Sunday, December 30, 2012

JailerQuest 2013! Let's Read Through the Bible this Year

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!  Who's with me?

Have you thought about reading through the Bible?  Have you tried and failed?  Have you succeeded and thought, "I should do that again sometime"?

Well, "sometime" is now!  Let's do it together.  Join me over on YouVersion and we'll go through the Bible together this year.  You keep me accountable and I'll do the same.  Here's how it works:

  1. Go to YouVersion.com and sign up or sign in.
  2. Join the Group called Jailer and Friends (use the "Join Group" button -- it's easy to miss this step).
  3. Join the Event called JailerQuest 2013.
  4. On 1 January, start the plan called Blended.  (If you start late, fine.  Just see if you can catch up!)
  5. Download any mobile apps onto you phone/tablet/etc. you find helpful to keeping you going and keeping you in touch.
  6. Check in regularly to let the group know how you're doing. You can also share your thoughts on the Jailer's Facebook page here, or on Twitter @jailer.
If you fall behind, don't lose heart!  It happens to all of us.  Just catch up and press on!

Also, a couple of hints:

  1. You're going to come to readings you don't understand.  Don't stress over it, and don't force it to make sense.  Much bad theology is born that way.  If you have time for extra study, feel free to do so, but don't get bogged down on every page or you'll never get through.  Just ask God to reveal the meaning to you in time and press forward.  If you like, post questions in the group and we can discuss.
  2. You may be tempted to merely scan the genealogies or the finer points of the Mosaic Law, to which i say ... me too!  Don't beat yourself up over it. Yes, it's all God's Word, but that doesn't mean there's some deep spiritual truth for you to gain over precisely who begat whom on every occasion.  
By the way, this is the first time I've tried using the group/event features on YouVersion, so if you see ways it could be done better feel free to say so.  I'm all about making it better.

I look forward to reading God's Word with you in 2013!

UPDATE:  Added Facebook group for interaction.  Updated instructions here.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Frontier Girls: Raising Women of Honor

Every leader wants to be remembered for something, and I'm certainly not immune to the vanity of leaving legacies.  I'm convinced that my recent deployment to Afghanistan was just such an opportunity, and that my legacy among my fellow warriors is secure.

I was the Care Package King.

I received them from all over:  friends, family, church and community groups, and concerned citizens who found my name on a web site.  But no organization was as prolific in this regard as the Frontier Girls.  As the goodies flooded in and the pictures went up on the walls, the first question was usually, "So what loot did you shake those little girls down for today?"  But it was generally followed closely by another ...

"Who exactly are the Frontier Girls?"

Afghanistan, June 2012:
Three happy new fans of the Frontier Girls
Of course, you may have never heard of this organization.  I have a feeling that's going to change.  Since Kerry Cordy launched Troop 101 in 2007 near her home in Redding, California, interest in the program has soared.  Despite almost no advertising or national media attention, word-of-mouth has spread rapidly, so that there are now over 1,500 girls participating in 94 troops covering 38 states, with new groups being launched monthly.  The girls range in age from 3-18, with exceptions made for certain slightly older girls whose special needs dictate special consideration.

But why?  What have people found in the Frontier Girls that isn't being served by the massive, world-famous Girl Scouts organization?

Ask Kerry, who was herself a lifelong Girl Scout and Gold Award winner (their highest honor).  Now the mother of two girls, her first inclination was to get them involved in scouting as she knew it.  But when she began to take a fresh look at the organization she'd devoted so much of her life to, she was disturbed at what she saw.  For one thing, it was getting really expensive!  More importantly, she observed a level of political advocacy she found very inappropriate.  In short, it seemed to her they'd lost sight of the objective:
I have been passionate about scouting most of my life, and believe every child should have the opportunity to participate in a quality scouting program.  By the end of 2005, I had come to the conclusion that the new Girl Scout programming was no longer scouting as I knew it, and the more I learned about the National Girl Scout Council and their advocacy movement, the more I realized that this was no longer an organization I could support.  
Kerry searched about for alternatives, but the best groups tended to require explicitly Christian statements of faith.  While she respected this, her vision for a more outward-reaching focus--while retaining her solidly Christian values--led to her decision to launch the first Frontier Girls troop:
I am a Christian, and as such I have tried to design a program based on Biblical principles and teachings--but I also wanted a scouting program where all girls were welcome.  While we do require a belief in God, and will not alter the Frontier Girls promise, we are open to all girls and volunteers who are willing to live by our promise and creed.  We do not specifically ask which religion a girl belongs to upon registration, but from correspondence I do know we currently have many Christians as well as Jews, Muslims and Hindus participating.  
Kerry chose to capture the vision this way:  Raising women of honor to be the mothers and leaders of the future, through life skills, leadership, character building, teamwork, and service to others.  

