Monday, August 11, 2014

My Proverbs 31 Wife


Today is my beautiful wife's birthday.  It's also our anniversary.  So you know if I miss this day, I'm in big fat trouble.......DOH! I am missing this day!  This is the first time in 14 years that I haven't been with my wife on our anniversary and her birthday.  I'm sad, but at the same time I count my blessings.  God has blessed me with a wife the encompasses Proverbs 31.  That's one of the biggest reasons we have stayed together and never come even close to thinking about walking away.  That, and we made a commitment long ago that divorce was not even an option on the table.  It's just an easy way out.  More on this when I post a marriage article later this week.

The truth is, I'm undeserving of my wife.  She is an excellent wife, far more precious than jewels (Proverbs 31:10).  I trust her with my heart completely (v.11). She does me good every day of her life (v.12).  She works hard for our family (v.13).  She takes care of us, cooks for us, and sacrifices sleep for us (v. 14-15).  She cares for others in need (v. 20).  She dresses and presents herself well (v. 25). She's an incredible teacher (v. 26)!  The kids and I love her (v. 28)! She fears the LORD (v. 30).  

I could go on and on. Quite simply, she is an example of God's grace to me.  My beautiful, talented, strong, and amazing wife is incredible.  I love her!  Happy Birthday and Anniversary to you, Stephanie! 


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hate to Death


Hate speech?  Sometimes our American culture can be clueless.  Admit it or not, we’re a sheltered culture.  We have no idea what real hate and persecution looks like. 

The news out of Iraq is sickening.  Families and children being put to death, raped, tortured, and driven out by hate-mongerers is reality for Christians there right now.  While many hear the news and turn their heads towards the business of the day, the grim reality doesn’t fully sink in.  Our culture thinks hate is disagreeing with someone or someone’s lifestyle.  Our culture gets disgusted with businesses like Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby because they simply stand on their convictions.

We’re more concerned about speech, labeling it as hateful.  Don’t know about you, but if you want to see real hate, take a look at what is going on in Iraq.  That’s hate.  Real hate leads to death, not a civil disagreement.

Zealots who are completely misguided, warping their own religion, going way past disagreement to full on evil hatred is what we’re seeing in Iraq. 


Imagine living in a place where you cannot believe what you want to believe, say what you want to say, or live according to how you believe you should live.  Because if you did, you would be marked for death, like the Christians in Mosul.

That’s real tragedy.  That’s real tragedy that needs Godly people praying.  That’s real tragedy that should wake us up as a culture to the truth.  The truth is, we don’t see this type of persecution and hate in our land.  Be thankful for that.   Be thankful for God’s provision.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Can God Really Do It?

 
 
 
I want to say that I always pray with confidence.  However, I've been guilty of praying and immediately doubting.  Its not that I think God is incapable.  God can do it.  He can do anything.  My doubt comes in wondering if what I just prayed for is God's will or not.  Because honestly, I don't always know.  Only God knows.
 
As pictured above, being deployed has given me multiple opportunities to pray with patrols that are going outside the wire, sometimes into potentially dangerous unknowns.  I always pray with confidence for Soldiers safety.  It has also given me the experience of praying with Soldiers who have family members back home on their death beds, kids diagnosed with scary illnesses, spouses threatening to leave, and financial issues that could devastate.  I don't know what God's complete will is in all these situations, but I pray with these Soldiers in language that exudes full confidence. 
 
1 John 5:14 says, "And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us."
 
The key phrase is "according to His".  I fully understand that the requests in my prayer may not always fall according to His will, simply because I don't know.  However, my prayers always include a request for wisdom and understanding in God's will, especially when my requests don't get answered exactly the way I pictured.
 
My confidence in God is not fake.  I have full confidence in Him.  My hope in praying for others out loud is that by going to Him confidently it will draw those people to see God at work in their situations.  If God answers differently than expected my guidance to those folks is to seek wisdom and understanding from Him, knowing that there is a purpose in God bringing them through the situations they find themselves in.
 
I never want to bring false hope to someone.  But God wants our cares and requests, and I believe He wants us to always understand and know that HE CAN DO IT, even if its His will not to do it.  Either way, He wants us to see Him and give Him credit.  Praying with confidence gives me ample opportunity to give God credit and point others to Him!
 


