Those Who Fought in the War on Terror in Afghanistan

If you paid attention to the news over the weekend, you are aware of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, which caused the Taliban to rapidly take over the country.  A lot of active and reserve component service members and veterans who deployed in harms’ way multiple times, as well as our Gold Star families are hurting emotionally right now.  They are dealing with much anger, sadness, confusion, disappointment, frustration, despair, and bitterness over this unexpected turn of events.

I have served in and with the U.S. Army for more than 35 years.  My family and I have a ton of love and respect for soldiers and their families and are proud of our service to this Nation.  Many of the soldiers I work with every day at my job have served in Afghanistan.  My heart aches for them now. 

I felt that I had to say something today.  I want to seize the moment and share some thoughts and offer a biblical perspective in order to bring comfort to those who need it most during this time of grief.

I have to add a disclaimer right here.  Since I am a civilian employee of the Department of Defense, and to show unity and loyalty to my Soldiers and leaders that I work with every day, I intend reflect on this situation from a biblical worldview without showing any disrespect to our Commander in Chief, which would be counterproductive.  I will not allow this to turn into a political discussion.

Here are a handful of biblical principles that are relevant to our hurting combat veterans right now:

  • Your work as a peacemaker matters to God (Matt 5:9)
  • God was present with you even in your darkest days (Ps. 139:7-12)
  • Your work was not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58)
  • Your work in fighting terrorism was an honorable cause; America has been safer as a result (see quote below from Martin Luther)
  • You showed love to your neighbor and offered them hope; i.e., the lives of men, women, and children that you saved and protected and provided for (Matt. 22:39)
  • There is no greater love than a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13)
  • Evildoers will not win in the end (Ps. 92:6-7)

Martin Luther made a powerful statement regarding the just purposes for war, which I shared in a previous article.  He stated:

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.

I strongly encourage combat veterans who need to talk to someone about their deep feelings to find someone who cares.  I care, as do a lot of people that I know.  I encourage the rest of us to pray for them, for Christians in Afghanistan whose lives are in danger, and even for our enemies as well.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Seventy articles that he wrote have been posted or published 130 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Oh, the Places the Lord will Lead you to go!

(Note: This article was published on the Christian Grandfather Magazine blog.)

In late June, I had the opportunity to read a bedtime story to three of my grandchildren.  The eldest grandson sat on my lap.  He had asked me to read a Dr. Seuss classic, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I started to read the book, and without any warning, I got totally choked up.  Tears were streaming down my face.  My grandson noticed it right away.  He comforted me by gently putting his little hand on my cheek.  I had to stop reading for a few seconds, catch my breath, and try my best to continue.

It may have been these words that grabbed my heart and caused a flood of emotion I could not control:

You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

You’re on your own.  And you know what you know.

And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

You have to understand that over the past six years, he and I have developed a close relationship.  I have known him since day one.  Here is what I was thinking as I was moved to tears at that moment.

My imagination flashed forward a dozen years, taking me unexpectedly to my grandson’s high school graduation.  This book is often given to graduates as a gift.  Perhaps he would receive it.  It might be meaningful to him as he began his new adventure into adulthood.  But I wasn’t thinking about him.

That night, as I held tight to this boy that I love so much, I was anticipating the grief that his mom and dad would feel at that moment, just as his grandparents grieved when their children left the nest.  Also, I will be 75 when he graduates.  There is no guarantee that I will still be here to see him through.  The uncertainty of what the future held for him overwhelmed me, as I continued reading this book.

A few days later, as I reflected on this event, it occurred to me that this well-intentioned message of adventure, freedom, responsibility, and hope for new graduates just might need to be told from a Christian perspective.  I want my grandson, his brother and sister, and his cousins, regardless of whether I am there or not, to experience the greatest of adventures as they follow Jesus as their Lord.

Allow me to share several insights that I would want my grandchildren and other children of all ages to have.  I want to give them a glimpse into the path of purpose they will have by discovering and living the Christian life: a journey of faith, characterized by God’s leading, wisdom, and abundance.  These things are not true because I have experienced them.  I have experienced them because they are true.

Discovering God’s leading

In Ps 139:10, we see David’s faith that God’s hand will guide him wherever he goes.  God, speaking through David, promises that He will teach us in the way we should go and watch over us (Ps. 32:8).  

Even as a young Christian, I knew that God would lead me. I sought after Him every time that I had to make a big decision, like choosing a college major, how to proceed in a dating relationship, or finding just the right job.  I trust that my grandchildren will also seek God’s face first and look to Him for guidance whenever they need it.

Finding God’s wisdom

Wisdom is living out God’s truths; walking in His ways.  In the context of suffering and the testing of our faith in Christ, James 1:5 promises that God will provide His wisdom to all who ask in faith. 

I can speak from experience here.  There was suffering in the form of persecution from the world that I faced as a Christian college student at a large public university.  I  encountered spiritual attacks from Satan that bombarded me on occasion and temptations from my own flesh.  I lost girlfriends, jobs, and family members.

