Wednesday, July 27, 2011

But my Dad was a Christian!

A very kind elderly gentleman at a Baptist church in central London explained to me quite simply a primary difference between a Baptist and other lanes of Christianity.

“We aren’t particularly popular among the masses for the very simple reason that we ask people to make a choice for God. We ask them to make that commitment to Jesus and they feel it should simply be given freely with no effort on their part. It’s the choice. The choice is what sets us apart.”

How many people do you know who feel their place in Heaven is assured simply by believing that there is a God? I know many. I know some who feel their salvation is imminent because their parents were Christians.

“I don’t know if there is a god, like THE god in the bible, but I do believe there is a higher power who watches over us. I can’t say that it is the Christian god for sure though.”

This type of comment is typical of those who wish to have the belief without the effort. They want fire insurance but do not care for the personal sacrifice that it will take to let Jesus be real in their lives. They want a faith that will not offend.

It has almost become cliché for pastors to point out how offensive our faith truly is to
nonbelievers—but it doesn’t make it any less true. Our faith says that many will go to hell. And that offends people regardless of how true it is.

 Let’s face it: It is hard to give up sin. It is hard. Sin is fun while we are engaged in it; it only stinks afterwards when we face the consequences through guilt, a spiritual deficiency and possibly physical ailments.

Must we actually make a choice for God? Or is the choice made for us?

I sit in awe as I read Genesis and see how it outlines the early dealings between God and man. By the time we get to Abraham, God has a plan, but man is still learning how to deal and interact with God. God manifests himself to Abraham both from the Heavens and in human form. He gives Abraham opportunities to follow him. God goes so far as to ask Abraham to sacrifice his only son. And then guess what? Abraham chooses to obey him.

God reveals Himself to Abraham and promises the impossible in return for Abraham’s faith. He reveals Himself also to Isaac and Jacob but for each of them a faith in God does not seem to be an inherent trait that they are born with. God proclaims His promise to them and they in turn choose to follow.

All three of these men sin. Each of them fail to live up to God’s standard and yet they remain in God’s grace. Abraham twice presents his wife as his sister out of self preservation. Isaac does the same. Jacob deceives his brother and father and neglects his wife. But God still fulfills his promises to them because they have chosen to follow Him. They choose to live where God wants them to live and take the wives God wants them to take.

Perhaps it all relied to some extent on the willingness of these men in the early stages of the Bible to choose a life that would honor God. There could come from this a great debate about free will versus predestination. But I believe all of these men throughout the Bible had a choice. A choice to follow God or follow man. A choice to live for God’s glory or for their own gain. By choosing the way of righteousness they accepted their role in God’s plan for the Salvation of Man.

God could have and surely would have used others of course had these men fallen to the wayside, but they didn’t and He didn't. And because of the choices made in these early years of history a prophecy was given and fulfilled through our Lord Jesus Christ in whom we find our salvation.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The End of the World as We Know it

I feel fine. Before all of this Camping--Armageddon business came into the spotlight, someone asked me if I thought the world would end in 2012. Time is relative. We created calendars and time measurement, so what does 2012 really mean in terms of the end of the world?

And if the world ends what do I care? Has God not promised me a place in Heaven? I am secure in my faith. At the end of the world I am going to be with God. We may get hit by a meteor or have some massive global warming breakdown…I’m not sure, but a disaster like that wouldn’t signify the end of the world. The subject of the end of the world is discussed in scripture at length and  it is the shout of Jesus returning that I will be waiting for rather than a natural disaster or a date determined by man's mathematical figures.

I wrote a play once about two dead men. Both appear in a limbo-like state out of darkness. One arrives with a sigh and takes a breath of fresh air. He behaves as if a great weight has been taken from him. When the second man arrives it is with a cry of pain and anguish. He is scared of this new situation. The idea is that one of these men was a Christian prior to death. The Christian is relieved to be gone from Earth. Each second in his new surroundings is another moment he remembers less about his life. What’s back there isn’t what’s important. What is waiting is.

