Category Archives: Deployment Lessons

These are things that God showed me while I was deployed.

Never enough.

This is part eleven of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

I think this will be the last entry under the “Lessons I Learned in the Desert” series. One of the best aspects of my deployment was that I learned so much! It was an amazing experience. I learned a lot about God, the Bible, how to love people, and I learned a lot about myself. My deployment was a constant learning experience and taught me lessons I will carry with me through life.

But it doesn’t just stop there, I’ve realized that I will never stop learning. I am, among other things, a student and I always will be. We can never learn enough from God and we can never know God too closely. Late in his life, Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians. Paul is a super-star of the faith; he wrote 13 books of the New Testament and brought Christianity to the non-Jewish world! If anyone knew God you would think it was Paul, but in Phil 3:10, he says very simply that he wants to know Christ.

Even after everything Paul had done, he still desired to know Christ more and more. Our attitude must be the same as that of Paul. We must always pursue the relationship that we are free to have with God. In fact, Galatians 4:6 tells us that the Holy Spirit inside of us cries out to God like we would our dad. We must also have the humility to admit that we don’t know everything; we must remember that there is plenty of room for God to teach us and surprise us. I pray that I will always desire to have a deeper, stronger relationship with God… by the Holy Spirit, through the Son, to the Father. Amen.

The American Dream

This is part ten of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

I don’t normally start my entries with a disclaimer, but I’d like to start this entry by simply stating that I think America is great. I wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else and I’m grateful I was born here because of the freedoms that I’ve enjoyed all my life. I do think we’ve seen better days and I fear for the future of my country, but overall, I still think we are the greatest society in human history. I would also like to say that I do not think money is evil. I, do however, think money makes a horrible master. Finally, I must state that I do not think poverty is a virtue. That being said, today I wanted to talk about the American Dream…

Per Wikipedia, the American Dream is a phrase used to describe “a national ethos of the United States in which freedom includes a promise of prosperity and success.” There are two important things to note about this definition. First is that prosperity and success are somehow promised to us; just because we are born and raised in America we are entitled to prosperity and success. The second thing is that our culture has a very, very materialistic definition of prosperity and success. Maybe this doesn’t apply to all generations and age-groups, but I know for certain that while growing up I was brainwashed by my culture to believe that success meant a six-figure salary, never, ever, under any circumstances allowing yourself to be uncomfortable, and having more stuff than I could ever possibly need.

How does the American Dream stack up against Scripture? As Christians, can we reconcile the American Dream against what Jesus teaches? In Rich from the Nooma series, Rob Bell says:

“There’s a popular bumper sticker that reads “God Bless America,” but hasn’t America already been blessed? It’s easy for us to fall into a mindset of viewing “our” world as “the” world, because it’s all we generally see. We’re constantly bombarded with images of the latest styles and models of everything, and it can easily leave us feeling like what we have isn’t enough because we see people that have even more than us. But how does what we have compare to what most people in the world have? Maybe what we have is enough; maybe it’s more than enough. Maybe God has blessed us with everything we have so we can bless and give to others.”

(This video is just an excerpt.)

Would I be crazy if I suggest that we Americans have enough? Go to the Global Rich List and see where you rank. The American Dream tells us we need more, more, more. Always, constantly more! As Donald Miller writes, “The average American encounters 3,000 commercial messages each day.” And, “these images and messages are designed to cause you to think of your life as incomplete, and desire the product they are selling to make your life complete again.” We’re bombarded with messages that tell us our stuff isn’t good enough. Your $200 watch can’t tell time accurately enough? The brand-new car you bought 6 months ago is too old already? Your life will be full of adventure and excitement if you buy a certain cologne? It may sound crazy in print, but pay attention to the messages that commercials and ads send your way. Beware of brainwashing!