As I prayed for discernment on how to navigate these rough waters, I always received the wisdom I needed from the Lord at just the right time.  When I chose to walk in the path of righteousness, I generally made good decisions.  I am hoping my grandchildren will be able to confidently, consistently, and wisely walk with God as well.

Living the abundant life

Jesus gives an amazing promise in John 10:10.  In the context of his teaching on the shepherd and His flock, Jesus explains that He is the faithful and loving shepherd who calls his sheep by name and leads them.  The sheep follow him because they trust him.  He will lay down his life for those sheep.  Their enemies may try to steal, kill, and destroy, but he has come that they may have life more abundantly.

I have experienced that abundant life ever since I became a Christian.  God has been my shepherd.  I have sensed His presence.  He has protected me and provided for me above and beyond all I could hope or expect.  He has given me strength to overcome.  He has given me true freedom, joy, and peace.  My hope for my grandchildren is they too would experience this amazing abundant life for themselves.

Relating to God’s Son

In closing, let me reflect on the Apostle Paul’s prayer found in Eph. 1:16-20.  He describes his prayers for the church, but it is an excellent model for parents and grandparents in praying daily for their kids.

Paul starts with an acknowledgement of their faith in Jesus Christ.  If they don’t have that, the rest of the prayer is useless.  I have to dedicate myself to praying for the salvation of my grandchildren.

Next, Paul writes that he never stops giving thanks for them.  He asks God to give them His Spirit so that they can know Him better.  He asks God to open the eyes of those he prays for and that they will know the hope to which they were called, the riches of their inheritance, and God’s matchless power.

These are the things that I need to pray for so that my grandchildren can believe, know, and experience God’s truths and live out the abundant Christian life for themselves.  I encourage you to do the same.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Seventy articles that he wrote have been posted or published 130 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Showing Respect to Those Outside Your Organization

As a young sergeant in the U.S. Army, during my first unaccompanied tour in the Republic of Korea, I witnessed a classic example of disrespect shown to someone I did not know at our higher headquarters.  I was assigned to a military police company.  My company commander always referred to the battalion operations officer as “Major Problems”.  I was fairly certain that his rank was that of major.  However, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t his last name.

I cannot be the only one to have heard someone complain about those who work at the level above or below you.  It is a common occurrence.  The television show “The Office” contained many scenes where the regional manager said something negative about those who worked at the corporate office. 

Let me briefly dive into this critical topic that I have not explored or addressed in previous articles.

Why is disrespect in general a problem?

Disrespect is cancerous.  It starts out small, then spreads itself to others, both inside and outside your organization.  If tolerated, it becomes a new standard that is going to destroy everything in its path.  And, as one of my coworkers stated, we tend to remember negative things more than positive ones.

What is wrong with complaining about the CEO above you or the franchise managers below you?

Allowing yourself or your employees to make jokes or say negative things about leaders or staff members in other organizations that you work with indirectly will come back to bite you.  It is gossip, plain and simple, which is prohibited in Scripture.  (See Prov. 18:8.) 

Even though it may seem to be a team-building activity to unite together as you express how much you despise them, it can actually be counterproductive and destroy the kind of quality teamwork that you are trying to develop.

It would be hypocritical for me to emphasize the concept of treating others right in front of me with dignity and respect and then do the opposite with some folks who work down the street or upstairs.

Also, it would be a bad situation if you got transferred to another branch or assigned to work at the corporate office and the new team that you have to work with has heard you were bad mouthing them.

What does right look like?

I make it a point at work to treat everyone on my team with dignity and respect.  I demand the same from all.  What this means is that we do not interact with people differently based on their race, gender, religious background, age, political affiliation, etc.  We do not talk about “those people” who are different than we are.  We are a team, and our strength lies in our diversity.  Everyone contributes.

This looks like we are intentionally following Jesus’s golden rule.  We do unto others the way we want others to do unto us.  We love our neighbors, whether they are in the cubicle next to ours or work somewhere else.

I challenge you to give this some thought and maybe change how you treat those outside your own team.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Seventy articles that he wrote have been posted or published 130 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Maybe I’m Not so Unique After All

I have written in several forums that I have a unique perspective on the theology of work, based on my extensive studies on the topic and my own experiences living out these biblical principles over the past three decades.  Although I believe that is still a true statement, it occurs to me that what I know, believe, and think about God’s presence in my own work might not be so unique after all. 

To borrow a theme from Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, I find myself living in the past, the present, and the future when it comes down to what I understand about the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work.  I have been referring to this concept as Immanuel labor.

Here are a few statements that will highlight what I mean.

