Lessons From War – Part 2

Simply put, as a result of my participation in the Iraq War, I learned that life is short; therefore, I am to live my life for the glory of God and the good of others. I now understand the brevity of life and the fact that the life we live is a gift from God that should never be taken for granted. I learned to appreciate the little things in life, and, at the same time, I learned to never sweat the small stuff.

Nick Swarthout is one of my best friends and fellow Iraq War Veteran. He served three combat tours to Iraq in 2004, 2006, and 2007. This is what he had to say about the brevity of life in an e-mail interview on September 29, 2011, “I firmly believe God used all of my combat experience to demonstrate to me that life is fragile, and can be taken away from me at any time. Through the experiences I have, I have gained a deeper understanding of how I ought to not take my life for granted, and I need to ensure I use it for His glory and not my own.”

Colonel (ret) David Eberly is a Persian Gulf War Veteran whose combat awards include the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart. He has written a book entitled, “Faith Beyond Belief: A Journey to Freedom”. This book describes the horrors he experienced during the forty-three days he was a prisoner of war in Baghdad. This is what he wrote after surviving such an experience, “As a result of this experience, I am not afraid of dying — I am afraid of not appreciating living. The greatest struggle in our busy lives is to take time to be holy — to put the Lord first. We cannot know, or even imagine the challenges and the opportunities that God will give us each day. We must simply have faith; He is with us always. Our shepherd is on guard.” Colonel Eberly’s statement proves to us that there are some lessons in war that are timeless, namely, life is short and should be lived for the glory of God and the good of others…it was true in the Persian Gulf War, it was true in the Iraq War, and it will continue to be true in wars to come.

Life becomes so real when you realize that life is so short. It’s as if death makes life real. When death became part of my wartime experience, everything changed. I realized that life is truly a gift…a gift to be enjoyed for only a short time…a gift to be spent for the glory of God…and a gift to be used for the good of others. Friends, don’t squander the gift of life that has been given to you. James 4:14 is so very clear…”Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” So ask yourself…how are you savoring and spending the vapor that is your life?

Lessons From War – Part 1

War is difficult to describe. The first thing one realizes upon arrival in a combat zone is that war is nothing like the movies or television shows in America. There is no background music and the story is not over in 120 minutes.

War is marked by days of extreme boredom with moments of extreme excitement. Those moments elevate the human emotions to levels hardly experienced in civilian life. Happiness becomes pure delight, anger turns to rage, and sadness becomes sorrow. On July 15, 2008, I experienced the full spectrum of human emotions. On that day our unit received word, over the radio, that one of our men had been injured in a vehicle accident, as a result of a firefight, in Mosul, Iraq. A few hours after that radio transmission, we learned that Staff Sergeant (SSG) David W. Textor had died. In that moment, war became so very real to me. For the first time, I realized that this was no training exercise, this was no game!

I remember being so angry after this man’s death. Why did God allow such a soldier, with a wife and five kids, to leave this earth so far from home? Even with the passage of time, I cannot claim that I have all the answers. I do not know why some things happen. Life is so cruel sometimes, and the Iraq War did a great job of slapping this fact in my face.

I have come to the realization that there are some things you just can’t learn in life…you learn them in death…the death of others! I came to appreciate the life I have because someone purchased my life by their blood! A soldier, SSG David W. Textor, shed his blood so that I might live a quiet and peaceable life here on earth. In a greater way, my Savior, Jesus Christ, shed his blood so that I might live eternally with Him in heaven. I will always thank God for soldiers, like SSG Textor, and Jesus Christ, my Savior, who gave their lives so that I might live!

The death of SSG Textor was the first of many events in the Iraq War that strengthened my faith and gave me a greater understanding of the awesome God we serve. I now firmly believe, more than ever, that God uses all the events of our lives (good and bad) to bring us into a new and better relationship with Himself. These events teach us that life should be lived for God’s glory, not our own, and proves to us that HE is absolutely sovereign.

In my next two blogs, I want to explore how war, and the death of SSG Textor in particular, helped shaped my understanding of the brevity of life, the glory of God, the finiteness of man, and the sovereignty of God.

