Friday, November 30, 2012

Cemetery or Seminary?

**I wrote this post for Cross Connection Network and am posting it here because of the popularity of it on that site.  Maybe, some readers here will appreciate the article.**

 In my spiritual journey God has used a number of things to shape me.  I think I accepted Christ at a Tuesday night Bible study that was at a Vineyard church.  From there I started attending Horizon, then to The Rock when Miles McPherson launched it, then to a little Mexican church in National City, then to help with an Evangelical Free Church, then I planted a church with my father-in-law that became Southern Baptist, to my current church which is Southern Baptist...this flyover covers about 17 years of my church life.  During the early years, 1996-2001, I traveled extensively as a Navy SEAL and would often find myself in different places on Sundays...I would always land at a Calvary Chapel because they were fairly consistent with their franchised product.  I know you guys are not a denomination, but nobody on the outside buys your claims. :)

As I was growing in the Lord and starting to sense God's call, I wasn't sure what the next step was or how I was to pursue this vague feeling inside.  I remember many of the pastors in Calvary Chapel bashing, or subtly making jabs against seminaries by referring to them as cemeteries.  I sort of found this funny because from the outside looking in it appeared as though many of the pastors didn't have college degrees let alone any time at seminary.  Where was this attack coming from?  Why would they be critical of something they never actually participated in or completed?  Maybe it was a chip on their shoulder?  Maybe.  Maybe there was some truth in what they said?  Possibly.  I know that I may be treading on dangerous ground as the majority of the writers of this blog are Calvary Chapel guys.  I am the outsider, the black sheep of the group proudly waving my Southern Baptist colors...which feels weird as I don't really feel connected deeply to this group, but I digress.

As God led me away from Calvary Chapel circles, I was exposed to a variety of very godly pastors who all had graduated from seminary.  Different seminaries all conservative, but with different flavors.  It was during this time that God's call became very strong and my desire to study the Bible at a deeper level continued to grow, but I didn't know how I could satisfy this as I was preparing to deploy to the Middle East.  Thankfully, I was informed of Moody Bible Institute's distance learning program.  I immediately enrolled in a number of courses like "Old Testament Survey", "New Testament Survey", "Elements of Bible Study", and "Advanced Bible Study Methods." Oh, my soul was getting nourished in ways that I couldn't have imagined.  I ended up completing a year's worth of coursework through Moody's program.  This whole experience opened up the door for me to complete my Bachelor's in Biblical Studies and Master's of Divinity degree through Southern California Seminary.  From there, I would go on and work on my Doctor of Ministry degree through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but I withdrew from the program when I was "All but dissertation" because I felt like it was interfering with the present ministry I was called to.

I had a wonderful experience through Bible College and Seminary.  I would not be able to handle the Word of God as accurately as I do now without my training there.  I understand that not every seminary is created the same, but that doesn't mean that all are bad and ineffective in training people.  Here are a few reasons why I support and encourage men called to the ministry to go to seminary:

You will grow and mature through the process.  Seminary is challenging.  Juggling life with coursework is challenging in of itself, but a good seminary is going to forged you to be handle the ministry--whether you are preparing to enter or are already doing the work.  To hunker down and to do the work will shape you in your walk with God.  This difficult season in my life definitely prepared me for the rigors that pastoral ministry would bring.

You will be equipped in handling the Word of God.  I often am asked, "Did seminary really help you?" I laugh and respond with something like, "If I wasn't in seminary, I would not have been digging, researching, and writing about topics that forced me deep within the Word on a daily basis."  Seminary will sharpen and expand you knowledge and application of the Word of God.  There is no way around this, you cannot experience this demand on your own.  I have often heard, "Seminary is like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant."  This is so true!

You will be exposed to others schools of thought.  I can already hear some Calvary guys jumping on this point saying, "Ahh, you will be brainwashed and wander into bad doctrine!  Beware!"  An assumption of mine is that we are talking about a conservative, Bible believing and proclaiming seminary--which there are many.  Within this context you will rub shoulders and discuss biblical things from different vantage points.  This is iron sharpening iron in its truest sense.  For example, when I wrote my thesis on "The Christian and Combat" we brought in a pacifist, who deeply loves the Lord, to challenge my position.  I am better because of this experience of being exposed to other views within Bible believing Christianity.

You will develop deep friendships and broaden your network.  Outside of the coursework, I developed deep friendships with others in the ministry from a variety of denominations or non-denominations respectfully.  These friendships have been very meaningful and helpful to me in my service in the ministry at large.  I am thankful for these men that I can go to for support and outside consultation by men who are outside of my circle.

