Reflections on the Pandemic’s Impact on Work

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“This is not business as usual.”  These wise words came from my boss’ boss at a meeting of key staff members two weeks ago.  These same words had already come to my mind earlier that day.

The corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic has definitely impacted my workplace.  How about you?

Let me reflect on some of challenges that we face together in our work situations in response to this pandemic, remind us of the kinds of valuable coworkers God provides to meet our human needs, and offer some hope grounded in a biblical perspective.  I invite you to join me in seeing what God can do!

Unprecedented challenges at work

One family that I know well illustrates some of the complexities of responding to this pandemic.  The husband is an adjunct college professor.  His wife is a speech therapist at an elementary school.  Both have been put on telework.  Doing speech therapy virtually has proven to be a challenge.  As they have three children under the age of five, so they also have to take care of their children.  They are working together to find time to prepare lessons and engage their students while the other one watches the kids. 

In addition to teleworking teachers, another effect of school closures is that thousands of parents have now been given a chance to home school.  Two-parent families have had to make hard decisions as to which parent stays home if both worked before.  Single parents have a much tougher time.

Other families have had much more drastic changes to their lives.  Those who work in restaurants, some retail stores, and professional sports venues are now unemployed.   Businesses, large and small, which are deemed “unnecessary” have been shut down, and their employees were told to stay home.

These unique challenges and many more that I did not mention are on top of the thorns and thistles that are spelled out in Gen. 3:17-19, where work became unnecessarily painful and unproductive because of Adam’s and Eve’s sin as well as our own.  (See previous article in my blog.)  All of us experience uncountable negative things at work every day.  They are multiplied ten times over during this crisis.

Unfortunately, the Apostle Paul tells us in Rom. 8:19-22 that that we will experience this curse on work until Jesus returns.  The good news is that there will come a day when He completely delivers us from the curse of sin.  In Rev. 22:3, we see that when He returns that this curse will be no more.

God’s multitalented coworkers

Let’s not merely focus on just the difficulties we face.  What positive things can we see at work?

From a theological perspective, we must understand that on a grand scale, God has always provided for every aspect of human needs from the beginning.  How has He done that?  Through His coworkers. 

A great illustration from Scripture of how God pulled together a team of skilled workers and leaders when the tabernacle was being built is found in the book of Exodus.  (See previous article in my blog.)

To summarize, Exodus chapters 25 through 31 lays out Yahweh’s detailed instructions to Moses regarding the design and construction of the tabernacle, its major components, and the priests’ attire.  Building this portable temple would require a variety of skilled craftsmen who were empowered by the very Spirit of God.  These chosen people with special occupations that Yahweh called upon were artisans and construction workers.  Here are the kinds of talented people God would need on His team: carpenters, metalworkers, jewelers, seamstresses, embroiders, and even perfume makers.  Each one of these “blue-collar” workers were necessary to get the project done safely, on time, and under budget. 

What do we see God doing now?  We see a variety of humans with God-given talents and skills, uniquely equipped to meet the physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual needs of people. 

Make no mistake.  God has a plan.  He has provided a host of human coworkers to meet the vast array of human needs during this worldwide pandemic.  We have scientists figuring out how to fight the virus.  We have doctors and nurses treating patients.  We have cleaning teams.  We have reporters informing the public.  We have government leaders pulling all of the nation’s vast resources together. 

Dr. Timothy Keller, in his book, Every Good Endeavor, reminds us, “God does not simply create; he also loves, cares for, and nurtures his creation.  He feeds and protects all he has made.  But how does his providential care reach us? . . . God’s loving care comes to us largely through the labor of others.  Work is a major instrument of God’s providence; it is how he sustains the human world.”  Amen!

Can God bring any good out of all this?

Absolutely!  God’s people, when faced with major crises like this, have often found ways to keep on trusting God to work all things out for good.  Because He is good, they have put their hope in Him. 

Despite recommendations to stay home, the Body of Christ has found creative ways to worship virtually.  They are reaching out to the least, the lost, and the last such as the elderly, those whose immune systems are compromised, and those who have lost wages due to sudden unemployment.

What are we to do?

  • Submit to the local, state, and federal government leaders that God has put in place
  • Be patient; the storm will pass; trust in God; don’t give in to fear
  • Rejoice in the midst of your suffering and trials; encourage others to do the same
  • Take advantage of this time to connect virtually with family, friends, and church members

I am fully confident that when this crisis is all over, Christ-followers will be able to testify that God was glorified and that our faith grew during this extended trial.  Press on, my brothers and sisters!

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

What is the Main Purpose of the Old Testament?

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As I was lying in bed Sunday night, I was thinking some random thoughts about the main purpose of the Old Testament.  I believe that somehow it seems to have been overlooked in the church.

I have a feeling that my view, although very basic in my understanding, might seem somewhat controversial in the minds of some Christians because it challenges things that have been taught for years.  I will attempt to support my perspective with the Scriptures every step along the way.

Jesus can be found throughout the Old Testament

You can easily find Jesus revealed in the OT.  He can be seen everywhere throughout the OT, if we know where to look.  Jesus even said so Himself (Luke 24:27; John 5:39).  Let me show you how.