Jesus talks about wealth and money; in fact He has some very timely advice. In Luke 12:15 he says that our life is more than our stuff. His exact words are, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus then tells the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21. When I first read that parable I realized that it sounded a lot like my plans and goals for life. I wanted to work most of my young life away, store up as much money as possible, then retire and wait to die. The problem was that I never wanted to serve anyone or give anything back and that I knew I wouldn’t be happy if all I got out of life was a fat nest egg. Instead, I’d rather make a difference with my life. I want to serve God and help people. I want to be remembered. I want to leave a legacy.

In Matt 6:21 Jesus cautions us that our treasure and our heart are tied together. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Then in Matt 6:24, Jesus draws the line and calls us to either be devoted to God or money, but not both. We can either serve God or serve money. Last September Connie and I went to Hawaii and I saw little Tiki gods for sell. I decided to buy the Hawaiian tiki named “Hapa.” That’s the Tiki god of money. I bought it so that, when I look at it, I would be reminded that money is just an idol. Nothing more. I can choose to serve that tiny, powerless tiki god, or I can worship the True and Living God.

So what is a good balance for a Christian to strike? I don’t think we should all give everything away and live in tents outside. In Prov 30:7-9, the author asks God to simply give him enough. “Give me neither poverty nor wealth,” he says. As Christians, I think we should desire enough; we should be satisfied with enough; we should thank God for enough; and anything else extra we should use wisely to bless others.

As Jesus says in Matt 6:33, we should seek to serve God first. He will take care of the rest. This may result in you not retiring with a $2 million retirement fund, a 10,000 square foot house with an indoor pool, and a brand new Mercedes in your garage, but I promise that you will make a difference in the world around you and you will be content. In Phil 4:12-13 Paul tells them the secret to being content: Jesus. Paul was not a rich man, he did not have a nice chariot, he did not retire at an early age. In fact, he was poor, he often went without, and he died in prison. Paul was a man who certainly lived a hard life, but the effects of his faithfulness resulted in him authoring most of the New Testament, starting churches all around the world, and leaving a legacy that has lasted for over 2,000 years.

Do not worry about the American Dream. God has not called us to be successful, He has called us to be faithful.

Wise guys

This is part nine of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

James 1:5 almost sums it up entirely: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” We live in a world where information is more available than it has ever been. They call our age the “Information Age.” Just look at what smart phones have done to us. Now, if I want to know the Hawaiian word for “money” I can grab my iPhone, open the Google app, speak the words into my phone, and it will give me the answer. (As an experiment I actually tried this and it worked. The Hawaiian word for money is “kala.”)

This availability of information and facts have lead us to believe that we are wise. Proverbs 3:7 warns us against this mentality. Instead, we are to ask God to bless us with wisdom. Wisdom is not the same thing as information. Being informed is simply knowing something; wisdom is knowing how to live. Proverbs 1:3 says that wisdom is “doing what is right and just and fair.” I love the way Richard J. Foster puts it in Celebration of Discipline:

 “All of us know persons who have taken some course of study or attained some academic degree who parade their information in an offensive manner. We should feel profound sorrow for such people… They have mistaken the accumulation of information for knowledge. They equate the spouting of words with wisdom. How tragic!”

James 1:5 teaches us that God is the giver and source of wisdom. We must ask Him for it and only from Him can we receive it. Proverbs 4:6-7 say that we should get wisdom above all else. Wisdom is supreme. I think it’s safe to say that attaining wisdom should be on every Christian’s to-do list! Without wisdom, we will all live very hard lives individually. And without wisdom, as a society, we will collapse.

We live in a culture that is growing less and less wise. We must learn to think critically about the messages that culture throws at us and the methods through which we receive theses messages. For example, I recently heard Four Minutes by Madonna. It had a catchy beat so it kept me listening and I heard the line, “If you feel it, it must be real.” Those simple 8 words, while they sound harmless, are toxic. Thing about the repercussions of that mentality. It means that our feelings are the way we should define reality. Do what you want, as long as it feels good. Is this a way to live life? This is just one example, but listen to the radio, go to the movies, watch TV and you will be inundated with all sorts of bizarre and unwise messages about sex, money, drugs, violence, etc. Our culture is saturated with unwise thinking.

