Thursday, April 30, 2015

Why is Jesus so Great?


There's a movement among young Christians to label Jesus as being greater than religion.  No doubt, Jesus is greater than religion.  More than that, the movement aims to remind believers and educate unbelievers that religion can often cloud the truth of the Gospel, God's grace, due to the traditionalism and sometimes poor judgment of those deemed to be involved in religion.

One of my dear friends is a part of a movement to encourage people to post pictures on social media that read Jesus>Religion.  I concur this is a creative way to encourage the great truth that Jesus is ready to wrap us in God's grace.  At the same time, I can't help but wonder why this simple math formula isn't often highlighted with other things that Jesus is greater than.  Truthfully, Jesus is greater than more than just "religion".  He's greater than everything.  While Christians will read this and all agree, I raise my hand first to say that I am guilty of saying I believe this but don't always communicate it well with my life.

All Christians have heard the messages about "putting Christ first" and "not having any idols".  These are biblical truths/concepts.  It's sorta in those 10 Commandments.  However, I'm certain that I often look for greatness is lesser things and miss opportunities to see God's awesomeness and tell people about it.  One, I miss it because I look for joy and contentment in lesser things.  I also miss it when I get wrapped up in communicating what I'm against rather than what I'm for.  I think the latter is at the heart of the Jesus>Religion movement.  Most would agree that Christians can focus too much on a list of "to-dos" and "don't-dos" and not enough on God's grace and Christ's love.  This is not to say that we join a movement that tiptoes around hard truths and God's expectations as outlined in scripture.  However, I believe it's crucial to truly recognize the amazing, jaw-dropping truth of the Gospel and look to communicate that above all.

I enjoy baseball.  When I want to encourage someone and tell them how awesome the sport of baseball is, I'm gonna tell them the good stuff.  I'm going to talk about exciting finishes, thrilling World Series games, powerful home runs, the best pitchers in the game, the rich American history of the sport, the beautiful smell of the ballpark, and the roar of the crowd.  I'm not going to focus on the fact that you can't throw a touchdown or drive a motorcycle on the field during a baseball game.  However, both those statements are true and will be understood by anyone that follows baseball.  After watching and playing baseball you learn fundamentals, strategy, concepts, and rules.  It helps you know the game more fully and enjoy it more fully.

When I watch an awesome movie, I talk about the awesomeness of the movie.  I don't focus solely on the one slow scene at the beginning.

Yes, Christians should be bold and stand up against sin.  At the same time, we should truly believe that Christ is sufficient, greater than anything, and that nothing else in this world can even compare.  Do we communicate that with our lives?

I know I don't always.  Truthfully, there are things that I pursue over Christ all the time.  I need to remind myself that Christ is greater.  Yes, He's greater than religion, rules, and tradition. He's also greater than everything else I hold dear.  Maybe some of my idols are similar to yours.

Jesus>My Family

This is one is difficult for me to say and type.  I love my family.  They mean the world to me.  However, Jesus is still greater.  When God called me to be a Chaplain, serve Soldiers, and be an agent of His love and Gospel in a dark place, I agreed to go.  I went knowing it might cause me to deploy and be away from my family.  When It came time for me to go, I begged God to get me out of it because I wanted to stay and take care of my family.  That's when God answered back, "I'll be taking care of your family".  God wanted my obedience, not my excuses.  God wanted to remind me that He is great and worthy of pursuit above all.  Jesus says some challenging statements about family when it comes to following him in Luke 14:25-27.  Its not that Christ wants us to disown our families, but He wants us to understand how much greater He is than even the best gifts on earth.

Jesus>My Image


How challenging is this?  Its so easy to be all about myself and caring for the image I project to others.  I'm guessing I'm not the only one.  I know a lot of bearded, coffee drinking, Toms and cardigan-wearing, Mumford and Sons listening pastors out there.  They're are probably all vying to be a hipster Christian.  In reality, they're all working hard to look the same and live up to a certain image.  No matter the description that fits the image you project, chances are you work as hard as I do to project it.  Not saying it's wrong to have a style that fits your personality, but in no way is that image greater than Christ.  Many times we worry more about the coffee we drink, music we listen to, clothes we wear, and technology we carry than we do about the Christ who gave His life up for us.

