Tuesday, 29 April 2008

"Do You Wanna Take My White Puppy?"

As I write this, I am looking at my favorite picture taken of us when I was on leave in March (see "Family Pic"). My wife Jen, my 3 year-old son and my 5 year-old daughter were standing at the top of the Harbor Town Lighthouse on Hilton Head. Jen is standing there with a big smile—happy that I’m home finally, after 10 months of deployment. I have a huge grin on my face as well, excited to be with them. As I look at the kids, I see many lessons that I have learned over this deployment. My son is scared stiff—tightly holding onto my leg with both hands clasped. Maybe he is scared to death to be at the top of the lighthouse on a windy day. He doesn’t want to let go of Daddy for fear of what may happen. This is not new for him. He now knows what it is like for me to be gone and can't stand the thought of me not being there. When I got off the plane and walked into their arms a week before, he just grabbed on and wouldn’t let me go. This is far different from his reaction to my leaving. At that time, surprisingly, he was the strong one.

I remember the day I left, I was crying, Jen was crying--and it was our kids who comforted us! My son has a little stuffed dog he calls “my white puppy.” He cannot sleep without his white puppy. He takes it with him like Linus with his blanket, everywhere he goes. When he saw me struggling with tears the day I left he said the sweetest thing any kid has ever said, “do you wanna take my white puppy?” Jen and I laughed and then cried all the more. God used him to bring comfort and humor in our lives when we needed it most. My daughter was also strong. She said, “its OK, we’ll be here for mommy.” Neither of my children understood how long Daddy would be away. They didn’t know how many nights of crying and missing their Daddy were ahead of them. But they had a compassion and empathy for our sadness and they were willing to give up their most prized possessions to make me feel better. I learned that day that I was more important to my son than even the white puppy! I learned that he was willing to give up his own comfort in order to comfort me! That day, both of our children fulfilled the commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.” How privileged I am to be their father!

During leave, I spent as much time as possible playing with them, rolling in the floor, sword fighting with the foam swords I bought from the toy store, camping in the back yard, riding bikes out front, going to school to pick up my daughter, dyeing Easter eggs, playing hide-n-seek—doing those things that I wanted so much to do when I was gone. When I left again, at the end of leave, my daughter knew that it would be a while. She cried. We all cried. And the kids are still having a hard time getting used to Daddy being gone.

As our days on this deployment come to a close and as we begin to develop the expectations of our wonderful reunion, we all must remember to invest time and effort in connecting and loving and teaching our children. I will never regain the time that I have spent away from them, but I can make every moment with them, from here on out, count. If you love them, they will offer honor to you—maybe even, in the form of a white puppy.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Hateful or Grateful?

In chapel services here at COP Apache, I am preaching through the Gospel of Luke. Last night we were on chapter 23 and I was fascinated by the contrast that the story shows between the attitudes of the two criminals crucified on either side of Jesus. One guy was hateful. The text says in verse 39,

"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" (NIV)

Now, to the sarcastic unbeliever, this may not sound as if this man is being that hateful, after all, he's just going along with the crowd (see preceding verses 35-37). And this crowd was only repeating what Jesus had already claimed: that He was the Christ of God, the Messiah, the King of the Jews. What a great opportunity for Jesus to prove His power! Come off the cross and spare us the death! But that is hateful thinking. For the power to cheat death is vastly inferior in comparison with the power to conquer death. Jesus remained on the cross and remained true to His mission. His conquering death, though not immediate, was, indeed, a most powerful expression of his power.

The hateful criminal had no genuine trust or belief in Jesus or in His power. His state of unbelief meant that he had no desire for confession, no desire for repentance and no hope for the future. Judgement was his only inheritance.

In contrast to the hateful, the other criminal was grateful. Verse 40-42, "But the other criminal rebuked him.

"Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

This second criminal began to trust and believe in Jesus and his message. This belief lead to a confession, which lead to his repentance, which gave him a hope for the future. In reply to his conversion, verse 43, "Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

When it comes to Jesus who is the Christ, the Messiah, and King of the Jews, and His power, on which side are you--grateful or hateful?

Sunday, 6 January 2008

The Five-Lettered "D" Word


Death--there, I said it.

I suppose we enjoy ignoring this word and its usage due to our desire for it to just disappear. After all, it reminds us of what we have lost, what we are grieving, and what used to be. Death is something we do not want to talk about because it seems so final, so unfair, and so in-the-future. But it is not any of those things. So I thank God today, for the very next breath He gives me, for His righteous justice, and for His ongoing blessing of abundant, eternal life.

Death is more familiar with me now. I suppose it comes with the nature of my current ministry. Six of my soldiers have died, to date, since my arrival at 3-7 CAV in September of 2006. Death from an automobile accident, death from medication taken for injuries sustained in combat, death from an Improvised Explosive Device, death from suicide, and finally, death from--apparantly--natural causes--these are the 'causes' as we label them.

