The Marine Corps “Crucible” is the final test of an 11-week season of endurance and training for Marine recruits. The fires of the Crucible burn away the dross and provide the final passage for young men and women to receive the coveted title of “Marine.”
The entire test and training is painful, exacting, and presses everyone beyond what they thought they had to offer, but it is a regimen, a system of purpose. Colonel Bob Hayes says, “We have two missions in the Marine Corps — to win battles and make Marines. The Crucible is one piece of that effort.”
The Crucible emphasizes trainee teamwork under stress. Recruits get eight hours of sleep during the entire 54-hour exercise. They get very little food and are responsible for rationing out the food to themselves. If that were not enough, the recruits also have to go through tough physical activities like road marches and night infiltration courses. During the 54 hours of the Crucible the recruits march about 40 miles. Sergeant Roger Summers, who works closely with the grueling Crucible challenge said,
It isn’t long before the recruits are tired and hungry, but as they keep going they realize they can call on reserves they never knew they had. Some of these recruits do things they never thought they could do. Some of them come from middle-class homes where everything has been handed to them. Others come from poorer homes where nothing was ever expected of them. If they finish the Crucible, they have accomplished something.
One recruit put it best. “I am going to finish this,” he said. “And when I do, it will be the most positive thing I have done in my life.” The recruit was part of a group that recently experienced the Crucible. They began the Crucible at 3 a.m. with a six-mile road march from their barracks to Page Airfield, the Crucible site. Once there the recruits placed their gear in huts and prepared for the first of four four-hour events.
Each of the four events of the Crucible has a number of “warrior stations” that the team of recruits must work together to overcome or solve. Each station is named for a Marine hero and the drill instructor has a recruit read a brief explanation of how the hero’s actions exemplify the Corps and its values before they undertake the challenge. Sergeant Summers says,
I choose a different leader for each station. That way, all the recruits understand what it’s like to be the leader and what they have to do to be a follower. You see the team learn as they go along. At the beginning, they just charge ahead without a plan and without asking if anyone has an idea. By the end of the Crucible you see them working together better, getting advice from all team members and solving more of the problems.
The first day of the Crucible recruits face two different challenges or “warrior stations.” The recruits grab food and water when they can. After the first two events comes a five-mile night march. “The night march was the toughest thing we’ve done here,” said 18-year-old Pfc. Josh Lunceford of Charleston, W.Va. When they finally get through all of the paces of the first day, the recruits hit the rack for four hours of sleep before they begin their second day.
On the second day the recruits will finish with the final two events. “On the second day they are tired and hungry and it really starts to show,” said Capt. John H. Rochford, Delta Company commander. “They start getting short with one another, but they realize after the first day they have to work together to finish. No one gets through the Crucible alone.”
At the end of the second day, the recruits go through a night infiltration course and then hit the rack for another four hours. When they get up, they face a nine-mile march and the end of the Crucible.
The final march of the Crucible begins at 4 a.m. None of the recruits want to drop out at this point, but all of them are tired, weary, and ready to quit. As the sun rises, the recruits cross the DI Bridge. Once across, the drill instructors start marching calls and the recruits join in. As they get closer to the main base, the marching calls get louder and the recruits grow stronger, until they reach the Parade Deck. The recruits form up around a half-size replica of the Marine Corps Memorial — also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial. There, a significant transformation takes place.
“We’re not just giving them basic training, we’re turning them into Marines,” Captain Rochford said. “There’s more to being a Marine than knowing how to fire a weapon. There’s a whole tradition behind it, and we want these recruits to measure up to the men and women who went before them.”
A color guard raises the flag on the memorial. The chaplain reads a prayer specifically written for the finish of the Crucible, and the company first sergeant addresses the recruits. Then the drill instructors present each of their recruits with the Marine Corps insignia — the eagle, globe, and anchor. He shakes their hands and calls them “Marine” for the first time. Many accept the honor with tears streaming down their faces.
One young lady named Julie watched her brother leave for Marine Corp Basic training and was amazed at the transformation that took place. She writes,
My younger brother recently graduated from Marine Corp Basic training. When he left he was a typical teenage boy: smart mouth, thinking he was bigger than life, and wouldn’t do assigned homework, housework, or yard work without a 3 hour long lecture from my parents about responsibility and hard work. When he came back however he was an entirely different person. He was no longer a spoiled teenage boy, he had become a respectful, dedicated, clean, and amazingly new man. I was so surprised. (I was most surprised by the fact that he can iron better than anyone I know) He is younger than me by 2 years I have always looked at him as a little pest, but now I look up to him as someone I can truly and deeply be proud of. In this uneasy time in our countries history I am proud and comforted to know that my brother is one of the proud few of the Marine Corp. I realize that there is just something about the Marine Corp that turns boys into men, teenage urchins into upstanding gentlemen, and embarrassing little brothers into honorable Marines. I found that the Marines can even change a family. We are the proud family of a Marine. Thank you to all those who are serving in the Marine Corp active, inactive, new recruits, and veterans. And to PVT 1st class John Scripsick, my heart travels with you. God bless you all.