Jesus>SEC Football


Yep, you read that right.  As good and successful as SEC football might be, it doesn't compare to an inkling of Christ's greatness.  SEC Football is the specific entity I'm picking on from the sports world, but truthfully this formula can include any sport....baseball, football, golf, etc.

If only we showed the same passion and excitement for Christ that we often show for our sports teams.  Many times, we live and die with our teams. If they lose, we lose.  Life sucks!  If they win, we win. Life is grand.....for about 5 seconds.

Jesus>My Entertainment

I love movies and music.  I love my hobbies....fishing, sports, playing guitar, and video editing.  None of those things is greater than Christ.  None of those things is worth talking about more than Christ.  Yet, so many hours are spent revolved around those things.  Truthfully, my earthly entertainment is a waste to pursue, when I have an eternity of worshipping Christ in a place where I will be completely satisfied on the horizon.  I should be anticipating that!

The simple fact is.....Jesus is greater!  Let's act like it.  It's time the world experienced the good stuff.  It gets old dining on the cheap appetizer.  Pursue something better!





Friday, March 27, 2015

I Wanna Be a Hero



I'm convinced that if someone tells you something about yourself, often enough for a lengthy period of time, you're going  to eventually believe what they say is true.

This can be good or bad.  It's great if someone encourages you, helping you develop your God-given strengths.  It's devastating if someone crushes you and rips your confidence out from underneath you like a table cloth under a prepared fancy dinner.  And sadly, they can do this by feeding you lies.

Kids are especially impressionable.  If a parent tells their child that they're smart with reasonable expectations that they display these smarts, the child will grow up to believe they are smart.  If a parent tells their child that they're dumb and holds low expectations for them, the child may grow up to believe that they are dumb.  This can be tragic. People with amazing potential may never come to realize it all because a parent did a poor job of making them believe a lie about themselves.

When you make someone believe they're something great, it can be powerful.  This is played out healthy when what you tell someone is based upon their true potential even if they aren't there yet.  Don't lie to the individual. (For example: if someone cannot sing and does not show potential, don't tell them to pursue a career in singing).  However, encourage the potential found in people!

My kids believe I'm a hero. I don't feel like a hero.  A hero does amazing things, is selfless, and displays great strength and power.  I don't feel like I possess any of those qualities.  However, my kids do.  They see my potential!  The great thing about having people tell you things and believing things about you is that it encourages you to live up to what they see.

I want desperately to be the hero that my kids see in me!

So, in a sense, their belief empowers me and encourages me to pursue the attributes of a hero!

People will believe what you see in them. This is a powerful concept for Christians. So often, we do believers and unbelievers a disservice by only focusing on the sin, evil, and checkered pasts.  We tell people how bad they've been, rather than empowering people with what they are in Christ or what they can be in Christ.  In fact, we often even harm ourselves by telling ourselves how horrible of a person we are, instead of seeing the beautiful creation that Christ has made us before God.

Through Christ, we are spotless....perfection made before God.  We are co-heirs to the Kingdom with Christ!  In Christ, we have power, potential, and walk free from the bondage of sin.  If we tell ourselves that "we're sinners", we'll continue to live up to that potential and sin.  If we are told that we are something more, then we become something more!






Thursday, March 19, 2015

Afghan Missions End



I'm coming to the end of my mission trip to Afghanistan.  Once again, I'm so thankful for the prayers from friends and family. Of course it was difficult keeping in touch with everyone. Being on the other side of the globe doesn't leave much room for texts and calls.  However, I was so appreciative of those who regularly sent me messages, checking in on me and asking how they could pray for me.

I'm thankful to be going home. I miss my family like crazy! I cannot stand being away and missing out on the moments happening in the lives of those 3 people I love so dear.

With that said, God rained down blessings during my time in Afghanistan. I saw people saved, ministered to Soldiers as well as people across the globe, and even found it sad to preach my last sermon at the chapel I ran for the last several months.

