Saturday, August 19, 2017

Chappy's Free Chicken ~ Casinos and Church (August 19, 2017)

            One of the connections that I’ve made while we’ve been in Romania has been with a guy who owns a print shop. We’ve used his services several times to get copies made for our Battalion since our main operations center has moved to Poland. He’s an interesting guy in the sense that he’s excited to share his love for his country with us as well as his pride in being able to assist the U.S. Army even if it’s just a few copies at a time.

            A few days ago, as I was speaking to him, he was telling me about the various attractions around Romania. He shared about Bran, Brasov, Bucharest, and various other tourist sites but he followed that up by mentioning that there were also casinos throughout the country. That’s not a very exciting piece of information for most people unless they enjoy gambling. What was interesting to me was that for him, casinos and the Church were interrelated. He said, “You give your money to both and hope for the best.” He alluded to the fact that most people who “gave their money away” knew that often, they weren’t getting any return for their investment.

            As a chaplain – a believer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ – I was saddened by his statement. To some degree, I could understand from where it was he was coming. When a person doesn’t see miracles, or feel as though favor has been bestowed upon them or feel like their prayers have been answered, it’s easy to empathize, to some degree, a person’s frustration with faith or their doubts in religion. But I also felt pity for him. I felt pity for him, and folks like him, who’ve lost faith and they’ve got religion all wrong.

            What most people get wrong with religion, faith, life … is that they fall into the trap that life, faith, and religion are what they can get out of it. All of them become very selfish endeavors if you approach them that way. The Book of James says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27 ESV). There’s a principle in this: be selfless. Put others before yourself. It really isn’t all about you regardless of what every advertisement in the world tells you.

            One of the Army Values is selfless service. Maybe you have an image of a Medal of Honor recipient; someone who has gone above and beyond in a combat action that saved the lives of others while that Service Member put himself in harm’s way even to the point of death. If you haven’t read about the latest MoH recipient, 71-year-old former Army Medic, James McCloughan then I encourage you to take the time to check out his story and citation. A White House statement quotes him as saying, “I would have rather died on the battlefield than know that men died because they did not have a medic.”[1] That’s the kind of story that humbles me.

            I’m also humbled by the day-to-day selfless service that individuals give in small ways: when I’m offloading laundry and a Soldier simply begins helping me carry in the bags, when a Soldier goes above and beyond to make his mundane work exceptional as opposed to doing just enough to get by, or when a Soldier is aware enough of his surroundings and his buddies to know when things just aren’t right with one of them and will take the time to ask questions. That’s the day-to-day that impresses me. Like those simple acts of selflessness, faith and religion should be built on selfless acts. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 KJV). That means putting others above yourself.

            My favorite Commandments in the Bible, the ones that I believe that if we could get right, the world would be a different place are “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt.22:37,39). If I never said another word in my lifetime, if I went out saying those two things, I’d be good. The Church isn’t like a casino. I know that Christians have jacked up Christianity over the years but I would challenge you, as I will challenge my new Romanian friend, not to look at the Church or religion as a lottery ticket. Approaching things in that way is never good. Approaching your life that way is never good.

            Think of the rights and feelings of others rather than your own. Be selfless in your actions, whether they be Medal of Honor worthy or not. Ultimately, you will be rewarded in this life or the next.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Chappy's Free Chicken ~ Prayer (10 AUG 2017)

            Have you ever found yourself in a situation that was so overwhelming that you found yourself, maybe figuratively or in all actuality, on your knees in prayer? I have numerous times. I remember being in the back of a Bradley in Iraq on my first patrol. I was a medic/dismount then and that first ride out was spent in deep prayer. When the ramp lowered and I stepped out for the first time into our AO, I was praying. When I walked the patrol with my squad, I was praying.

            Another time I found myself in prayer was when my daughter, Sophia, presented with a fever and rash. She was only three months old at the time and having a fever that rose to 104* was dangerous. You can bet Amanda and I were in prayer. When the fever wouldn’t go down, we prayed. When Sophia had to have IVs introduced through her head because the Vanderbilt ER team couldn’t find veins in her little arms, we prayed. When the Vanderbilt Infectious Disease team confirmed the diagnosis was Kawasaki Disease as our pediatrician had suspected, we prayed. When the doctors assured us that despite not knowing its origin, they did have a cure, we prayed.

            What I’ve come to believe is that the Book of James speaks absolute truth regarding prayer:

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call on the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results (James 5:13-16 NLT).

            Most, if not all of us, have heard that saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” I’m not 100% sure that I believe that but I wouldn’t put it past a few of them to consider God in prayer during a firefight or a “broken arrow” type event. I also suspect that people have appealed to God in prayer for healing or restoration or in any number of circumstances, and having not gotten the answer they desire, choose to deny faith of any kind as a means of “getting back at God because He didn’t answer my prayers.”

            Maybe his purposes are bigger than our prayer requests. Maybe, just maybe, He has a much greater plan for prayers than we can sometimes see from our foxholes. Maybe the change your praying for is happening in you because you are praying. I know that’s what usually happens to me. If I’m frustrated with a situation or want to “kill somebody,” about the only way I can come down from that wave is through prayer. I pray for God to move me past my frustration or desire to do bodily harm to someone else. And as I pray, an amazing thing happens. I begin to change: my anger dissolves, my worries are minimized, and my focus, most importantly, gets off me. My focus goes back to center and for me that’s God. Usually after that, my perspective on things begins to change. I might still be a little hot or bothered but I begin to see things from a perspective other than my own. That is a win when the ultimate prize in prayer is to be changed. Richard foster wrote:

Meditation introduces us to the inner life, fasting is an accompanying means, study transforms our minds, but it is the Discipline of prayer that brings us into the deepest and highest work of the human spirit. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives.[1]

            “Prayer brings us into the deepest and highest work of the human spirit.” I believe this wholeheartedly. When I can’t stand to be around somebody, a situation is overwhelming, or I simply want to be at peace then that’s what I do. I pray. That’s the only endeavor that changes and builds my body, mind, and spirit to any degree. And when you don’t get the answers that you want or you get an answer that you don’t desire, don’t throw up your hands in defeat. Continue to pray. Remember, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16 NLT). The change will be in you and that’s the win. That’s where the magic will happen. That’s where the hope will happen. Prayer is an incredible opportunity to maximize transformation: in you!

[1] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, 20th Anniversary Ed., 50 of 325, Harper Collins e-books, 1998.