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Joshua 24:15 But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. 

Loyalty is the big thing, the greatest battle asset of all. But no man ever wins the loyalty of troops by preaching loyalty.” (Brigadier General S. L. A. Marshall, Men Against Fire 1947) 

The old saying is, “a picture can say a thousand words.”  But that depends on who is narrating.  

As I looked at this picture it spoke to me of my life.  Church has been a part of me ever since my birth; and so the flag of the United States of America.  Both have played a huge role in my life.  This image spoke deep into who and what I am; a disciple of Christ – first.  The first thing that seemed to leap out at me was the church building standing taller than the flag.  And at the same time the flag seemed to be bowing in its presence. 

I come from a long line of very patriotic people; people who love freedom.  I’ve had family in almost every war this country has been engaged in, minus Viet Nam.  They wouldn’t let flat-footed men like my father be grunts, even though he volunteered.  I’ve also had family refuse to fight and one lost his life for it; he wouldn’t join the Texas secession forces during the Civil War.  There is also a funny story of the resistance his wife gave his killers after they captured her and held her in a makeshift jail for several days.  But that will have to wait for another day. 

My earliest memories are of church pews.  You know, the old wooden ones that had the thin crushed velvet cushion thrown on top of them.  To a young kid that was like covering a rock in a wind storm with a piece of paper.  It never stayed in place.  It was good dad didn’t go to Nam; maybe he was a better preacher than he would have been a soldier.  His being a preacher meant that not only were we at church three times a week, but that we unlocked the doors three times a week.  It goes without saying that the church building was not what it was all about but you get my meaning. 

Loyalty was, and is, the big thing. 

It has always been instilled in me that Christ was over all.  That everything came second to Christ.  Things such as unlocking the doors to the building three times a week, praying before every meal, being a good neighbor and steward, studying the Word of God continuously, and making a joyful noise were more than just preached to me; they were demonstrated through a life that lived it.  A life that had a change of heart.  A heart that changed to be like Christ and to be led by Christ. 

This loyalty was earned through promises kept and a sacrifice made.  It was fostered by the truth and by the great need of a Savior.  Loyalty rose up out of a deep desire to please the maker of all and bear His image in all its glory. 

I noticed during my Army career that soldiers tended to take on the traits of the leaders that had earned their trust and loyalty.  They began to walk like him, talk like him, even make decisions like him.  Subordinates wanted to emulate good leaders.  And so what I have done with my family is first show them Christ’s traits that not only foster loyalty but also demand our loyalty to Him.  Christ’s compassion was like no other.  To a woman about to be stoned after being caught in a compromising position, He pointed out that no one who was ready to kill her was perfect and then gave her some great words of comfort and advice (John 8.11).  His patience was tireless as time after time His disciples show a lack of faith and understanding.  His willingness to sacrifice, even His life, for the good of others was to save them and to obey the will of His Father. 

But these things can’t be just preached; they must manifest themselves in all my action as I strive to remain loyal to Christ in all I do. 

As I interact with those that may be less fortunate than I, I do my best to make sure that my voice and deeds are full of compassion and forgiveness.  My kids didn’t see this, but I shared the story and pictures with them of one particular event that took place in downtown Baghdad.  My squad was tasked with escorting some Corp of Engineer personnel to a meeting.  When we got to the meeting place half of us went upstairs to ensure security inside the building and the other half stayed outside to guard the vehicles; I was one of those chosen to stay outside this time.  While we stood our post a young girl (about 8 years old) approached me speaking pretty good English with her little brother in tow.  She asked me one question: “will you marry me?”  Immediately I knew why.  She wanted a chance at a better life, she wanted out of there, and she had found someone who could possibly offer her more that what reality had given her.  A tear ran down my cheek as my heart broke knowing all I could offer her was a hug and a hand full of Jolly Ranchers.  I spent more attention on her than I should have out there in the open, but someone in need needed my time and attention that day on the side-walk in downtown Baghdad, Iraq.  I remember that girl every time I meet someone who is down on their luck or living out of a backpack or hurting because of their past.  And I take time to show them and my family that it takes compassion to kneel down and write in the sand for a while. 

A good leader does his best to do what is right every chance he gets.  My kids know full well that I am not perfect, but they also know that I will give every effort to do what is right on every occasion.  No one will follow a leader that takes the easy road every time or wrongs others; at least they won’t follow him for very long.  And those that do follow will not catch him when he falls.  As Christians we follow a leader that, though he was tempted in every way, he never faltered and he never sinned.  Through a life lived with the best of my abilities to follow that example it gives my kids the opportunity to see that goodness can be done.  That living right can be accomplished. 