In some of these deaths, the "whys" are not clear--and, perhaps, never will be. But even if we knew all the "whys" it would not provide us with the comfort we seek. Certainly, knowing at least a little of the "why" helps us to move on. It helps us, at least, to suppress the pain of grief for the moment. When we know that death resulted from an attack by a literal enemy, for example, we have someone to blame, someone to be angry at, some other focus rather than the hurt and loss. Anger is preferable to sadness in that it is something we feel we can have some measure of control over. Men especially feel that anger is a more appropriate response to death. However, that sense of control is deceptive. Anger is not easily controlled. Sometimes, the anger is turned inward, sometimes the anger is bottled up, sometimes it is vented in inappropriate acts. All of these situations can have disasterous consequences. We are told, and I concur, that anger is a part of the grieving process--along with shock, denial, depression, acceptance, and adjustment. To be sure, God has not promised us a life without pain or grieving, what He has promised, rather, is to be with us. In Psalm 46, the Psalmist writes, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress" (NIV). He has ALSO promised, in Psalm 23 that HE, "restores my soul." Without Him, I don't know how anyone could go on.

Perhaps this new familiarity with death is due to my age. Gone is the blissful ignorance of knowing only the old people in my life who died. People closer to me are facing and experiencing death. My father passed after his second battle with cancer in May of 2005. I remember feeling two equally intense emotions at his death. Two so equally intense emotions that they put each other in check for an entire year. At first, I didn't know what it all meant. I could not even articulate the problem. Sure, I was sad at the occasion and missed my father dearly--but I knew there was something happening inside of me that I needed to have some time to work out in my grief. At the first anniversary of my father's death, it came to me like a lightening bolt out of the blue sky. At his death, I witnessed something that was at the same time most beautiful and most horrible. The "horrible" was the effects of death and sin. The ending of this life and the suffering of the sinful nature. The "beautiful" being the transition from this sinful realm into the realm of GLORY. The "horrible" was over. My earthly father had crossed over to be with God--nothing is more beautiful than that. Realizing this on a spiritual level gave me the 'restoration of my soul' that I am sure the Psalmist is writing about. I can not imagine traveling this path without the Great Shepherd leading me.

Is death a five-lettered "D" word to you? If so, seek the help of the Great Shepherd. Jesus said, "learn of me...and you will find rest for your soul."

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Sounds Too Good To Be True...

Some one sent me this ad the other day,

"FOR LEASE. Two bed/four toilet 1152 ft 3 furnished suite in a gated private community with 24 hour security patrols. Convenient to shopping, dining, movie theater and school. Located off of main roads in a rural farm district. Spacious parking. Membership to fitness center with outdoor running track included. Clubhouse available for use by residents and visitors. Indoor and outdoor pools on premises. Cable television and fiber optic internet service to be installed in two weeks. Multiple voltage electricity. Central heating and air. Located on main bus route. Easy access to airport. Golf course underconstruction. Large river nearby. Large metropolitan city within one hour drive. Utilities and laundry service are included. Premises cared for by professional grounds crew. Many opportunities for community service. Community known for world class Level I trauma center. Low crime rate. Dry community with multi-denominational religious facilities. No credit history required. No down payment. No local, state or federal taxes. Ask about our one year service for lease option. Inquires call 302-529-7274.

Explanation of terms: Two bed/four toilet 1152 ft3 furnished suite in a gated private community with 24 hour security patrols. This is one of three 12'x12'x8' rooms in a trailer. It comes with two beds, two nightstands, and two lockers. Four Porta-Johns are within 50 feet of the room. LSA Anaconda is a base surrounded a fence, guard towers and heavily guarded entrances. Convenient to shopping, dining, movie theater and school. Within 0.5 miles of the room there is a PX, two dining halls, Subway, Pizza Hut, Burger King, movie theater (which shows free first run movies) and theeducation center. Located off of main roads in a rural farm district. Anaconda is surrounded by farm land and is the northern end of the Iraqi farming area. Spacious parking. Plenty of parking, just not allowed to use it. Membership to fitness center with outdoor running track included. There is one large gym and several smaller gyms on post. There is also a running track located adjacent to the large gym. Clubhouse available for use by residents and visitors. There is a large new MWR facility located between the PX and the large gym. Indoor and outdoor pools on premises. Didn't say that they were currently open. Cable television and fiber optic internet service to be installed in two weeks. These have been two weeks away from installation for the past several months. Multiple voltage electricity. Anywhere from 220V to 0V. Central heating and air. Each room is equipped with a window type A/C unit in the center of the wall that works when the electricity does. Located on main bus route. There is a bus that runs by the trailer, no one is sure of the schedule though. Easy access to airport. This IS an airbase. Golf course under construction. At last count there were about 300 holes and they are still placing more almost daily. Large river nearby. Tigris is just about 1 mile to the East. Actually getting in or drinking the water may be hazardous to your health. Large metropolitan city within one hour drive. Baghdad is about 40miles to the South and we didn't say that it was an easy drive to the city. Utilities and laundry service are included. Laundry is free and utilities are located in the shower and toilet trailers. Premises cared for by professional grounds crew. Well, at least they are paid to make the dirt and clay look good. Many opportunities for community service. Guard duty, local nationial escort duty, etc. Community known for world class Level I trauma center. The combat hospital has been mentioned and featured in many publications. Low crime rate. When all of the occupants carry a weapon .... Dry community with multi-denominational religious facilities. No alcohol allowed in country and there is a new chapel as well as a mosque. Ask about our one year service for lease option. You give us one year here and we will give you a lease."