Jesus is seen in OT history in types. Joseph is often mentioned as a type of Christ because certain parts of the Joseph narrative are parallel to the life of Jesus.  Paul mentions that Adam is a type of Christ; the former being the prototype of the old man and the latter being a prototype of the new man.  (See Rom. 5:12-19.)  In Revelation, we see Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of each the main categories of leaders that God put in charge of His people in the OT: prophet, priest, and king.

We also see glimpses of Jesus scattered throughout the OT in types and shadows.  (See Heb. 10:1.)  His blood sacrifice on the cross was portrayed at the first Passover in Exodus.  His future once for all atonement can be seen in the repetitive animal sacrifices at the temple in Leviticus.

Much of OT prophecy points to Jesus.  His life fulfilled hundreds of prophecies about  the circumstances about the birth, suffering, death, and glory of a coming Messiah.  Matthew, much more than the other Gospel writers, highlights for his primarily Jewish audience how Jesus fulfills Scripture.  Starting with the birth narratives and scattered throughout the book, Matthew quotes and alludes to dozens of OT verses.  The other NT writers, especially Paul, also show the same thing.

However, I do not believe that the main purpose of the OT is to point to the Son of God in unclear shadows, types, and prophecies that would be more clearly revealed later in the NT.   It does not seem honest or genuine to declare that the OT is primarily about Jesus, which is what we often hear.  The main purpose of the OT was for God the Father to reveal to His people exactly who He is.

I will get to that shortly.  First, though, I believe we need to fine-tune our Bible interpreting skills.

Reading the Old Testament through the lens of the original audience

Remember, we can only see all these things about Jesus through regenerated eyes.  And, once we see them, we cannot unsee them.  They are there, purposely put there by design of the Author.

But how did the Israelites hear these truths laid out in their Hebrew Scriptures?  These words were written about the nature of Yahweh and were divinely hand-crafted in their time for their benefit.

This is what I think that we are somehow missing.  This is important because it is a basic tool of hermeneutics, the interpretation of Scripture.  We apply it to the New Testament all of the time without thinking about it.  So, why would we want to toss it aside when reading the Old Testament?

I found some support from one of my seminary textbooks.  Kaiser and Silva in their Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics indicate “To argue that we must use the New Testament to interpret the Old is to read the Bible backward and to participate in what is called eisegesis, that is, reading the meaning into the text, instead of using exegesis, leading the meaning out of the Scripture.”

God the Father is revealed in the Old Testament

God revealed Himself through the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.  More than anything else, however, we learn the most about who God is by reading books that fall into the narrative genre.

But first, I want to ask an important question.  Who is the main character in any OT narrative?  Some would say the main character is usually fairly obvious.  It is Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, or someone else.  Or is it?  I maintain that the main character of any and all narratives is God the Father.  It is in these stories we teach to our children that we see the attributes of God: His mercy, grace, sovereignty, and faithful love.  It is also where we see how God relates to His people.

Take the Joseph narrative for example.  Most of us know the details of his life as it is described in Gen. 37-50:  he was the favorite son of Jacob, he was given a multi-colored coat, it made his brothers jealous, they put him in a pit where he was sold into slavery, he was successful in taking care of Potiphar’s house, he was falsely accused and unjustly thrown into prison, he was taken out of prison when he interpreted Pharoah’s dream, and eventually was put second in command.

But what do we learn about God through this story?  We see the providence of God from start to finish.  God knew what was coming hundreds of years down the road.  In order for Moses to deliver the Israelites from Egypt into the Promised Land, they had to be slaves in Egypt.  They had to have multiplied, prospered, and been set apart in order to be a coveted workforce.  The Israelites had to have settled there in Egypt, initially, under the favor of Pharaoh.  Why were they there?  Joseph.

Longman and Dillard, in An Introduction to the Old Testament, confirmed the basic tenets of my limited understanding of the purpose of the OT:  “The Old Testament in particular is a message from the God of Israel about the God of Israel.  However, it is not about Yahweh in the abstract.  There is very little, if any, abstract theologizing in the Old Testament.  No, the Old Testament is a revelation about Yahweh in relationship with humankind, specifically with his chosen people.”

Let me address something Jesus said about His Father.  I think it is also relevant to our discussion.

In John 8:19, Jesus boldly stated to the Pharisees that if they knew Him, they would know the Father also.  (Jesus seems to imply that they did not know either Jesus or His Father.)  This passage puzzled me for some time.  Other than in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5-7, and in many of His parables, Jesus did not directly teach much about the attributes of God.  We do not learn everything we need to know about God the Father from the Gospels alone to have a relationship with Him.

What did Jesus mean by saying if we knew Him we would know the Father?  I may be making this unnecessarily complicated, but I believe the third person of the Trinity may be able to help us here.

Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit quite a bit as He was heading towards the cross.  Jesus called Him the “Comforter”, which I appreciate (John 14:16).  He said that the Spirit would be in us (John 14:17).  Jesus also spoke of the Holy Spirit being our teacher (John 14:26).  He would not only help Jesus’ disciples (both then and now) to understand Jesus’ teaching (and later on, all the other NT writers), but also He would help us to understand the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).  Simply put, it is the indwelling Holy Spirit who enables the Christian to get to know God the Father as we read the OT.

