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.