But little did she know she wasn't the only one, and her little California spark was about to start an unexpected wildfire:
When I started Frontier Girls, it was supposed to be just for my private troop, but I had 30 parents show up at my first meeting in the fall of 2006 and realized that there was obviously a need for an alternative scouting program.  In January 2007 I officially began Frontier Girls and spent the next year writing programming and working out the bugs.  We opened our first out-of-state troop in 2008, but did not really start promoting until 2010.
What is remarkable about the Frontier Girls is what they have been able to accomplish with extremely low overhead and no paid staff.  This is volunteer power at its best:
Frontier Girls is very much a grassroots organization.  I could not run this program the way I do without the help of all of our members.  Girls, parents, and leaders from around the country pitch in by submitting badge ideas and requirements, helping to write programming and training materials, monitoring our Facebook page and Yahoo group to support and advise new members, etc.  I have had members from across the country help me with everything from programming advice for our website, to proofreading handbooks, to uniform and award ideas.  They know I listen, and if they have a good idea, it is added to the program.  We are all in this together, and they know it.
Social networking plus the grassroots spirit create a heartwarming community feel.  Even in places where troops have yet to be organized, girls can sign up as individuals, and can thus find a surprising level of support!
Over and over our members have shown support and compassion for one and other regardless where they are located.  Most recently was the outpouring of support for an individual member in Arizona.  Beth is 10 years old and autistic, but her mother keeps her very active Frontier Girls, Girl Scouts, Awana, Special Olympics and more.  Since Beth does not belong to any troops, her mom decided to have a special court of awards for her to honor her for all her achievements in the last year (of which there were many.)  They rented a hall and invited more than 300 people, but no one showed up.  Beth was devastated.   When I mentioned the incident to a few of the other leaders, word spread and soon Beth was inundated with mail from around the country.  For several weeks so many cards and letters of congratulations arrived that they would not fit in her mom's PO Box each day.   
Her mom sent me a letter afterwards describing the outcome:
"She would open every piece, ask me to read it to her, and smile and hug each one. So many people--whom we had never even met--took the time to step outside of their own lives and do something kind for my little girl. I was stunned, delighted, and absolutely touched by the generosity of the Frontier Girls national sisterhood." 
When I asked Kerry what made the Frontier Girls stand out, she had no trouble rattling off a quick list for me:
1.  We offer more badges than any other program--currently more than 1,200--and have made a commitment to writing a badge for any subject a girl wishes to learn about as long as it is not a controversial topic we feel is better addressed by parents or religious leaders.  The Girl Scouts in contrast have discontinued the majority of their badges in order to focus on their leadership Journeys.  Badges are an integral part of any scouting program as it is through earning badges that the girls learn new skills , acquire new knowledge and learn to explore new ideas.  The flexibility this gives allows troops to pursue limitless interests.  In Frontier Girls there is literally something for everyone from beekeeping and astronomy to hot air balloons and wildlife. 
2.  Unlike most programs, Frontier Girls is designed so that all age groups can work together.  Each badge is offered at every age level from preschool through high school, with the requirements gradually getting more difficult and comprehensive as the girls age.  While some Frontier Girls troops are age specific, most cover several different age levels in a single troop.  This allows older girls to act in leadership roles to teach and mentor younger members, while providing younger girls with role models closer to their own age. 
3.  As an online-only program with no printed materials, we are able to keep the costs for our members very low, which is increasingly important in today's poor economy.  As long as their membership is in good standing, our members never need to buy extra handbooks, badge books, etc., as these materials are kept up-to-date on our website at all times.  We also do not believe in  charging adults to volunteer their time, so all volunteers can be registered for free under a single troop membership. 
4.  While Frontier Girls is not religion-specific, we support the religious beliefs of our members and welcome them in our meetings.   Troops are allowed to be run by local churches or places of worship as part of their youth programming, and may teach specific doctrine as long as parents of girls in that troop are notified that this is a religion-specific troop.  
5.  Unlike Girl Scouts and the required cookie sales, each Frontier Girls troop is individually owned and operated and 100% of any fundraising they do goes directly to the troop.  Frontier Girls does not have any national fundraisers and only receives money from membership fees and purchases of our badges, awards, uniforms, etc.  Each troop can decide what type of fundraisers they wish to pursue based on their particular goals with no interference from Frontier Girls as long as the products sold do not disparage the name and reputation of Frontier Girls.  
6.  Frontier Girls honors the badge requirements of the Boy Scouts so that families who wish to work on badges together can use the Boy Scout requirements and the girls can still earn a badge through Frontier Girls.  This has also created the opportunity for Boy Scouts troops to add a female component if they wish and there are several Frontier Girls troops now partnered with local Boy Scout troops.
Obviously, as a recipient of Frontier Girl largess, I was particularly interested in their Patriot Program, which flows naturally from Kerry's heartfelt concern for the military:
The military has always played an important role within my family, and I was  taught to respect the men and women who served, as well as their families, for the sacrifices they make so that the rest of us can live in a free country.  My grandfather served in WWII, my dad in the Korean War, my uncle in Vietnam, and my brother continues to serve in the Army Special Forces after nearly 20 years in the military.  The girls in the Patriot Program should be recognized for the sacrifice they make, just as much as their parents should.  Military families move often, meaning friends left behind, new schools to adjust to, and sometimes even new languages and countries to adapt to.  Many times these girls do not see a parent for months, or even a year or more at a time.  They wear a special ribbon and pin on their uniform to remind others that the sacrifices these girls make benefit us all.  Without our military, many of the rights and privileges we enjoy as Americans would not exist.
Hear hear!  Oh, sorry ... lost my head there.  But really, I never pretended to be a dispassionate, objective journalist--or a journalist at all.  What I am is an unapologetic fan of these young ladies doing something new and bold, and living out their motto:  If you see a need, take the lead!