Christians, I urge you to be wise about what you let dictate the way you think about the world. If you’re not sure where to go, here’s a hint: read your Bible! I also urge you to “get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7) First, ask God for wisdom. James 1:5 promises that God will give us wisdom if we sincerely ask. Another great way to deepen your wisdom is to read Proverbs. The book has 31 chapters, so read one chapter a day. You’ll be amazed at the practical wisdom contained within Proverbs!

“He’ll never become a Christian…”

This is part eight of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

I love hearing people’s testimonies. A lot of people really surprise me. For example, the below testimony of Brian “Head” Welch:

During his musical career, it would’ve been easy for Christians to dismiss Brian. It would’ve been easy to say something like, “Look at that sinner, he’s too far gone to ever become a Christian.” It would’ve been easy, but it would’ve been sinful. It would’ve been judgemental. Those Christians need to learn something about love and have obviously never taken Eph 2:1-5 to heart. In that passage, Paul is talking to Christians about who they used to be before they were saved. More than anything, those Christians would’ve been dead wrong. Like I said yesterday, God will surprise you! Now, Brian is a Jesus-loving Christian with a powerful testimony!

There’s a multi-century debate among Christians about free will vs. predestination (also called election).
Does God choose who gets saved or does man? This is one of the great dividing lines in Christianity: Calvinism and Arminianism. First and foremost, I’ll say that you can fall on either side of this debate and still love Jesus. Romans 14:1, while talking specifically about food, makes it clear that there are disputable matters; that is, there are certain things that Christians can disagree about. Free-will vs. predestination is a disputable matter.

That being said, I used to be a big advocate of free-will. I believed in choice. I did not want to believe in predestination so I ignored certain Bible verses (like, oh, I don’t know… Rom 8:29-30, Eph 1:3-12, 1 Thess 1:4, 2 Thess 2:13, Matt 22:14, John 13:18, John 15:16, John 15:19, etc.) and logically explained how I would do it if I were God. After reading the predestination chapter in Religion Saves and praying for God to reveal the truth to me, I have completely changed my stance.

(One big thing for me is this:  I’m not concerned with winning theological debates; I want to know and share truth. That only happens if you’re willing to swallow your pride, put aside your personal opinions, and look at what Scripture teaches. Once you know for sure what the truth is though, you should certainly defend it!)

After realizing that God chooses who gets saved and who doesn’t, and knowing that God is a loving God, I’ve realized that you never know who will get saved. Brian was a very, very unlikely candidate. I’ve met plenty of people who changed dramatically after getting saved. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? I’ve seen it first-hand during my deployment.

I now know that God can save anyone, regadless of who they are and regardless of what type of past they have. You just never know who God will choose to save, therefore we must love our neighbors and share the Gospel with all!

(For anyone interested in learning more about free-will vs. predestination, check out the Religion Saves book by Mark Driscoll or watch the sermon below.)

Life is full of surprises!

This is part seven of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

When I first found out that I wasn’t going to Iraq or Afghanistan I was pretty disappointed. This may sound odd to my non-military friends, but it’s the truth. I was disappointed because I wanted to go somewhere were “the action” was; somewhere exciting! I got tasked to go to one of those non-disclosed locations in Southwest Asia. One of the things that I assumed was that no one would be searching for God at a deployed location with a swimming pool and trips off base. I had foolishly put God in a box and decided that, because people were not in immediate danger outside the wire, no one would be considering the bigger things in life.

Surprise!

Give Him the chance by opening yourself up and God will surprise you. Always! Part of my prayer on New Years day was, “I surrender 2010 to You, for Your glory.” I actually wrote that down. I think God prompted me to write it down so I would remember my surrender. At the beginning of the year, and at the beginning of my deployment, I decided to let God do His thing. Isaiah 55:8-9 is one of my all-time favorite passages. It reminds me that God is God and I am not. He knows what He’s doing. Sometimes I don’t know, but He always knows. Faith isn’t having all the answers, it’s trusting in a God who has all the answers.

