the last monday in may

The last Monday in May is celebrated as Memorial Day and I hate it. I used to love Memorial Day as a kid. It marked the end of school and the beginning of summer. It was a long weekend and it meant my parents were off. Sometimes we would go on a short vacation but the long weekend assured that something special was going to happen, even if it was just staying up late and hanging out with friends. Something happened and now I dread Memorial Day.

September 11, 2001, changed the world. I was already in the Army. We went from peacekeeping camouflage-wearing Soldiers to Combat Veterans. Thousands of Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen (sorry Coast Guard) deployed for Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Many made it home. Several thousand did not. Tens of thousands came back injured. Everyone came back changed.

For many who returned from a deployment (many deployed multiple times), Memorial Day is not a happy occasion. Memorial Day isn’t for us. It’s for those who didn’t make it back. It’s for those who died in uniform.

Interestingly, many Veterans of older wars will receive your thanks should you thank them for their service on Memorial Day. OEF/OIF will usually correct you. Some of them will be upset if you do. What is the difference in response between the two groups of Veterans?

I do not have any scientific data to back this us but I’ll share my thoughts with you. Veterans of older wars (Korea, Vietnam, and other skirmishes) will thank you or receive the thanks in place of the fallen. The victims of these wars received, especially Vietnam suffered for years without any thanks so any, even if misplaced is received.

Secondly, these fallen heroes died at the hands of the enemy. Casualties of OEF/OIF died at the hands of the enemy but the enemy was usually hidden away with an improvised explosive device (IED). OEF/OIF made enemy recognition difficult because uniforms were not common so the enemy looked like the shopkeeper and the shopkeeper looked like the enemy. When a Soldier was killed in action without a “fair fight” there is extra guilt.

Soldiers have survivor’s guilt. Survivor’s guilt comes in two ways. The first is why him and not me? The guilt comes in thinking that I should have died and not him. Thousands of scenarios go through the mind about changes that could have been made that would have made you trade places. The second way of survivor’s guilt comes by feeling that more could have been done. The best place for “something” better to have been done is usually if an IED would have been seen, traveled at a greater speed, or more quickly/accurately returned fire. The guilt comes from thinking, I could have done more.

Veterans of older wars have survivor’s guilt. Usually, the casualties from older wars died because of engaging the enemy. Many OEF/OIF casualties happened without seeing an enemy. OEF/OIF Veterans have compounded guilt because they can play the “what-if” game without ever seeing an enemy. It isn’t a situation of my guilt is worse than yours. It’s just different. Like I said, no scientific data. I’ve just talked to a lot of guys about it.

My issue with Memorial Day is quite different. My deployment was a cakewalk compared to many. My issue with Memorial Day is because of my time served as a Chaplain. I loved serving as an Army Chaplain until I got a call from Mortuary Affairs. Chaplains have the horrible job of notifying family members about the fallen Soldier. It was bad when I got the first, and then I got the second, then the third…

Memorial Day is a REALLY important day, it just isn’t about me. It isn’t about me because I came home. I can’t get all excited about it because I know what it cost. The numbers of casualties are not just numbers to me, they are names. They are Soldiers. They are sons. They are my brothers. They could have been me.

So if you are a Veteran suffering with survivor’s guilt or you just hate Memorial Day, I want to offer you two words of encouragement. First, guilt is normal. The way to combat guilt is by a greater emotion/feeling. The strongest feeling you can feel, the one that really hits you deep in your soul is the feeling of honor.

Your feelings of guilt are not surprising and you are not alone in feeling that way. But let’s be clear, you can’t change the past. You can only do something about the present. Your future isn’t guaranteed so live today in a way that honors those who paid the ultimate price. Find a unique way to honor those who didn’t come home.

The second word of encouragement for you, death is also in your future. Don’t let this handcuff you from living but be prepared to die. At 19 years of age, filling out my SGLI life insurance claim was a sobering moment. Death could come tomorrow or in twenty years, maybe many more but it will come.

How can you be ready to die? You must first admit that you’re not perfect. It’s not that you made a mistake here and there. Your primary problem is you have offended a holy God by willfully rejecting his standard of life. Your character does not align with what he requires. He requires perfection. You are selfish, angry, lustful, and proud by nature. So when you go to die, God will not let you in with all that stuff. Why would he?

If you want to be ready to die, it isn’t enough to just know that you’ve not met God’s standard. Honestly, it’s not good to die and bring that stuff to God. He knows that and so he made a way. The way he made wasn’t really fair but it was just. It was just because God requires a sacrifice to pay for our wrong doing. There wasn’t a sacrifice that was sufficient so he sent his Son. He lived the life we should have and then died the death we deserved. He died in our place and paid the price for our sins. If you believe this and surrender to Jesus, you can have new life so that when you die, you can really live.

Memorial Day reminds us of the cost of freedom. Sunday reminds us of the cost of eternal life. Let the reader live in a way to honor those who make these days special.

