Christians in the Profession of Arms

d4c8f703a2d45d425ee0c1826fa762f3

I had the privilege this morning of attending a cake-cutting ceremony to celebrate the 242nd birthday of the U.S. Army.  The Governor of our state was there.  I got to sing the Army Song with him and about hundred military and civilian personnel who are proud to work at Fort Leonard Wood.

It is hard to believe the U.S. Army is 242 years old.  This is not a typo.  Occasionally I forget that the Army was established on the 14th of June, 1775, one year prior to our declaration of independence on the 4th of July, 1776.  If my math is correct, in my nearly 30 years of federal service (20.5 as military; almost 9.5 working in a civilian capacity), I have been serving the Army for about 1/8 (or 12.4%) of the U.S. Army’s history.  What a blessing it has been to serve!

I have shared in a previous article about how I personally have experienced God’s presence in government work.  However, I do not believe I have focused much on my time as a Soldier.

I can recall many times where I experienced God’s presence and saw evidence that I was a co-worker with Him in the occupation to which He had called me. One job stands out.

In my first assignment at Fort Stewart, Georgia, I was selected to be the unit armorer. After a one-week course, I then became responsible for the maintenance of every weapon in our company arms room.  I had no idea that I could learn to perform quarterly inspections, set up systems to track the status of repairs, order parts, and fix several types of weapons.  God clearly empowered me with the necessary aptitudes and skills to do this job well for one year.  A couple of years later, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the soldiers in this unit deployed to Southwest Asia.  This reinforced to me the importance of maintaining these weapons when I had the chance.

Joining the Army in 1986 was a huge answer to prayer.  There were days that I wondered what the heck I was doing, but they were few and far between.  If I had the power, I would not change a thing.  Most days, I sensed God’s presence.  There were ministry opportunities everywhere we were assigned.  I always knew that I was at the right place at the right time to live out my Christian faith.

I know there are a variety of viewpoints in the Body of Christ as to whether or not it is appropriate for a Christian to serve in the military.  Last year, I enjoyed watching the movie “Hacksaw Ridge” which tells the true story about a conscientious objector during WWII.  As a combat medic, he single-handedly saved an unbelievable number of lives in one horrific battle in the Pacific without even carrying a gun.  In a similar vein, I knew a brother from my church who attended a Promise Keepers Conference with me about 25 years ago.  He was a civilian employee at Fort Hood, just like I am now.  Through much soul-searching and study with some believers who taught a pacifist approach, he decided to leave his job.  I did not agree with his decision, but I respected him as a brother in Christ.

To say that all Christians need to avoid career fields such as law enforcement or the military is dangerous.  Ironically, it is only because of the sacrifices of our military throughout our country’s history that has kept this country free which allows us all to practice our religion, express our convictions, and choose our own career path.

I found a couple of quotes from Martin Luther in the book Callings by William Placher that shed some light on the issue of Christians serving in the military:

“When I think of a soldier fulfilling his office by punishing the wicked, killing the wicked, and creating so much misery, it seems an un-Christian work completely contrary to Christian love. But when I think of how it protects the good and keeps and preserves wife and child, house and farm, property, and honor and peace, then I see how precious and godly this work is; and I observe that it amputates a leg or a hand, so that the whole body may not perish.  For if the sword were not on guard to preserve peace, everything in the world would be ruined because of lack of peace” (pp. 218-219).

Romans 13:4 also provides some supporting fires on this idea, where the Apostle Paul teaches the church to be in submission to authority.  You may ask, “Even the secular Roman government authorities?  Even the corrupt ones we have now?”  Yes.  And yes.  Why?  Paul writes they are “God’s servant, for your good. . . He is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”  Paul says that authorities are God’s servants.  Sometimes that means taking appropriately violent means to bring order out of chaos.

