A year ago I was deployed in the middle east. I was strategically placed on a base that was helping all the troops transition out of Iraq. We had to double the capacity for barracks on our base in a couple short months and quadruple the capacity for hosting different missions that needed a new place to “set up shop.”
Given my experience leading crews of untrained young men and women (thank you Tree Trust!), I was given charge of a handful of augmentees from an other section who were kind enough to spare some of their folk. A couple of the other guys from my shop, who already knew what they were doing, were put on my team as well. I can’t tell you enough how hard-working, quick-learning and helpful everyone was on that team! Our primary task was to construct wood-framed floors for the SSS (Alaskan Small Shelter System) tents and, when not framing, join the team that was erecting the tents. I think we framed something like 60 different 20′ x 32′ floors and hundreds of tents.
Now I get to my main point. One day I had a quite lively discussion with a few of my fellow airmen. I was insisting that living life for the sake of building material wealth and possessions was an empty life, void of true substance. In the end, that kind of life would leave them feeling disappointed, as if they wasted their life. Instead they should use their wealth to help the less fortunate and find more satisfaction in that. I was quite firm in my stance, but no one seemed to agree that they had to give up their luxury vehicles and I wasn’t changing anyone’s mind. But, I was convinced I was right and was starting to feel quite good about myself and my moral high ground.
Later that same day we were out assembling some floors for a couple of morale tents that were scheduled to go up in “tent city.” We were hard at work and sweating our butts off. I was partially managing and partially working, but most everyone already knew what they were supposed to do at this point.
There were some TCNs (third country nationals) working nearby, digging a trench for whatever cable, plumbing or power lines they were installing that day. One of them asked, mostly in pointing and gesturing, if he could use my tape measure. I paused for a second, quickly analyzing all my options and ended up saying, “No” since I was busy and needed to be productive. I had a lot of people counting on me to get my mission done and I was in charge of lay-out for the floors, which means that if I fell behind, everyone did.
As I walked away, I knew something wasn’t right. I could feel the eyes of my co-workers drilling me in the back of the head. As I got back to work I saw one of the gentlemen who had engaged me in our previous discussion walk over to the tool chest, dig out a tape measure, and walk it over to the hard-working TCNs.
At this time in my life God is teaching me what it really means to be a part of His kingdom. His kingdom doesn’t seek to be “effective” in the traditional sense, His kingdom seeks to die on behalf of others, showing them their unsurpassed worth through self-sacrificial love. The way of Jesus does not always look effective, but we are called to not follow the patterns of this world (Romans 12), which includes scrambling and fighting to be effective, influential, and powerful. Christianity is a call to love unconditionally at our expense, not for our advancement (or for our ministry’s, or for our church’s?). Isaiah 58 calls this true fasting. Philippians says that this is the way of Christ, the way of humility and death. The end, of course, is that God the Father is able to lift you up. As a side note, the beginning starts with being filled with the fulness of your acceptance through Christ, which has nothing to do with your sacrifices for the sake of others. You need to be filled with life before you lay yourself down as a “seed” to die in order to produce more fruit. Dead seeds just don’t produce fruit no matter now many times you plant them.
I totally missed the mark. I valued effectiveness and self-promotion (in the eyes of my superiors) over self-sacrificial love for the “least of these.” In that regard, the Kingdom of God failed in me that day. Thankfully I have the Spirit who quickly convicted me and I was able to confess my hypocrisy to my co-workers and my humility was restored. In that regard, the Kingdom of God advanced in me that day.
I’ve been in the military for almost 9 years now. My enlistment date is coming up really quick: December 1st 2012. That is when I have to decide to stay in or get out. It’s pretty much the half-way point to the 20 year minimum to retire. If I enlist for a third term, it will most likely be for another 4 years. I’ve served all those year in the 133rd MN Air National Guard as a Structures troop. That means that I’m a carpenter for the Air Force. That’s actually how I started my career as a carpenter, which today is allowing me remodel my home into a place of ministry. I don’t know where I would be without the Guard. I also don’t know what use it is to wonder. Hm…
I’ve deployed twice. Same place both times: Kuwait. After three years away I moved into a dorm room right across the hall from my former living space. The running joke for the first few week among those of us who had been there before was, “I think we were just dreaming and we never actually left this place!” Not much had changed except for the work tempo as all the troops moved out of Iraq and needed a place to stay or transition through. It was a lot of work! I spent 4 months of my life there in 2008 and 6 more months in 2012. On my most recent deployment I got promoted to Technical Sergeant (E-6).
In a lot of ways I feel like Joseph who was blessed at whatever he put his hand to. I know that I’ve served well up until this point. My commander likes me (last I heard anyway), my supervisor likes me, some of the troops under me like me. I’ve gotten numerous awards and recognition for my work ethic and leadership ability. I know I could do well there. Maybe even become Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) if I tried for it (which would be a really great retirement deal!). I am second in command in my flight/shop of 9. That leaves a lot of room for advancement in the future. A few people never even make it to TSgt in their entire 20 years, and I was already there by 8. My heavenly Father’s favor has been on me from the moment I swore in.
