The Complex Place of the Heart of Soldiers and Veterans

Veteran
This is a piece that I wrote for our 2016 Memorial Day Service at West Lisbon Cemetery. Happy Veteran’s Day to all who have served and sacrificed for our country!

Intro

Decoration Day began in 1868 after the American Civil War to remember those solders who gave their lives in the conflict and to decorate their graves. The holiday eventually extended to the remembrance of all our fallen soldiers.

Family

 
I never served in the military. As a boy, I do remember feeling a certain awe and wonder about the life of a soldier. I took a shot at the ASVAB In high school, because of that wonder, and if I’m honest, because of the potential financial help for college, but it never went any further than that.
The wonder and awe that I felt as a boy came from the stories that my father and grandfather would tell about their experiences in the military. These men were giants to me. Both of them were in the army. My father didn’t serve in a conflict, but served in Germany during peace-time. My grandfather served as military police at the end of WWII. Most of their stories told of their experiences in a different culture, rather than battle at the front lines. Grandpa could describe the post-war scene, but he hadn’t been there for much of the fighting.
However, there was one more man in my family that had seen the reality of war. My uncle, Bill Pennington, fought in the Battle of the Bulge (16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945), which was toward the end of the war. The Germans pulled off a surprise attack on the Allied forces; however, the Allies were able to recover and organize themselves and win the battle, which depleted the German forces to such an extent that some credit it as the battle that ended the war.
My uncle Bill is a large man, tall and broad as a house. He’s a fox hunter, fox hounds and all. When he told me stories as boy, I felt that I gazed into the soul of a man who had experienced something too great for words. This man would cry when he spoke about the things he saw. At the same time, war had left him extremely gentle and tender, especially to children, and vulgar and hard when it comes to even a sniff of injustice. Uncle Bill scared me and comforted me at the same time. He scared me because he spoke of a world that was awesome and terrible. He comforted me because I knew he, and other men like him, would protect me.

The Hearts of Soldiers and Veterans

 
As I talk and listen to soldiers whom I know, I discover that the heart of a soldier is a complex place, where deep thoughts about God and the world reside. In 1 Samuel 17:38–40, we find part of a very, very familiar story. Which of us upon hearing the story of David and Goliath have not imagined ourselves, sling in hand, launching a single stone at the giant, and knocking him straight dead? Prior to the battle, remember the scene where David is trying out Saul’s armor. 
Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.’ So David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.
Have you ever read the story of David and Goliath and wondered, “Why wouldn’t anyone except David approach this brute?” I mean, yes, he was big, but surely out of the whole army of Israel there was someone who would go at this guy, right? In his book Manners and Customs of Bible Times, Ralph Gower tells us something going on behind the scenes, 
Saul’s helmet and armor were probably almost unique in Israel at the time, available to him because he was king. It was not at all unusual for a soldier to be armed with only a weapon such as a sling. Saul was anxious to protect David with the armor because it was a custom that champions should decide the outcome of slavery rather than a general battle in which the majority of the opposition would be maimed or killed. Saul wanted to take no chances (233).
The Israelite soldiers were not merely scared of losing a single battle to Goliath, but they carried the burden of possible failure that would lead to the subjection of their families to slavery.  No one wants to be responsible for bringing such a thing on the people, so they altogether as one man hesitated. Into this scene, steps David, the young shepherd who had looked into the eyes of lions and bears, and fought them off to protect the sheep. He knew that Goliath wasn’t going away. No doubt, he had not planned to go to battle that day when he first set out to deliver provisions to his brothers. But the giant was like a lion or bear who had his prey right where he wanted it. David trusted the Lord to accomplish his will through him, and he desired freedom for his people rather than slavery to fear or to the Philistines.
Saul tried to take every precaution to protect David, but the armor didn’t fit. Yet David in that moment had all that he needed. He had the heart of a soldier, a heart that was willing to encourage a nation, a heart that was willing to stand in the way of the oncoming enemy, and a heart that trusted God with the outcome for his own glory and purposes. The heart of a soldier plunges into deep places, where heavy costs are calculated.

Closing

 
As we remember those soldiers who are no longer with us, may we give thanks for their burden and struggle, for they carried it for our sakes. May we also consider the living soldiers among us. Both those who are here with us, our veterans, but also those who are active and on duty somewhere in our world. You may ask, “What can I do?” My pastoral counsel would be to regularly pray and give to them God’s word, because God affects and transforms the heart. Since soldiering requires so much heart, pray and give them God’s word. 

The Seven Spiritual Laws of the Harvest—Sow Peace to Harvest Peace

Harvest

These seven principles come from an article entitled “The Seven Laws of the Harvest” written by J. Hampton Keathley III. Find the full article at Bible.org.