I trust God started and refined some work that He is doing in that small corner of the world.  I also trust that God is stirring in the lives of all the Soldiers coming back with me.  I know He's done some work in me.

I feel undeserving to be as blessed as I am. I really discovered how selfish of a person I am during this time and God really worked at having me face that and change it.  I was also reminded at how distrusting I can be, not only of God but of other people.  God really worked to give me a more positive and optimistic mind with others.  I hope that I can continue to improve myself in order to truly be worthy of awards and accolades that God has blessed me with anyways.  I still feel I have a long way to go as a person and a Chaplain.  That's why I'll be focusing on continually growing, even as a seasoned Christian and minister of the gospel.

Thank you to all who read this and have prayed, supported us, and watched over my family during the last nine months. God has used you in a miraculous way!  I look forward to sharing stories of His work from this time for years to come.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Just Do It


What if Nike’s slogan was more than just a call to be an incredible athlete, but a call to ultimate victory? After all, the word “nike” is Greek meaning “victory”.

The following are notes from a sermon I preached today in southern Afghanistan. I find the story of the first marathon interesting. You will too!  Especially since had everything to do with Nike.  Check it out....
 
As Christians, we know that we are called to run the Christian race with endurance.  We are to keep our eyes on the prize and finish strong!  However, in order to do that it’s helpful to be reminded of what our motivation is and what it takes to get there and finish strong.
 
We could very simply say, “JUST DO IT”.  However, why would we just do it and what would we just do?
 
As Paul testifies to in 1 Corinthians 9, the heart of a believer should be to “just do it” for the sake of the gospel.
 

"I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.  Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."

1 Corinthians 9:23-27


So why should the gospel be our motivation?
Think about what the gospel is:
-It is Good News
      - It is Life Changing
       -It is Powerful
       -It Brings Peace
       -It Brings Joy
       -It is the Most Important Fact of Life 
       -It is Eternal Blessings
Our love for others, should be motivation to not sleep on getting the word of the Gospel out!!  Paul is saying that he will JUST DO IT (everything) to get the news of the gospel blasted out…everywhere.
 
Well, how does he “just do it”?  I believe this passage in 1 Corinthians shows us how.  First of all, Paul says to run in such a way to receive the prize.  Don’t lay down on the race.  A successful athlete gives 100 percent….all the time.
 
Secondly, we exercise self-control.  We do this by training ourselves spiritually through prayer, time in the Word, and time with other believers in corporate worship.
 
We also must stay focused and energized.  Paul asked why in the world would someone fight if they are just going to swing at the air? What is the point of shadow boxing if you are never going to fight?  We have to focus on the big picture.  What are we running towards?  As Christians, we’re running toward eternity in paradise.
 
Lastly, we must maintain discipline.  Without discipline, one is sure to fail. An athlete’s strength comes from discipline.  Please continue reading as I share this story about the strength of the first marathon runners, which is where the NIKE company gets is name.

The battle of Marathon was fought around 490 B.C. when King Darius launched an attack on Athens. Since the surrounding city-states would offer little support to the Athenians, the Athenians were outnumbered by the Persians. 
 
Although the Athenians were outnumbered, they caught the Persians by surprise by running the full length of the plain and catching the Persians unorganized. 

The Athenians were able to defeat the Persians by not only striking from the front, but they also flanked the Persian army from the sides. 

Because of this sudden attack the Persian troops broke ranks and fled back to their ships. 

Since the Athenians won they wanted to send word back to Athens to tell of victory so the city could prepare for the Persian fleet attack from the sea. 

So Miltiades sent his best runner Pheidippides to take word to Athens. He ran the whole distance, about 26 miles, and when he arrived he was able to say one word . . . and then he died. 

What was the one word that Pheidippides was able to say before he died? It was “Nike!” He cried “victory!”
 
The Athenians ran the whole distance of the plain of Marathon, which is some 26 miles. This could not have been accomplished without hard training and discipline.
 