Concluding thoughts.  First, if you are debating going to seminary choose well.  The price is the least important factor.  Seek out graduates and examine the doctrinal position of the school.  If you don't feel comfortable with this, ask someone who can guide you and give you wisdom for not all seminaries are created equal.  Second, if you haven't been, or graduated from seminary, I would ask you to refrain from the bashing of them through subtle comments like letting "cemetery" slip out of your mouth when "seminary" was the intended word.  It makes one look like they have a chip on their shoulder for lacking something.  Of course one doesn't need seminary to go to the ministry...we simply need to meet the requirements of 1 Timothy 3:1-7.  Finally, whatever your background, I encourage you to read, grow, and study intently as you lead the body of Christ.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Growing as a Child, with my Children

A few weeks ago I began a new missionary book with my daughter Grace called Amy Carmichael: Rescuer of Precious Gems.  As we have been working through this book, I have been struck with thankfulness for the fruit I have seen in our lives from reading together.  Before my first child was born, I purposed in my heart to be their spiritual leader and to help them in their walk with the Lord.  Reading to them has been a great tool and I hope to encourage you as you seek to raise your children in the Lord.

Choose what you read wisely.  I don't just read anything to my children, but I carefully select what goes into their little minds and hearts.  We have multiple children's Bibles that I have read through to them.  As Grace got older, we detoured and started to read missionary books like this one about Amy Carmichael.  My aim in reading is to help us learn about God either through His Word, or through his hand in people's lives.  Christian biographies are a great way to discover how faith is lived out.

A great way for you to grow!  I don't know about you, but I wasn't raised in a Christian home.  I lacked a foundation of the Bible, nor did I have any clue about missionaries!  Reading through a children's Bible is a great way for you to develop an understanding of the overarching theme of the Bible.  You'll read all of the major stories and as you do this over and over again things will begin to come together in your mind.  Also, there are many great missionary books that are geared for children.  This is a great way to learn about some of these great people in Christian history.  As you read these easier books, you will probably discover someone that you want to learn more about.  Your children will grow spiritually and so will you!

You'll grow closer to your children.  I've heard it said that "quality time is found with quantity of time."  I agree with this totally, but I hope to provide quantity time with the Lord in hopes that my children will have memories of their "God ah-ha" moments with me there.  There is something intimate about reading the Bible and Christian biographies because they touch on deep subjects and we often find ourselves ending with prayer, or discussion about some significant spiritual truth.  I love that the kids are always calling for me around bedtime wanting to snuggle and to read.  I am confident I know my children and they know me better because of our time reading together.

Make if a priority!  There is nothing easy about the command found in Proverbs 22:6 to, "Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it."  It takes consistency and commitment from you.  There are many times when I simply don't feel like reading to them.  I'm busy and there is always something trying to distract me from them.  Now my second child is at the age where she enjoys being read to, but they are not as the same level so it requires two sessions on my part which requires even more time of mine.  The bottom line is I have made a commitment to train up my children in the way they should go so I carve out time for them even if I have to neglect other areas in my life.  I certainly don't want the song, "Cats in the Cradle" becoming a reality with me and my children.

Final Thoughts.  I guarantee your children will love you reading to them.  In doing so you will give your children great memories with you, you will help them learn about God, and you will grow!  We only have a children for a short while, make the most of this time you have with them.

Some recommended books:

The Trailblazer Series

Christian Heroes: Then and Now

Monday, November 26, 2012

Book Review: No Easy Day

A few months ago the book No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden hit the press.  As this book neared its release date on September 11, 2012 much drama began to circulate.  Threats of a lawsuit from the Pentagon began to surface and the media was all over it.  It seems I read about this book daily in the local paper until the tragic events of Benghazi when the news of this book seemed to fade away.  Within the community people seemed divided over how to respond to this book--and all before it was released!  I wasn't sure what I was going to do.  Was it all hype and just a marketing scheme?  Or was this a legit book?  Many people began asking my opinion and I figured I should read the book and throw my two cents in the ring.  I just finished the book today and my goal is to throw out some quick rough thoughts rather than produce an exhaustive book report.

This book is for mature audiences.  I realize I have a varied demographic of people who read this blog.  This book is a first hand account of a Navy SEAL.  There is some colorful language and some questionable humor.  Read with caution.  But what would one suspect from this sort of book?  In the field of like books, I would say that this one is on the cleaner side.