Finally, I maintain that there is complete harmony and unity between the Old and New Testaments.  However, it is not harmonious and unified just because Christ can be seen in both.  I believe that it is because God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – one in essence and three in persons – co-authored this book of books.  By His grace, God has revealed Himself in its pages.

Closing thoughts

My challenge to all who are reading this is to make an effort in your reading, study, and preaching on the OT to do more than finding Jesus there.  True, we cannot be in the OT without tying its truths to their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  But please try to not be so quick to jump forward into the NT.  We need to understand the OT by seeing what God was saying to His people back then.

Despite all of the incompleteness of the Law and the difficulty of interpreting prophetic passages, there is much to be learned by God’s people now by discovering what God revealed about Himself to His people way back when.  They needed to be reminded of God’s attributes time and time again because of their stubbornness.  They kept forgetting He was a God who was full of mercy, grace, omnipresence, and lovingkindness.  We too need to be reminded of Who our heavenly Father is.

I exhort you to keep on seeking Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Old and New testaments.  God in three persons can be found there on every page.  In knowing God, we will quite naturally bow to Him in humble adoration, submit to Him in humble obedience, and will get to know Him more.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Pathway Imagery in Proverbs (Part 1)

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To begin the new decade, I read through the book of Proverbs one chapter a day (more or less) in the month of January.  During this time, I posted some observations about how Proverbs alluded to the Ten Commandments in a two-part series on this blog (see part 1 here and part 2 here).

I also noticed a familiar theme that excited me.  I want to begin to unpack it now.

The image of pathway is used in the Psalms often.  (See Ps. 17:5, 23:3, and 25:4.)  I was first introduced to this recurring theme in the book, Seeing the Psalms: A Theology of Metaphor, by William P. Brown, which I read while pursing my master’s degree with Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  Solomon is David’s son.  It should be no surprise that he would use this rich metaphor in Proverbs as a literary device to contrast the straight paths of Yahweh with the crooked paths of man.

Before I show how Proverbs uses this image, let me provide some background from the Psalms.

The path of the righteous in the Psalms       

Brown indicates, “The psalmist identifies the righteous as those who are on the move. They ‘walk’ and ‘seek’”, which implies “movement and direction.”  Often, this was seen as a march towards Jerusalem and/or the temple to experience the presence of God.  Furthermore, the way in which God’s people walk is according to His word, which means living out the kind of conduct that God’s word requires of all believers.  Brown also emphasizes that God’s word points to “the true ‘way’ among many ‘false’ ones.”  This is a common thread throughout the OT and NT.

Brown observes that Psalm 1 “is deliberately framed by the image of ‘pathway’ (1:1, 6). The righteous and the wicked are distinguished by their respective paths: the way of the righteous is safeguarded by YHWH’s protection, but not so that of the wicked.  The evocative metaphor of ‘way’ signifies both conduct and destiny.”  There is an obvious cause and effect, which should motivate the reader to choose the path of right conduct, which offers God’s protection and peace.

Brown states that “the path of righteousness is also the path of deliverance.”  He quotes Psalm 86:11, 13 to support the idea that “God’s deliverance not only elicits the psalmist’s praises and gratitude but also awakens the desire to be taught.”  Brown proposes that “the ‘pathway’ is “set resolutely toward ‘refuge,’ the locus of divine protection. . . . The metaphor of the ‘pathway’ effectively directs desire, conjoins body and soul, and prepares the heart to enter God’s domain.”

Regarding this deliverance that God provides to those who choose the path of righteousness, I see that God initiates His deliverance, as illustrated in the OT by the exodus out of Egypt and in the NT by the cross of Jesus Christ.  We respond in obedience, which leads to seeking after God and walking in His ways.  This leads to further deliverance when needed to keep us on the way.

Brown acknowledges that this recurring metaphor continues beyond just the book of Psalms.

The path of the wise in the Proverbs

Brown mentions that both “Proverbs and Psalms utilize the motif of the ‘two paths’: the path of the wicked and path of the righteous or wise. . . Proverbs focuses intensely on the moral quality or nature of the path. . . The ‘pathway’ metaphor in Proverbs targets the ongoing quest for wisdom, which showers the ‘student’ with the blessings of prosperity and long life.”

In contrast, Brown states that the Psalms dwell less on specific applications of living a moral life than Proverbs, focusing more on the destination, “God’s habitation”.  He concludes, “Psalms and Proverbs offer two complementary yet distinctly different metaphorical landscapes through which the ‘path’ of conduct winds its way.  Both paths lead to their respective destinations.”

One could add that the Psalms seem to focus on the heart of the believer towards God, while the Proverbs focus on the hands, tongue, and feet of the one who follows after God.

I think it is fascinating that God uses this same metaphor of pathway throughout these two books placed side by side which make up the largest portion of the “Writings” or “Wisdom Literature” (to distinguish these and other books like them from “the Law” and “the Prophets”, which are the two biggest parts of the Old Testament.)  I see the Law as the foundation, focused on God’s work in the past, while the Prophets address God’s work in the present and the future.  The Writings address people’s relationship with God and how to live, based on what He said elsewhere.

How can a Christian apply these observations?

Gratitude is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of how I used to walk on a path with no peace, no purpose, no joy, no life, no wisdom, and a dismal future.  By His grace and mercy, Jesus Christ delivered me through His death on the cross from it, putting me on a new path filled with all the things I needed plus eternal life.  (See 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:1-5; Col. 1:13-14.)