For information about the program (and especially if you'd like to get involved), contact Kerry Cordy.  Her contact information is here.

September 2010:  Troop 101 meets the USAF Honor Guard Drill Team in Sacramento

* Disclosure:  Kerry Cordy and I (as well as her Army brother) were friends and classmates throughout high school in the 1980s.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

No Zeal for the Christmas Wars

Merry Christmas!  As we all know, December 25th was the day on which three East Coast wise guys and Frankenstein came home from the mall with gifts of gold and myrrh--whatever that is--to put it under the tree while the Little Drummer Boy played "Happy Birthday Jesus."

Or something.

I have a visceral reaction against two of the church's perennial Christmas features:  culture wars and cliches.  Think:  "Put Christ back in Christmas!" and "Jesus is the Reason for the Season!"  I try to restrain my viscera when I hear things like this, in part because I assume the speaker is speaking from honest concern.  But while I quite enjoy the Christmas celebration, I don't think the church's time is best spent engaged in the religious angst associated with this holiday.

For one thing, I think the Christmas Wars are a sideshow.  The church could win today's battle over Christmas and lose the real war being waged for the souls of men.  I can almost imagine Satan relishing the great tactical deception he's deployed ... if he can get the church all spun up over the religious and cultural significance a single day in late December, he can distract us from our more important work.

But isn't Christmas worth fighting for?  Eh, yes and no.

To put this question in context, we should ask why Christians celebrate Christmas at all.  It is a holiday of dubious Scriptural and historical origin. There no clear biblical mandate for setting it aside, and no evidence the first Christians did so.  About the only thing we know about whether Jesus was born on December 25th is that we have a 1 in 365 chance of being right--rounding down for leap year.  Moreover, many of the trappings we surround it with have likely been adapted from ancient pagan practices.  Some churches go further, believing that to celebrate it runs afoul of the implicit message of Galatians 4:10, in which Paul chastises the Galatian Christians for their regard for Jewish holy "days and months and seasons and years!"  