Start reading at the back of the book.  In my edition, on page 301, immediately after the epilogue, there are nine pages of men who have fallen since 9/11 either in combat, or in training.  Read the names.  Each one slowly.  Let them sink in.  These are men who gave all.  Many of whom were dear friends of mine.  As I finished this book today, I received word that a Navy SEAL was killed in Afghanistan this weekend.  The war is not over.  Peace is not here.  We long for the Lord to return for peace, but until then, we are reminded that men and women are serving around the world and in our backyard keeping us safe.  The farther away I move from my old life as a SEAL the greater my appreciation is for those who are serving us in this very special capacity.  If you are on active duty, or are a law enforcement officer, I thank you for your service from the depths of my heart.

A lawsuit from the Pentagon, really? I am shocked that there were threats of a lawsuit from the Pentagon.  I found no tactical leaks in this book.  There is nothing new, other than it is a first person account, in this book concerning the operation that killed Bin Laden.  Toward the end of the book, the author expresses his disbelief of the leaks that came from the White House following this very classified operation.  He wasn't back for 24 hours from the op before he started seeing images and official reports about the operation being broadcast on every network.  I'm not sure why the threats came from the Pentagon, clearly this is a tier-one operator that knows what he is allowed, or not allowed, to share with the public. 

A humble perspective.  I love the humility of the author.  This book is a super easy read.  I loved being taken back to my time in the teams.  I believe the author of this book painted a real picture of the SEAL community and the great sacrifices that are made day in and day out.  I loved his attitude that it wasn't about him, but was about acknowledging the hard work and sacrifice made by many people over the years to make this operation happen.  I believe he rightly gives credit where credit is due.  I wish the politicians would follow his lead.

I highly recommend the book.  The bottom line is I do recommend this book.  It is not written by a hotshot, but by a humble American hero that was at the right place at the right time and happened to partake in a significant event historically.  His heart is to share an eyewitness account that is free of political spin or implications.  If you read this book, I believe you walk away with a deeper sense of gratitude for the the men and women involved with operation, and for the men and women who are currently serving our country today.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

"He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God" (Psalm 50:23).

I love this verse.  It essentially says two things: 1) Giving thanks honors God, and 2) there are benefits for ordering your life according to God's ways.  I deeply want to achieve both of these things in my own life.  I think it was in 1999, a few years after I had become a Christian, that I made a conscience choice to order my life aright.  I certainly haven't reached perfection, but I hope those that really know me would agree that I have, in large part, sought to lead me life according to biblical principles even when it is difficult.  I have have tried and continue to live by the words of the old hymn, "I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back."

Now, the first part of the verse grabs my attention, "He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me."  I'm not sure I ever thought that being thankful could be honoring to God, nor have I considered the opposite.  Thanksgiving is one of our only holidays that embraces character trait that is commanded to the Christian.  When I married my wife I was exposed to a silly game called "The Thankful Game."  You simply work through the alphabet referencing things you are thankful for that begin with the corresponding letter.  I remember making the church play this game in the middle of a message.  I was shocked to see the disposition of the congregation visibly lighten as we shared things we were thankful for.  I love seeing this game spread on Facebook...especially during a time when I see so much complaining there.

Okay, here's my Thankful list this year!

A - Anna. There is no other answer for me than to say I am thankful for Anna my lovely wife.  Proverbs 18:22 says, "He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord."  God has blessed me with an amazing wife and mother of our children.  Not a day goes by that I do not thank God for this amazing woman.

B - Bible.  I am thankful for the Bible.  God has used His Word to mature me, shape me, and guided me through His wonderful revelation.

C - Cops.  I am blessed to serve as a law enforcement chaplain.  I am thankful for these men and woman who serve us day and night be coming to our rescue, protecting us in general, and providing a safe environment for us to live.

D - Dogs, especially Lady Bug.  I am really thankful for these wonderful creatures God has given us to enjoy.

E - Ellie, my beautiful little girl who is a gift from God and a total crackup. I am love seeing her little personality take shape!

F - Family God has blessed me with.

G - Grace, my wonderful little girl who cracks me up and fills my heart with joy every

H - Hanson family. I am thankful the the Hanson family, the tree that I fell from!

I - Inlaws, the Hilton family. The Lord has blessed me with a great extended family

J - Jury Duty. Okay, this officially marks the hard stretch. I have "J, K, M, T, and U" remaining. But jury duty is something that makes our country great. I would love to serve on one, but am never needed and I don't think

K - Kettle corn. Wait to you get to "P", this is serious. There is a great explosion of flavor, the corn is crisp and crunchy. Great experience!

L - Lake Tahoe. I am thankful for the many memories I have growing up there. I am thankful that I am going to be able to vacation there this summer. I look forward to sharing my memories with my family.