Later, Placher reminds us of what John the Baptist had said at the Jordan River: “When soldiers came to him and asked what they should do, he did not condemn their office or advise them to stop doing their work; rather, according to Luke 3 [v. 14], he approved it by saying, ‘Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.’ Thus he praised the military profession, but at the same time he forbade its abuse” (p. 220).

Having served on active duty for 20 years, 6 months, and 17 days, I can honestly say that I am grateful to have had the opportunity. I am one of the rare Soldiers who did not serve in combat, so I never had to do those things Luther mentioned above.  But I would have gladly deployed if I had been assigned to a unit that was ordered to go.  I would have willingly laid down my life for my fellow Soldiers, and would have done whatever duty called me to do in defending this great country against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.

Serving in the military was, and is, godly work.  And God is definitely present in it.

My prayer is that my short post will encourage those who have also served in the military, their families that supported them, and others who enjoy the freedom we have because of their service.

Advertisements

What Nehemiah Shows Us About Work and God’s Presence

There is a great narrative in the OT that highlights the deliberate, not coincidental, biblical connection between God’s presence and human work.  I call this Immanuel Labor.  Seeing this theme repeated throughout the Bible helps us to understand the theology of work, how God works through His people to accomplish His purposes.

Stevens, in Work Matters, reminds us, “Nehemiah was like Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Mordecai, worshipers of Yahweh who were placed in extraordinary positions of trust by pagan rulers” (p. 67).  Being a government worker myself, I can relate to them.  (See previous article of God’s presence with me in government work.)

This account in Neh. 3-6 describes how the Israelites returned from exile, and under Nehemiah’s inspired leadership rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem.  A few things are worth noting.

First, Nehemiah makes it clear that it was a unified effort between Yahweh and His people.  Note that the people worked with all their heart (Neh. 4:6), demonstrating what Paul commanded in Col.3:23.  If we observe the context, we see that Yahweh had already worked in their hearts.  Nehemiah’s heart was broken when he first heard that the wall was broken down (1:3-4).  Later, on his initial secret reconnaissance of the wall, he went out at night with a few others.  He said that he did not reveal “what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem” (2:12).  God initiated the work in hearts internally so that His people could work with all their hearts externally.  He still works that way, doesn’t He?

Second, In Neh. 4:9, we read that they prayed to God and posted guards.  This illustrates quite well what we see in Ps. 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”  Before they even began, they totally depended on God’s protection.  They believed, as Nehemiah did, that God’s hand was upon them (Neh. 2:8, 18).  The people merely continued the prayer that Nehemiah had offered earlier (1:5-11).  Then they went to work, with half performing guard duty and the other half doing the construction (Neh. 4:16, 21).  God’s presence enabled them to be co-workers with Him, which brought them success in rebuilding the wall, despite heavy opposition from the enemy to destroy, distract, and discourage God’s project.

Third, God’s hand of protection and strength that Nehemiah and his team of wall-builders depended on daily enabled them to complete the job in record time.  Nehemiah had boldly stated to those opposed to the project at the beginning, “The God of heaven will give us success” (Neh. 2:20).  Also, Nehemiah encouraged his workers to remember the Lord’s great and awesome power (Neh. 4:14).  Moreover, Yahweh actively frustrated the plans of the enemy (Neh. 4:15), demonstrating once again that He worked with them.

Beckett, in Mastering Monday, zeroes in on the key verse of this amazing story, “When the final stone was set in place a remarkable reaction occurred: ‘When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God‘ (Neh. 6:16)” (p. 78).  God and His faithful co-workers worked together on this wall.  Everyone involved on the inside and all who watched it from the outside knew without a doubt that this was a divine-human effort.

Stevens instructs us on one of the important lessons of this story: “We are providentially placed by God in situations where we can make a difference, whether these differences are small or great.  God enlists each of us in a compelling project from which we must not be diverted.  ‘I am carrying on a great project,’ was Nehemiah’s perspective” (p. 70).  (See Neh. 6:3).  In his faith-filled and Scripture-informed mind, he was not just called to replace stones in a wall.  He was restoring a Kingdom for God’s glory!