On the other hand, the Incarnation of Christ is certainly an event worth remembering, if we are able to see it through all the glitter:
The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man--that the second person of the Godhead became the ‘second man’ (1 Cor. 15:47), determining human destiny, the second representative head of the race, and that He took humanity without loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as He was human…  
It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. ‘The Word became flesh’ (John 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. 
And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.
- J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 53. (Hat tip:  Tolle Lege)
So absolutely let the church rejoice in this staggering truth ... and if this season in December helps recall it to mind, I say let the bells ring!  But let's also remember that this truth--rather than this particular holiday or these songs or the creche in the public square--is what is central to our faith.  The modern American Christmas Wars are really cultural more than spiritual.  We understandably desire the restoration of a more reverent society, and this seems well worth fighting for.  Those of us who are distressed to see our culture swallowed up in secularism, materialism and political correctness see this as a battle worth winning.

But ultimately, it is still just a sideshow, and potentially a distraction ... and potentially an opportunity to be obnoxious.  I was driving home with a couple of commuters in the car and had my radio tuned to the local Christian radio station when this song came on, complete with the strident "Put a helmet on!  It's my country too!" background commentary:


I turned it off.  I was embarrassed.  It wasn't the message so much as the tone.  I don't believe the church best represents the gospel with an in-your-face aggressiveness concerning our cultural shibboleths.  Our mission and our message it's not about preserving the Ghost of Christmas Past, it's about Christ--pre-existent, incarnated, slain, resurrected, reigning forever.  That's why I largely take a pass on the Christmas Wars.

Is Jesus the Reason for the Season?  Yes, but that's because He's the Lord of every season.  Should He be put back in Christmas?  Yes, but only because He ought to be central to our very existence.

Merry Christmas to you, and may the King of Kings and Lord of Lords fill your hearts in this--and every--season!

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Sinner's Prayer: Spiritual Abortion?

I had a single experience with Evangelism Explosion back in 1990 as a young enlisted Airman in the Philippines.  Together with three other members of the Clark Air Base chapel community, I traveled to Manila and attended EE training for a week.  In the culminating exercise I went out tracked down eight unsuspecting souls, to whom I presented the gospel in the prescribed fashion.  Encountering no objections (Filipinos are generally very polite), I invited them to pray the "sinner's prayer" with me, which they did.  Afterwards I congratulated them and headed back to the mother ship to report eight new "PRCs" (prayed to receive Christ) to general approval and applause.

The only problem was, I really didn't believe a word of it.  While I'm sure I contributed toward EE's metrics for 1990 (they reported 7.25 million "professions of faith" in 2011), I have no idea what happened to those eight people.  If any of them have been truly born again into God's Kingdom, it is indeed a tribute to God's mercy.

I know many honest and mature Christians who began their walk with Jesus with a seminal moment marked by praying a a "sinner's prayer", which has become such a popular tool in evangelical churches that it has its own Wikipedia page.  I will not try to deny the reality of their experience, but I find myself agreeing with Miguel in Ecuador, who asked, Shouldn’t We Be Terminating Life Support for the “Sinner’s Prayer"?.

In other words, is our cumulative use of this popular evangelist's tool doing more harm or more good?

Miguel points us to several prominent authorities both past and present who have asked some version of this question, such as whether "We’ve taken Christianity and boiled it down to witchcraft." (Matt Chandler)  This may seem harsh, but let's consider:  In our desire to package salvation into an exportable, shrink-to-fit size so that we can use to train our legions of Junior Evangelist warriors for battle, we are in many cases destroying that which we have come to save.

How many still-lost souls are wandering the earth with one or more completed sinner's prayers in their back pockets?  How many have been set up for a horrible shock when our Lord assigns them a place with the goats on the Day of Judgment, after we've supposedly punched their all-expense-paid ticket to heaven?  I shudder to think.

It is logical to ask whether the prayer's apparent success in bringing many to saving faith in Christ is not a powerful argument in its favor.  Certainly it is.  But it is hardly decisive, and begs the question:  are these success stories examples of people who "prayed to receive Christ", or are they better understood as regenerate souls who responded in faith?  This is a nuanced but important distinction.  The first is a man-centered understanding of salvation (they prayed the prayer and gained the Spirit), the second is a God-centered one (He gave them the Spirit and they responded in prayer).

Moreover, we must also be willing to look at the cumulative costs of its widespread and careless use.  Most importantly, are we leading the lost in large numbers to false assurance, that the mere profession of faith is automatically equivalent to the possession of faith?