M - Man-child.  I love my girls and I would have been totally cool with a third daughter, but this year brought with it the wonderful news of a man-child (which is way cooler to say than "son").  I can tell that he is different in personality than the girls and I am looking forward to seeing this little guy grow into a man.

N - Navy. The Navy was a major tool the Lord used in my life. I am thankful for the many experiences during my 12 years in the Navy.  The friends and experiences I had in the SEAL teams have had an incredible influence in my life that I will always be thankful for.

O - Ocean. I am so thankful for its beauty and mystic. I feel so close to God when I am at or near the ocean.

P - Popcorn. I enjoy eating popcorn. Seriously. I have so much fun firing up some popcorn and munching on it with the family around a game or watching one of our favorite shows like Psych, Burn Notice, or Hawaii 5-0!

Q - I think I am thankful for this letter in of itself.  Seriously, I like playing Words-with-Friends and this is a 10 point word.  I can be lethal if player correctly!

R - Running. I am thankful that I can run--I miss running since I have a bruised heel.

S - Spain. This is a country I knew little about, but after marrying I learned so much about this country. I traveled there with my wife and then learned of her youth. I am thankful for the experiences Spain gave to my wife.  I am almost always looking forward to my next trip there!

T - Thanksgiving! This is the last one I filled out. I so thankful for being just makes you feel better! Thank you God for blessing me so!

U - Upwords. This is a great game and I am thankful for the many hours of playing this game with my wife and inlaws.

V - Valley Baptist Church. I love worshiping with my church family.  I am simply amazed how God has moved through our little church since 2007. 

W - Water. Nothing quenches the thirst like it and I love that our Lord describes Himself as living water!

X - Xrays. X is hard, but seriously, I am thankful for the Xray machine way more that I am for xylophones. I was thankful for the Xray machine when my daughter broke her arm. Because of the technology the doctors were able to fix her up good as new!

Y - Yankees, NOT! I am going with Yams. Nothing better than a well prepared Yam on Turkey Day! I think the secret ingredients are brown sugar and marshmallows.

Z - Zoo. We are longtime zoo pass holders. Anna and I love walking and talking there...the animals are bonus!

Okay, now it's YOUR turn!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Shooting With Civilians

I didn't grow up shooting.  Maybe once, or twice, but nothing that made a real impact on me.  I learned to shoot in the SEAL teams.  From the get go, safety was hammered down my throat.  Things like, "Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot", "Never point your weapon at anything your not willing to destroy", "A gun is always loaded", and so forth and so on.  The threat of doing something unsafe or "sweeping someone" (i.e. inadvertently pointing a weapon at someone) would result in severe discipline or being kicked out of the program altogether.

With this fear set deep within us, the instructors let us handle the weapons.  We started slow with learning their components and breaking them apart and reassembling them, then static shooting (i.e. standing still on the range while shooting) progressing over time to very dynamic shooting (i.e. shooting while moving with a lot of moving parts).  As we progressed in these shooting scenarios, the threat of dangers increased because of odds of human error significantly increasing.  But everyone had been carefully trained in safely handling the weapon at all times.  Safety became second nature.  We went from a crawl, to a walk, to a run, to a full blown sprint with the things we were doing, but gun safety was hammered home from day one and never was eased.  We were safe because the level of training we received on the weapons.  My time in the SEAL teams has made it virtually impossible to feel comfortable shooting outside of a military or law enforcement setting.  I'm sorry to offend anyone, but civilian shooters can be dangerous and goofy on the range.  I try to avoid it altogether.

This thought popped into my head the other day when I mulled over these verses:

"The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:17)

"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

The Bible describes itself as a great weapon.  In fact, as far as I can tell, it is described as the only offensive tool the believer has been given.  With this truth, I think there are some lessons from shooting that I can apply to Bible study today.

Take a gun safety course.  I believe in safety with the Bible like I do with guns.  After becoming a Christian, I realized that I would often play "Russian Roulette" with the Bible.  I would open it flip through pages and just stop somewhere.  I had no idea the big picture of the Bible, the overriding theme, or anything really.  I didn't know where to begin or how to handle this book of the Bible.  I literally could have made it say anything I wanted it to.  I see myself then and I was equivalent to a toddler playing with a loaded weapon!  As a pastor now, I recognized that many new Christians are not given any orientation class to the Bible.  If this is you, I would suggest reading a book like Howard Hendricks book, "Living by the Book" that will help you learn about hermeneutics--the art and science of studying the Bible.  I would also encourage you to attend faithfully a church where the Bible is taught in a systematic (i.e. Book at a time) way so you learn what Bible study looks like.