I originally deployed with a very skeptical attitude. Like I said earlier, who would be taking God seriously at a deployed location with a swimming pool and trips off base? God surprised me because the fellowship I enjoyed there was some of the best I’ve ever had. I also met a lot of people who wanted to grow closer to God during their deployment and I met a few who came to know Christ during their deployment.

In fact, my deployment turned out to be an amazing experience. Surprise! The Chapel had Bible studies every night of the week. The worship band had about nine members including a former Tops in Blue performer and they sounded amazing every week. The Holy Spirit used me to lead a friend to Christ. I made friends who I will keep in touch with for life. I saw people grow and mature in their walks with Christ and learn more in those six months than they’d known their whole entire Christian life prior. God taught me more than I could ever share (although I am trying).

I say all of this because God surprises me. All the time, He surprises me. It’s foolish for us to put God in a box and assume anything about Him. He is God. He is bigger than any box we could put Him in. As I stated in a previous post, God puts people in the right place at the right time so that His will can be done. Hindsight is 20/20 and I know, looking back, that God put me in the absolute right spot at the right time.

If you’re reading this and you’re not sure why your life is the way it is right now, all I can tell you is to trust God. Trust that He knows what He’s doing. Surrender your life to His purposes, sit back, and be amazed. You might just be surprised!

Out with the Old and in with the New?

This is part six of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

“The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed. The New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.”  – Augustine

While reading through the Old Testament, I couldn’t help but get a feeling of “not yet.” This sense of anticipation was building in me as I read through the Bible. It was subtle at first, like in Gen 3:15 but it became more and more obvious (like in Ezekiel 36:25-27) and then the Old Testament ends with the words from Malachi 4:5-6: “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” We see that the Old Testament ends as a cliffhanger!

I feel as though, although great, the Old Testament is an incomplete work.

But then when I started reading the New Testament I noticed dozens of references to the Old. Obviously, all the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled are found in the Old Testament. When Jesus establishes Communion as the sign of the New Covenant, it gains deeper significance against the context of the Jewish celebration of Passover. John the Baptist’s words in John 1:29 only make sense when the reader understands the Jewish sacrificial system and the requirements for the forgiveness of sins. I would even go so far as to say that NONE of Paul’s letters can be fully appreciated without an understanding of the Old Testament. The book of Hebrews refers repeatedly to the Old Testament priesthood and law. It becomes abundantly clear that the New Testament only makes sense if you properly understand the Old Testament.

(On an interesting side note: in Rev 22:20 we see that the New Testament also ends as a cliffhanger!)

I could go on and on but my point is simple… I feel as though, although great, the New Testament is an incomplete work.

What I’m getting at is this: you gotta have both the Old and New. The Old sets the context for the New; the New fulfills the Old. The more I study the Old Testament and the Jewish practices of Jesus’ day, the more I grow to appreciate the New. They point to one another and together they ultimately point the reader to God.

The main character: God

This is part five of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

One of the things that struck me as I went through the “Read the Bible in 90 Days” challenge was how quickly the Bible narrative seemed to move along after someone died. Abraham, for instance, is a pretty big deal in Genesis, but when he dies in Gen 25:8 the story doesn’t come to a screeching halt. Instead, after briefly giving the details of Abraham’s burial, the story nonchalantly picks right up and continues.
 
Another great example is Moses. Moses was the man! He lead God’s people out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea, lead the Hebrew’s through the desert, saw God face to face (Ex 33:11), and was the mediator of the Mosaic Law. In short, if anyone was a big deal in the Old Testament, it would’ve been Moses, right? In fact, he was central in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. However, in Joshua 1:1-2 we see that as soon as Moses dies the story just keeps on going!