Miguel refers us to the late Christian singer Keith Green.  With his well-known passion for evangelism, you might have expected Keith to be a fan of such tools (after all, he had a song titled "Altar Call").  Well, it would appear the years of outreach ministry taught him a thing or two:
"The greatest reason I believe that God can be grieved with the current use of such tools as the 'altar call' and 'sinner’s prayer' is because they can take away the conviction of the Holy Spirit prematurely, before the Spirit has time to work repentance leading to salvation. With an emotional splash that usually doesn't last more than a few weeks, we believe we’re leading people into the Kingdom, when really we’re leading many to hell--by interfering with what the Spirit of God is trying to do in a person’s life. Do you hear? Do you understand that this constitutes 'spiritual abortion'? Can’t you see the eternal consequences of jumping the gun, trying to bring to birth a baby that isn’t ready?" (What's Wrong with the Gospel)
Miguel also points us to the most strident voice which rose this past summer in opposition, prompted in part by the Southern Baptist Convention's decision to endorse the prayer's continued use as an evangelistic tool. Pastor David Platt drew fire for challenges like this:  "Should it not concern us that there is no such superstitious prayer in the New Testament? Should it not concern us that the Bible never uses the phrase 'accept Jesus into your heart,' or 'invite Jesus into your life?'"

 

I wonder if our preference for tools like the sinner's prayer boil down to the church's desire for metrics and positive feedback.  Perhaps we could poll the 7.25 million new Christians on EE's checksheet.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Children of Newtown, CT: Offerings to the Spirit of the Age

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 
“A voice is heard in Ramah, 
 weeping and great mourning, 
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, 
 because they are no more.” (Matt 2:16-18
Yesterday, just 11 days before Christmas, in what would seem the unlikeliest of places, unthinkable violence erupted.  In the small, scenic New England town of Newtown, Connecticut, 20-year-old Adam Lanza committed mass murder, then killed himself.  The setting for this horrific crime was--of all places--an elementary school.  At the time of this writing the death toll stands at 28, most of whom were children aged 6-7 years.

Why?  How do you explain the incomprehensible?  How do you attempt to make sense of the senseless?

The words of Michael Card's "Spirit of the Age" ring hauntingly true:



I thought that I heard crying coming through my door. 
Was it Rachel weeping for her sons who were no more? 
Could it have been the babies crying for themselves, 
Never understanding that they died for someone else?

Albert Mohler brings perspective with his reminder that the massacre of children is hardly a new crime:
This tragedy is compounded in emotional force by the fact that it comes in such close proximity to Christmas, but let us never forget that there was the mass murder of children in the Christmas story as well. King Herod’s murderous decree that all baby boys under two years of age should be killed prompted Matthew to cite this very verse from Jeremiah. Rachel again was weeping for her children.
A voice is heard of weeping and of wailing, 
History speaks of it on every page. 
Of innocent and helpless little babies, 
Offerings to the spirit of the age. 

Our memories can be mercifully short, but Mohler does well to remind us that Newtown's tragedy is more common that we might wish:

The twentieth century forced us to see the ovens of the Nazi death camps, the killing fields of Cambodia, the inhumanity of the Soviet gulags, and the failure of the world to stop such atrocities before they happened. We cannot talk of our times without reference to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, Pol Pot and Charles Manson, Idi Amin and Ted Bundy. More recently, we see evil in the impassive faces of Osama bin Laden and Anders Behring Brevik. We will now add yet another name to the roll call of mass murderers. His will not be the last.

No way of understanding this sad and painful sign. 
Whenever Satan rears his head there comes a tragic time. 
If he could crush the cradle, then that would stop the cross. 
He knew that once the Light was born his every hope was lost

Russell Moore brings us back to the real Christmas story:
Jesus was not born into a gauzy, sentimental winter wonderland of sweetly-singing angels and cute reindeer nuzzling one another at the side of his manger. He was born into a war-zone. And at the very rumor of his coming, Herod vowed to see him dead, right along with thousands of his brothers. History in Bethlehem, as before and as now, is riddled with the bodies of murdered children. (via Heavenly Springs)

Satan does not wage war by the Geneva Convention.  His hatred of God and all that He has created is absolute.  He wants nothing less than our destruction and damnation.  He particularly delights in the corruption and manipulation of mankind, which God created as His own image-bearers, to carry out the wanton destruction of itself.  And children are not to be spared.