Never point a gun at something you are not willing to destroy.  This rule in shooting makes the point that every gun is loaded and should be treated as such even if there is no bullet within a 100 miles.  Never loose your respect for the harm a weapon can cause people or things.  This point, as it relates to the Bible, is difficult to articulate.  The Bible is God's Word, we must handle it very carefully.  When we quote it, we are sharing a Word of the Lord to encourage, rebuke, or shape one's thoughts about something.  Unfortunately, I have seen many use the Bible in a way for self interest or personal gain.  I would like to urge us to use extreme caution as we are interpreting and applying the Bible.  Certainly this is true as we relate it to others.  It concerns me when I see people cutting and pasting the Bible to prove themselves right on a particular point instead of humbling themselves under the Word to discover the truth.  The Bible should never be used to win an argument, although the Bible has the power and authority to settle arguments if this makes sense.

Perfect practice makes perfect.  There is a saying, "Practice makes perfect" that the SEAL teams don't agree with.  As I began shooting, one of the sayings I heard early on was, "Perfect practice makes perfect!"  Bad habits are hard to break and bad practice only conditions bad habits.  Because of this truth, I would encourage every believer, whether you've been a Christian for 1 day or 30 years, to grow in the practice of hermeneutics.  It's never too late to start.  The sooner you are equipped to study and apply the Bible on your own, the faster you will be equipped to serve your Lord.  Paul said this to Timothy, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).  This command applies to all believers as far as I am concerned.

Some closing thoughts.  Let me be clear, every believer has the Spirit to guide them in the study of the Bible.  God has revealed His Word to us and has said this about it, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  We have been entrusted with the use of a very powerful book.  I pray that we would take the time to learn how to read, study, and apply in our lives!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fearful of the Future?

Valley Baptist Church studied the book of Habakkuk yesterday.  I felt led by God to break from our current study in First John to draw lessons from Habakkuk in light of our current national situation.  I can already hear you say, "Habakkuk who?" Let me say first that this is obviously a little known book, but it is in the Bible. You can find it in the latter half of the Old Testament in the "Minor Prophets." If you don't believe me, check out the Table of Contents in your Bible!

I love this little book. It is different from the other prophetical books. The others are a message from God to the people of Israel through the mouth of the given prophet. Their messages are usually something along the lines of "Repent and get back on track!" The book of Habakkuk is different in that is a prophet questioning God's plan...and he doesn't hold back.

Check out the first few verses:

"How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, 'Violence!' but you do not save? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and the justice is perverted." Habakkuk 1:2-4, NIV

This brother was frustrated of watching the righteous take a beating while the wicked advanced. He was at his whit’s end and felt as though God wasn't hearing his prayers. How much longer would he have to sit by and watch evil while God did nothing?

Habakkuk's problem is twofold: 1) He doesn't think God is listening to him...boy does he get a whammy from God in response, and 2) he is sick and tire of watching evil win.

It's easy to get discouraged--especially when you feel like you are the "victim." I have noticed over the years that I hear two basic questions about my life:

1. How did you go from being a SEAL to being a pastor? You can read the answer here: My Story or listen to it on the Unshackled!--The Gunnar Hanson Story, Part 1 and the Unshackled!--The Gunnar Hanson Story, Part 2

2. The second is harder to phrase into a question concisely, but is related to my experiences as an abused kid. Something along the lines of, "How do you maintain a positive outlook on life going through that?"

This second question is a bit tougher to answer. Life is a journey. We constantly learn about ourselves along our journey. Our life today is truly the culmination of all our "yesterdays." How do we handle the good and bad that comes our way? I believe our perspective on our experiences shapes our lives dramatically.

There are not words to express the fear I felt as a kid preparing to face my mother in a rage. I didn't understand why this was happening to me. We were a religious family, or at least we were forced to attend Catholic Mass on a regular basis. She claimed to hold a deep faith in the Lord--which turned me off to religion for many years. It's hard to say what I truly felt about God during those times. I remember eclectic thoughts from crying out for safety, salvation, and questioning His role in all this, to questioning His existence at all. I seriously wondered, "How could this be happening to me if there is a good God out there?"

Looking back, my perspective is all the more clearer at this point in my life. To this day, I am thankful for my past. I would not change them for the world. I feel like God has used each hard event in my life to shape me into the man I am today. I often point people to Acts 17:26-27 which says this:

"From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us."