But most importantly, when they fail to do what is right or when they hurt me, I show them that forgiveness is waiting with outstretched arms.  They must see me forgiving them and others.  And they must see me seeking forgiveness.  When I pull a boneheaded stunt and disappoint their mother.  I make sure that they see me apologize to her and ask her forgiveness.  When they hear my say things I shouldn’t, I make sure they hear my pleas to God for forgiveness.  When they see that I have been wronged, I try my best to let them see me forgive that person. 

Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) are taught to lead by example.  Christ did that for me, it’s the least I could do for them.  

The loyalty we have toward Christ places Him in front of everything.  It doesn’t take us out of everything (John 17.15), but it carries us through everything.  With loyalty to a great leader we can do all things through Him.  We begin to walk like Him, talk like Him, and make decisions like Him. 

Loyalty is the big thing, the greatest battle asset of all!

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Joshua 24:15but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD

Every person, group of persons, organization, company, government, and so on and so on, must have a value system.  Without some sense of values that drive and direct the organism, there is no purpose, no destination or no worth.

 The Army is very adamant about living the Army Values as stated in its seven core values:

Loyalty
Bear true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the Army, your unit, and other Soldiers.

Duty
Fulfill your Obligations.

Respect
   Treat people as they should be treated.

 

Selfless Service
Put the welfare of the nation, the Army, and your subordinates before your own.

Honor
Live up to all the Army values.

Integrity
Do what is right, legally and morally.

Personal Courage
Face fear, danger, or adversity (Physical or Moral).

 

A long standing expression for Army leadership has been “BE – KNOW – DO”.  It follows the understanding that leadership starts with what a leader should be – “the values and attributes that shape [ones] character” (DOD FM 6-22).

As my family leader, I have taken these seven Army Core Values and adapted them to address family strength through deep-rooted values.  Over the next few days (or weeks) I will reveal each of my Family Values and explain how it gives us strength and direction as we serve the Lord.

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Just a blowing particle of Army trivia that might turn into a post:

Under General George Washington, Baron Von Steuben wrote “Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States.”  In that manual, under Signals, drum rhythms where designated for different actions.  The same beat that was used to call troops to religious services – The Church Call – was also the same beat used to signal the desire to meet with the enemy to discuss a truce.  What was it called?  The Parley.  Brings back images of a stuttering Capt. Jack Sparrow.

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Psalm 72.14 “For He will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.  He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.  He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in His sight.”  

Where does our strong sense of justice come from?  Like when Michael Vick has some dog fights in his back yard and the masses cry out, “we want justice!”  Or when a family is slain in their own home and the posses are formed to go hunt down the perpetrator.  Or when we look on the hundreds of Iraqis’ bodies laying in a shallow grave just beneath the surface of the desert sand; and before that image is out of our mind a second one comes rushing in.  You know, the image of a bearded man with a rope being tightened around his neck.  I dare say that if anyone stood witness to the atrocities of oppression and violence poured out on the weak and the needy, they would not be human if they did not feel the surge of adrenaline course through their veins as it readies the body for justice.  So where did our need, our desire, even our impulse that justice must be served come from? 

I lift up my eyes, where did it come from?  It came from the LORD. 

Our God is a just God.  “He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and His ways are just.  A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.”(Deut. 32.4)  This is the God in whose image we have been created (Gen. 1.27).  This being true, wouldn’t it also be true that along with His image came our sense of and desire for justice?  That bristling of the neck hair when wrong is done or evil is committed is not just a feeling or a chemical reaction, but actually what is left of our original image shining through.  People standing in awe when justice is administered because they recognize it originates in God is because of the image that they bear (1 Kings 3.28) .  We crave, admire and demand justice because it was carved into us from the very beginning.  It saturates us because it saturates our Maker. 

The Law testifies to the righteousness of God (Rom.3.21).  The Law reveals His justice and even demands that justice not be held back (Deut. 27.19).  Now as Christians I know full well that we are no longer under the Law, but under the grace given by God through the blood of Christ and now stand justified through our faith in Christ as our Savior (Rom. 3.22ff).  But this in no way nullifies or makes void what was being revealed as God’s righteousness when the Law stated, “Thou shall not murder.”  For this law was restated by Christ when He said, “…love your neighbor as yourself…” (Matt. 22.39)  A man will not murder if he truly loves his neighbor. 

