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The US Army Birthday 2018

Army birthday

It is humbling to consider that there are people who are willing to serve in uniform. Before there was an America, there was an Army. In 1775, the Continental Congress put out a call to arms. People arose and answered the call. They left factories, fields, and the comforts of life to protect people around them. There was a desire to defend home, neighbors, and eventually a new nation.

That spirit of service is still alive today. It is seen every time a young man or woman raises their hand to take the oath of enlistment. It is seen in the dedication and sacrifice of our Army.  It can be seen here and in foreign lands across the sea.

Today, we celebrate the Army’s birthday. It is not a memorial for those who have gone, but a celebration that there are people who are still willing to answer the call. . . the call of service.

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soldier-praying

My first deployment was to Iraq in 2006. It made several things clear. Before Iraq, my faith was comfortable. It had been tried, tested, and proven, but in a very clean and simple way. My faith was comfortable in seminary, at home, at work, and in the church. But that all changed in Iraq. I saw what it was like to constantly be under attack and understood what it was like to be under the threat of death. Iraq gave me something that most Americans do not experience. Iraq also gave me something that most Christians in the western world do not experience. Iraq changed me, but it also changed my faith for the better.

One of the major discoveries from my time in Iraq was truly learning the power and importance of prayer. While seminary gave me the tools and the knowledge regarding a solid prayer life, Iraq was the furnace that forged my prayer life into a solid existence.

Here are four lessons on prayer that helped me down range.

Share your heart. Be transparent with God. Big or small, lift your prayers to the Lord. The night before flying into the combat zone, I spent two and a half hours in prayer. This was the longest span of time I had ever spoken to God in one setting. I had a lot of ground to cover if this was potentially my last night on earth. Cry out no matter what the concern may be. Philippians 4:6 reminds each of us “. . . in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Pray now, not later. Be immediate with prayer. Time is precious, especially in a war zone. If someone shared a prayer request, my new practice was to stop and immediately pray with the person. The location may be on the sidewalk, in the parking lot, at the chow hall, or in the office. There was no reason to wait and the soldier had a need that deserved to be addressed. Hebrews 4:16 shares, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Keep it simple. There is no need to be fancy. Wordsmiths have their place, but not on the battlefield. I felt God calling me to pray for aircraft, well the crews and passengers on board. I crafted a simple three point prayer to say every time I heard a helicopter or aircraft departing the base. Jesus reminds us not to have babbling prayers in Matthew 6:7. Prayers are not heard for the sake of many words.

Have a consistent pattern. My routine was very disjointed in Iraq. The start and end of every day lacked consistency. Unit operations had to happen 24 hours a day and the war didn’t stop. The best time to pray was right before I went to sleep. I could make time to pray once my boots came off. It took a while to find that right recipe, but once I found it the routine stuck. Find a time or habit that can help you make space for prayer. Colossians 4:2 encourages us to, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”

There are many lessons a veteran will find down range. Theses lessons can benefit our Christian walk. The trials of yesterday make us stronger for tomorrow. May God grant us the calling of Romans 12:12, to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.”

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Sacrifice

 

I met a soldier last week. He just moved to Kansas after a three-year tour in Germany; Wiesbaden, to be specific.

My mind immediately filled with questions to ask about his time in Germany. You know, the typical questions that we all ask. What did you like about the town, the people, the food, the sights, and the weather? After a little thought, I asked my first question.

“Wow. Three years in Germany. What did you enjoy the most?”

His response was a telling reality that often goes untold.

“I didn’t spend three years in Germany. My unit went to Afghanistan the first year. I was in Germany with the family the second year. And the third year, I went back to Afghanistan. It sounds funny, but I’ve seen more of Kandahar Providence over the last three years than my duty station in Germany.”

I admired the sacrifice that he made. His three-year assignment yielded two years in a combat zone and one year with his wife and kids. He had surrendered something valuable so that others could benefit. He endured hardship so that others could find comfort and peace. He was willing to die so that others could live.

It is inspiring when a soldier is willing to sacrifice for his countrymen; it is overwhelming when we consider the deep love of Christ. Jesus willingly went to the cross, suffered incredible pain, and died for our benefit. He bled and died so that all of mankind could live.

The obedience, action, and ultimate sacrifice of Christ showed just how valuable we are to him. Through his obedience, we see a caring God. Through his actions, we find the depth of his love. Through his sacrifice, Jesus said that we are worth dying for, despite all of our imperfections, wrongs, and mistakes. Romans 5:8 says, “… while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Christ did not see us as a lost cause. He saw us as individuals worth dying for and became our sacrifice. May we continue to see the perfect love that sent our Savior to the cross on our behalf.

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There are certain times on the calendar when memories of past deployments run strong.  December often makes me mindful of my time overseas.

You are united with your unit as everyone has a job to perform.  You are also united in the hardships and difficulties of being separated from those you love.