 
The simple truth is, we can cry victory as Christians.  We have victory through Christ.  We are running toward a legit prize.  The gospel is too good to sleep on.  Instead it requires our full enthusiasm and endurance.
 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Not Feeling Too Loved


Anyone else tired of seeing Christians post about how horrible it is for people to watch 50 Shades of Grey or how women wearing yoga pants are sinful?  I know I am! If love is what we're to be about, why aren't we promoting it?  We do know that biblical, agape love is worth talking about, right?  There's no sense in wasting breath talking about the world's cheap "dollar store" imitation love and how people are wasting away in pursuit of it, and not taking any time to talk about actual, legit, fulfilling, life changing LOVE!

I like Valentine's Day because the focus is  on love.  Granted, it's often on wrong types of love, but at least we're trying to move in the right direction.

I hear a lot of people complain about Valentine's Day. "It's stupid!" "It's all about businesses trying to extort you to buy expensive crap!" "It's lonely. I don't feel loved!"

I guarantee a lot of people aren't feeling love this Valentine's Day.  Reason why. You're experiencing the wrong kind of love.

Let's break down what life-changing love looks like:

Love is about waiting for the right time to express it and even expressing it when you get nothing in return. Love is sacrifice, giving everything you have to someone. Love is about promoting others, not yourself.  It's encouraging others and building them up. Love always stays optimistic, calm, and finds the good in people.  Love is forgiveness, giving someone a pass even if they've screwed it up.  Love is respect of someone regardless of their gender, class, race, job, or choices. Love is being honest, not hiding things away. Love looks out for others. It's about protecting the welfare of those around you. Love hopes and never quits.  This is why love is work.  Love should never fail and it takes work for it not to fail.

I don't believe you can truly love someone and then fall out of love!  Love never quits! It perseveres.  If you truly love, you will work to maintain it.

Love is not sex. Sex and love are 2 different things.  A real man will not rush to have sex with a woman or cheat on his woman.  A real man will not take another man's wife to bed....ever! These types of men are worthless garbage. They aren't expressing real love. They will cheat every chance they get to satisfy themselves.

Real love is not having a man want to sleep with you. That's not that impressive ladies....it's not difficult to get a man to have sex. Men are dogs!

Love is so much more than romance, flowers, candy, dinners, fine wine, and hotel rooms.  Real love trumps even the most expensive date.  Why?  Because real love is eternal, not a few hours.

Don't just take my word for it. I only share truths I've learned from God's Word....

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says,

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

What God is Still doing in Afghanistan


“I'm stuck in Afghanistan and I can't get out.”  That's the thought many Soldiers have right now.  Month 8 into the deployment and the desire to go home is lingering around more than ever.  
 
It's been a while since I've posted an update on the work God is doing here, so let me fill you in on some things.
 
  1. Your prayers are valued and a necessary part of the success I've been granted.  I've had more people tell me from back home that they have been praying for me and I have no doubt that you are all telling the truth.  I cannot humanly explain the success I've had. Why? Because I think I suck as a Chaplain. Yes, you read that right. I am no good. I get easily annoyed by people. I can only tolerate long conversations with certain folks. I am many times, way too selfish.  And I constantly struggle with the distraction of sadness that comes from being away from my family.  A Chaplain can't be those things.  No doubt God provides me with the ability to be the good things that I am not in the flesh.  Prayer helps this! God has granted me with the ability to minister to thousands of people (Soldiers and Civilians). I've counseled over 150 people. I've preached over 60 sermons, led over 30 bible studies, and shared the gospel countless times.  The beautiful part is the missional impact that God has allowed me to have. My current location is filled with people from Africa, India, Philippines, Afghanistan, the United States, and many other places.  I've had opportunity to minister and pour into people of all these countries.
 
That, by itself, is a description of wonderful God-given success.  However, in addition to these things, I have been blessed to receive recognition for my work here.  Even though I don’t believe I deserve it in any way, I was put in to receive a Bronze Star.  Who knows if I will get it or not?  Just the fact that I was put in for one is an honor.  I received a few other awards during my time here too.  Why?  All I can say is “I don’t know.  Ask God.”  Like I said, I don’t feel like I do anything special or even exceptional.  The only thing I do well is PT.  God blessed me with the ability to score a perfect 300 on my most recent test.  I believe God wants to grant me success at this point in my life….not for my own glory, but for me to use it for His.  So that’s what I’ll keep doing.  Again, no doubt, your prayers have a lot to do with this.
 