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Validate Me


My success cannot be explained apart from God.  I’ve already touched on this some over the past few posts.  However, I would like to specifically highlight the fact that God continues to validate me in the ministry He has called me to.

This validation helps me understand that this is exactly where He wants me.  I’ve doubted my place in ministry in the past.  I’ve doubted that God wanted me in certain places and positions before.  That kind of doubt leads me to believe that God was working to put me right here.

This week my XO handed out an award.  He called it the “Staff Wacker”.  He said quite colorfully (so I am paraphrasing here) that he wanted to hand this out as a reward to the staff member that is “kicking butt and taking names”.   As a Chaplain on an Army Battalion-level staff there are often moments where I feel like I’m in over my head.  Many of these guys and gals are West Point grads, Ranger school grads, and they are some of the sharpest individuals you will ever meet.  Not only that, they work EXTREMELY HARD!  

Many moments, I feel undeserving to outrank or share the same rank as these people.  However, as our staff sat in a meeting with our Executive Officer, he handed me this award.  I was literally shocked.  In fact, it took me a second to even move toward him to collect the reward.  He wasn’t supposed to call my name…..at least I thought.

All I can say is that this is God’s validation.  All throughout scripture we read about the unqualified and messy people that God uses….

JACOB
MOSES
DAVID
SAMSON
JONAH
MARY/JOSEPH
THE DISCIPLES
(just naming a few)
 
My intent is for this to be an encouragement.  Maybe there are many of you who feel like your in ministry or positions that are over your head. No doubt, if God wants you there...He will validate.  You don't ever have to wish for the praise of men or approval of your performance.  God will validate you and show you that you are right where you are supposed to be.

I'm an unqualified buffoon! But God wants me in all my flaws and imperfections RIGHT HERE!  He will validate that in His power!
 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I Stink, but God Doesn't


Have you ever talked to someone who said that they were afraid to enter through the doors of a church because they thought the walls would cave in?  They’re so worried that God will strike them down with lightning for their precarious ways.  

As a Christ-follower, we know that the true picture of God is the father from the Parable of the Prodigal Son, not a vengeful Thor.

So far during my time in Afghanistan, I’ve encountered this type of thinking quite a bit.  It’s easy for me to scoff at the notion, but in all honesty it’s a thought that I should be more burdened about. 

WHY?

  1. It’s not a biblical picture of God.
  2. I often have the same thoughts of God, but just in different ways.
Yes, you read number 2 right!  I have those same thoughts of God, but in different ways.  Let me explain….Ever since I’ve been in full-time ministry, I’ve felt unworthy.  Yes, I’m a believer, but I still sin…..everyday!  I don’t like the fact that I struggle with sin, but it doesn’t change the fact that I still fall short.  There are so many moments in ministry when I’m about to lead, teach, or preach and I start feeling guilty about the stupid sinful things that I’ve done recently.  Those thoughts lead me to doubt.  I begin doubting that God is going to show up.  I start thinking that what I am about to do is going to be more of a disaster than a Kingdom-builder.

BUT YOU KNOW WHAT’S INTERESTING?

In so many of those instances, God still shows up.  God blesses my efforts.  God is still glorified.  God still does His business.

Just this past week, I was struggling with selfishness.  I was feeling a lot of guilt and shame about how selfish my thoughts and some of my actions were.   But in the midst of that, I led a bible study on Wednesday night in which my attendance doubled from the previous week and the conversations were richer and theologically deeper.  I led a service on Sunday in which the attendance tripled from the previous week and I talked to several unbelievers who God is clearly calling to salvation.  I mentored a young man who is struggling in his faith.  I helped a hurting Soldier who had something tragic happen in his life.  I counseled, met with, and prayed for numerous Soldiers who were all dealing with issues in their lives.

Am I saying all this to brag?  YES. I AM.
I’m saying all this to brag on God.  

You see, despite me, God still works.  In spite of my selfish, doubting, and sometimes wayward thinking ways, God is still glorified.  And in all this I’m reminded that my thoughts on God are sometimes just as ridiculous as the “unchurched heathen” that thinks the church will burn down with their mere presence in the vicinity.  