This passage tells us that God sets people in a specific time in history and location on the earth so that they might "reach out for him." The word "reach" could actually be translated "grope for him." In light of this passage, I take the perspective that God placed me into this life, with my family, during this time of history, and in this location because this is the sweetest, most ripe place in history for me to fall in love with Jesus! I did and I am thankful.

Life will throw many difficulties and hard things our way. I have learned from my lovely wife that during these times we shouldn't focus on what we don't know about God's plan, but to focus on what we do know about God. She taught me this through the painful process of losing our first child through miscarriage. What are things that we can dwell on concerning God? Good question, I am glad you asked! God is loving, forgiving, just, holy, patient, merciful, all knowing, and sovereign are a few thoughts that come to mind!

I am encouraged in reading the last few verses of Habakkuk. I pray that our attitudes will match his in the midst of our trials and tribulations!

Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV -

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.

Yesterday's message is available here, but the most amazing thing about Habakkuk's response is that it comes after God answers him by sharing a prophetic message that Israel would be steam-rolled by the Babylonians.  This prophecy would be fulfilled in 586BC and was recorded in the book of Daniel.  Israel would come to destruction and would not come back into existence for some 2,000 years.  Yet in the midst of this news and economic catastrophe, Habakkuk affirms that he will 1) rejoice in the Lord, 2) be joyful in his salvation, and 3) draw his strength from the Lord trusting that God would equip him to handle the future.  I can think of no more timely message for Americans who are troubled by the bleakness of the future that lies ahead.  Turn to the Lord and trust Him alone.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Veterans Day Reflections

I've been asked to speak on the Mike Stater Show Monday on the subject of Veterans Day for their "What Really Matters" segment.  The only parameter I've been given is that it relates to Veterans Day, but I suspect the election may come up.  My plan is to blog for the purpose of sorting my thoughts as radio is such a fast moving medium.  Writing helps me to clarify my thoughts and this is probably a worthwhile subject--especially considering this holiday falls on a Sunday this year.

How should a pastor address the subject of Veterans Day?  I know I was selected to speak on this matter often because of my unique background.  The very name of this blog "SEAL Pastor" lumps my odd background together.  In thinking through this, I feel that I have to address this day along two fronts through a very practical angle as a veteran and then as a pastor drawing from veteran's example in living out the Christian life.

"Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier", 2 Timothy 2:3-4  From this Bible verse, I believe there are a number of principles we can draw from as it relates to Veterans Day.

The difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day.  Before I served and started losing buddies (in training and combat) in their service to our country, I didn't really have clarity between these two holidays.  Today, as I type, the difference is clear.  Memorial Day is the day to remember those who gave all in their service.  We, as a family, often go to Ft. Rosecrans on Memorial Day to remember the sacrifice that was made by many of my friends.  Veterans Day, however, is to remember those who are serving and who have served in service of their country.

A simple, "Thank you" goes a long way.  To active duty, the veteran, their spouses, and children all make significant sacrifices in service.  There are so many ways to say "Thank you."  So many have willingly sacrificed their personal freedoms in order to preserve them for the whole.  The average civilian misses the sacrifices that the veteran makes.  One significant sacrifice, in my mind, connects Veterans Day to Memorial Day.  On June 26, 2003, my best friend in the SEAL teams was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan.  I always honor him on Memorial Day, but the sting of his death remains with me as a veteran.  So many veterans have lost dear friends through training or combat.  This is a great sacrifice that few understand.  With every veteran there is a cloud of lost buddies who are with them in memory.  We in San Diego are so blessed to have so many active duty and veterans in our midst.  Be intentional with your thank you's.  If you see a veteran, or active duty service member, walk up to them shake their hand and look them in the eye and say, "Thank you for your service."  If you want to up your thank you, buy them a cup of coffee or treat them to lunch.  Be creative, but be sure to show them your appreciation.  I can't tell you how far the simple hand shake will go.  I so appreciate those who have thanked me in this way over the years.

A soldier paints a picture of a focused follower.  The soldier must be ready and vigilant about their commitment to their given mission.  In order to maintain this level of readiness the must cut and keep clear of the clutter that hinders their calling.  We as Christians have much to learn from this.  When I was a SEAL, I had to have multiple sets of gear configured for a number of different types of operations ready to go at all times.  The older SEAL's harped on the younger guys to have "all their loose ends taken care of" referring to things in their personal life that would affect their ability to carry out the mission.  After reviewing the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, the author says, "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).  When I see active duty service member today, I often of the the thought, "What things am I being hindered by in my walk with God?"