The most meaningful successes are the eternal ones.  I’ve had opportunity to lead 3 Soldiers to Christ, and baptize one of my Soldiers (my very own Battle Buddy).  Praise God!
 
  1. God Has Given Me an Exceptional Battle Buddy.  I love the idea of having a Unit Ministry Team in the Army.  However, I’m not a fan of the name “Chaplain Assistant”.  I think a 56M is more than a secretary for the Chaplain.  The 56M is an equally valuable and integral part of the team, and that’s the way we should treat them as Chaplains.  I’m fortunate that my 56M lives up to being a worthy member of the Unit Ministry Team.  
 
Before the deployment, I knew that I got along well with my 56M, SGT Calah White.  However, I never would have dreamed the opportunities and blessings God would give me through working with her.  First of all, what an opportunity to invest in someone!  Being deployed with a 56M by your side gives you a chance to either invest in their lives spiritually or disgust them to the life of a Christ-follower.  I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but God has impressed on me greatly the ideas and allowed me to seize constant opportunities to invest in my battle buddy.  In turn, she has invested in me as a friend and a squared-away NCO. 
Every morning, we do a devotional in the office and pray.  We start each day focusing our minds on the ministry God has entrusted us with.  I am so thankful for that.  Each week, we take time out to talk about what God is doing in our lives, what we’re reading in scripture, and we pray for each other’s families.
 
God has allowed us to have unflinching teamwork, fun, and comradery.  I believe our enthusiasm and joy has rubbed off on many Soldiers!  There are Soldiers who just want to come by the chapel to be around us.  Joy is contagious!  What a beautiful opportunity to show them the love of Christ through our joy.  I’m thankful for my 56M and honestly dread the day that we don’t work together anymore!
 
  1. Ministry Has Shifted from Danger to Questioning of Purpose.  The first few months of the deployment, we faced daily danger.  We had rockets being shot at us.  One hit not far outside my office one morning.  Some of our men faced IEDs and firefights.  We had some close calls and a few serious injuries.  Luckily, no one was killed from our unit.  During these months, I dealt with a lot of anxiety, stress, and worry from our Soldiers.  There was fear in their hearts.  There wasn’t as much time to think about home and what they were missing.  Life was busy and more tense.  
 
For the past few months, life has slowed down greatly.  We don’t face the same constant dangers.  Now, Soldiers have more time to think.  Many are ready to go home.  They have this feeling of being stuck.  Some question their purpose on why they are still here.  The challenge has been helping to keep them motivated!  I find that same challenge in my heart too!
 
  1. Deployments are Tough on Marriages, and I Realize Even More How Awesome of a Wife that I Have.  Out of the 150+ counselings that I have had, 1 out of every 3 has been a marriage/relationship issue.  Every week I deal with issues of unfaithfulness, distrust, communication, and financial hardships.  I’m constantly blown away by the spouses back home that have taken their partners absence as an opportunity to sew wild oats or try out experiences with other lovers.  It’s horrendous.  Some men and women here aren’t doing their part either.  It’s sad to hear the stories of couples who just give up.  Their marriage can’t take a 9 month separation.  A temporary situation is treated with a permanent solution.   
 
Guys especially struggle with pornography.  Not having sex for several months is difficult.  Trust me, I know!  I’ve had to experience this too.  It sucks!  It’s doubly difficult in the Army too, because we’re not a hug-it-out, touchy-feely organization or workplace.  Not having physical human contact can be taxing.  However, the wrong answer is to turn to pornography and self-pleasure.  I’ve tried to stress this during Marriage workshops and redeployment trainings that pornography use will just lead to unrealistic expectations and poor sexual experiences when Soldiers return home.  Just hope some of them have listened.  
 