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. 


multiple personalities

I celebrate 15 years in ministry this month. I’ve been in various positions throughout those years. The Army and schooling necessitated a couple of those moves. One of my favorite jobs was as a Spirituality Group Leader at a recovery hospital. The hospital had a residency program for those recovering from drugs and alcohol, Soldiers with PTSD, and other patients with a host of mental disorders. It always kept me on my toes leading Bible studies. 

I learned to read the charts of the patients as I made my notes and signed off on their participation. Some of the stories were very sad because the patients struggled with years of abuse which they tried to cover up with drugs and alcohol. There were others who came from great families with great resources. Even though they had the world at their finger tips, they squandered it all away for a substance. It was so very sad. 

Then there were the Soldiers with PTSD. They were angry, struggling to cope with civilian life, and often heartbroken for those that never came back home. I loved these guys. I understood much of what they were going through, though in a lesser degree. 

My most challenging group of patients were those who had various mental disorders. Have you ever tried to lead a Bible study with someone who thinks they are Jesus? Really, there was a guy who thought he was Jesus. Walking on water? Yep he did that. Feeding 4,000 and 5,000? He did that too. Then his medicine changed and he thought he was Judas. Another week went by and he identified with his real self. It was crazy, literally. My heart went out for him as he was struggling to figure out what was real and what was not real. 

There were many like him. I wouldn’t know who was coming each week. Was it their actual self or someone they were pretending to be? It was always the most intense and interesting Bible study times. Typically Junior high boys are the most difficult to lead in a Bible study but they have nothing on mental patients! It was tons of fun as I would lead those Bible studies twice a week and share the gospel with them even. It was way outside my comfort zone but I find those times are when God grows us best. 

This all has me thinking about who we really are as people. We may not have “multiple personalities” but in a sense we do. If we act one way at church and another at home, we do. If we act one way at the ball field and another at work, we do. Even still, as a parent, does my daughter see me as having a loving and harsh side or am I just Dad that is both at the same time? I hope the latter. 

This problem is not new with modern psychology. There were people who were charged to not be double minded. Having two minds isn’t just an issue of not knowing who you are but is ultimately not knowing who God is. Jesus’ brother James instructs the Jews who live abroad to have faith in God with no doubting (James 1:6-8). They needed to have faith in who God really is not who they thought he was apart from true biblical knowledge. He frames this all with the command to ask God for wisdom if you need it. We are to ask without doubting because God is a good God who wants to bless his children with good gifts like wisdom. If we doubt we are like a ship that is tossed by the waves of the ocean. James doesn’t want us unstable with doubt. He wants us to be like a lighthouse, firmly fixed in the ocean withstanding the winds of doubt. We need to do this, not because we have great faith but because our faith is fixed to a sure hold.

Faith is like an anchor. The strongest of anchor, if not secure on something solid will be worthless. I’ve been in the ocean many times with an anchor far too big for the boat only to see us drifting because the anchor is just sliding on the sand. However, I was fishing with a good friend when we donated three anchors one morning because there were rocks and/or structure which were very solid so solid we never got the anchors back.

The strength of faith is not in our faith but in what/who we have our faith in. If we have faith in our ability, when we get tired our faith is useless. If we have faith in our bank accounts then when our money runs out, we are done for. However, if we have faith rooted in Jesus than we are as strong as Jesus is strong. When we are weak, we are actually strong when we are in Jesus (2 Cor 12). 

How can this be? We are like this because God doesn’t have multiple personalities. Depending on your upbringing and who have you have listened to, you may think God does. You may think the God of the Old Testament is about the Law, is angry, and often mad. The God of the New Testament is all about grace, mercy, and love. To be honest, I heard those things and thought them too, though it was a while ago. What really helped me understand who God is was a little book called The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. I’m rereading it now and enjoying  it immensely. 

The book is about the attributes of God in other words, it is a book about who God is. There isn’t a better subject for a book in my opinion. It is short enough that it serves as a good introduction for anyone. In the book he shows how God is not segmented like we are. He is not separate in his personality. He is perfectly loving while also showing hatred for sin. His mercy is equal to his wrath. This is helpful to understand. God is not different in the Old and New Testaments. He is always himself and for us, this is for our good. For you today, in your circumstances, it is for our good that God is always himself. Our circumstances need to be informed by good theology that God does not change like a ship tossed by the wind.

He loves us, hates sin, is merciful, and wrathful. If we have Jesus the wrath has been paid, we get the mercy, love, and by God’s grace learn to hate sin like Jesus. Let me finish with a quote from Tozer, “

The divine attributes are what we know to be true of God. He does not possess them as qualities; they are how God is as He reveals Himself to His creatures. Love, for instance, is not something God has and which may grow or diminish or cease to be. His love is the way God is, and when He loves He is simply being Himself.”

God doesn’t change. He is not wrathful without being loving. You can’t get his discipline without also getting his grace and mercy. THIS IS GOOD NEWS! He is always our loving Father. He is always loving and he doesn’t get tired and his love doesn’t run out. So know that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, he is working in your life right now, he is working out of love. He does not change.