While God is not happy with sin, God still loves me and loves using my efforts to build His Kingdom.  Praise the Lord for reminders like that from 1 John 2:1-2, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins.”

God is not waiting to trip me up during a sermon because I got angry 30 minutes prior and had negative thoughts towards someone.  God is not standing ready to punch me in the face while leading a bible study because I was completely selfish the day before.  Just because I stink at being perfect doesn’t mean that God can’t work.  God is still awesome! 

Don’t get me wrong, the more holy we become I believe the stronger and more enduring our ministry will be.  God wants to use holy people who radiate His glory for His purposes!  However, in the midst of the struggle, we have a God who loves us, waits with open arms, blesses our efforts, and wants to see us get better.  I’m so thankful for that.

Maybe as a minister I shouldn’t admit that or be this weirdly transparent.  But I think I’d be fooling myself to think that most other guys and gals in ministry don’t struggle in the same way.  

Hopefully this can be an encouragement to be aware that our doubts from sin are an attempt by the enemy to stifle God’s work.  God’s work will not be stifled.  Be confident in God, even if you do suck.  But don’t be content with remaining in your sin.  If anything, let God’s grace be a catalyst to grow holier and more passionate for Him.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cool Little God Story in Afghanistan


Every morning I pray asking God for opportunities to do ministry.  Every day He provides.  However, I don’t always see it.  Most days, I’m looking for the big things.  Not that there’s anything wrong with aiming high, because God is a big God, capable of anything. Sometimes though, I get to fantasizing about having 30 people at my door wanting to be saved and a revival beginning in my office, me tackling a rogue gunman and saving someone’s life, or me saying the most profound words in a staff meeting making all of our leadership beg for more as I quote them scripture. 

Notice how all of those things have a selfish slant to them.  Yes, I want God to show Himself as great, because He is, but I also want myself to appear just as great.  God’s not really in that business. God has His own plans and agenda, and truthfully He’s always working and providing ministry opportunities.  I just have to realize that they may not look the way I expect them to look.

That leads me to share a little God story I experienced today.  Honestly, it’s God doing big things, but doing them in such ways that can be easily overlooked if we’re focused on self.

I have a young man in my unit who is brand new to the Army.  He just graduated basic training in May.  He reported for duty at FT Hood a week after graduating and was told that he’d be deploying to Afghanistan in June. He’s so fresh that he has not even earned a piece of rank to wear on his uniform yet.  In the Army, these guys are sometimes referred to as “fuzzies”. However, with God’s help, I try not to focus too much on rank.  I try to just see each guy or gal as a precious soul of God’s in desperate need of a Savior. 

It is evident that God is doing a work in this young man’s life.  The first moment I met him he told me that he feels convicted that he needs to make God a bigger priority in his life.  He’s a believer, grew up in church, and tries to read scripture faithfully.  However, he knows that he has not committed himself lately the way he used to.  He’ll be getting married after deployment and he wants to begin his marriage off in step with God’s plan.

From day one of the deployment, it is clear that God has been orchestrating His influence to surround this young man.  No doubt, he’s scared, plunged immediately into the unknown and the strain of deployment life.  However, it’s obviously God’s plan that this young man be here.  As soon as he stepped on the plane to fly to Afghanistan, this young man met another Chaplain, a Chaplain that I know well.  I have no doubt that this Chaplain gave him good, Godly, wise counsel.  In fact, the young man told me that this Chaplain gave him some devotional material.  Already, we’re seeing God at work.

Secondly, after I met this young man, I felt strongly that I needed to be following up with him and being a constant encouragement in his life.  In fact, this morning, as I prayed about opportunities, this young man came to mind.  My first thought was, “God, what if I can’t find him today?  Am I just supposed to wait until he finds me or walk around until I see him?”.  Funny how we pray for opportunities and when God begins to reveal part of His plan to us, it blows our minds and we immediately doubt.  Maybe this is one of the reasons why God doesn’t give us the complete blueprint or answer key.

Nonetheless, I put the thoughts of ministering to this young man in my mind and decided to be ready for the opportunity. 

I didn’t have anyone to eat lunch with today.  Most days I’ll find someone to tag along with or someone will ask me to go eat with them.  Today was different.  It seemed like everyone was busy.  But this Chaplain was hungry.  I ain’t missin’ lunchtime!