The second thing that this pathway metaphor reminds us is of God’s deliverance.  There are still times I am tempted to wander back to the old path, but then I look to His word to keep me walking with Him on the new one.  When I do stray, He gently disciplines me as needed to get my attention.  (See Heb. 12:10-11.)

Third, I am recall the book of James, which contrasts the world’s wisdom with that which is from above (James 3:13-17.)  Essentially, he paints a picture of two well-worn paths for us to choose.

Lastly, knowing that walking on this path in the presence of the Lord leads me homeward to His eternal presence gives me peace in the midst of every storm and strength to endure all trials.

In subsequent articles in this series, I will highlight where and how the pathway metaphor is used.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

The Value of Christian Fellowship at Work

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(Note: This article was published in the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

I was reminded of something of major theological importance at work this week.  I had taken for granted and had not given much thought to it.  I had never even addressed in my writing on various theology of work topics over the past four years.

An abundance of fellowship

It occurred to me after our Tuesday lunchtime Bible study that I and my brothers and sisters who attend this study have a rare gift.  We have the freedom to meet regularly where we can learn about God’s word, fellowship, pray for, and care for one another.  The army chaplains who have facilitated have rotated out every two or three years, but we have kept a consistent study going.

What has been so great about this group? I love our diversity.  We have men and women from different denominations and races, Soldiers and civilians, young and old, folks who retired from the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy, and folks from the Chemical School side of the house and others from the Military Police School.  Every one of us joined together in the family of God through our faith in Jesus Christ; each one eager to learn and grow in wisdom and knowledge.

An honest assessment

As I reflect on my military career over the past 34 years, I have not always had the opportunity to fellowship with a dozen fellow Christ-followers where I have served.  As a matter of fact, in some of my assignments, I may have been the only believer.  To be totally open, I am not sure this even bothered me much.  I usually had plenty of fellowship in our church or chapel.

I do recall a unique experience in my second tour in the Republic of Korea from 2003-2004.  I worked for the brigade staff operations officer, a soft-spoken African-American major.  It is hard for me to remember how or when we learned that we were both strong Christians, but it did not take long.  I do recall that he took the initiative to see if I would be willing to pray with him in his office on occasion.  He was a big manly man; I think he played football in college.  But I can still feel his huge hands gently holding mine as we prayed for our wives and families back home and for our leaders, and I can see the tears streaming down his face.  Such sweet fellowship!

However, this was a rare experience for me.  For several of my assignments, mostly due to the nature of my job as a chemical noncommissioned officer, I would spend much of my time alone.  As an introvert and a Christian who practiced the presence of God, that usually suited me just fine.  But looking back I do think that I may have missed out on some of God’s blessings that come when His people come together to build each other up.

An opportunity to practice the “one anothers”

Let me return to my lunchtime Bible study group.  On Wednesday evening, as I was about to head out the door of our headquarters building, I noticed one of my sisters in Christ talking on the phone next to the window.  I did not want to disturb her.  As I walked by, I sensed the Lord wanted me to give her a word of encouragement.  She was one of the few members of the Bible study group who was a Facebook friend.  She had posted a few inspiring things lately, and she had responded to some of my posts.  I wanted to thank her specifically for her kind words.

I turned around and went back. She had just finished her call, so I reached out.  For the next five minutes, she and I had the best conversation.  We talked about how much we enjoyed our study group.  She mentioned how valuable it was to know that there were other Christians at work who knew what it was like to be working in a secular organization who could encourage each other to stand fast against the schemes of the devil.  We both were grateful there were fellow believers who we could share our prayer requests with.  I also expressed appreciation that we could continue to fellowship outside of the Bible study on social media, where we could rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

This is what I realized at that moment.  I had been proactive in allowing God to use me at work through my work as I took care of Soldiers, served my customers, and accomplished the missions I was given.  However, it seems like I may have missed opportunities to deepen my relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ along the way.  I had been practicing doing those things that the New Testament writers instructed the church to do with fellow believers: love one another, be devoted to one another, exhort one another, pray for one another, bear one another’s burdens, etc.  But I had been doing it at church.  I had not been nearly as intentional doing this at work.

An invitation to see the Body of Christ at work while at work

What are the benefits of taking the time to deliberately interact in a biblical way with our brothers and sisters in Christ who God placed in our midst so that we could build each other up?

In addition to the benefits we enjoy when we actually obey what the Bible tells us to do, and beyond the value of the encouragement we feel when others pray for us, I think it is worth indicating another benefit that causes the Body of Christ to grow in quality and quantity.

When our unbelieving co-workers see our love for one another, a love that is full of grace and truth supernatural, unconditional, and one which crosses all human boundaries that divide the world because we are one in Christ, they will take notice.  We used to sing this song at retreats: “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love.  Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”  Christ’s love draws people to Him.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Experiencing God’s Presence in my Military Service (Part 2)

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(Note: This is the second article of a two-part series on this topic.  In part 1, I reflected on five aspects of how I experienced God’s presence as I served in and with the U.S. Army over the past 34 years.  Here, I would like to continue to expand my thoughts by covering my next five observations.  You can read part 1 here.  This article was also posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

God used me to love my neighbors

Let me give you a couple of examples where my work was an act of loving my neighbor.  I did not see this at the time, but looking back now, I realize that God was using me in practical ways to increase the readiness of Soldiers, which directly met their needs and the needs of their families.