It almost seems odd. What gives? Were these guys unimportant? Did they not matter? I think the answer is not that they were unimportant; it’s not that they didn’t matter. It’s just that they weren’t the point. The story isn’t about Abraham. The story isn’t about Moses.
 
The story is about God.
 
God is the central character of the Bible. It’s all about Him. He’s the main character. Supporting actors and actresses may come on stage for a moment, but they never, ever take center stage. The spot light always has been, and always will be, rightfully aimed at God. History truly is, as the cliche goes, His story.
 
I’ve talked to a lot of people who have problems with the Old Testament. They wonder how God could kill people, which He does a lot of in the Old Testament. They wonder why God would order His people to kill other people, which He does a lot of in the Old Testament. They ask questions like, “What right does God have to take human life?” Read that question again, does that even sound logical? People who ask questions like that, whether they realize it or not, have decided that man is sovereign and God is secondary.
 
Who are we to question what “rights” God has? God is God and has any and every right to do whatever He wants. When we, the created being, question the rights of our Creator, we unwittingly assume that God has to answer to us, as though we are a higher authority than Him. History is about Him, not us.
 
Once accepted, this realization is actually quite freeing. It means that my life isn’t even about me in the first place, it’s about God. As Rick Warren puts it in the beginning of The Purpose Driven Life, “It’s not about you.” Life is much simpler and much less stressful when viewed against the backdrop of all human history!
 
The most amazing fact is that, although history is all about God, He still loves us enough to die for us. God, the main character and hero of the story, sent Jesus to rescue us from the mess we’d gotten ourselves into. I can’t even imagine such love. It’s beyond us! It blows my mind that the central character of all history knows me and loves me. It should blow your mind, too!
 

I Am Not But I Know I AM: Welcome to the Story of God

Gotta have a map!

This is part four of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

After yesterday’s post, I want to look at the other side of the pendulum: Doctrine. Love is supreme, of that I have no doubt, but without a proper theological understanding of who God is, it’s impossible to articulate Who you love when you’re loving God.

Once someone is ready to hear the Gospel, can you properly articulate it? Do you even know what you believe? Where do you stand on issues such as predestination, the Trinity, the extent of the atonement, eternal security, etc? Do you understand those terms? I firmly believe, and I think I heard it from The Truth Project, that Christians have never been more intellectually lazy than they are now. We have a wealth of knowledge available to us through websites like Google and Wikipedia, but we seldom use those to explore Christian doctrine, do we?

Theology/doctrine is important! Many Christians simply focus on their “walk.” What good is going for a long-distance, multi-year voyage with out a proper map? Who would go sailing without a working compass (or GPS)? A fool! 1 Tim 4:16 puts life (walk) and doctrine on equal footing. You need both, or you’ll wind up lost or ship wrecked in your faith. For more specific dontrinal teachings, you can check out Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (RE: Lit) or the Mars Hill sermons series called “Doctrine.”

However, we can go too far in the other direction. When we know everything but cannot communicate it to people in a way they understand our knowledge is no longer useful. Or even worse, when we begin to use our knowledge to make ourselves feel or appear superior to others, you become a liability and hindrance to others ministering around you. 1 Corinthians 8:1 says that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Therefore, we must ensure that we are lovingly teaching those around us, not just trying to puff our chests out to impress others.

As long as our goal is to glorify God and share Him with others, we will be able to maintain a healthy balance of life and doctrine.

“…the greatest is love.”

This is part three of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

Theology and head knowledge are super-duper, but love is supreme. Intellectual debates don’t change lives; love does. Love is supreme; it disarms, it opens hearts, it saves souls. Love is why Christ died for us on the cross. People will only receive the Gospel from Christians who love them as they are with no strings attached.

One of the biggest perceptions non-Christians have towards Christians is that they do not care about them. The Christians simply want them to “get saved” so they can move on to their next “project.” This idea is explored further in unChristian from the Barna Institute. I would highly recommend that book for any Christian serious about reaching out to the modern world around them.