Now every age had heard it, this voice that speaks from hell. 
"Sacrifice your children and for you it will be well." 
The subtle serpent's lying, his dark and ruthless rage. 
Behold it is revealed to be the spirit of the age!

So where do we go to find comfort and hope in the midst of such tragedy?  As with all things with respect to this world, our hope lies in the promise of eternity.  There will be justice.  There will be comfort.  There will be victory.

Soon all the ones who seemed to die for nothing 
Will stand beside the Ancient of Days, 
With joy we'll see that Infant from the manger 
Come and crush the spirit of the age!
 
Come, Lord Jesus!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Practical Discipleship: Purpose in Relationship

Our church has chosen 2013 as our Year of Discipleship.  This has led to much discussion about this concept, and how to translate it into focused activity--without killing it by turning it into the much-dreaded "program".

Of course much has been written on this topic by scribblers more competent and qualified than I.  Still, perhaps it is useful to share the state of my thinking in the practical world of "how to make this real" for a local church.

Miguel, a missionary in Ecuador, blogged on the question of "Did Jesus Have Discipleship Classes?", in a post which caught my attention in part because there was a comparison to the dissection of a baby seal in biology class ("I wonder if Jesus had these kinds of discipleship classes?").  Perhaps more interesting was the photo of the whiteboards that spawned this gut reaction (and no, I don't speak Spanish):

Miguel's whiteboards, which led him to wonder if we make discipleship too complicated.
I responded to Miguel's post by boiling down our recent church leadership team discussions on the topic to their core ideas (this is slightly edited from the original for format and to provide additional context):
My thinking on this question begins here--discipleship is really about two things: relationship and purpose, or perhaps more specifically purpose in relationship. There are many fine strategies and tactics out there, but somehow it always comes back to these two things. 
Relationship: The church is relationship. It is the body of Christ, vitally connected. 
Purpose: The church grows up into the head--which is Christ. 
This gets more practical when we consider its implications. Those who do not have Christ desperately need him--we call this evangelism. Those who have him need him more fully--we call this discipleship. 
It is when every relationship is infused with Christ’s purposes that I will truly be a maker of disciples. Everything else–classes, books, meetings, campaigns, etc.–flows back to that central idea.
This is a very current thought process for me, as my church is currently weighing the practical implications of our Year of Discipleship effort--which is itself yet another tool (a "campaign") to help concentrate the minds of the congregation.  Therefore I value any readers' thoughts, experiences, etc.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

You Need a Broken Heart

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Looking carefully at Jesus' words above, He makes a couple of promises.  One is very comforting, for He has overcome the world!  Yet there is another, integral to the first:  He promises us trouble in this world.

So why am I surprised every time trouble intrudes into my ordered life?

As my long-time readers are aware, I commanded the United States Air Force Honor Guard from 2009 to 2011.  It was, as my predecessor foretold, "the ride of my life," full of heady experiences and proud moments.  It also featured the hardest span of my military career.

"Please behave yourselves!"
For my final six months, a series of disciplinary issues involving my very young enlisted population rocked my happy world.  Suddenly the gaze of the Air Force's senior leaders--who expected their "elite" units to behave in an elite fashion--turned on the Honor Guard in a blistering way (think of the unblinking Eye of Sauron from the Lord of the Rings and you'll get the sensation).  I was left fighting for my job.  I lived in mortal fear of the weekend bad-news phone calls, which I received with alarming regularity.  How would I explain the latest incident, over which I seemed to have virtually no control?  It was nerve-wracking, humbling, exhausting.

To this day I'm still not certain what made January-July 2011 so much different than the previous 18 months in command, which had been relatively quiet from a discipline standpoint.  What I do know is that I felt mercilessly plundered of my self-esteem and my reputation--both of which I suddenly found I valued much more than I'd previously been aware.  I was also made vividly aware of my own severe limitations.  I could do many things as commander, but couldn't promise I could stop the madness.  Every day there were about 250 young men and women barely out of high school, any one of whom might be plotting my demise (likely beginning with simple words like, "Hey, dude, I've got an awesome idea!").

It was just awful.  Still, the one comfort I discovered was in embracing the loving discipline of my Father, who drove me back to my knees--on which I seem to spend precious little time when things are going smoothly.