  1. We Reap Only What We Sow.
  2. We Reap the Same in Kind As We Sow.
  3. We Reap in a Different Season Than We Sow.
  4. We Reap More Than We Sow.
  5. We Reap in Proportion to What We Sow.
  6. We Reap the Fullness of the Good Only If We Persevere, Because the Evil Comes to the Field on Its Own.
  7. We Cannot Change Last Year’s Harvest, But We Can Learn and Grow for This Year’s.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

(James 3:13–18 ESV)

10 Reasons to Attend the Marriage Conference

Marriage Rings

Top 10 Reasons to Attend the For Keeps Marriage Conference at West Lisbon Church

Marriage Conference

Click “here” to find out more and to pre-register today!

1. To say “I am trying” to heal my marriage.

2. To decide whether or not to get married.

3. Because it’s free.

4. Because younger couples are encouraged by the presence of older couples.

5. As a “check-up” and to give every marriage more tools.

6. Because your attendance is a moment to teach your kids that marriage is important to you.

7. Because you just got married.

8. Because your church promoted it; you want to be a part of your church’s vision for the family.

9. Because parenting is overshadowing your relationship with your spouse.

10. Because your spouse wants to go.

And if those didn’t convince you, here’s 3 bonus reasons . . .

11. Because lunch will be provided.

12. Because maybe your marriage isn’t as healthy as you think it is or as it could be.

13. Because it will be fun and you will laugh.

What Is Revival?

Revival

Growing up in Scioto County, Ohio, I remember many little churches decorating the landscape. Every now and then, you would see on the outdoor church sign something like this: “Revival! Sunday through Friday! 7pm each night! Come on out and join us!” As a kid, teenager, and young adult, I attended many of these meetings. There was a very predictable format—a special and very dynamic speaker would be invited; the revival was scheduled; many times special musicians were also brought in, and the altar calls didn’t end until somebody made their way down the aisle.

I think that I was part of a real revival once in that Appalachian country. However, it wasn’t scheduled or coordinated. It also happened at multiple places, rather than at one local church. It wasn’t the result of a solitary, drawn out altar call. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Lord may very well use all of those things—and has before—but the revival I think that I was a part of didn’t fit that repeatable, copyable, scheduled pattern employed over and over again by churches in my hometown area.

Tim Keller spoke on A Biblical Theology of Revival (a.k.a. What Is Revival?) at the 2013 The Gospel Coalition Conference. It is definitely worth an hour of your time. If it doesn’t stir your heart into longing for revival, then maybe you should check your pulse! I’d like to summarize and share some of my own thoughts from Keller’s comments on biblical revival.

Since there are many descriptions and definitions out there on revival, it helps to begin with the same: Biblical revival is “the intensification of the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit” (Keller). So, it is the Holy Spirit doing what he already does, but in a more intense way. What are these ordinary operations? There are 4 that Keller highlights: (1) conviction of sin (John 16:7–11), (2) conversion (Acts 16:14–15; Titus 3:3–7), (3) giving of assurance (Ephesians 1:13–14), and (4) sanctification (growth in holiness) (Romans 8:1–11). The Holy Spirit certainly does more than this in the Christian life, but these are the intensified Holy Spirit operations when there is revival.

When the Holy Spirit intensifies these operations of his, three things seem to happen. First, sleepy Christians wake up. Sleepy Christians are neither happy nor sad enough, Therefore, they do not experience high assurance of salvation (the Spirit bears witness to my spirit — Romans 8:16), nor do they experience deep repentance (godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation — 2 Corinthians 7:10). The difference between a sleepy Christian and an awake Christian can be illustrated in the relationship of a father and a son. A father and a son share a legal relationship. It can be declared that the son is in fact the son of the father and vice versa. I can be officially documented on the birth certificate. Now, imagine when a father embraces his son. The son is not legally more a son, but he is certainly experiencing sonship in more than a legal way.

Second, the nominal Christians get converted. Nominal Christians are those who are baptized, church attending people, but during revival they will come and say, “I was never really a Christian.” These are surprising conversions: church leaders, spouses, long-time members, etc. During times of revival, the Holy Spirit goes through the church, and this is consistent with the pattern of Scripture. When God wants to do a fresh work—be it for judgment or for redemption—he starts with his people.

Third, hard or seemingly impossible to reach non-Christians are powerfully converted. Those dear ones out on the fringes that seem beyond the reach of the church and even God encounter the long arm of God, and the Holy Spirit generously and gloriously converts their souls by the gospel. When sleepy Christians wake up and nominal Christians are converted, the Holy Spirit beautifies the church, even to non-Christians.

Revival, brothers and sisters, is what we need, because it results in both adoration and attraction. An internal shift occurs in our posture toward God resulting in changed lives. If this is what you long for, then the best thing to do is to ask God for it in your own life. Pray for God to wake up, convert, and to reach out. Better still, start a prayer meeting with others to pray for revival. If we ask, seek, and knock, perhaps the Lord will kindly unlock an entry for us into such an experience (Col. 4:2–6).