We should take care of our planet. We should be good stewards of the resources God has given us and we should spend our time on this Earth enjoying God’s grace and seeking ways to further His kingdom. Enjoy your family, enjoy your kids, have that care-free cookout with the guys. Enjoy it! But don’t lose sight of what is important and what is simply…a cookout. You can sink into nihilism if you aren’t careful, but if you simply maintain perspective on what it means to be a Christian at the end of life, there should be no fear or anxiety regarding what is to come.

Of course you don’t want to die right now. Who does? We have bills to pay, loved ones we want to enjoy. We get attached to this globe. I do not want to die until my children are grown and can support themselves. But if God sees fit to take me sooner than that, I simply have to trust Him that it is for the best. And not my best at that—His best. Easier said than done, but personally I do not fear death.

I made the statement, “So what do I care if the world ends?” Even though we are secure in our faith and know our place in heaven is assured, there is something to care about for as long as this world exists. There are lost people who will not be joining us in Heaven and for us to sit back and allow that is unacceptable. Only God can change their heart, but we are commanded to reach out and help make the introductions.  God uses us as His tools for ministry and evangelism. Do not hide your light under a bushel. Let it shine until the day God takes you home.

I want to go the way my Gramps went. He opened his eyes in the middle of the night and said, “Lou Ada. I’m dying.” My Granny called in the nursing home staff and they tried to revive him, but I imagine that Gramps was at the gates of Heaven and there was no turning back. Why would you want to turn back when you are so close to eternity with God? I think he saw Jesus at that moment and wanted to, out of common courtesy, let Granny know that he was headed out.

Monday, July 25, 2011

May 22, 2010

I assume the watch at 9pm on May 22nd.

Brand and I pulled the van up to one of the roads leading to the front of the hospital. With flashlights and rifles we stop each vehicle to ensure that it is driven by a friendly and that it contains a legitimate patient for the docs to work their magic on. Half an hour prior to this a rocket hit the boardwalk, not 50 yards from our barracks. The round shook the walls and made my stomach turn.

Our hallway quickly filled with refugees seeking shelter from the rain of Chinese rockets, mortars and RPGs coming over the wire. The sirens blasted every few minutes until we had reached three rocket attacks in less than half an hour, an unprecedented amount in such a short time. As civilian’s and unfit soldiers cower in our hallway we hear the call, “Ground attack everyone! Mass Casualty. All hospital personnel prepare to move out.”

In the glow of the emergency lights I see Watkins throw on his flak. The sounds of Velcro ripping and rifles locked and loaded echo through the hall. I prepare mine with an extra magazine, a flashlight and my knife. I am not medical, I am logistics. I know my duty tonight will be security related.

As Brand and I stop cars and demand identification from drivers we notice the snipers on the roof across from us. At least someone has our back. Tactical vehicles pass with great speed on their way to vanquish the foes who are trying to breach the wire.

“I have to piss so bad.” Brand informs me. I tell him to go on the side of the van, no one will see or care. As soon as he finishes a Chief arrives to check on us.

“You boys need some water?” I can hardly understand his words beneath his deep southern accent, but I assume he has brought us water since there are three bottles in his hands and only one of him. The water is hot but it serves a purpose. We start to lay out our check point procedures to chief when the rocket siren blares again. We dive onto the gravel road and I find myself staring straight into Brand’s face. We have both eaten dirt a couple of times tonight but he seems concerned.

“You alright?” I ask.

He whispers, “I’m fine…but I think chief just dropped in my pee puddle.”

My God.

After a few hours of yelling at people for trying to drive up our road we are relieved. They tell us to head back to the quarterdeck and we can go home. Sleep sounds nice.

