As a Marine General and Combat Commander, Secretary of Defense Mattis routinely advised his leaders with this memorable mantra before sending them into unpredictable meetings to build alliances with a variety of tribal warlords. While all the parties involved in those talks professed good will, the historic behavior of those same parties demanded that all proceedings be approached with a double portion of vigilance to accompany the proposed friendship.
I have had similar causes for caution in my own ministry experience. When Luz and I have served in inner city contexts, we have often worked hard to bring peace to violent areas and to spread good will where only ill will was the norm. I can remember attending special meetings as a pastor in Cleveland, with gang leaders and politicians at the same table attempting to come to peaceful terms of coexistence. Being much younger, very capable and even willing to exercise a "more muscular" form of Christianity, I would assess the attitudes of all in attendance and consider the two or three individuals I would defer to Luz, who was very capable and even more effective than I in combatives, while considering those I would target myself should the situation take a "rowdy" turn.
Fortunately, we were blessed to have wise and seasoned saints alongside us like the Mother of our Church who, seemingly reading my thoughts, would lean over and whisper to me, "Pray Reverend Jackson! Fight through Prayer!" That wise saint saved our church's reputation, talked me off of the ledge, and opened doors that my youthful impatience was determined to weld shut!
Today, I found myself in a situation suddenly surrounded by folks whose character I considered questionable, based only on their appearance. I began reflecting on those formative days and started mentally preparing for a less than positive experience. As I considered revisiting my youthful exuberance for action, these words of Jesus came to my mind:
"I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves." Jesus understands the hostilities of the world and doesn't expect us to walk about in a naive stupor. Nonetheless, as His followers, He still expects us to pursue solutions that end in peace. Jesus promised that He would give us His peace, not based on our circumstances, but based on our being renewed by the Holy Spirit inwardly for the transformation of our minds and wills to the conformity of His own.
Considering Jesus' words gave me the wisdom to pause, assess and engage my questionable acquaintances in a proactive and friendly manner. As the situation unfolded, it was apparent that the folks I held in suspicion were harmless and everything turned out cool. Reflecting on the day and my view of that event caused me to take General Mattis' advice and adapt it to a truism more suitable for one called to be a fisher of people and a shepherd of Jesus' Flock:
"Be polite, be professional, and have a plan to impact the lives of everyone you meet." That'll preach and that's a standard more fitting of a soldier of Christ! Be shrewd. Be innocent. This is God's will for us in this troubled and needy world.