Friday, September 18, 2009

Tom & Deb go to Boot Camp


Sorry that it's taken me a few days to post anything.  I've had a few things on my mind.  That having been said, "Welcome" to Trayce.  I'm not sure who you are, but it's nice having you.


     "I don't trust Christians who haven't been broken."  This is a quote from my friend Deb.  She can alternately be known as St. Debbo.  She said it in passing a few weeks ago as we were leaving Living Waters.
     Let me tell you a bit about my friends Deb and her husband Tom.  St. Debbo is one of the sweetest & nicest people you could ever come across.  She has a great heart, especially when it comes to kids.  I tell her that she ought to go back to college and become a pediatric nurse.  I'm sure that she must have some flaws in her character, but as much as I look I can't seem to find any.  I am of the opinion that if I ever heard her cuss at anyone, I would pass out.
     On the other hand, Tom her husband, is a horrible person who likes to trip old ladies.  He also likes to dump his car's ashtray in the parking lots of elementary schools. (Oooh, he is going to hit me so hard next week at worship!)
     Actually, Tom is one of my heros.  He is a rather soft spoken guy.  When he talks to me, half the time I need him to repeat himself because I didn't hear him clearly. (This is what I get for having my stereo so loud in my youth) He is a very good musician too.
     About two years ago, God asked him to lead a men's Bible study group called "Heart of a Warrior."  Tom said he would, and he asked me to be a part of it.  This group of guys helped me to finally get off my butt and start working on a better relationship with Jesus.  God used Tom to restore me.  Tom is a hero to me.
     In the past year and a half, Tom & St. Debbo's little boy, Ian, developed a brain tumor.  Ian died.  He was only 7.  It's hard for me to write about this without tearing up.  Ian was a great kid.  I have no kids of my own, so he was kind of like a nephew to me.  I have no idea why God allowed this to happen.  But I think that Rob Bell is right when he says that there isn't much point in asking why.  It's more important to ask "What now," and "Where?" 

     A few weeks ago I took my friend Karl Koolboy out to lunch at Famous Dave's.  Karl had just graduated from Marine boot camp. (It's kind of a tradition for me) Koolboy lives up to his name.  He grew up in a very wealthy family, but is not the least bit spoiled.  He is very down to earth, and he loves Jesus very much.  He also has a smile that can blind you if you gaze directly at it for too long.
     So I was asking Koolboy about his boot camp experience as he inhaled the mass of food piled in front of us. (When you come out of boot camp, you apparently no longer chew your food.) He said he actually liked it.  He told me about the various drill instructors and all of the physical stuff they made him do.  As he spoke, I realized that Koolboy can now beat me up.  This caused me consternation.  I will now have to put the batteries in my hand held taser again.

     I told Koolboy about a guy I knew many moons ago who had been an Air Force commando in the first Gulf War.  It was his job to go behind enemy lines and use a laser to guide in some of those Smart Bombs that weren't actually all that smart.  I tried to picture him sitting in a hole with a little laser pen, pointing it at targets while trying not to be seen & shot.
     He told me about his boot camp experience.  It didn't sound particularly fun at all.  At one point, they took all the commando wannabes to an Olympic sized swimming pool.  They tied a rope around their waists.  They also strapped a bunch of weights to the guys.  One by one, the instructors would tell them to take a deep breath.  Then with a shove, those guys would have to walk the width of the pool...on the floor of that pool.  Once they climbed up the other side, they had to repeat the process.  
     Eventually, all of the recruits would pass out.  That's why they had the ropes tied around them.  They would be pulled out of the water, woken up, and then asked "You OK?  You breathin'?"  When the recruits would say they were fine, the instructors would say "Good.  Take a deep breath"...SPLASH! (And remember, you volunteered for this.  Ha!)

     I asked the commando about how he felt about the whole experience.  He said it was awful.  However, he also said that by the time training was finished, his lungs had doubled in size.  In other words, he could run at high altitudes with no problem, where people like myself would lay down and cry like a baby.
     He pointed out that the whole point of a boot camp experience is to tear apart the old person, and to rebuild them in the military's image.  If a soldier, sailor, or marine goes into combat still thinking like a civilian they will get themselves killed.  Worse, they might get the others around them killed.  They are of no use to the service unless they have gone through the boot camp experience.

God has His own boot camp.

     In Proverbs it says, "My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in."  The writer of Hebrew says, "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons...No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
     I think that this is why God allows all manner of painful things to come our way.  Let's face it, humans can be extremely willful.  A good kick in the pants can be extremely helpful from time to time.  In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul said "We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given to us."

