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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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Military Hands

Every marriage is precious in the sight of God.  It is an institution that began in Eden and continues with us as a gift from our Creator.  We often forget that marriage was meant to be a blessing for humanity.  When Jesus was asked about divorce in Matthew 19, he pointed back to the creation story in Genesis. Perhaps the people needed a lesson on the original intent of matrimony.  Here Jesus reminds the crowd that the marriage of a man and woman was meant to be permanent, a bond of eternal love and devotion.  It is a lesson that we still need today.

No marriage is easy.  They all take work.  They all require sacrifice and commitment.  Military marriages require all the above plus an extra dose of patience, a heap of faithfulness, a double batch of kindness, and a strong shot of self-control.

This week served as a reminder that military marriages are especially difficult.  A recent investigation by the Associated Press showed that 30 percent of military commanders who were fired since 2005 lost their jobs because of sexually related offenses.  The list includes sexual harassment, adultery, and improper relationships.  These 78 commanders lost more than their rank.  They lost more than their position on a military post.  They lost their families.

We all have distractions in our marriage, but military couples truly have an extra burden.  They endure deployments, reuniting as a couple and a family once the deployment is finished, frequent separations for training missions, plus a litany of long days and late nights for regular work to get done.  It is tough to make a marriage like this succeed.

When I completed the chaplain officer basic course at Fort Jackson, drill instructors had the highest divorce rate on post.  Soldiers with this job had an 85% divorce rate.  That number shocked me back then and it still does today.  When you get past the initial surprise, the percentage made sense.  These drill sergeants arrive at work before 5 am, wake up the recruits, train hard all day, get home around 7 or 8 pm, and repeat this kind of schedule until graduation day.  Where is the time for your spouse?  When can you enjoy your family?  With schedules like this, who would be surprised with such a high divorce rate?

Don’t focus on the headlines.  Don’t focus on the gloom and doom.  Military marriages can and do work.  Part of the solution is making time for each other.  Stay current with your spouse.  Attorneys, doctors, social workers, and yes, even chaplains, are required to get a set number of continuing education hours each year.  This is encouraged to keep professionals current on the latest ways of helping those they serve.  We should show the same devotion to stay current in our marriages.  Don’t allow your relationship to wither on the vine.

Remember the gift that God has given you.  Your marriage is meant to be a blessing.  Also remember how God intends us to use the gift of marriage.  May Christ continue to strengthen your eternal bond of love and devotion.

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Technology is trying to make the world better, but it often makes me feel like a dinosaur.

One of the latest marvels out there is a soft, flexible, wristband that you wear 24 hours a day.  It is combined with an app that tracks how you sleep, move, and eat.  The “UP” by Jawbone then helps you use that information to “be your best.”  The concept is extremely impressive, especially to me, a guy who frequently falters in his exercise routine and does not get enough sleep.

Gadgets are often used as mirrors to show people the good, the bad, and the ugly things we do each day.  The “UP” is ultimately trying to improve the physical health of people by showing them a better way and giving daily reminders on what to change.  After learning about this new item, I immediately began to wonder, what technology or gadget is out there to improve spiritual health?  What electrical device could show people a better way and give daily reminders on how to improve their spiritual lives?  What technology, gadget, or electronic doodad would strengthen my walk with Christ?

I am a dinosaur, so responses were slow.  I instead turned to some familiar items that currently help people strengthen their faith.  I distinctly remembered a Marine I met at Camp Lemonnier.  He downloaded the entire Bible to a handheld device and used that for our Wednesday night study of Matthew’s gospel.  During this year’s annual training exercise, Soldiers were constantly asking for a “Military BibleStick.”  It is a digital audio player that is pre-loaded with a dramatized recording of the entire New Testament.  I handed out more sticks than Bibles this summer.  There was another Soldier who wanted to read the entire Bible in a year, so I showed him a website where he could tailor a reading plan to his schedule.

As people begin to use their new gadgets and electronic Christmas gifts in the new year, utilize technology so that you can improve your spiritual health.  Download your favorite translation of the Bible, add a prayer appointment to your electronic calendar, use Pandora and listen to your favorite Christian artist, find a website and sign up for a daily or weekly devotion.  Don’t worry.  Dinosaurs can jump into the mix as well.  It does not matter if you keep a journal on a note pad or an iPad, the focus should be on building your spiritual muscles in 2013.  Use technology in a way that will strengthen your faith and devotion in Christ.

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History has taught us that people are different when they return from war.  Part of the difference is often called the soldier’s paradox.  After returning from combat, veterans can be emotionally distant, edgy, and angry, but they are also happy to be home.

During this time, veterans may have a short temper and little tolerance for mistakes.  They are often more independent and boisterous than before the deployment.  The transition from the war zone to the home zone can be very difficult.  It also allows an atmosphere where anger, resentment, bitterness, and even depression can occupy our minds if we allow it.  If firm boundaries are not in place, we will abuse alcohol, behave badly, curse and swear, start shouting matches, and spend more time with our battle buddies than at home.

To put it plainly, we stumble.

1 Corinthians 10:32 shares, “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God . . . .”

This is an important reminder for returning veterans.  We should not falter in our witness.  Even if we are hurting, our actions are examples that other may follow.  It does not matter who may be watching an NCO, an officer, a spouse, a stranger, or your own child.  That being the case, we should not lead others toward sin.  We should instead reflect the love and peace of Christ.  Our actions should point toward the cross and demonstrate a redeemed life.

There are ways to ease the transition home.

Make time for your family.  Soldiers often make strong ties with fellow warriors while deployed.  This was part of your support network while down range, but there is a family who needs you.  Balance time between battle buddies and family.  Be a godly example for your spouse and kids.

Make time for God.  Growth and development is what every parent wants in a child.  If a child stops growing any parent would be concerned.  God wants us to mature and strengthen our faith.  If you are the same Christian you were last year, something needs to change.  Turn prayer, study, and fellowship into regular activities.  In time, you will see the difference.

We all stumble.  But there is a responsibility to get back on track.  Remember that sanctification is the lifelong process of being changed from one degree of glory to the next, constantly growing in Christ.  As military families continue reintegration, pursue the example of Christ.

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