In my first assignment at Fort Stewart, Georgia, I was selected to be the commander’s driver and unit armorer, responsible for the maintenance of every weapon in our company arms room.  I had no idea that I could learn to set up and maintain systems to schedule and perform quarterly inspections, order parts, and repair several types of weapons.  God empowered me with the necessary aptitudes and skills to do this job well for one year.  Two and a half years later, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the Soldiers in this unit deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Desert Storm with these very same weapons I had fixed.  This reinforced the absolute importance of my work when I was there.

Flash forward to 9/11, when America came under attack.  In response, a number of Army Reserve and National Guard units were deployed overseas.  In God’s timing, I was assigned to a training support battalion in Salt Lake City, Utah, whose mission was to assist these units.  I provided technical training and logistical support to hundreds of Soldiers that were going into harm’s way.  I knew that my job provided an opportunity to love God and love my neighbors, since it directly involved taking care of Soldiers and accomplishing the mission of the units in which I served.

In addition to God using me through the work He had called me to do as a chemical NCO, my family and I had plenty of opportunities to minister and be ministered to through our local church or chapel everywhere we were stationed.  Several examples come to mind.

My wife and I started a college and career Sunday School class at our church in Tacoma, Washington.  While at Fort Hood, we directed a children’s Christmas musical at our church, and my wife served on the board of the Protestant Women of the Chapel.  In our chapel in Germany and in my second tour in Korea, I started a bi-weekly men’s breakfast, where we sang manly songs from Promise Keepers CDs and discussed men’s issues from a biblical perspective.  I also had the opportunity to lead our chapel council in Germany after several of our men got deployed to Bosnia and served on the board of the European Protestant Men of the Chapel.  I taught Sunday School in many of the places we were stationed.  We also provided hospitality in our home to many Soldiers and their Families.

God gave me understanding

Over three decades of prayerful reading and study on the theology of work, in teaching this topic with several adult Sunday school classes, during an independent study while earning my seminary degree, and in writing my book, God gave me a deep understanding of the eternal value of military service.

While on my first unaccompanied tour in Korea from 1988-1989, I read an amazing book, Your Work Matters to God, by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks.  God brought it to me at a critical time in my career. It was life-changing.  The authors tore apart the myth of “sacred” vs. “secular”.  They clearly explained the intrinsic and instrumental value of everyday work.  I began to see for the first time how God could use me wherever I was, whatever I was doing, as long as I did it for His glory.  For the first time, I felt that what I did truly mattered for eternity, that I was not a second-class citizen or wasting my time as a Soldier.  My work as a chemical Soldier in the Army really did matter to God!

Additionally, God helped me understand that a strong defense brings peace in the world. God is very much present in the work of Soldiers.  He needs them to be trained and ready, individually and as a team, prepared to fight and defeat the enemy when called upon.  He is very much present at Fort Leonard Wood, where I work and serve, through the drill sergeants, instructors, leaders, and staff members like myself who develop, coordinate, support, and execute the training that God provides to thousands of new Soldiers annually.  The OT prophets indicate that there will come a day when our Messiah Jesus returns and wars will cease.  (See Isa. 2:4 and Micah 4:3.)  But until that time, a strong offensive capability is one of the ways that God keeps peace in the world.

God was with me as I transitioned from active duty                    

During my twenty years on active duty, my wife and I learned first-hand how to trust God as we were sent to various duty stations around a world. A Christian in the Army needs to rest in the sovereignty of God; that He is in always in control.  He is an all-powerful, loving, all-knowing, and faithful God.  We knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lord always had us in His hands.  When it came time to move to a new assignment, God knew where we needed to go, what we needed to do, who we needed to serve with, and when it was the right time that He needed us to be there for His purposes.  (I invite you to read an article that I wrote and posted on my blog on trusting God in new assignments.)

Even before I arrived at Fort Leonard Wood in 2004, I knew that my wife and I had a decision to make.  After much prayer, we decided that this was going to be an ideal place to finish out our time of active duty service.  I began to prepare myself and my family for life after the Army over the next two years.  It was a big step of faith, but it was made with relative ease, as we looked at various opportunities to work.

At first, I thought I would go back to teaching math.  I began working on a master’s in education at a local university that would allow me to get my state teaching certificate.  I applied for a position at the middle school that about a half-mile from my house.  I was offered the position.  However, the starting salary for a new teacher was not enough to match what I was going to lose going from active duty to a retired status earning only 50% of my base pay.  I believed God had another job that would actually meet our financial needs, so I turned it down.  (See article on compensation that I posted on my blog.)

Two to three months before my retirement date of October 1, 2006, I received a job offer as a lessons learned integration analyst. It was a contract position that paid a lot better than the teaching job.  I did this job for a year and a half until I applied for and was offered the position that I currently hold.