Which brings me to this thought:  Forgetting my moment-by-moment need for God and neglecting to spend time with Him almost necessitates trials in my life.  God really must make my life messy in order that I might recall that I am weak and destitute without Him.  After all this is what loving fathers do:
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 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.  (Hebrews 12:4-11)
God's commitment to me is such that He guarantees trial.  What good is an arrogant, worldly, successful servant?  I truly ought to have expected this season, knowing that "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

In this spirit, I must thank Persis for posting this gem from Kevin DeYoung this morning:
Too often our struggle with prayer is that we focus on the wrong things. We focus on praying better instead of focusing on knowing better the one to whom we pray. And we focus on our need of discipline rather than our need for God. So many of us want to pray more but our lives seem too disordered. But God wants us to see that our messy, chaotic lives can be an impetus to pray instead of an obstacle to prayer.  
You don't need discipline nearly as much as you need a broken heart and faith. You don't need an ordered life to enable prayer; you need a messy life to drive you to prayer. You don't need to have everything together to pray. You need to know you're not together so you will pray. You don't need your life to be fixed before you pray. You need a broken heart. You need to realize "Tomorrow is another day that I need God. I need to know Him. I need forgiveness. I need help. I need protection. I need deliverance. I need patience. I need courage." And because of all these needs, you realize you need prayer. If you know you are needy and believe that God helps the needy, you will pray.
This is why we are able to:  "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  (James 1:2-4)  Because  frankly, we need our our lives to get messy, and we need to be hearts broken once in a while.

My hope is not in avoiding trouble.  My hope is in Him who has overcome the world.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Arlington Kerfuffle, Part Deux: Freedom and Consequences

The curious Lindsey Stone saga (of which I first wrote here) continues to invite commentary from across the infosphere.  Some of it is just silly. David Drumm, a guest blogger on Jonathan Turley's legal blog, defends Ms. Stone on the grounds that she was justified in her actions because the sign itself demanded mockery:
While the photo obviously mocks the sign, many apparently thought it mocked those buried at Arlington National Cemetery. A sign demanding “Silence and Respect” deserves to be mocked. The wording of the sign projects a sense of arrogance and entitlement common to institutions that view themselves as sacred cows. Adding the word “Please” to the sign would change the command to a request, a more sensible sentiment.
Riiiiiight.  Note to Arlington Cemetery:  Your "sense of arrogance and entitlement" cost Lindsay Stone her job.  After all, she never would have acted like an adolescent had you just said "please".  Or something.

Somewhat more common is the sentiment that Ms. Stone's actions--together with their subsequent consequences--constitute a First Amendment "freedom of speech" issue.  James S., a member of one of my LinkedIn groups, expressed the thought in fairly typical fashion (slightly edited for typos):
I learned that many people have no idea what irony is. I also learned that people are more than willing to Monday-morning-quarterback from the safety of their couch or desk, but I already knew that. If she was indeed being so loud and disrespectful, why did no one stop her then and there? Perhaps because she wasn't actually yelling or making a big scene like those [who] oppose her freedom of speech have made since then?
James highlights two issues.  The first seems to say that she was joking, not really protesting.  She was being ironic, you see.  This is true (by her own admission), but less relevant than James imagines.  The second attempts to defend her right to do so on First Amendment grounds, which simply does not apply in this case.

I made both points in my response:
Perhaps some people misunderstand irony, but it is fairly said that others misunderstand propriety. 
Moreover, it is important to remember what the First Amendment guarantees, and what it does not. The text ("Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech") protects the content of one's speech as a legal matter, but does not protect the speaker from the consequences of his or her words (or photo). Ms. Stone exercised her freedom under the law, though likely her purpose was less profound and more adolescent. She then suffered the consequences apart from the law, which is to say she was not prosecuted. Rather, she suffered public approbation, then separation from an employer which chose (for business reasons) not to absorb the first cost alongside her. These, though harsh, are not an affront to freedom, but rather an expression of it. 
This is important because many people mistake the right to speak with the right to be heard without consequence of any sort.  In simple terms, if I go to my neighbor's house for dinner and proceed to insult his wife, I have exercised my right to speak freely under the law.  He then has the right to tell me I'm a moron and throw me out of his house.

Neither Jonathan Turley nor any other Constitutional scholar would argue otherwise.

UPDATE:  Fascinatingly, CNN's Piers Morgan appears to have made precisely the same mistake just this morning, invoking the First Amendment as inoculation against dissent (and thus inviting ridicule).