As soon as I walked into the DFAC, who should be in line directly in front of me, but this young man God had brought to my mind during prayer time this morning.  I immediately struck up a conversation with him and we exchanged pleasantries as we moved through the line.  I had the thought, “it’d be cool if I could just sit and have lunch with this dude one on one and talk more in depth with him about his relationship with God”.  However, I figured that’d never happen.  Like most young Soldiers, he probably has his band of buddies and I wouldn’t get much out of him with the other guys around.

Suprisingly, as I went to find a seat, I noticed that this young man picked out a table and was sitting all alone. Immediately, I walked over and asked if I could join him.  What followed was a 45 minute discussion about this young man’s life, relationship with God, and what he saw in his future.  It was ever so clear that God wants to get ahold of this young man’s life and that ministry could very well await in his future.

Well, the story doesn’t end there.  As we talked, the young man expressed a desire for Christian fellowship within the unit.  He was glad to know me and knew that I’d be a good resource for him.  However, he showed desire for more Christian fellowship from among his fellow Soldiers.  As he talked, there was one particular Soldier that came to mind.  This Soldier would be a perfect battle buddy for this young man.  This Soldier that came to mind is probably the most Godly Soldier I’ve met in my unit.  He would not only be an encouragement for this young man, but he would be another good spiritual mentor. 

Now I just had to figure out how to get these 2 guys to meet.  I hadn’t seen this Godly Soldier since Chapel on Sunday. In fact, I had been walking around earlier in the week trying to find this Soldier because I wanted to ask him about helping out with some scripture reading in Chapel.  I had no luck in tracking him down.  My only hope (or so I thought) was for these guys to meet at Chapel service on Sunday.  Little did my puny mind conceive that God was already steps ahead of me.

As soon as this Soldier came to mind, here he came around the corner in the DFAC, with his lunch tray ,and he sat down right behind our table.  God is doing business!

I got up, tapped the Soldier on the arm, and immediately introduced him to the young man.  The young man was so encouraged by this meeting.  I could see his eyes light up.  There’s no doubt that he knows God is doing a work in his life.

As I left that divine appointment, I thought that the most beautiful thing about this little story is that it’s not over. I walked away excited about what God is going to do next.  My eyes were opened to God’s moving today, and I’m eternally grateful.  I’ve already learned that deployment days are long, especially when you feel like you didn’t see God at work.  Again, that’s my own doubt creeping through.  Even on the dull days, God is working.  My job is to be patient, ready, and willing to be whatever instrument He desires for me to be.  Pretty cool, huh?

Friday, July 4, 2014

What is the Big Deal About Freedom?


I often wonder how many people truly understand how big a deal it is to have freedom.  If you've never lived without freedom, it is entirely possible to take it for granted.  Taking it for granted is spending your freedom selfishly.  

We tend to get sucked into heartwarming stories of people being enslaved and earning their freedom, but why? If we learn that the rest of the story includes that person earning their freedom and spending it gratifying all their desires would it still seem heartwarming?

Maybe you'd say yes.  But consider an alternative.  What if an enslaved person earned their freedom, and spent their time of freedom serving and helping meet the needs of other people?

On July 4th, we celebrate our nation's independence and sing praises about our freedom.  I want to say that I now have a deeper respect for those who have served our country overseas, fighting for our freedom, especially now that I am spending my 4th of July doing just that.

Honestly, I think my respect and revere for our nation's freedom fighters has always existed in me. Nothing much has changed in terms of how I view those men and women.  What has become more refined is my focus on what truly makes up freedom.

Scripture says that God "calls us to freedom". (Galatians 5:13) Through Christ we can be set free from sin. However, that passage goes on to encourage to not use freedom as "an opportunity for the flesh".  Instead we are to spend our freedom lovingly serving others.

Makes sense! Why would you want Christ to set you free from sin, only to go right back into sin? Why would a freed slave go back to into slavery voluntarily?

I think to truly understand what a big deal it is to have freedom, you must be actively spending your freedom the right way.  When I live selfishly and feed my own desires, I find little joy and contentment. I'm always wanting and searching for more.  When I spend my freedom the way God intended, I find that joy.  I find that contentment. I find that peace.  

That's the kind of freedom I want to celebrate today. How about you?

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