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God provided a position that fits my unique skillset

Since March 2008, I have served as a Department of the Army civilian at the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School as a member of the Commandant’s primary staff.  As the Operations Officer, I provide continuity and management of the school operations section.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon says repeatedly that everything is meaningless, especially work: “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” (1:3). However, in Eccl. 3:12-13, and 22, we find a curious admonition.  Despite the thorns and thistles associated with our jobs that make work seem meaningless, when he considers the fact that God is in control and has “made everything beautiful in its time” (3:11), Solomon states that men should “be happy and do good while they live . . . eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God . . . there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot.”  I have found that satisfaction.  (For more thoughts on this topic of personal job satisfaction, see article I posted on my blog here.)

It took me a while to fully appreciate the gift that God gave me, but after doing this same job for the past twelve years, I can honestly say that it is a great fit.  God had clearly prepared me for it by giving me consistently good experiences doing operations at a variety of levels while I was on active duty for thirteen of my twenty years.  Moreover, God equipped me with the right skills and aptitudes that fit well with my responsibilities.  I am uniquely qualified to do this work that daily brings me joy.

God continues to use me      

I have a good example of how God has used me in this position in the planning of a special event.

In June 2018, the U.S. Army Chemical Corps celebrated its 100th anniversary on Fort Leonard Wood.  Our week-long celebration consisted of a variety of events.  We held a seminar that brought together a select group of senior chemical leaders from around the world, a technology exhibit, an espirit-de-corps two-mile run, sunrise service honoring our fallen heroes, a ceremony to honor veterans that served from WWII to the present day, and culminated with a formal ball.

We spent over ten months planning these events in great detail.  I want to give all the glory to God, as its success.  His unseen Hand protected and provided extraordinary strength, wisdom, and peace as I worked in His presence and for His kingdom.  During the entire process, I was “leaning on the everlasting arms”.  I constantly depended on God to help me meet the unique challenges and high expectations of the leaders I was commanded to serve “as unto the Lord”.  There were many days I was overwhelmed by the thorns and thistles brought on by the curse.  At these moments, I would remember that God’s grace was greater.  His peace that passes all understanding came at the right time when I needed it most.  I clearly saw God work in and through me every step of the way.

I believe that these events had a lasting impact on the veterans, leaders, and Soldiers who attended.  After key leaders met with our commandant to discuss issues and solve problems, they went back to their assignments a more unified team, committed to support the Army as a whole.  Our veterans’ recognition ceremony inspired young Chemical Soldiers and leaders to strive to achieve great things with their own Army careers, standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before them.  Celebrating our 100-year history will better prepare the enterprise to meet the challenges of the future in defending our nations and allies against weapons of mass destruction.  Our efforts here directly increased common grace throughout the world, which is something that our Lord Jesus desires for us.  (You can read more about this event in an article I posted here.)

Closing thoughts

My main purpose in writing these two articles was to give glory to God as I reflected on more than three decades of experiencing His presence, seeing His faithfulness, and knowing He has worked through me during my Army career.  It has truly been a spiritual journey.  God will do the same for you, as you keep your eyes open to how He has led, provided for, and used you to love your neighbors at work.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Experiencing God’s Presence in my Military Service (Part 1)

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(Note: This is the first article of a two-part series on this topic.  You can read part 2 here.  This article was also posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

In preparation for an upcoming podcast interview later this month where I will have the opportunity to share my unique career journey, I have been reflecting on my military experience over 34 years of serving in and with the U.S. Army.  There is abundant evidence that God has been and is present with me in this work:

  1. God led me to serve in the army
  2. God brought me through every challenge I faced
  3. God enabled me to perform beyond my expectations
  4. God developed my character and caused me to grow in spiritual maturity
  5. God met my family’s needs
  6. God used me to love my neighbors by meeting their needs
  7. God gave me understanding about the eternal value of military service
  8. God was with me as I transitioned from active duty to civilian government service
  9. God provided a position that fits my unique skillset and background as He designed
  10. God continues to use me in a critical role to advise senior leaders and staff

This is an appropriate day to post this article, as I enlisted on February 7, 1986.

Let me expand on each of these points and illustrate with a few stories to help my readers better understand how God has been present with me in every single assignment where I have served.  Here, I will address the first five out of the ten points listed above.  I will discuss the second set of five in a subsequent article.

It is important for me to note that my military experience was preceded by short seasons of math education and ministry.  (See article on my career journey.)  I am only able to share biblical insights about work due to God’s presence on the long and winding road on which He had gently led me.

God led me to serve

I was in a tough spot in early 1986.  I had started seminary in the fall of 1982.  Due to a number of doors that God had closed after three years of struggling, it was clear that I had exhausted all options to continue pursuing my master’s degree.  I had to let go of my dream.  My pastor of the church that we attended gave me some wise advice.  He said, “When your dream dies, find a new dream.”  Little did I know that God was going to answer my prayer in a most unique way.

Be all that you can be!” was the U.S. Army slogan at the time.  Perhaps I needed to be willing to consider joining the military to get some financial stability for my young family.  The medical benefits were a plus, as was the G.I. Bill and Army College Fund which would help me get my seminary degree down the road if I still felt led to pursue furthering my education.  After much prayer, I decided to enlist for three years in early February.   I shipped out to begin my basic training five weeks later, just one week shy of my daughter’s first birthday.  I was 27 years old.

Thirty-four years later, I am still with the army.  After serving on active duty for twenty years, six months, and seventeen days (but who’s counting?), I continued my service as a Department of the Army civilian.  I had no idea how amazing this answer to prayer was going to turn out.

