyes were red and I guessed that he had been crying.
"About that," I said, "I am sorry for getting angry at you. I was wrong no matter what you did. Could you forgive me?"
Mark stood baffled for a moment, then asked, "You’re asking me to forgive you?"
"Yes." I said. "No matter what anyone else does, I am responsible for my own fight--I mean sin--and must deal with it accordingly."
Mark swallowed twice then choked out, "Of course I forgive you. Could you ever forgive me for what I did and the way I treated you?"
I smiled as best I could and said, "I forgive you, just as Christ forgave me. In fact you were forgiven a while ago."
Mark looked puzzled, "How could I have been forgiven a while ago? You've been out cold since you fell."
I smiled. "It's a long story - a long, interesting story."