     I think that God's boot camp can come in many forms.  In Tom and St. Debbo's case, it was through that horrible tumor that took their son.  They had done nothing to deserve it.  In my own case, it was a combination of a very bad church experience, and then my own willful & stupid rebellion. (I'm still working on parts of it, and Jesus still shoves me in the pool from time to time.)
     I will tell you what God did in the midst of Ian's tumor.  If I ever figure out how to put more than one picture on here, and to post a video I will show you Ian's baptism.  It was very powerful to watch.  At the ripe age of 7, Ian's testimony was amazing and his heart burned for Christ.  At his memorial service, the majority of Tom's co-workers heard the Gospel for the first time.  God was at work through out the entire experience.  God is at work even when we don't understand why.

     Apparently, the very first book of the Bible to be written was Job. (Pronounced Joeb, not Jahb.) I don't think this was an accident.  I have to be honest and admit that I have always hated that book.  I mean, it starts out with God making a bet with Satan.  God allows all sorts of terrible things to happen to Job, even allowing his kids to get killed off.  Job spends all of his time protesting his innocence to his friends and wife.  When God finally shows up to talk to Job, He essentially says to him, "Why don't you just shut up?!  Who do you think you are to ask me anything?!?!"  At least that is what I thought.
     I asked one of my seminary professors about all of this, and my anger towards the book.  He laughed and said "Context, context, context.  You always have to read the stories and letters in the context of which they were written."  He said I misunderstood what God was really saying to Job.  God wasn't telling Job to shut his whiny pie-hole.  What God was telling Job was that Job simply couldn't understand even if God spelled out every little detail for him.  Job was finite.  God is infinite.  I am finite.  I can't fully understand.
     As I said, I don't think it is an accident that the very first book of the Bible to be written, was to be about the struggles that come in this life, and humanities search for answers which, more often then not simply can't be found.

     When God was talking to Isaiah, He told him "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts."  So I guess that I will just have to settle for being left a bit in the dark.  I can accept that, and I think I can still trust the Lord.  Frankly, it would be a bit creepy to have God entirely figured out like some theologians seem to think they have.  So much for being the ultimate reality in the universe.

     I was told a story at church camp years ago.  I never bothered to verify it, but it goes like this.  In every flock of sheep there is always one little lamb that is wayward.  Most sheep live up to their name and all follow the shepherd blindly.  Remember, when Jesus referred to humans as sheep, it wasn't a compliment.  So anyway, the shepherd will take that wayward, little lamb and break it's leg.  He will then bind that leg, and carry that lamb around until it is healed.  Once that leg is healed and the cast is off, that little lamb never leaves that shepherd's side.  Hhmm, interesting.

     So Tom and Deb went to boot camp.  It was awful.  But the result was God being glorified.  I'm still in a bit of boot camp.  All of us, if we claim to follow Jesus, will end up in any number of boot camps through the years.  To be a good soldier, you gotta get trained.
     
     St. Debbo made a comment a while back about enduring that trial.  She was talking about some of these preachers out there that claim that bad things will never happen to you if you just have faith.  She said, "I wonder if those people have ever bothered to read the gospels?"  I know of a pastor who ran a so-called "Christian" school.  He told the students that any illness...ANY, was only the result of sin and no faith.  He was dead of cancer 3 months later.  He may have been correct.  
     I once heard about a preacher who stated that if Joni Erickson Tada (She is a gifted, but paralyzed, artist who paints using her mouth) had any faith, she would get out of her wheel chair.  I hope very much that I never hear anyone say something like that about Tom & Deb.  I'm afraid that I would ask Jesus to stay in the car while I have a very painful chat with that fellow. (I don't think Jesus would want me to do that, but still...) 

     So, God will send Believers to boot camp to train them for His work.  With out it, we simply aren't much use to Him.  In fact, the most judgmental Christians I know, are those who have never been broken...and I am guilty of that crime too.  St. Debbo is right when she said "I don't trust Christians who haven't been broken."  They, me, you cannot be trusted because we haven't been trained in God's boot camp.
     I know that is not the most "Yippy, sign me up for that!," type of story.  Still, it's true.  One of the reasons that I placed my faith in Jesus is that the whole concept of following him is so contrary to the way people want to live their lives. 

     The singer, Mark Schultz wrote a song a while back called Broken and Beautiful.  It goes like this;
There’s a businessman, there’s a widowed wife
A smiling face with a shattered life
A teenage girl with a choice to make
It’s crowded here in church today

And the preacher says as the sermon ends
“Please close your eyes, bow your heads
Is there anyone in need of prayer, 
Oh Jesus wants to meet you here”
Cause we all fall short, and we all have sinned
But when you let, God’s grace break in

Well he’d never been to church before
But he came today as a last resort
His world was crashing in
And he was suffocating in his sin

But tears rolled down as hope rushed in 
He closed his eyes, raised his hands
Worshipping the God who can
Bring him back to life again

And it’s beautiful, beautiful
Come as you are
Surrender your heart
Broken and beautiful, beautiful
Come as you are
Surrender your heart
Broken and beautiful

Cause there’s nothing more beautiful at all
Than when His sons and daughters call, broken


     By the way, you should know that I am no longer mad at the book of Job.
     Peace

     Joe


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