Therein lies the struggle. Swearing in? Pledging allegiance? Promising my life to defend a kingdom of this world? Unquestioningly spending myself one Sabbath a month on behalf of my country? Volunteering to be separated from my wife for months at a time? Being trained to kill? Declaring our president as lord (in the very real sense – ruler) of my life? Something isn’t resonating here.
Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Do not take revenge. Forgive. Love. Killing is okay sometimes?
One of my primary functional theologies is that I can trust God. I can trust him with my finances. I can trust him with my house. I can trust him with my family. And, one of the most helpful, I can trust him to stand for justice on my behalf when I am wronged. But as soon as I take matters into my own hands, I stop trusting His. You just can’t do both. How does that apply to a believer in the military who is going over seas to take revenge, or better yet, a preemptive strike on our enemies? I’m getting sick of all the back-door ways that we are making it seem okay to not live how Jesus lived.
What would it look like to lay myself down on the behalf of other people, even my enemies, and trust that this will somehow change the world and truly end all the violence and evil? Isn’t this what Christ did? He humbled himself and told us that in His kingdom, the greatest are those who submit themselves under others like a servant. His kingdom and the kingdom I am sworn to protect right now do not mix very well. Is it even possible to serve two masters?
If I am a disciple of Jesus, my life should look somewhat like his. He avoided violence and condemned hatred at every turn. I am made in His image. Here is my life.
- I am not applying this conviction to anyone other than me.
- The government does have a role to wield the sword to maintain good order according to Romans 13.
- Yeah, Hitler and all that… I don’t have the answers, but I’m aware of the argument.
- Non-violence doesn’t necessarily mean non-conflict or non-action. Jesus didn’t kill anyone when he drove the money-changers from the temple.
- I believe I earned my right to speak my thoughts publicly by serving America for 9 years in the Air Force.
- Please feel free to voice your opposition. I am fully aware that most people in America don’t agree with me on this, including many in my own family. I probably won’t respond unless it is obvious that it is meant to encourage the dialog, not just to tell me I hate America.
- Maybe this post was a bad idea. But, my primary objective in writing this blog is to tell you what God is doing and has done in my life. This is definitely something He is in the process of doing.
- I remember arguing against this position to a number of people from our old church in an open forum discussion about this topic, so I get it. I’ve been on both sides. As a side note, the forum was held at a local bar and discussed over some brews! I think that’s pretty awesome for a church meeting (even though I don’t drink much anymore).
God has me doing construction, which isn’t new for me. I’ve been a carpenter for over eight years now. However, I have gotten fairly accustomed to working for someone else. Someone else who can take all the responsibility and headache, loss of sleep and stress. It was a good day when I could simply work my day’s hours and go home. This work, however, is in my own bedroom and living room. It’s a totally different ball game.
I’ll tell you what, full-time ministry is looking really good right now. I’m exhausted and sick of my house being a construction site. I wouldn’t doubt that my wife and sister are fairly exhausted with the whole process as well. We first started this new venture in January when we demoed the living room in order to get to the plumbing for the existing bathroom. This is what we found:
Oh wait, wrong picture… Well we found a couple of those as well! No, we found some crazy plumbing. We kind of already had guessed that it was going to have to be redone, but this was pretty crazy.
If you read my previous Ministry Update letter, you heard about God’s amazing provision with a plumber. Once the plumber started his thing, it was go time. We didn’t have a working bathroom once the plumbing was torn out, so everyone in the house had to move out for a week… make that two weeks! Thankfully Michelle and I have some amazing friends near-by who are all about our vision and super hospitable. Thanks Ben and Bethany… and Jasmine!
When we pulled the plumbing out, one look at the inside of those massive (and heavy!) cast-iron pipes confirmed that we were doing the right thing by replacing everything. You can see for yourself:
Once that beast was gone I had to work overtime in order to get the bathroom up and running again. Honestly, it sucked. I usually spend a few hours every morning in prayer and scripture, but I just worked and worked and worked… then I had a Drill Weekend… then I worked more. Plus a few hours here and there with my different ministry things that I do. I figure that I put in 107 hours on my bathroom in those two weeks, 16 hours at drill, and 8-10 hours of other ministry things. Ug. Just thinking about it again makes me not want to ever do any construction ever again. We ended up having to completely gut and redo the existing bathroom (not expected, but nice now that it’s not covered in pink/white tile with white/pink grout). Check out the progression:
I’m still not done with the existing bathroom. Some mudding, sanding, painting and some trim work is still needed. Then, on to the new bathroom! Yep. We’re adding a second bathroom upstairs so that our guest can have their own space, and we can have our own space. Once that bathroom is done, then I can close off and finish up the living room. Once THAT is done then I can start replacing all the windows in the house.
Will this ever end?! Save me Jesus!