I am thankful God gave me an amazing woman.  My wife has been the exact opposite of what many of the horror stories I hear about are.  My wife has worked tirelessly, devoting herself to our family and raising our precious children.  Instead of “shopping around” for physical pleasure in my absence, she’s been reading books on how to be a stronger wife and supporter to me.  She’s been praying constantly for me.  She’s been encouraging me, even from a distance.  
 
It is so awesome and peaceful having a wife that I can trust and count on.  I know redeployment will come with challenges, but I have no doubt our marriage will continue to be strong because of God’s presence in it.  She is my rock and my number one fan!  (probably my only fan).  I am so undeserving.  Hopefully she knows that I am her biggest fan!  Without her, I couldn’t make it through the deployment.  I’m thankful God has given me such an wonderful partner.   
 
 
  1. Despite the Environment and Being Away from My Family, I’ve Managed to Have Fun.  Deployments aren’t made to be fun vacations, and it hasn’t been that.  However, I am a fun person at heart and I can’t just sit back and let duldrums become my existence or the existence of the people around me.  I can spend all day on here talking about the fun I’ve had between the game nights, karaoke nights, movie nights, smoothie nights, watching different television series, traveling to locations all over Afghanistan, riding in a Blackhawk with the doors open, doing burpees, office accent weeks, eating local cuisine, or having friendly bets with my battle buddy and enforcing outrageous pay-ups.  Fortunately, there’s too much that I have to write about here.  Let’s just say, God has blessed me with joy!  I praise Him for that!
 
  1. It Has Been a Joy to Give.  Many donors and some of you have given care packages to us.  We’ve been able for the last 8 months to provide food, toiletries, magazines, and gifts to our Soldiers.  It means a lot to them.  It has been a lot of work, collecting and downloading boxes.  However, its been worth it.  When our Soldiers go outside the wire on missions all night long, its awesome to see them stop by the chapel to grab snacks that help them refuel and keep going.  Its awesome to know that meeting simple needs is helping not only accomplish the mission here, but its accomplishing the mission of making Christ’s love known.
 
If I could ask for anything from those who may read this, it would be first and foremost to pray.  Pray for our continued safety.  Pray for God’s word to transform hearts.  Pray that I can be an agent of Christ’s love to all I come in contact with.  Pray for continued strong teamwork for me and SGT White.  Pray for the marriages of our Soldiers!  Pray for my wife and children back home.  Pray that Stephanie will have strength and that our reunion will be joyous.
 
Not that I am asking for you to blow smoke up my butt or pat me on the back….However, let me just say that I do appreciation encouragement.  Honestly, I don’t get much of it.  I especially don’t get encouraged much by people here.  Stephanie is my most constant encourager!  Again, I’m thankful for that!  So please know, that when you send the FB messages, e-mails, or write comments, I am very appreciative.
 
The deployment is nearing end, but I’d also ask that you’d pray for me to finish strong.  2 Timothy 4:7 says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  My goal is to say this truthfully at the end of this deployment.  Finishing strong can be hard, especially after working every day for 8 straight months with no break.  However, its not impossible.  Pray for strength!
 
 

200 Burpees

 
We hit the 200 burpee mark over the past week, and we are closing in on 40,000 total burpees this deployment.  To catch you up to speed, we started doing one burpee a day since the start of the deployment, adding an additional burpee every day.
 
You are probably asking "why?"
 
If I'm being honest, I can't exactly tell you why, but let me tell you what it has been good for....
 
1. It has helped foster stronger teamwork between me and my Chaplain Assistant.  We are a strong team.  I would argue one of the strongest in the Army.  A strong Unit Ministry Team means stronger help for our Soldiers.
 
2. It has helped us lead the way physically.  In a corps that isn't always known for physical ability and serving in a Combat Arms environment, it gives more credibility to our ministry when we not only hang with our Troopers, but also when we outperform them!  Most recently, we led the way with the highest section PT average in the unit.  Granted, we are only 2 people, but I still think its a worthy accomplishment.  God allowed me another 300 on the test.  Just another way I can point glory to Him!
 
3.  Its opened the door for conversations with Soldiers.  They know we do burpees.  They see us do them.  They wonder why we do them.  Its been a great open door to talk teamwork, exercise, and God's blessings.
 
 

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