Proud sister of a Marine
Any recruit who has ever gone through basic training knows that joy is not a word that would describe the process of the grueling training. Elation and excitement were not the emotions they felt as they awaited the second day of the Crucible. At the same time, when the struggle ended, when the Crucible was completed, and when they lost the title of “recruit” and were called “Marine” for the first time – the pain of the past was covered over with joy of the moment.
We can appreciate the training of the Marine recruits because we know that our armed forces must prepare for the punishing and arduous predicaments of war. At the same time we need to recognize that there is another training exercise taking place — A training regimen of greater significance than even the preparation of our nation’s defenders. God is preparing His people not to defend a nation with military might, but to mold them into an army who are called into His service.
In our next section of Hebrews we see God’s training exercises and their purpose in each of our lives. Take a look with me at Hebrews 12:7-11.
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11 NIV)
As we begin our study for this morning I want to briefly take you back two weeks ago and remind you that biblical “discipline” is something much more broad than simply being punished or chastised for unacceptable behavior. The word for “discipline” is used nine times in Hebrews 12:1-11 and it is a word that means, “the whole training and education of children (which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose now commands and admonitions, now reproof and punishment). It also includes the training and care of the body. In regards to adults it is whatever cultivates the soul, especially by correcting mistakes and curbing passions.”
When we gain a proper, biblical understanding of discipline then we can see that discipline is the necessary training that will enable a child to grow, mature, and thrive in everyday life. When you take this understanding of discipline and you transpose it into a higher key then you can understand that God is our Father who is continuously training us, disciplining us, in the school of righteousness and holiness.
Captain Rochford said that the Marines are not simply giving young men and women basic training, but they are making them Marines. In the same way God is not just giving you and me basic training, but He is making us, molding us, and shaping us into reflections of His character.
In verses 7-8, the writer of Hebrews encourages us to endure hardships as discipline from the hand of God. Look at these verses with me.
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.
The problems that you and I face are not circumstantial, nor are they coincidental, they are the product of a Father’s heart. We have to keep in mind that God knows how painful discipline can be – He watched His Son face abuse, slander, and ultimately death on a cross. The writer of Hebrews, in this chapter, has already reminded those who first read this letter of the pain of their Savior. Read along with me in Hebrews 12:3-6.
3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Hebrews 12:3-6 NIV)
The One who came to die for our sins knew that God was Sovereign over all. Jesus wasn’t on a pleasure cruise when He came to earth – He was on a mission. Jesus knew that the cross He would face was part of the Father’s plan, not a tragedy. When Pilate was examining Jesus and afraid because of the bloodthirsty mob that wanted to see Jesus killed, he said,
9 …”Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…” (John 19:8-11 NIV)
Today, we have a quick trigger and we want to categorize everything that causes us pain as somehow being divorced from the hand of God. I will tell you that we need the Lord to give us eyes to see these troubles, this pain, this discipline as a gift, painful though it maybe, a gift from the Father. Pastor John Piper has written a sermon about this section of Scripture that has blessed me so much. Let me read you a portion of Pastor Piper’s sermon.
Notice very carefully: this text does not say that God looks on while hostile sinners hurt his people, or while Satan ravages the elect, and only then steps in to turn all this evil for good. That is not what the text says. It has a totally different conception of what is happening to us. It says that God is disciplining us; he is teaching us and correcting us and transforming us. In other words, God has a purpose and a design in what is happening to us. God is not a passive observer in our lives while sinners and Satan beat us up. He rules over sinners and Satan, and they unwittingly, and with no less fault or guilt, fulfil his wise and loving purposes of discipline in our lives. This is what I said earlier some Christians simply will not believe. They say that God is not in charge of the evil that happens to us. That he has given the world over to Satan and the free will of man. But it will not work in this passage. The hostility of sinners is real and it is wrong and responsible and guilty. But it is also – and this is a great hope for us – it is also the loving, painful discipline of our Father in heaven. God is not coming to his children late after the attack, and saying, “I can make this turn for good.” That is not discipline. That is repair. It’s the difference between the surgeon who plans the incision for our good, and the emergency room doctor who sews us up after a freak accident. This text says, God is the doctor planning our surgery, not the doctor repairing our lacerations. (Pastor John Piper, “The Painful Discipline of Our Heavenly Father, August 24, 1997)
God is training us, He is molding us, He is shaping us so that we might be a reflection of His character to a lost world. We can either see these painful training exercises as a curse from God, as a blessing from God, or as something that God is just unaware that we have to endure.