God brought me through every challenge

I can easily say that there were a lot of challenges when I first joined the army.  In basic training, there were the physical challenges of long days, running for miles and miles, and doing hundreds of pushups.  In my next phase of training, there were mental challenges to learn new technical skills.

When I got to my first duty station at Fort Stewart, Georgia, I had to learn how to submit to my squad leader’s authority.  He was a year younger than me, a staff sergeant with ten years in the Army.  There were things I had to learn about the way things were done, and quite often my pride got in the way.  During these humbling times, I had to trust God and depend on His grace, mercy, and wisdom to strengthen me and get me through on a daily basis.  It was years later before I knew what I was doing and had developed confidence in my abilities as a Soldier.

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God enabled me to perform above my expectations

There were many occasions when God blew me away by enabling me and allowing me to perform way beyond my expectations.  I found unexpected success as a Soldier throughout my twenty years on active duty.  I was promoted quickly.  I did well in the schools the army sent me to attend as I strove to compete for top honors.  I was the distinguished honor graduate at my chemical basic noncommissioned officer (NCO) course, honor graduate (#2 spot) at my chemical advanced NCO course, and made the commandant’s list at the Battle Staff NCO Course.  In Korea in the fall of 1988, I was chosen as the Eighth Army NCO of the quarter, and in February 1991 I was selected as the Fort Lewis NCO of the year.  Every time I achieved something, I sought to give all the glory to God.  It was abundantly clear that I could have done none of it on my own.

With each new assignment, I never knew how it was going to turn out, but God usually enabled me to learn and adapt fairly quickly.  Several jobs stand out in my mind.  By the grace of God, I had a positive experience working on the III Corps headquarters as operations NCO in the chemical section staff.  I also thrived as a company operations sergeant, working at division headquarters, and especially as an observer/controller trainer.  There, I conducted numerous chemical training exercises, provided mobilization support with deploying Army Reserve and National Guard units, and wrote a few articles for Army publications to share some of the lessons I had learned.

God developed my character

However, among these many successes, I also had some unexpected failures, which humbled me, and made me more Christ-like.  As an Army recruiter for sixteen months, I failed miserably, despite the fact that I had gotten myself sent to Fort Collins, Colorado, my old college town.  Several years later, as a platoon sergeant in a chemical company in Kitzingen, Germany, it became obvious after about eight months that I was ill-prepared for that job also.  This was mostly due to conflicts with my platoon leader, but it also had to do with my lack of leadership experience.  (See article I wrote last April, “How God Uses our Failures at Work”, published by the Nashville Institute for Faith + Work.”)

It was during these difficult assignments, God caused me to depend on Him as my source of confidence and identity.  The fruit of the Spirit grew by leaps and bounds as I increased in compassion, patience, kindness, and peace that passed all understanding.  I also came to appreciate those times when God had truly blessed my efforts.  I did not take them for granted.

I also saw God graciously work out all things for my good in spite of my failures.  After my assignment as a recruiter came to an abrupt end, I was sent to Fort Hood, Texas in the spring of 1993.  It was there that I saw God use me in a mighty way to be a catalyst behind the scenes, which resulted in 168 Soldiers from multiple units across post attending the Dallas and Houston Promise Keepers Conferences in 1995.  This was a huge faith-building experience for me and a life-changing event for these men and their families.

God met my family’s needs

I am ever grateful how God provided abundantly for my family while I was on active duty.  Although the starting pay wasn’t great, by the grace of God I was promoted fairly quickly, which always helped.  My wife was able to be a work-at-home mom for about fifteen years, which gave our three children immeasurable security and stability.  The medical benefits were a blessing and housing was more than adequate.  It was a good quality of life.  We lived, worshipped, and served with great Americans from all backgrounds and races, which was a beautiful gift.

Not only were our family’s financial needs met, but our physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs always seemed to be met as well.  We literally saw God answer hundreds of prayers as we journeyed through life by faith.  Our children (known for the rest of their lives as “Army brats”) thrived as we were stationed in six states and Germany.  We had some great adventures as a family.  Our kids learned independence and resiliency as we had to move every three years or so, saying goodbye to friends and having to make new ones.  We all made some lifelong friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, some of whom we have stayed in contact for twenty or thirty years.

My experiences are not unique.  There have always been Christians serving in the military.  I hope there always will be.  God is faithful.  He will always lead His children, guiding, strengthening, comforting, and providing for us so we can be His ambassadors serving Jesus around the world.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Operations Lessons Learned and Best Practices

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(Note: This article is modified from an article I wrote that was published in the Winter 2019 issue of the Army Chemical Review, the official publication of the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School, where I have worked as a Department of the Army  (DA) civilian for nearly twelve years.)

Background

As I reflect on my military experience over the past 34 years, I am ever mindful that God led me to serve in the Army.  He brought me through every challenge I ever faced.  God enabled me to perform beyond my expectations.  He used me in my military service to love my neighbors and meet their needs.  God put me in my current position as it clearly fits my unique skillset and background.  God continues to use me in a critical role to advise Army leaders and staff.  (See article I wrote where I reflect on my Army career.)

