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Power

I love these mornings when jet fighters from two Air Force bases and a Naval Air Station are roaring overhead.  It gives me a feeling of being protected, and I thank God for the assurance that there are those who watch over me and keep my enemies far away.

But then I look at the mighty Gulf of Mexico and the soaring clouds overhead, the overwhelming displays of God’s ineffable greatness, and I realize that all earthly pomp and splendor are like raindrops in the ocean of our Lord’s dominion.

It’s a thought that forces me to bow my head in gratitude and humility on this Christmas Eve.

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Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Thoughts

“No priest, no theologian stood at the cradle in Bethlehem.  And yet all Christian theology has its origin in the wonder of all wonders, that God became human…Theologia sacra arises from those on bended knees who do homage to the mystery of the divine child in the stall.”  from A Testament to Freedom

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) is one of my heroes, a German pastor, professor, and theologian who was executed for his passionate and Christ-centered opposition to the Nazis. He has taught me to use my mind to study the unsearchable truths of God, to employ the intellect He gave me to find solid grounding for my faith, and to offer my voice to articulate these verities to a doubting world.  But he’s also mentored me to realize that all my searching will accomplish nothing until I humble myself at the manger…and the Cross…and the empty Tomb.

May these pages speak words of compassion and truth to all, especially to those who’ve been broken by battle, whatever form it has taken in one’s life.

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Memory

I remember Christmas Eve, 1969.  My platoon was guarding an artillery unit on a high, barren, shell-scarred hill called LZ (Landing Zone) Bushwhack.  The weather was dark and cloudy, our mood was dimmed by nostalgia, and we were in a survival mode, the high and lofty purpose of the war long forgotten.  Then over Armed Forces Radio came the sounds of Handel’s Messiah, and some of us, at least for a couple of hours, were lifted toward Heaven in our thoughts and dreams.  It was the most poignant message of “Light shining in the darkness”  I’ve ever received.

Let’s pray for all our men and women in uniform today and tomorrow.  Many of them are far away from their loved ones and are feeling as desolate  as we were in Southeast Asia long ago.  May the holiness and hope of Christmas bring them at least a moment or two of joy.

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For Veterans

Dear Friends.  I invite you into the chapel this morning.  There are a few things I need to say, including words of apology for being away so long.  I have no excuse; just a confession of my neglect.  This is an important place for us to gather, and we need to meet here on a frequent basis.

I want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  I really mean it, and what I’m saying is more than a holiday card slogan.  I’ve spent many of these “family times” all alone…by choice.  I’ve been afraid to be with people who smile and drink too much, when I’m lonely and sad inside, remembering Vietnam, grieving the Marines I lost there, and feeling the darkness inside my soul.  The counselors have said that when you seen the worst in combat, it leaves a “death imprint” on your mind and spirit.  So I pray that you’ll let some light into that darkness, and that you’ll find some joy in the next few days.

Also, I read this morning that there are three ways that trauma (any traumatic event) can affect your thinking.  First, it can destroy your sense of being safe.  Second, it can undermine your self-worth, leaving you with a lot of guilt and self-hatred.  And third, being involved in traumatic events can drive you to doubt that there’s any meaning and order to this world, this universe, this thing we call human life.

I want you to think about something.  Maybe Christmas holds some answers to these problems.  The Bible tells us that everyone was afraid back in the days when Jesus was born.  Afraid of the Romans, afraid of leprosy, afraid of demons and devils, and afraid of death.  And then a Savior came into our world to bring us the promise of security and eternal safety.  By trusting in Him, we’re told that we’ll never be alone, that we never need to fear anything.  Even death was defeated by this Man, who promised that we would be alive after death…in a place where Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan could not touch us.

The message the angels  brought also assured us that we are precious in the eyes of our Creator.  The good news first came to lowly shepherds, who were at the bottom of the social ladder.  When we feel like nobodies, forgotten even by the nation that sent us to fight for freedom, we can know that we’re not cast aside by the One who made us.  When guilt creeps in to make us feel awful about ourselves, we can remember that the baby born two thousand years ago died for all our wrongdoings, even (maybe especially) the ones we only imagine.  By His death in the Battle of Mount Calvary, he payed the penalty that we deserved and He cleansed us from all that inside dirt and darkness.