In Hebrews 12:9 we read,
9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!
If I would have written the letter to the Hebrews I would have said, “I hope that you had a father who disciplined you.” There are so many young people today who are growing up with parents who have a greater desire to be their children’s friend, rather than their parent. For those of us who have, or have had parents who disciplined us then we know that we were not very happy about what we perceived to be their rigorous routines at the time.
My dad was a disciplinarian and I hated it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my dad was teaching me valuable lessons that would come in handy for me throughout the rest of my life. The one exercise we practiced frequently was time management. Now dad didn’t call it that, he just said, “Be home by such and such time.” Right after I got my driver’s license and was allowed to go out with some of my friend’s, dad gave me a curfew time. That night I was just a little late. When I got home mom was waiting for me, but dad was nowhere to be found. When I asked where he was, mom said, “He is out looking for you.” It wasn’t like I was coming in at sunrise – I was only a few minutes late. When dad got home he explained in a powerful and passionate way that 12 o’clock meant 12 o’clock. From then on, if I was one-minute late, dad was out on the streets.
I went through that regimen over and over again until finally I learned. Today, I am grateful that my dad taught me how to be prompt, how to be respectful, how to be conscious of what is going on, and how to submit to authority.
I had a choice to make as a child. I could either submit to my dad’s discipline and training for my life or I could rebel. You and I have that same choice to make today. The choice between submission and rebellion are not only childhood choices, they are choices that we must continue to make throughout our lives. The writer of Hebrews says, “If we were willing to submit to our earthly fathers, then why wouldn’t we be willing to submit to our heavenly Father?” He writes, “How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!”
The Greek word for submit is an often used word that means “to subject one’s self, obey, to submit to one’s control, to yield to one’s admonition or advice.” This little word is a powerful part of basic training in any arena of life. We see the word used in many places in Scripture to describe the importance of submission. In Luke 2:51-52, we read of a trip Jesus’ parents went on to Nazareth when He was just a child. Luke writes,
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:51-52 NIV)
In Romans, Paul drew a comparison between those who possess a sinful mind and those who live in submission to Almighty God. Paul writes,
5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8 NIV)
The sinful mind is a mind that refuses to place its own desires under the desires of God. They may well know what God wants, but they refuse to say “No” to themselves, they refuse to submit to God’s will, and therefore Scripture says they are giving in to their sinful nature.
There is an order, a rank, throughout creation. The Bible teaches us that creation itself is in submission to Almighty God. We oftentimes look at creation and what happens in “nature” as simply the random acts of the elements, but Paul tells us that creation – every cloud, every molecule, every raindrop is under Divine authority. Paul says that God has subjected creation to frustration at the present time. Read along with me in Romans 8:18-21.
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21 NIV)
God is fully in charge. Make no mistake about it. We can look at our situations and easily conclude that God simply doesn’t care, or is not able to do anything about our situations if we do not understand God’s absolute sovereignty and His absolute goodness. If we will only take the time to reflect on how our own parents disciplined us then we can see that discipline is not fun, but it does serve a purpose in shaping us. The writer of Hebrews says,
11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
It is interesting to notice that the writer of Hebrews recognizes that discipline doesn’t seem pleasant while we are going through it’s rigorous regimen of molding us and shaping us. The word for “pleasant” is an interesting little word. The word means, “joy, gladness, the cause or occasion of joy.” The word is used in other places of the New Testament. Take a look at James 1 with me.
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 NIV)
James says that we are to consider our trials with joy because of the purpose they are accomplishing in our lives. You have to have an understanding that God is at work in your life for you to know that your pain has a purpose.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul uses the same Greek word to express the deep joy that was experienced by the Corinthians even though they were suffering terrible trials. Paul writes,
1 And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. (2 Corinthians 8:1-2 NIV)
The example of the Corinthians and James’ encouragement should be evidence to you and me that we do not have to hang our heads and get angry with God when we go through discipline’s painful exercises. We can know that God is at work and trust Him to bring about His purposes in our lives.
I hope and pray that today all of us will take the time to allow the Lord to reveal to us that He is at work. God is not distant. He is not unable to do anything about our situations. God’s hands are not tied – He is working to produce in you and me what we could never bring about ourselves.
What trial are you going through this morning? What “crucible” does the Lord have you in this morning? As you pass through the fires of your crucible the Lord is skimming away the dross of your character so that you might become a reflection of His character and holiness. Won’t you confess your trust, your need, for His grace to allow you to pass the test?