As God’s chosen people, through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ and the transforming work by the Holy Spirit, when we individually and collectively go about doing God’s work, both inside and outside the church, we are doing the same.  We are expanding the reign of the King who owns it all anyway.  (See Ps. 24:1.)  Beckett echoes this truth: “If what you and I are doing is God’s will, it qualifies as a ‘great work,’ whether it is cooking dinner for the kids or designing a bridge to span the Amazon River” (p. 78).

 

Losing and Regaining our Sense of God’s Presence

This is a follow-up to an article I wrote almost two years ago, about experiencing God’s presence.  I felt compelled to write this as I was faced with my own sinfulness and need of grace.

I honestly believe that all Christians have experienced not only an overwhelming sense of His presence, but also a disturbing loss of His presence.  I know I have.  Some of us may have experienced this loss occasionally or for a short season.  Others may have functioned in this state for quite some time, or may never have truly felt it.  So, what happens when we, through deliberate and/or unconfessed sin, drift away from God’s presence at work (or anywhere else for that matter)?  How do we get it back?

I have several things to share that might bring some encouragement and hope.

God does not leave us, condemn us, or give up on us.  Ps. 139:7-10 says that He is always present with us.  Paul states, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).  At the end of the chapter, he concludes nothing in this world can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38-39).  Nor does He completely stop using us in our work.  (Remember, he can even use an unbeliever to serve His purposes.)  But as for believers, we know that He prefers to use cleansed vessels: “he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Tim. 2:20-21).

I have observed from my own experience when I have drifted away for a short time, the first thing I notice is that the joy of the Lord diminishes until I repent of and confess my sin.  This lack of joy and energy negatively impacts my relationships with co-workers, subordinates, and superiors, and significantly reduces my creativity and productivity on the job.  David, the man after God’s own heart indicated the same thing: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Ps. 32:3-4).  But once I repent, confess, and rest in God’s grace and forgiveness, the joy returns, I begin to sense His presence again, and I am strengthened for work.  (See Ps. 32:5.)

It was said of Brother Lawrence in The Practice of the Presence of God, “When he sinned, he confessed it to God with these words: ‘I can do nothing better without You.  Please keep me from falling and correct the mistakes I make.’  After that he did not feel guilty about the sin” (p. 11).  He was a man of simple faith, who understood well the fundamental truth of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Knowing that I have been called by God to be a co-worker with Him in whatever task He has placed in front of me, to integrate my faith at work, at church, and at home should motivate me towards holy behaviors and attitudes.  When by faith and obedience I abide in Jesus Christ (John 15) and am filled with His Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18), I can be fully confident that God will work through me to love my neighbor and bring Him glory with maximum results.  This is my single-minded objective: I do not want to get in His way; I want to get His way in me.

As we grow in maturity in the power and filling of the Holy Spirit, we should experience more and more consistent victory over sin.  But we can never rest in that.  The minute we get proud of our efforts and progress in our own spiritual growth is the minute we will lose our humble second-by-second dependence on God.  And then we can fall so easily. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor. 10:12).

As I reflect on the changes I have gone through over the last 40 years: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, I realize that our tendency to fall into various temptations and sins goes through seasons.  For example, some of the sins I struggle with now in my late 50’s I also struggled with in my 20’s.  But maybe I struggled less during my 30’s and 40’s.  It is almost like a cancer that is in remission and then comes back with a vengeance.  Just because I no longer deal with a particular sin now does not mean that I won’t deal with it in the future.

We always have to depend on God to continuously transform us in the power of the Holy Spirit into the image of His Son.  It is not about perfection; it’s about direction.  We won’t be sinless, but we should sin less.  We will never arrive, but we must pursue God’s holiness.

When we are supernaturally able to walk in His presence at work on a consistent basis, we will see over time how His purposes unfold in our life.  That is what I desperately want to experience.