In the past:

  • I believe that God is sovereign; He has divinely guided every single circumstance of my life, including my conception, birth, and upbringing to prepare me for His purposes
  • I believe that God has clearly led me every step of the way throughout my education and employment journey to give me the skills and experiences I would need to glorify Him
  • I believe that God has provided for me and my family through all of the jobs I have had

In the present:

  • I believe that God is present with me every day as I go to work; He works with me, in me, and through me as I work in my ordinary job to meet the various needs of people I serve with
  • I believe that God uses the thorns and thistles that constantly hinder my work and make it more painful than necessary as trials to build my faith, which grows as I learn to trust Him
  • I believe that God has placed me here for a purpose; I will be content to stay put until led to go elsewhere

In the future:

  • I believe that when I struggle at work, God will give me all of the wisdom and strength I need
  • I believe my current job may only be for a season; He may have something better for me to do
  • I believe that wherever He leads me, He will be present with me to glorify Himself

God the Father has revealed Himself through His Son, His Holy Spirit, and His word as a God who is sovereign over all, who loves His children, and who has promised to lead them every step of the way in their journey of faith.  Since He never changes, how He has always dealt with His people in the past is the way He still deals with them now.  If that is true, then all of these things I indicated above are not unique to me at all.  Every Christian should be able to say that they are also true for them.

I encourage you to go back and reread the bullet points above, and see if you believe what I believe.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Seventy articles that he wrote have been posted or published 130 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

What Does the Gospel of John Teach us About Work?

(Note: This is the fourth article in a series of excerpts from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, that highlight some of the key biblical principles from the theology of work that come out of a specific book or genre.  I invite you to read the previous articles on what the book of Ecclesiastes, the Psalms, and the Minor Prophets have to teach us about work. This article was published on The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog and the Coram Deo blog.)

The Gospel of John contains many references to work in its many forms.  It shows us how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are workers themselves, supporting the idea that work is intrinsically valuable because it is something that God does.  John also shows us how God works with us, in us, and through us.  This illustrates my concept of Immanuel labor, the connection between God’s presence and human work.  In John, we also learn how to allow God to work through us effectively by abiding in Christ.  Finally, John sheds some light on how we are called to relate to the world in which we work, to be separate from it, but to live purposefully in it.

The triune God is a worker

The apostle John acknowledges the work of each member of the trinity.  He emphasizes that God the Father is a worker.  Jesus (referring to His Father) said that God is always at work (John 5:17).  Later, Jesus said, “It is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:10).

Let us now look briefly at Jesus the worker.  John 1:1-3 paints a vivid portrait of Jesus being present prior to and at creation, alluding to Gen. 1:1.  “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” 

In John 4:34, Jesus said that His food, that which gave Him nourishment and satisfaction, was to do God’s will and to finish the work that His Father had called Him to do.  

In John 5:17, in the account of Jesus healing a lame man at Bethesda, He stated that His Father was always working and that He also was working.  Jesus explained in John 5:19 that He does that which He sees the Father doing.  

Jesus continued in John 5:36, stating that the work He was doing was because God the Father had given it to Jesus to finish.  In John 17:4, Jesus stated in His prayer in the garden that He completed the work that the Father gave Him to do. The work Jesus finished was primarily the work of revelation and redemption.

Not only did Jesus faithfully complete the work the Father gave Him to do, but He also gave His disciples an example of how to be a servant to all by washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17).

Lastly, Jesus sent His disciples to preach the gospel and expand His kingdom.  He empowered them by giving the Holy Spirit to provide His presence with them in their work (John 20:21-22).

I will expand on the work of the Holy Spirit in this next section.

God is present with us in our work

The triune God works, which gives work value.  God is also present with His people as they do the work that God calls them to do.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit works with, in, and through us.

Throughout Scripture, and particularly in John, we learn that it is the third person of the trinity that indwells believers in order to empower them to do their ordinary tasks in a supernatural way. 

In John 14:17, Jesus told His disciples that the Father would give the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, who “lives with you and will be in you.”  His constant presence and His still, small voice would teach and remind them of what Jesus said (John 14:26).  

The Holy Spirit would also be the one to guide them in the truth (John 16:13).  Since Jesus was physically about to leave His disciples, He wanted to assure them they would have the very presence of His Father and Himself with them at all times so that they could know Him, follow Him, and remain faithful to fulfill their calling.

Remaining connected to Christ brings results in our work

Jesus’s parable of the vine and the branches in John 15 indicates how we can remain in God’s presence at work so that we can consistently bear holy fruit to the glory of the Gardener.

Knowing that I have been called by God to be a coworker with Him in whatever task He has placed in front of me and to integrate my faith at work, at church, and at home motivates me toward holy behaviors and attitudes.  When by faith and obedience I continually abide in Jesus Christ (John 15:1-8) 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.  

How do we relate to the world where we work?

In John, there is a key passage that gives us an idea of how we are to relate to this world.

Jesus prayed for His disciples in John 17:14-19.  He asked God the Father to protect, teach, and lead His disciples.  Jesus acknowledged that they (and we) are not of this world, but they (and we) are being sent out into the world. Why? We are sent so that the world can see Jesus.

Amy Sherman, in her book, Kingdom Calling teaches, “We are the ‘called out’ people of God for sure.  But we have been ‘called out’ to be ‘sent back’!  We are sent back as viral agents of the King to partner in his redemptive mission in the world.”  Amen!

Final thoughts

I trust these excerpts from my book will inspire you to take a closer look at these selected passages from the Gospel of John.  I am hoping that you will see them in a new light, and will understand these truths better so that you can work in the world while abiding in His presence.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Seventy articles that he wrote have been posted or published 130 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.