As we remember and give thanks for veterans this day, let us do so intentionally and with insight.  I would encourage you to be intentional about seeking out a veteran or active duty service member.  Shake their hand, look them in the eye, and say, "Thank you.  I appreciate your service and the sacrifice you have made for us."  Look at the image of the soldier and observe their life.  Examine their lifestyle as you ponder their example.  They must be ready at all times...this affects every area of their lives.  What lessons are there that you could apply to your own life as you walk with Christ?

To those who have served, or who are serving, I salute you!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Nation Taken Into Captivity

Two days ago I blogged on "Election Tuesday."  I had no idea what the outcome of the election would be as I wrote.  It was pretty clear that I, with the majority of Evangelical Christians, was hoping for a different outcome.  As I wrote that blog, this line stood out to me: "I would suggest our faith in Him is tested most when things don't turn out as we think they should."  With the results in, I have seen a growing fear concerning the future by conservatives and Christian's alike.  I say this without trying to undermine the real issues we as a nation face.  They are real.  They are closing in around us and something will have to give one way or another sooner, rather than later.  Even in the worst case scenario, I still believe we Americans live in one of the greatest countries and have the highest quality of life as I reflect on humanity throughout history.  We have much to be thankful for lest we loose sight of the larger picture.

In the last 48 hours, the biblical story of Daniel keeps surfacing in my mind.  Israel had wandered from their God over and over again.  God had warned them through numerous prophets like Isaiah, Habakkuk, and others that discipline was coming.  They did not care (neither do we).  The book of Daniel opens with this prophecy coming true.  Daniel 1:2 states, "The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand..."  This was huge.  The Northern Kingdom had already fallen captive to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. and now the Southern Kingdom was taken captive by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.  The nation of Israel existed no more.  It would not come back as a nation until May 14, 1948.  Clearly the situation presented in Daniel chapter 1 is worse than anything we are going through right now.  It is worse than anything we could imagine.  Period.

Here Daniel, a young man, was taken as a prisoner by a ruthless people who hated and destroyed the nation of Israel.  Daniel was exiled to Babylon to be indoctrinated into the Babylonian way for the purpose of eroding any remnant of Judaism.  Did I mention this was a really bad situation?  I wish I could review every story recorded in Daniel, but time and people's attention spans are limited.  In light of this, I would like to fly over the Book of Daniel and draw out some practical principles from the life of Daniel.

Daniel's God was bigger than all his problems.  Nation taken captive?  Being deported to a foreign land to be indoctrinated into a godless system?  No problem, my God is bigger than these problems!  I don't know about you, but I hate the emotional roller coaster my emotions are capable of.  As I walk with God and come to know Him with greater intimacy, the less moved I am by the ups and downs of life.  I pray that we all would walk in a way that brings true grounding like Daniel had with God.

Daniel was most concerned with his own relationship with God.  As he was faced with an opportunity to go with the flow of his culture, he faced a critical decision.  Daniel could have very easily slipped into the things that would have led him away from God, but he stayed focus on the priority of his relationship with God.  This internal focus ultimately led to others noticing that Daniel was different.  God honors Daniel over and over again because his passion for God was second to none.  I believe revival starts with the individual, with you right where you are.

Daniel was a gracious as he could be when the outworking of his faith was infringed upon.  In the first chapter Daniel was faced with his first dilemma--eat the food that went against his convictions, or rebel against his captors.  What would he do?  How would I handle this if I was in the same situation?  I love the graciousness and trust in God as Daniel makes his request to honor his convictions.  True class.  I love that God granted Daniel favor and compassion as he live at peace with all men so much as it depended on him (Rom. 12:18). 

No Compromise.  Daniel 3 develops into a intense story about Daniel's close friends.  Daniel was not here.  We don't know where he was, but I am convinced that Daniel would have been right there with them.  Daniel's friends would not bend at the threat of their lives to bow down and worship an idol.  They stood firm.  There comes a place where the believer must draw the line.  I'm not sure where this is in today's context, but clearly they would not bow down to worship anything other than God.  I see no rebellion in Scripture like this that relates to taxes or other things that bug us.  This sort of rebellion seems limited to the place of comprising true worship or a restricting of the Gospel (Acts 4:19-20), or possibly in the defense of another.

Daniel fervently prayed for his nation.  I would encourage you to pause your reading of this blog and read Daniel 9.  The heart of Daniel's prayer is humbling.  Did you notice his heart?  Full of awe for God.  Sensitivity and responsibility for both his sin and the sin of his nation.  Confession and cries for God's intervention.  Daniel poured himself out so completely in prayer that he describes his state as being in "extreme weariness" (Dan. 9:21).  I don't think I have ever prayed for my nation like this before.  What would our land look light if we as Christians prayed for our nation with this intensity instead of complaining about how bad things have become, or are going to get?  Maybe we should give this a shot?