3 am. The road from the flight line to the hospital is pitch black. The only light comes from the fighting taking place a mile from where I stand.  Every so often a flare goes up and shots ring out as the Force Protection fights back the threat to the main gate of our base. I am alone out here, there is no one else to guard this entry point. I am certain that I see movement across the flight line and that before daylight breaks I will kill a man with my rifle if it means getting home alive to my family. My eyes strain to make out the terrain. I’ve never seen this area in the daylight, now I must guard it in the dark. I think I see a trench 5 yards in front of me. If someone tries to breach my guard station I will jump down there for cover.

My flak jacket is heavy. The weight increases every minute I stand there. My rifle is fully locked and loaded and I pray for accuracy when the time comes as I desperately try to remember when I cleaned it last. In training the weight of the armor gets heavier the longer you wear it. The first day it is pronounced to be 30 pounds of added weight. By week three it is called 50 pounds and by the time you leave Kuwait for Afghanistan someone will insist that you are wearing 75 pounds extra on your back.

 I sit down to give my back a rest from the armor, almost immediately I start to fall asleep. I stand back up and continue to man my post. I can sleep sitting up if I am tired enough. I remember that now. In boot camp I could sleep while marching, sitting up is no great challenge.

There are eleven general orders of a sentry. They are pounded into your brain during boot camp. I can’t remember any of them now. “I will not quit my post until properly relieved.” Of all the orders to remember that had to be the one…

I am on my sixth hour on this four hour watch. I could have gone home, but they needed another guard and I was one of the few who had eaten before the attack. It felt wrong to make someone else stand out here.

Jets start to take off, their engines are deafening. Someone out there is about to get it bad. I see someone running at me, I stare through the blackness to try to make out the shape of this man (or men) who are about to try to breach my sector. This is more than I bargained for, but it is my job. I am ready to kill. I close my eyes and prepare for the impact of battle, preparing to dive into my trench of safety.

 I open my eyes and there is no one.  I start to stretch and walk around to get the blood flowing. If I fall asleep out here I will go straight to captain’s mast and rightfully so.  My watch reads 5am. 8 hours standing in this body armor. Double the shift I was told I would stand.  At least it is daylight now and people are starting to move about the base again. The threat has seemingly been held off for the night.

Apache helicopters are hovering around the mountains in the distance. Every so often one of them stops in mid air and blows a hole in the side of the mountain.  The explosion is terrific. My knees are about to give out from the weight above and the rocks below.

Someone comes to check on me. I have been standing watch for 9 hours. They promise to find relief for me and disappear. Another sailor finds me and promises the same. When my watch has reached a total of 10 and a half hours I am approached by a third sailor who informs me that all watches were secured two hours ago.

 I am told I may take the day off. I inform them that they couldn’t get me to stay at work if they tried. I look back at my trench of safety. It is filled with razor wire. I would have killed myself jumping into that thing.

Truly I am no warrior. I am a shore based sailor biding his time to the end of the contract. I will do what it takes to end this commitment with honor. Tonight was the hardest night of military duty in the last five years. Surely there will be more to come.

I am properly relieved.                

Friday, July 22, 2011

And So It Begins

Not sure what this blog will entail and who will read it. From time to time I have thoughts that I need to write and sometimes when I write them down I determine that they could be shared with anyone who cares to read them. When I can't think of anything remarkable to say I will make an attempt at throwing out an anecdote or two.

I've been a military postal clerk in the navy for the last 6 and a half years. Married to my most excellent wife for the last 4. While stationed in Afghanistan (a time I will most certainly talk about at greater length) I felt that I needed to review and pray about a call to ministry I had felt back in high school. Through a series of events that lined up only as God could arrange them I was recently called by First Baptist Church of Miller, SD to be their pastor. This is a most exciting adventure my family and I are embarked on and we look forward to seeking God's plan for this fantastic group of believers and their impact on the community.

If you are reading, please post something just so I know I haven't been typing to air. If I have even one reader I will feel motivated to write more.

God Bless!