Returning to my story, once I—a nominal Christian—was truly converted, I returned to the church of my youth to discover that a number of my peers had experienced the same thing. I would describe some of the older Christians around me at that time as having been awakened from slumber! In a very small, rural church, I became one of seven men, who felt a call into full-time gospel ministry. It was very unusual. To my knowledge, five of those seven are still serving in ministry in some capacity. We wouldn’t have probably described it as revival back in those days, because revival to us was predictable and scheduled. However, looking back and knowing what I know now about revival, I think that I experienced a small taste of it, and I long for it again.

Cairns from Reach

We learned today that Cairns are landmarks or memorials made by hikers or climbers, usually a mound of stones, while on a journey. Similarly, we also have spiritual markers that memorialize certain experiences and opportunities that God planned for us to be a part of. 

Ephesians 2:10 says, 

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

God has made us and saved us, and we are his poem, his workmanship. He has good works for us to do that he prepared for us in advance, even before we were born. When we live as those whom he has made us and saved us to be – on the lookout for these experiences and opportunities – we become a blessing and benefit to the body of Christ and the world. Each one is unique, and he or she adds unique good works that God prepared long ago.

As we load up to come home, here’s a look at more pictures!


See you soon! 

In Christ,

Rex

Reaching for Connections 

This missions trip has been such a wonderful and moving experience. I will be honest – I underestimated and didn’t think that a local missions trip was going to be something that would impact my life or I could take something from. I was wrong. It truly has been great meeting new people, building for our neighbors who are in need and learning new things. There are times where it has been overwhelming but the good kind :). The first day we set out for our home along with no one I knew besides Nate Akre. I was nervous that I hadn’t been put into a crew with people I knew and the start of this trip was going to be different and outside of my comfort zone. Later as the days went by I wouldn’t change any memories that have been made with the people in my crew and am so glad God was there with me through it all as I was trying new things. Today was a great and productive day as we are so close to finishing the wonderful deck built by our crew for this sweet lady named Chantay. Let me tell you this week I’ve used so many power tools that I have never used in my life lol. Tomorrow we are hoping to finish it by noon and make sure that ramp is ready to be used :). The ministry that I have learned here this week is incredible and has really affected and applied to my life today. Especially some struggles I have been going through I’m truly excited to see what God has in store for me as I continue to seek more and more of him. Overall I would have to say the theme ‘connections’ is true to what I have experienced on this local trip. If like to say thank you to all who supported us and gifted us so that we could make this missions trip possible for our youth group. I’ve never been more blessed and grateful for the great church community we have. I love you all, and I hope you enjoy this read 😄.

Dogs, Faith, and Asbestos


Coming at you guys from Plainfield, IL, it’s Nate Akre! 

Pastor Rex asked me if I wanted to blog about some of my experiences so far from this trip, so I thought I’d let you all in on my day in Lockport.

The crew that I was assigned to was sent to this house in Lockport, IL, where we will are painting, flooring, and building a deck with a ramp. The past two days we have been working outside on the deck, because we were informed as we arrived on the first day that the home owners had dogs that WILL bite us if we go inside…

…awesome.

We got a nice head start on the deck project, so that was a positive! When the second day came around, we gained access to that house around eleven o’clock.

Now before we entered the house, we were told to only work in the kitchen, because the owners couldn’t make arrangements for the dogs to be kept somewhere else. So one dog was laying on the man’s lap, while the other was laying on the floor next to him with a dresser blocking us and Milo (the dog on the floor).

Here’s the problem.

There is still about a six inch opening between the dresser and the door frame. They nicknamed the dog “Houdini” because he can get out of almost any chain. Milo is staring straight at us.

We all make decisions.

Four of us volunteered to go inside and prep for painting. As we were finishing up, there was a hole in the ceiling covered up by a rug. We had some of the Reach Mission Trip Staff come and check it out for us. Little did we know that there was asbestos coming out of the ceiling. Thankfully no one was near when it spilled all over. God was definitely at work there, and we’re very thankful for our safety.

However, someone had to go inside and clean up the mess on the floor. So I got the job to go back inside and sweep up the asbestos on the floor with an audience of two terrifying dogs. I had to wear glasses, gloves, and a mask because apparently this stuff is dangerous… who knew??

However, it was very worth it for the four of us to be able to make sure that the home owners and the rest of our crew were safe. We went back to the school to shower and then returned to finish working.

When I woke this morning, I didn’t expect any of this to happen. But that’s that funny part about God’s plan. We go about life thinking we know how our lives go until God steps in and goes “LOL! Let’s try my plan instead.” And it isn’t always what we want because its uncomfortable for us. But that’s where God does his best work.

That’s the beauty of this trip. We get to work alongside our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in an attempt to help our “neighbors”and show them the love Christ demonstrated for us. Instead of staying at home and swimming and sitting in air conditioning, we stepped out of our comfort zone and decided to put our needs second to those who need us. It’s crazy y’all!

Thank you all for your support, both through prayer and financially! We couldn’t have done this without your support. Please pray for strength for our team as we are getting tired and running out of energy and that we can continue to humbly work hard in his name and for His glory.

It’s been real guys! G’night!!

In Christ,

Nate Akre