A final word.  In looking at Daniel's life, I believe these points should help us get back on track.  If you are not a Christian, and you find yourself deeply concerned about where we are and where we are heading as a nation, I would encourage you to turn to Christ.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  He is not asleep at the wheel and He will take care of you if you turn to Him by faith.  To those of us who believe, I would encourage you to examine your thoughts and the words that come out of your mouth.  What do they say about your God?  I would encourage you to turn your hope to the creator and sustainer of the universe.  He is moved by prayer and has commanded us to pray.  Let us turn our hearts and prayers to Him as our country faces difficult times ahead.  May we reflect His light in the midst of a world that is so dark.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Tuesday

***This blog represents my views alone and not that of any organization I am a member***

I am an American and I am a Christian.  I served in the military for 12 years and have been a pastor for the last 8 years.  With those facts, it shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where I fit on the political spectrum.  Like you, I am pretty much tired of the political banter at large.  I am not a "The sky is falling" sort of person like you can find on both sides.  My hope is not in the United States of America, but rather in the Christ--my Lord and Savior.

Today, November 6, 2012, is Election Day.  I figured I should join the masses and throw out my two-cents for what it is worth.  How should we as Christians respond today and in the upcoming weeks?  I think our reaction should be the same regardless of who wins this election.

First and foremost, I do think every Christian should vote.  As I look at the Apostle Paul's life, I see that he utilized his Roman citizenship in order to advance the gospel.  For those of us who are American citizens, we live in a country where we can vote our values and are given an opportunity to shape our culture.  I am simply stunned by the apathy of so many Americans, especially Christians, concerning this great privilege we have.

How should we vote as Christians?  I believe the Bible gives on overriding principle concerning the ordination of human government.  Romans 13:1-4 teaches the purpose of government, in essence, is to restrain evil.  So with this governing principle, I believe Christians should prioritize issues.  This is the reason I feel that abortion should be such an important issue for the Christian when it comes to voting.  I do believe that abortion is a widespread evil in our culture.  We have a two party system in our country and the lines concerning abortion are very clear to me.  I don't really want to get into this issue here, but you can read my blog on the Sanctity of Human Life to learn more about my thoughts on abortion.  Similar issues that fall into this category are that of the military, law enforcement, and capital punishment.

Other concerns tend to fall into the social issues category for me.  I think social issues seem to be an area where a lot of Christians sort of part ways.  Clearly Jesus commanded His followers to care for and the poor and needy.  I think all Christians agree on this matter, but I believe the issue comes down to the question of who did He command these things?  One side applies these truths to the government, and the other applies these truths to the individual or the church.  I tend to fall into the category that believes the commands apply to the local church and people individually.  I simply do not see this as the role of government within Scripture.

Taxes.  Man, isn't this the issue we all dislike?  I think most people are okay with taxes as it related to other people, but when push comes to shove, none of us actually like paying taxes!  Unfortunately, my feelings and opinions concerning taxes aren't grounded within Scripture...they are born our of my personal understanding of economics.  As a Christian, all I see and hear from Jesus is, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's"!

I love this day.  I do like watching the results unfold.  It's exciting.   Who will be our next president?  I personally believe the choices are distinct and I am pulling for one.  I have no idea who will win.  I read some websites and I get excited.  I read others and my heart sinks.   I would like to suggest something that applies to all Christians concerning our response tomorrow, or this evening, or whenever we know who will be president for the next four years.

First and foremost, our hope is not in humanity it is in Christ.  I would suggest our faith in Him is tested most when things don't turn out as we think they should.  Tomorrow, whether I like America's choice of president or not, I am faced with the reality of Romans 13:1, "For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God."  Trust me, I find this truth difficult to swallow often times.  How can this be?  I don't think either candidate is a glowing saint, but I do know that God is on the throne.  I will trust in Him alone.

Second, whoever the next president is, I believe we as Christians need to pray more.  Sure we know we should pray for our government, but I'm not convinced Christians are praying with fervency for the local government all the way to the top as we are commanded to do in 1 Timothy 2:1-4.  I would encourage us to pray regularly for those who have been appointed over us a government officials.

Finally, I don't think Christians should back off from voicing and voting their opinions.  I don't believe God has called us to be passive, but rather to stand and to be a light.  There are many commands for the Christian to expose the darkness (Ephesians 5:11-13) and there is precedence to resist the authority when it is clearly violating God's command (Acts 4:19-20).

Okay, well, I am off to go cast my vote!