Army Jeremiah Spiritual Disciplines

Feel the Burn!

Feel the Burn!I loved my time in the Army. I especially enjoyed it before most of my body hurt. Before injuries, age, and overall girth, I loved push-ups. I loved wide-arm, close grip, elevated, diamond, clap, and one arm push-ups. There are few feelings as wonderful as muscle failure after a tough work-out session sponsored by the US Army.

The most push-ups I ever did came at Fort Benning, GA for basic training. We would do push-ups before meals, before bed, when we should have been in bed, when we did right, and definitely when we got in trouble. My drill sergeants were sure to “teach” us of our wrongdoings through push-ups to muscle failure. It was tough but worth it. When Basic Training ended, I did 70ish push-ups in 2 minutes.

At that time, Fort Benning, GA was an all-male training station. After Basic, I went to Fort Jackson, SC. Fort Jackson was a co-ed training station. They also had Basic Training there but I went there just for Advanced Individual Training (AIT). My drill sergeants were both male and female. Having female drill sergeants was a different experience for me.

Whereas the male drill sergeants would use the standard push-up for correction, the female drill sergeants used a different method. In short, it was horrible. I thought my shoulders were in good shape. I thought they were strong. I thought they were conditioned. My push-ups increased to 80 in two minutes. Honestly, a female drill sergeant was not able to make me do push-ups enough to bring me to muscle failure because most often, drill sergeants did the punishment with the soldiers. Army regulations were guiding their use of physical exercise as a means of correction but don’t read into it too much, it was pure intimidation. When a drill sergeant starts an exercise of which you are to follow and continues to do it as soldiers drop like flies… you learn that you are a mere mortal. You learn you drill sergeant is not. My female drill sergeants made us suffer from the overhead arm clap.

What is this torturous method? Imagine you are at a concert and clapping your hands over your head, except the music is the voice of the drill sergeant counting and your arms coincide with her cadence. I was prepared for push-ups. I was not conditioned to hundreds of those things. When it first happened, I thought I was going to die. My shoulders burned and did not stop for two days. I could not bring my hands above my head to wash my hair, well I did not have hair then but where hair should have been was unwashed. The burn in my shoulders made everything difficult. Writing, typing shoes, and even taking off a shirt were painful. Anything I did for two days came with a painful reminder of those blessed overhead arm claps.  

Reading in Jeremiah this morning, I was reminded of this story. Jeremiah did not have overhead arm claps. He had the Word of God. Jeremiah was a prophet who spoke of Israel’s sin before and during the destruction of Jerusalem in 586BC.

He was alone during this time. There were other prophets but they did not speak for God. They spoke “prophecies” the people wanted to hear. The other prophets spoke lies to the people for their own gain. They told the kings everything would be fine. Jeremiah told them destruction was coming because of their sin. 

Jeremiah was placed in the stocks because his message was of doom and destruction (Jer 20:1-6). He spoke against the government and religious leaders. Their response caused him great suffering. How did he respond? He wrote the book of Lamentations. He was not a happy or joyous prophet. His joy would only come in death. He said Jeremiah 20:14, “Cursed be the day on which I was born!” The suffering and deep depression of Jeremiah was immense. But it was not his dominant emotion. 

Jeremiah is usually called the weeping prophet because of the many laments within the book bearing his name and Lamentations. However, it is best to see him as the “burning” prophet. Jeremiah had a message to give. He did not want to give it. He even said of speaking for Yahweh, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name (Jer 20:9).” He was sure to be done with the whole prophet business except, he had this burning. He could not forget it. Anything he did, he felt it. 

When the physical body is under extreme physical exertion, it burns. It burns while you are exercising and depending on your level of conditioning or the intensity of the workout, it will burn for days after. For the prophet Jeremiah, he heard from God. He was called by God. He was sent by God to Israel. The human body is not conditioned to hold in the Word of God. The Word of God must be shared. Jeremiah knew this well, “There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot (Jer 20:9).” Jeremiah continued to speak. He spoke even though he suffered. He spoke even though the temple was destroyed. He spoke even though his message was not received. 

My prayer is to never do an overhead arm clap again. I’m not sure my left shoulder would allow it. Secondly and more importantly, I want the fire of God’s Word to burn in me. How do we do this? First, you must spend regular time reading and meditating on God’s Word. God cannot work out of you what you do not have in you. If the fire of God’s Word is going to burn in you, then you must give it plenty of fuel. I have made it my habit to read through the Bible on a yearly basis. I like this method because it keeps the story of the Bible fresh in my mind. Second, you must pray. When you pray, use the Bible. Pray about what you have read. Pray for those who need to hear and then pray for an opportunity to tell them. Third, find someone to pray with you and hold you accountable. Look around at who is a faithfully following Jesus, who is a little ahead of you in the faith, and then ask them to disciple you. Part of discipleship is holding one another accountable for the purpose of growing in Christ-likeness. 

Church Issues

To attend or not attend?

The outcome of COVID-19 remains to be seen. We do not yet know when the world will get back to normal, whatever that is. I have no interest in adding to the many hypotheses and analyses. There are more competent and qualified people than me to address the subject. I want to speak about something more important and more dangerous. I want to talk about the church.

Churches still have not returned fully after months of quarantine. More troublesome is one-third of people have not returned and may never come back. What happened? There are different theories. Some pastors I have spoken to see it as a salvation issue, while others see it as pseudo committed people getting out of the rhythm of church attendance.

Church attendance is a salvation issue and it is also not a salvation issue. The pastors I have spoken do not believe going to church makes one saved. Their argument is as stated: The gathering of the local body is an issue of obedience to Scripture, to reject the biblical command to gather together is a sign up an unrepentant heart. Because repentance is a sign of a believer, those who willfully reject gathering together are in unrepentant sin and not truly converted.

I am sympathetic to their line of reasoning. Everyone I have spoken to understands those who, for medical reasons, do not feel comfortable attending. We are not talking about those in that type of situation. Those who find other things to do, created new routines, or found out they liked having an extra weekend morning are the ones causing the concern.

Hebrews 10:24-25 gives clear direction to believers to gather together, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” I do not think this is a time to pile on people who have enjoyed time away from church. Rather, these verses teach us that the struggle to gather together for believers is not new.

Believers then and believers now need encouragement to gather together. The writer of Hebrews tells us to consider how to encourage others. The idea of consider in the text carries with it the idea of careful, thoughtful, contemplation for the sake of others. We are supposed to use our minds to think of ways to encourage others to love, do good works, and gather together. This encouragement comes as believers gather together.

When believers gather together there are numerous benefits. They are strengthened as they worship together. The work of God is magnified through their prayers. They are comforted as they minister to one another, especially those who are suffering. They grow in holiness as they listen to the Word preached. They help send gospel missionaries and care for the poor as gather offerings. Their witness is benefited as a socially and economically diverse group of people fellowship in unity. More could be said for the benefits of gathering for mental health as it pertains to loneliness, depression, and other results to staying away from fellowship. At the very least, many people have long-standing deep friendships that are cultivated through in-person gatherings over Bible study and prayer.

Consider then, how you might encourage others to gather this Sunday. Find that friend that you haven’t seen at church in a while, check on them, invite them back. If they are concerned about health reasons, reassure them and encourage them that they are not in sin. We are living in crazy times. We need another. We need you there.