We live in a culture that has largely migrated away from Christianity. This has happened for numerous reasons, many of which are explain in Deliver Us From Evil by Ravi Zacharias. A good question though, is how the Church allowed this to happen. I think one of the biggest problems is the general lack of love in the modern Church. Many Christians seem more focused on being right that doing right. Read “Grace and Truth” for more on this idea.
 
There were several ways that I learned this, but the way that impacted me the deepest was in the relationships that I formed while I was deployed. I grew to love many of my non-Christian friends and genuinely cared for them. I wasn’t interested in beating them in philosophical or theological arguments, but in simply loving them as they were.
 
The Gospel is best shared in the context of a loving relationship, not with a complete stranger but with a friend who you know well. It may take years before the door opens between you and a friend, but until them you simply love them. In 1 Thes 2:8 Paul says that they shared their lives with the Thessalonians. That is how we are to love our neighbors.

Praise the Father, Son, and that other guy…

This is part two of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

Before I deployed, I decided I was going to lead at least one small study group through a book outside of the Bible. The first study I decided to go through focused on a subject that I felt compelled to learn more about: The Holy Spirit. Thus, I decided that I would lead a small group through Francis Chan’s Forgotten God.

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know a lot about the Holy Spirit, and I had a lot of prejudices because of some of the people I’ve encountered and how overly focused they seemed on the gifts of the Spirit. To me, it seemed like they thought the Holy Spirit was vending machine and prayer gave them magical gifts from the vending machine. These people didn’t seem to care about God the Father or Jesus the Son, but only about the “giftings of the Spirit.” I admit that may sound harsh, but those are the kind of encounters I’ve had!

Also, I had always thought of the Holy Spirit as an “it” and not as a “He.” There is definitely a difference in the two, although I had honestly never thought about it. I rarely thought about the Holy Spirit or how He works in me and through me in my daily life. The tragedy is that my ignorance of the Holy Spirit had inadvertently led to an incomplete understanding of the Triune God! By not understanding the Holy Spirit’s role in my daily life I was missing out on the power of God living inside of me and, at least intellectually, distancing myself from God.

Although I knew about “it” from a head-knowledge perspective, now I know “Him” in my heart. He’s been there this whole time, I just never knew it! Now I’m aware of the Spirit’s power and role in my daily walk. Galatians 5:25 tells us to keep in step with the Spirit. It’s hard to have a daily walk with God when you don’t even know who’s walking beside you.

One of the ways that God demonstrated how the Holy Spirit works is through someone else. Right when our group first started our study of the Spirit, someone asked me to pace him during the run portion of his PT test. I grudgingly said yes, even though I didn’t really want to. I had a feeling that God was going to teach me something through this experience. The night before our run, I was studying the Holy Spirit and learned that when Jesus talks about Him in John 14:16, the Greek text uses the word “parakletos.” This word means “counselor” or more literally “someone to come along side.” Coincidence? The next day I ran alongside my friend for his PT test and he got the best score of his whole Air Force career! Because I, a faster runner, ran alongside him, he did better than he would have done on his own.

This is one of how the Holy Spirit helps us. He runs alongside us in our life and gives us the power to live lives that honor, please, and glorify God. Forgotten God really challenged me to ask myself whether or not I was relying on the Holy Spirit to empower me in my daily life. Was I taking steps in faith? Or was I relying on my own talents and abilities? It’s hard for the Holy Spirit to work miracles through us when we never take a leap of faith right?

There are many more things I learned about the Holy Spirit during and after the study, but perhaps the most important is simply the fact that I am never alone. The Holy Spirit is always with me no matter where I go and He will always give me the power to serve God in whatever capacity I am called.

For more information on the Holy Spirit I encourage you to read Forgotten God by Francis Chan, check out the free e-book published by Re:Lit called A Primer on the Holy Spirit, or listen to the Mars Hill Church podcast about the Trinity from their Doctrine sermon series (or just watch it below).

http://www.marshillchurch.org/v/jmus74pcujkj