When Words Seem Foolish…

Sometimes words seem so foolish. When tragedy strikes or when death happens, words are necessary, but often we are at a loss as to what to say in those moments. We find our intent and their needs to be out of sync. That is to say, we know they need something, but we don’t know exactly what they need. We know they need a word of encouragement, but what type of encouragement? We know they need a word of healing, but what kind of healing? We want them to desperately know that we love them…we are here for them…and that we care for them. So what do we do when words seem so foolish? Three thoughts:

1) Choose to speak words anyway. The Bible declares in Proverbs 18:21 that “death and life are in the power of the tongue…” This verse proves to us the power of our words to bring about life or death…to produce healing or pain. Never underestimate the power of your words. Choose to say powerful words like, “I love you”…”I am here for you”…and “We support you.” These simple words and phrases, if they reflect the honesty of your heart, will help, heal, and comfort those in need. Words alone can’t heal, and your words alone are only a small part of their healing process, but your words are absolutely vital in their total healing process.

2) Choose to speak words sparingly. In other words, in a moment of sorrow, choose your words carefully. Don’t feel as if you have to drown a sorrowful situation in a plethora of words. Remember Job’s three friends? Job had just lost everything – his family, his health, and his wealth. What did his three friends do? They came to him and “sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great” (Job 2:13). And then…they opened their mouths and begin to accuse Job of all kinds of evil, malicious things in order to…get this…help him! Ha! All this to say that too many words, and especially too many of the wrong kinds of words, will do more harm than good. When tragedy strikes…when bad news breaks…when death happens…words are necessary, but let your words be few.

3) Choose to speak words biblically. That is to say, even if words seem foolish, remind your sorrowing friend or family member of God’s goodness…of God’s promises….of God Himself and who He is and what He has done. Pointing people to heaven, to the cross, and to Jesus our Savior is never a foolish thing to do. It is always right. It is always biblical. And in the end, it is always helpful. Our words often seem foolish because they are foolish, but God’s words are never foolish – they are truly powerful! The unknown author of Hebrews writes this in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” God’s words are far more powerful than your own words – so choose to speak them!

Yes, sometimes tragedy strikes and we simply need to be there for our friend or family member. This is called the ministry of presence, just being there for our loved ones, but eventually words will be necessary. Friends, in that moment, never underestimate the power of your words. Yes, words often seem foolish in moments of crises, but they are absolutely necessary to the healing process. So choose to speak. And as you speak do so sparingly and biblically. Doing this will not solve all of their problems or eliminate all of their hurt, but it will be one small step forward for them…and for you.

My Philosophy of Preaching

In 2 Timothy 4:2 the Apostle Paul commands Pastor Timothy to “Preach the Word!” This command, conveyed nearly two thousand years ago, echoes to the present generation and is a mandate for every Christ-exalting, gospel-centric, people-loving pastor today. I personally take this command very, very seriously. Preaching is one of the most important tasks I accomplish every single week. It takes hard work, study, prayer, and fierce dedication. Preaching is my mandate. Preaching is my passion. But what is preaching?

We must first understand that a true preacher will preach the Bible, only the Bible, and all of the Bible to his people. Simply put, preaching is explaining the Bible (i.e. the Word of God) to others. This is a great privilege and must be done with the utmost of seriousness and passion. In fact, I believe that true preaching is characterized by four main elements, namely, true preaching must be biblical, deep, fresh, and aggressive! Let me explain.

True preaching must be biblical. This is a nonnegotiable. The true preacher must preach in such a way as to connect real people, with real problems, with the pages of grace-saturated Scripture. A preacher cannot simply state the cold, hard facts of Scripture without illustrations, passion, and compassion. He must vocally and visibly demonstrate the relevancy of God’s Word to today’s multiple needs.

True preaching must also be deep. The true preacher will go deep into the truths of Scripture and bring people to a better understanding of its truths. He will tackle a passage from many different angles and apply the truth of God’s Word to the many different people that sit under his preaching. A true preacher will not be satisfied with surface level truth, he will dig deep to mine the incredible riches of God’s Holy Word.

True preaching must also be fresh. That is to say, the true preacher will communicate the truths of Scripture in such a way that people will understand. He will take the timeless truths of Scripture and make them come alive for the present generation. He will, by the power of the Holy Spirit (and his delivery), turn black and white thinking of the Word of God into full HD color! He will present old truths in a fresh, compelling way.

True preaching will also be aggressive…very aggressive! The true preacher will preach so as to bring people to a point of decision. He will lead people to make a choice: follow after God or self. He will demand a response to the message. True preaching will not allow people to leave the same…they will be forced to make a decision!

The true preacher will preach the Bible, only the Bible, and all of the Bible to his people. As he preaches he will do so deeply, freshly, and aggressively. All of this is done by the Spirit’s power and for God’s majestic glory!