December is a tough time to be separated from family and friends.  You miss the traditional family practices and customs like putting up the Christmas tree.  You miss the favorite food and dishes that made this particular time of year memorable.  You miss the gift exchanges.  But you also miss the church gatherings, Christmas pageants, and special worship services.  They are the times and events that keep us strong in faith.

When service members are deployed, we are able to receive packages in the mail.  Uncle Sam will serve us a meal with all the special fixings.  Folks will decorate an office or work station with a snowman, reindeer, or Christmas lights.  But missing church services as a family always proved to be a hardship for Soldiers to overcome, no matter where you were stationed.

This Christmas, 86,000 Soldiers will be forward deployed across the globe.  They will be overseas and away from their loved ones.  They will be working in guard towers.  They will be flying helicopters.  They will be driving tanks.  They will be constructing buildings, bridges, and roadways.  They will be aiding hospital patients.

As we gather in churches across America, let us remember those who are deployed around the globe.

Pray for our service members this month.  Lift them up as they perform their daily duties away from home and in harm’s way.  Pray for their families as they celebrate Christmas with an empty chair at the table and the heartache that can bring.  Pray for God to bring our warriors home safely and for families to heal when they are reunited.  Pray that they can gather next December and celebrate the birth of Christ as a family one more time.

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POW

Today, US Army SGT Bowe Bergdahl was released from captivity.  SGT Bergdahl was held as a prisoner of war for nearly five years.

SGT Bergdahl was handed over by the Taliban Saturday evening in an area of eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border. Officials said the exchange was not violent and the 28-year-old SGT was in good condition and able to walk.

SGT Bergdahl was the only American Soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan.  His release from captivity was in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Our nation rejoices with the Bergdahl family at the news of his safe release. Please pray for SGT Bergdahl and his family as they celebrate his freedom and safe return.

 

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prayer invite

Combat forces are expected to leave Afghanistan sometime this year.  Today about 42,700 troops remain in country; about 30,000 of them are soldiers.  The total number is expected to drop to 34,000 by February.

It is often shared that the most dangerous time on any deployment is the first and last month of your tour.  The first month is dangerous as you learn the ropes and discover how everything needs to work properly.  The last month is dangerous as many folks are in a hurry, tempted to take short cuts, and focus more on going home than the immediate tasks at hand.

Please keep all of our service members in your prayers this year as combat forces continue to return home.

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charity

Folks are having a tough time financially.  2013 has been a tough year for military families.  Many were impacted by the furlough that started in July. Their paychecks were reduced by 20%.  Others have endured hardship due to the recent government shutdown.  While most military personnel were held harmless during this year’s budget battles, there are some who were unemployed for seventeen days and will not receive back pay for any of that time.  Others are still waiting for the call to return to work.

When tough times arrive, you quickly determine what is necessary in your life.

I stopped wearing a watch in 2011.  I didn’t really need it anymore.  I had just come back from a deployment in the Horn of Africa.  Over there, few people wear a watch because it is a luxury they cannot afford.  Folks are primarily concerned with the basic needs of life; food, water, clothing, and shelter.  A watch in Africa is simply an unnecessary item.  An extravagance to many and a poor use of money to most.

I had it pretty good in Africa.  Anyone was reminded of that fact when you left post and journeyed into town. There you saw people living in shacks, shanties, and cardboard boxes.  You saw women selling illegal drugs on the street corner like you would see a hot dog vendor back home.  You saw orphans who had been abandoned due to poverty, prostitution, HIV, or AIDS.  On post, the Army fed me, gave me clothes, provided a bed at night, and paid me to work.  Yes, I had it better than most of the people I saw everyday.

Americans may not realize it, but we are some of the wealthiest people in the world. In 2011, that fact became crystal clear.  Unfortunately, it took an overseas deployment to see it and truly comprehend that reality.

If you made $1,500 last year, you are in the top 20% of the world’s income earners.  If you made $25,000 or more annually, you are in the top 10% of the world’s income earners.  If you made $50,000 or more annually, you are in the top 1% of the world’s income earners.

People may not take comfort with those figures, but it is a great reminder that even in a time of furloughs and shutdowns, God has blessed us and provides for our needs.  During the good times, we do not think about the necessary, because choices are not being forced upon us.  During the tough times, we see how important charity, compassion, and generosity truly are because we ourselves are in need.

We are all challenged to find what is truly necessary in life.  And when that conviction hits us, there should be a response to share our abundance with others.  Scripture reminds us that our value is not based on our valuables, just read Luke 12:15.  In fact, we are called to be a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:6-8), to care for widows and orphans (James 1:27), and also care for the poor (Galatians 2:10).

As we approach Thanksgiving, let us take stock of our lives, find what is necessary, share what God has provided, and thank our Creator for the blessing of His tender care.

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