The final message from my morning reading was that war (or accidents, sudden illness or loss, etc.) can shatter our belief that there’s a purpose and a reliable structure to everything that happens.  The Christmas message is that there’ll always be events and circumstances that won’t make sense, but by trusting that God sees and knows all things, we can be certain that it all fits into His master plan.  I’ve come to believe that my horrible moments in Southeast Asia were used by the Lord to accomplish His will for my earthy journey. I hope that you’ll be able to come to this same conclusion.

This little talk was longer than I thought it would be.  I guess I have much to share with you.  More in the days ahead.

May God bring healing and hope to all.

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Advent

A candle burning. A baby crying. The sounds of God approaching.

A time for stillness, quietness of soul.  A time to listen for the chorus of angels.  A time to watch the night skies for that star.

A time to repent, to turn from wicked ways and wretched thoughts.

This is the moment to change.  To stop sleepwalking through life.  To wake up and see that God has come to earth, not only to make us feel good once a year, but to take our lives and mold them into what they were meant to be.

Lord God of this great morning, I thank you for coming to this world, not just to visit but to invade.  To break the slavery chains of sin and death, of guilt and bitterness…and to set all captives free.

For the sake of Thy Son, the child of Bethlehem who was, is, and forever shall be our Savior, Jesus Christ.

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Charles Dickens and Stress

Charles Dickens was one of the great writers in the history of the English Language.  Toward the end of his life, he was also a victim of what we now call “Post Traumatic Stress.”  He wrote about being “curiously weak…as if I were recovering from a long illness,” after a traumatizing railway accident in which the front of the train plunged off a bridge under repair and killed ten people while injuring fifty others.  Dickens wrote in letters to friends, “I begin to feel it more in my head.  . I sleep well and eat well; but I write half a dozen notes, and turn faint and sick.  I am getting right, though still low in pulse and very nervous.”  The author also wrote about being unable to travel by rail, because he kept getting the feeling that the train carriage was tipping over on its side, an image which he called “inexpressibly distressing.” He was never as prolific after this incident, and he died on the fifth anniversary of the crash.

In our Point Man Ministry, we offer a listening ear to combat veterans and to anyone else whose life has been shattered by brain-searing memories that can’t be purged.  We are not able to heal, but we can point the sufferer to a Man who can.

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Mentors

The friends I brought with me are my teachers and guides.  You’ll perhaps recognize some of the names:  Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Timothy Keller, A.W. Tozer, Oswald Chambers, Frederick Buechner…

I can’t imagine my life without books.

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Oswald Chambers

One of my oldest and dearest friends is a man who died thirty years before I was born.  He was a brilliant Bible teacher, an avid outdoorsman, an artist, and a chaplain to soldiers during World War I.  Mr. Chambers wrote this in March, 1915:

“A parenthesis is a sentence inserted into an otherwise grammatically complete sentence, and if you want to understand the author, pay particular attention to the parenthesis. God puts a parenthesis in the middle flow of our life; the life goes on before and after, but if you want to understand the life, read the parenthesis, if you can.”

My Master has placed many parentheses in the chapters of my journey, and as I look back I can see (and hear) what He was trying to teach me. I am now in another one of those insertions, and I’m keeping my eyes and ears (and all my other senses) open to find the meaning of this time and place.

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Morning Thoughts

Done with traveling for a while.  Finding some peace now, in a place of rest and beauty. Thank you, Lord.

The morning headlines are filled with tension, conflict, and gloom.  That’s why I need to read the latest from the world’s chaos, and then go to the sanctuary of my books.  These are the friends who inspire me, uplift me, and turn my thoughts away from the problems I can’t solve and toward the God of my faith who has the universe in the palm of His hand.

I think this is a good balance. (I speak so often to various groups on “The Balanced Life.”  I wonder why it’s so hard for me to find it for myself.  “Physician, heal thyself.”)

I must write much more while I’m in this shelter of serenity.  So much to say.  So much to share.

More to come.