6 Pieces of Advice for the Christian Joining the Military

CENTCOM CoCSo, you’re signing on the dotted line.

First thing I’d say is, thank you. Good decision. You’ve either got a lot of guts, a lot of devotion, or a lot of trust in God to be joining the armed forces. Or some combination of all three.

I served a four-year tour in the Air Force. It was all stateside, the only really notable aspect being that it took place in the immediate post-9/11 world. Over a decade since my separation, I still vividly remember the lessons – how they equipped me for the future and simultaneously cast a pall over my track record. I have regrets from those days that the grace of God is still chipping off.

So I humbly ask for your ear now, because I want you to do better than I did. Here is the advice I’d give for surviving military life.

 

1. Learn to admit fault.

One of the best life skills I ever learned is the ability to admit fault.

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#WalkUpNotOut Is Not Victim-Blaming or Mere Niceness. It’s the Gospel.

darkhandHaving spent five years teaching in the public school system, I have many thoughts on bullying.

I’ve learned that what I consider a light tease towards a person I don’t know too well, but actually kinda like, may instead be salt in an unseen wound.

I’ve learned that what some call bullying may be only a blink-of-an-eye pattern that happens twice and strains the classic definitions, but should be resoundingly educated against regardless of what label it falls under.

I’ve learned that despite those definitions, some bullying does have the stronger individual on the receiving end. Nobody is impregnable.

I’ve learned that bullying doesn’t just come from one-parent kids on the wrong side of the tracks, but from children of popular and powerful families as well.

But most of all, I’ve learned that kindness is not just niceness. In this world where we get ten negative comments to every positive one, a kind word is water in the desert. Some people out there would give their next meal for one.

So when Rachel Held Evans last week took aim at the viral anti-bullying campaign #WalkUpNotOut, intended to replace school walkouts with acts of kindness towards unknown peers, you can imagine I rolled my eyes.

rachel

This tweet misses the point in so many ways that it could be a kicker for the Seahawks.

Evans’ voice is joined by the usual left-wing cacophony about how treating people well won’t end school shootings. That’s a classic example of a “straw man” – an argument nobody was making, erected in the hasty fear that it might crowd out their preferred solutions. It also forgets that plenty of people blame the shooter for his actions, not the victims. Now Rachel has this tweet out there, copied by itself into meme form, without the benefit of her later clarifications, looking like she dismisses outreach as “being nicer”. I doubt she actually does, but…hard lesson of social media there, Mrs. Evans.

I do agree that violence will never completely cease this side of the mirror dimly. We fight it, we pray against it, we make laws against it (and argue which ones to pass), we avoid it ourselves, and that’s all proper and urgent. Yet only heaven will bring order and peace.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing whatever is within our reach. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have as many hoses on this fire as possible. #WalkUpNotOut has the nice distinction of being something we can control, right here, right now.

Most of all, however, we should walk up to people because…it’s the Gospel.

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How I Stumbled at Work and Grace

There was a period last year in which I could seemingly get almost nothing right at my primary job.

The nature of my job is such that errors lent themselves to a nice paranoia. They’d take long stretches of time to come back and show themselves, so I’d spend weeks worrying over any large batch of work I sent out. They also had a habit of clumping together for some strange reason. So when it would rain, it would pour – come in Monday and a huge batch of mistakes from two month ago, sitting on my desk.

My boss was decent about it. He’s a good guy to work for. But this went on for months, and he eventually let me know in no uncertain terms that improvement was needed.

God had a lesson in it.

But it wasn’t what you think. It wasn’t just the lesson of “work harder, be diligent, be the best at your job in order to glorify me,” although that Scriptural lesson is always before us.

It was about how hard I am on myself.

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“Jesus, Give Me Your Heart For People”

pexels-photo-207896I’m not exactly a people person by default. I’m one of those souls who wants friendship and likes some humanity close by, but prefers “his people”. Small inner circle, then acquaintances and colleagues, then everyone else (allowing for some shades of gray). Strangers? Yikes.

BUT…I’ve also asked myself more than once, “How is a personality like this supposed to spread the Gospel with any serious effectiveness?”

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Christianity Doesn’t Bring Shame. It Removes It.

“Although I left Christianity over 20 years ago, it took a long while for me to erase the doctrines that had been embedded within my consciousness for 15+ years. Learning how and why certain doctrines of the Christian faith (e.g., final judgment, burning fires of hell, Satan and his demons, the end-times) were introduced into the faith was extremely liberating … and removed a ton of guilt and fear.”

This individual* could be speaking for much of society.

14517262115_0b7dc7b411_oOur entertainment culture is embroiled in a race to paint Christianity as evil. And it’s got ammunition.

From Carrie to The Shape of Water, from Handmaid’s Tale to Family Guy, Christian faith is portrayed in modern media as a heartless and oppressive force in people’s lives, gone wild to the point of ostracizing, dehumanizing, handcuffing, and even killing in the name of God. Such excesses are so normative in TV and film, in fact, that I can’t remember the last time Hollywood filmed a church as a positive force, or even as a neutral one.

Yet there’s no doubt that such tragic systems have existed, and still do.

Some people have gone through it and escaped. Their testimonies poison our reputation. Christianity is seen as an agent of guilt, an imposer of shame that can only be removed by – I don’t know, what do they claim that churches are selling as a solution? Submitting to the system? Staying in church? Ceasing to dance or have fun? Accepting doctrine? It’s never really made clear.

Doctrine.

That horrifying, cringe-inducing, hateful, joy-sucking, monolithic wrecking ball of a word that so many have come to fear, that evokes structure and hate and frowny-faced elders in suspenders beating you upside the head with a Bible.

Doctrine actually tells a different story entirely.

Christianity is not a faith of guilt and fear, but of forgiveness, freedom and joy…and it is doctrine that tells us that.

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The Gospel is the answer. There is no other.

daybreak-over-lake-michigan-at-point-beach-wisconsinThere’s a dangerous idea floating around.

It’s the idea that the world’s darkness can be overcome by anything but the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We seek spot welds, individual solutions to individual problems. The solution to racism is equality. The solution to poverty is charity. The solution to terrorism is…whatever your favorite politician is hawking. A different flavor soup for each symptom. John Lennon would have you believe that love is a key for every lock.

I’m not here to debate the validity of any of these. There’s something to each. Many seem to have the words of Jesus behind them, if you argue your case well enough.

But the scattershot approach is dangerous. It’s dangerous because the days are short, our energies precious, and false solutions are sucking them up. We have to see the problem through God’s eyes. And he’s got a much different take on what’s generating this mess.

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Being a Goody Two Shoes in a Wrong-Footed World

shoes“Hey, Brandon,” she said, bouncing up to the counter – not a coworker, but the girlfriend of one, whom I didn’t know from Adam – and said, “Do you know the difference between a cheeseburger and a [sexual reference]?”

I groaned.

No. I do not know the difference between those two things, and I’ve as much desire to find out as to go dumpster-diving in full view of Main Street on rush hour. Which I suppose is not altogether unrelated.

I looked at them with what I hoped was my (increasingly common) world-weary half-grin.

“C’mon. Enough for one night,” I said.

They relented good-naturedly.

I’m trying to be gracious here. I don’t want to be THAT Christian, the one who gets all stunned and debilitated because unbelievers are acting like unbelievers. You have to let this stuff slide off your backs in environments like my second job.

Plus, I actually enjoy this particular coworker. He’s got a lot of character (other than the one-track mind), we work great together, and I do consider him a friend. Burning bridges over this stuff would not do. Not when I’m called to share Christ with the people in my life.

But this stuff does get tiring. Perhaps you relate.

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