So if our sense of justice comes from us being made in the image of God; and He is a just God; and His first testament revealed His justness through the Mosaic Law; and the commandment of do not commit murder is not void (not abolished Matt. 5.17) but now stated as His new covenant of love; then where is the line at which a Christian today must stop and justice still be met?  More to my intent can a born-again person of faith take part in killing of ANY kind and still be free from sin.  Can a person kill justly without sinning?  Can a person kill justly and still be found justified in God’s sight?  Can a person kill justly and still be adequate for fellowship in the One Body of Christ? 

First, let me make this point very clear.  God never intended for there to be killing of any kind of any human.  BUT, because of man’s fallen condition boundaries had to be set in place.  Because of man’s sin, lines had to be drawn in the sand for a just God to have any relationship with fallen man.  And boundaries are good things.  Boundaries mean safety and boundaries mean protection.  My dog is safe as long as she stays within the boundaries of our yard fence.  She remains protected from the dog catcher as long as she stays inside that same fence.  So in order to keep man safe and protected from himself, others, and the wrath of a just God, God set up boundaries.  The boundary discussed here is “Thou shall not murder.” 

Let’s unpack the word murder.  Now the Hebrew and Greek languages had several words that meant kill or to kill.  Yet, in Exodus 20.13 and in Matthew 5.21 words that specifically meant murder were used in these verses.  We know from laws in this country that murder is an act of killing that was premeditated, malicious, or happened during the commission of another crime.  So when Christ spoke in Matthew 5 he was not speaking (in my opinion) of all killing, but of specific killing that rose up out of hate or malice held in the heart.  This was Christ’s whole point of 5.17-48: he was contrasting superficial religious practices with living towards other men from a heart dedicated to God’s purity.  The teachers of the law were merely upholding the law for outward appearance and recognition, but God wanted from man something more.  He wanted their hearts.  Thus killing moved from an outward act to an inward condition of the heart under Christ’s law of love. 

So now we are faced with the question can a person kill with love in his heart? 

We know that God does not want anyone to die, whether in soul or body (1 Peter 3.19).  But at some point force becomes necessary, or else God contradicts himself.  By this I mean, how could the flood of Noah be justified unless killing was the only way to end the sinful condition of that day?  God’s patience was demonstrated in the fact that for the 400 years Israel was in slavery, He let the Amorites live in the Promised Land (Gen. 15.16).  He was patient until their sin reached its full measure, the point of no return, and then it was time for force (Joshua 6.2).  If all killing is wrong under the law of love, then how could God, who is love (1 John 4.8, 16) and who “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13.8), command the killing of so many people as he did numerous times in His Old Testament?  How; because He is a just God that sees “there is a time to kill and a time to heal” (Eccl. 3.3) and a God that sees the point of no return.

In James chapter 4, James writes about boasting and then closes out the chapter with, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (emphasis added).  When faced with the condition to rescue the needy and the weak, there comes a point when force may be needed.  I submitted to the authority of a Romans 13 government for service in its army.  During my duty I saw what was right as standing between the weak and needy and those that wished to oppress them and kill them, and so I did and so did many other men and women through out history and even this very moment.  Force is needed because evil stands ready to destroy the weak and the needy. 

The blood of men cries out to God from the desert floor and it hurts His ears, for it was never meant to water the ground but to bring life.  But not all killing is murder.  By no means am I advocating a rebellion.  Christ did not come leading a rebellion and so the Church should not go out starting wars and killing those that stand opposed to it.  But I stand firmly in my beliefs that if a fellow Christian takes part in killing, as in war, he has not broken the law of love and does not stand condemned in the sight of God, nor out of reach from the fellowship of the Body of Christ. 

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15.13) 

Not all lying down is done without blood shed. 

Thank God for the salvation that comes from the purest blood that was ever shed; the blood of Christ given for us to show God’s mercy to sinful man.

Option3Matthew 4.1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

It was the desert that gave Christ a place to start His ministry.  Preparing Him to take on the world.  Better yet – preparing Him to take on the hearts of the world.  It was in desert places that He found solitude, strength, comfort and teaching experiences.

The desert can be a harsh and unforgiving place.  The blowing dirt and sand works its way into every crack and crevass just to annoy, irritate and cause malfunction.  The heat can become unbearable making it impossible to get comfortable and very dangerous.  And you may as well call it quits if you don’t have water.

But at the same time, the desert can be a gorgeous place of God’s wonder and beauty; a place of learning and preparation.  For me, it was a place I experienced the power of a mighty God and took part in the purest form of “church” this soldier ever experienced.

The desert can teach great survival skills, be a place of preperation, and refine character.  I spent some time in the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq thanks to Uncle Sam’s paid vacation program through the Army.  But it was God who used those places to teach me and prepare me for His work back home.  Along our wandering here, I wish to share with you some of the things I have come to learn in the desert places.

Are you desert strong?