By God’s design, I worked in operations from company to corps level for thirteen of my twenty years while on active duty.  During my time in civilian service, I have worked as the Operations Officer at the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School (USACBRNS).  In this position, I have used my operations experience to take care of my leaders at the school and Soldiers around the world, contributing to the defense of this Nation.  God has given me wisdom.  Perhaps it is time I shared some of the operations lessons I have learned and offered some best practices so that those who work in operations at any level can be more effective in their work.

Team-building

I have only been successful in this position because of the great work of the professional noncommissioned officers (NCOs), officers, and DA civilians who have been part of our operations team.  You may find it hard to believe, but just over one hundred employees have worked for me in the past twelve years.  (I can actually name them.  I have a list.)  I have had much experience in team-building here in this job because I have had to constantly fine-tune my efforts as the membership of our team changed often as people came and went.

Besides me, the operations section is authorized only two NCOs and one civilian.  The NCOs were normally here for a year or two; some less than one year.  They were the backbone of the section.  They made things happen.  I also had numerous lieutenants and captains that worked here as temporary augmentees on a limited basis either before or after coming here to attend a course.

Combinatorial Theory Applications

One of the most fun classes I took when I was a college student earning my mathematics degree was Combinatorics.  Wikipedia defines it this way: “Combinatorics is an area of mathematics primarily concerned with counting, both as a means and an end in obtaining results, and certain properties of finite structures.”  Okay, sure.  So what?

Decades later, I have found a useful application that I believe many others who manage a team of any size will find to be extremely helpful.

We can use what I learned about combinatorial theory to compute how many distinct relationships we had in our section of four people.  It is a relatively simple mathematical formula: n x (n-1)/2 (where n is the number of people you have).  Let’s see how this turns out.

With four on your team, you merely multiply it by three (which are the three other people that everyone has to work with) and then divide it by two.  (The reason is simple: you do not need to count relationships twice.  My relationship with you is the same as yours with me).  In this case, four x three = twelve, divided by two, yields a total of six relationships.

What if you add two good lieutenants to the mix?  (I am grateful for the help!)  Now you have six on the team.  How many distinct relationships do you have?  Using the formula, it looks like 6 x 5 / 2 = 15.  Fifteen!  So, by adding two more people to your team, it is not just two more people to care for.  It requires you as a leader to maintain nine more relationships from the six you had earlier.  (Each of the two newbies has to relate to the previous four and relate to each other.)

These calculations have some serious implications.  Every relationship is important and needs to be monitored by the leader.  The chain is only as good as its weakest link.  Everyone has to relate to each other, not just to the boss.  Where there are more people, there is more potential for conflict.  With so many relationships to maintain, we each have to work hard to communicate positively with everyone we work with, and resolve conflicts at the lowest level possible.

I praise God for the team I have been entrusted with and for the opportunity to serve with them.  (See article on how God worked through my team to plan, prepare, and execute events for the 100th anniversary of the Chemical Corps in June 2018.)

360-degree mentoring

In terms of building a team, maintaining positive working relationships between team members is absolutely essential.  However, there is an individual aspect to team-building that is equally important.  We call this process mentoring.  I developed a slightly different approach to this topic.

We are all taught to mentor those who are subordinate to us, to make on the spot corrections, and to develop character.  Those things are all very important.  However, I have to wonder if this is being done on a consistent basis by very busy leaders.  Who is mentoring those above us?  I have observed that we cannot assume that someone higher is looking out for him or her and helping them to develop as a leader.  Who is mentoring your boss?  Your boss’ boss?

The process of 360-degree mentoring is an approach where everyone on the team consistently cares for and makes an effort to develop everyone else: below us, above us, and right next to us.  The goal is to improve the entire team.  If we are able to tactfully mentor our boss occasionally, they can mentor us better.  If our employees mentor us when needed as we mentor them, we can take better care of them.  Everyone benefits when everyone intentionally mentors one another.

God speaks of mentoring: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who looks after his master will be honored” (Prov. 27:17-18).

Collaboration with Counterparts

We have discussed the process of building our team from within.  But what about how we relate to our counterparts from outside organizations?  I have found that these relationships also need to be maintained to be successful as an operations leader at whatever level I have served.

Who are your counterparts?  I use this term frequently, but others may not know what I am referring to.  These are people who are at the same rank or pay grade as you, who are serving in the same function in a different organization on your left and right.  It also refers to someone who is at a higher or lower rank or pay grade than you, who is serving in the same function, but with a different organization above or below you.  Let me give a few examples.

At the USACBRNS, we have a taskings NCO who has counterparts in the other two schools here.  This NCO also has a counterpart at the center above and at the brigade that falls under the school.  Another example is the battalion operations NCO who would have counterparts in the other two battalions in the brigade, on the brigade staff above, as well as each of the companies below.

What do we do with our counterparts? Here is what I have learned here:

  • Coordinate with and share information freely with counterparts on your left and right
  • Coordinate with and receive guidance humbly from counterparts above
  • Coordinate with and mentor your counterparts below as needed
  • Handle things at the lowest level (i.e., operations channels vs. command channels)
  • End State: Establish and maintain a good reputation with all counterparts (build trust)

By the grace of God, there is a great deal I have learned along the way as I have served in various operations positions as an NCO and as a DA civilian.  I am hoping these insights I shared will be helpful for many, and will enable you and your hard working team members to be more successful in doing their seemingly unending and thankless jobs.

Know this: your work truly matters!

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.