While I can guarantee that we are NOT living as large on COP Apache as the folks at Anaconda these days, I can certainly report that we do have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Yet, we still are looking for something. We are looking for that perfect home. For most of us here in Iraq it is as simple as getting back to the U.S. Getting back to green grass, weekends off, and our own clean homes. Though there is something inside each of us that wants more. Even in America we are not content. We move from house to house, community to community, church to church, job to job, spouse to spouse, in search of our haven or "heaven" on earth. We long for a perpetual, peaceful, perfect home and family.

Though most people will not admit it, we all long for the COMMUNITY OF HEAVEN. Yet most people fear that our gospel message is like this ad--selling something they really do not want. Like self-righteous judgements, truth presented in anger, blatant hypocrisy, and greed masked as 'blessings.'

People are looking for heaven. Let us, Christians, practice truth in our advertising. The same Jesus who spoke of bringing "abundant life" also spoke of "taking up your cross." Thank God for his grace--His expensive, costly grace that is free to us because of His love. The grace of God is free for us, but it cost Him dearly. "You are bought at a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (I Corinthians 6:20 NKJV). Maybe people will then believe the advertising and take Him up on the offer?!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Where A Day Clock is Desired...

I saw an ad in the back of Fortune Magazine yesturday. It is billed as "The Greatest Retirement Gift Ever." It's called the "Day Clock." It features an Octagonal face with a Septagonal arrangement of the days on the dial. To give you an idea, Sunday is at the 11-1 position, Monday at the 1-2, Tuesday from the 2 to 4, Wednesday from the 4 to 6, Tursday from the 6 to 8, Friday from the 8 to 10, Saturday from the 10 to 11--positions are estimated.

I suppose it is helpful for those retirees who do nothing and thus, fail to distinquish one day from the next. However, the opposite effect also brings similar results. For example, if one works every day without the blessing of a rest (commonly known as the "weekend" in our culture also known as a "sabbath rest" in the Bible), then the days do run together. They really should market this to all us military folks in Iraq. We live in what I like to call the "Land-of-Eternal-Mondays." We rarely ever get a break from our routine and the days all blend together without anything to differentiate one day from the next. When every day is a work day, every day is a Monday and you will never get to the weekend. Sort of like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, you wake up to the same song, on the same day in the same world.

You need rest! God knew what He was doing when he instituted the sabbath rest. We were made to work and to rest. Day Clocks only asuage a few symptoms of being out of synch with God's rythm of work and rest. If you are in the Land-of-Eternal-Mondays, schedule a weekly rest--you'll thank Him for it.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Missing It...

As I write this, Jen's sister, Katherine, and Zach are taking their vows and beginning their marital lives together. Everyone is happy--happy that the wedding is finally here, happy that these two great people are together, happy that the wedding went according to plan (I pray), happy that family and friends have gathered together to celebrate their commitment to one another and to pray and hope for a bright future.

There is cake and there is punch. There are toasts, vows, beautiful dresses, handsome tuxedos, shiny cars, the clicking of the photographer's camera, the sound of wedding music, hugs, presents, and joyous reunions of family and friends who haven't been together in a while.

But beneath all the happiness--if you could read Jen's thoughts as she's standing there, looking beautiful, you would know the ache of her soul. A painful longing for her groom. I'm missing it. Missing the joyous occasion, missing my bride, missing my family, missing the happiness and the joy. And though I know that all too well, it gives me consolation to know that I will, Lord willing, go home to my loved ones someday. Yet the same cannot be said of the thousands of young men and women who have crossed over to eternity in Iraq and Afganistan in service to our country. For their loved ones, there is a continual ache, a rest-of-their-life longing for, and missing of that spouse, family member, or friend.

The good news, of course, is that there can be an end to the great ache. For those who are "the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8) can, and will, share in a glorious reunion in heaven. Weddings are special--they forshadow for us a taste of the glory to come. One day I will enjoy the Lord in all of His glory, but for now, I'm missing it...

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Born Anew--On Blogspot Too!

Hey All,

I'm so excited to be priviledged with this wonderful medium for keeping you all informed of our family's ministries and other happenings!

This is another "beginning" or "born anew" experience for us as we start our very own blog here at blogspot. Certainly, this could never compare to the joy of the born again life--a joy that we live for, sacrifice for, and die daily for.

Our goal, as reflected in the address, is, "that you may know Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing, you may have life in His name" (John 20:31).

So read to be blessed, read to catch up, and read to know how our ministries are pointing others to Jesus Christ!

To God be the glory...