Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Active Duty

An Inkling
Last week I received this letter from James, an elder here whose reserve unit got called to active duty in Afghanistan.  James had already been to Iraq twice, and had hoped that he would not be called up again.  But so he has, and he is counting this not just as a call from Uncle Sam, but from the Lord.  So he is plying his physician talents, but also seeking every opportunity to minister in the name of Christ.
I found his letter so inspiring that I asked him if I could share it, and he said yes.  So here it is. 
Dear Keith,
It has been a month since leaving home for Afghanistan. It is no use to bore you with news about being homesick and missing Dodie and family. That goes with the turf.
I work in the outpatient clinic here at Bagram Air Field in Northeast Afghanistan. The command has not assigned me to the ER; neither do I expect them to. This is a very nice one-story concrete hospital building (in Iraq we had doublewide trailers) with an excellent staff.
The sadness is the horrific injuries brought to the hospital by helicopter. The military’s strategy is obvious. They try to serve the Afghan people by consistently showing up and trying to build goodwill with the people. This strategy makes our troops very vulnerable to ambushes, IED’s and land mines.  Please pray for President Obama and our leadership to have wisdom on how to handle this war.  
I had a young Air Force woman (36 yrs/old) that I was out-processing today for return to her home station.  As I listened to her story about going home and planning to run a marathon in Alaska, I discovered she was a nurse on a FAST team (forward advanced surgical team). Then my focus changed because I knew she had been in some heart breaking situations. We get their patients in our ER after they do the initial stabilization surgery down range. All I could think was, ‘she is just like our daughters’. I started to communicate with her about being aware of how hard her tour must have been, and the tears began to flow. She reduced me to tears as well. All you could do is just hold her and let her sob. This war has not made her heart hard because she already knew the Christ who can bring hope out of despair, light out of darkness and life out of death.
Last night I accompanied a group from this hospital and stood outside a cargo plane as 100 troops loaded a coffin on a plane for home. The Chaplain talked about Psalm 23 and 24, and then everyone walked on the plane in groups of five, saluted the coffin, then knelt beside it and had a moment to pray for the family back home. Life is far bigger and harder than I can handle. He who holds the Universe together by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3) is gentle enough to hold the broken hearts too and bring healing.
On being here, when I consider home, I feel an urgency to take the influence of Christ from within our churches out into our communities and city. We need to utilize the opportunities that we have in America to love and serve the poor and the broken. If we do not intervene with God’s love, then the farther a culture gets away from the influence of Christ, then the uglier it gets. Selfishness only does damage. It seems worldwide that if a culture is not influenced by Jesus Christ, then fear is used to control and power is used to oppress. Let us not waste our lives on ourselves.
Because war strips the veneer off and so many of these soldiers hearts are wide open, probably 6-8 times a day I am communicating with soldiers about their fears, their relationship wounds, or their hopes in life. I get to talk to army rangers, jet pilots, infantry and support staff and the truths of the Gospel are mesmerizing. One of my favorite statements to build from is, “American Christianity has dumbed-down God. Most define Christianity in terms of behavior modification. Most of us try to put God in a box with formulas so we can control Him and then get what we want. If He really made the Universe, can we control Him? Either Jesus is who He says He is or He is schizophrenic. The doorway to intimacy with the God of the Universe is through a relationship built on trust”. Because they live in a military culture, they understand trust. Please pray as these soldiers let me into their hearts, that I plant the truths of Christ such that they follow Him. I pray for grace to care more about their souls rather than to impress them.
John writes in 1st John, “God is light and in him is no darkness at all”. Let us live in this truth. Jesus bless you, James
Afghanistan seems very far away.  But we all have our call to active duty, and frequently with assignments to places we would not have chosen.  It’s no more random for us than it is for James.  So let’s be in prayer for him, and for our own eyes to recognize the ministry possibilities God has opened for us on active duty.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Whacking Away

An Inkling
One more whack at how we use time.  Last week I wrote about getting a handle on how we use our time.  This week’s focus is on deciding where to trim.
For most of us the problem is not just in eliminating all of the evil and worthless things we do.  Even after shop lifting, drunken brawls, and drug dealing are crossed off our to do lists, we still have too much to do!  And I mean too many good things – which is not a good thing.
So how do we decide which good things to prune from the schedule vine?  As any good gardener knows, some of what must be pruned is living, and that smarts.  But there are smart ways to prune.
Here’s a tool for pruning your schedule.  List all of your repeated activities.  By “all” I mean everything, such as:  watch the news, mow the lawn, teach Sunday School, go to work, read the children a bedtime story, meet monthly for lunch with the book club (with the attendant book reading), meet with my small group, etc.
Then go down that long list of activities (you’ll have visual evidence of why life feels so busy), and mark next to each one the letters C,B, or E.  C is for committed, B is for burden, and E is for enjoy.  You will have two letters next to many, and maybe even three.
The activities with just a B are prime candidates for pruning.  When I see B’s on my list I wonder, “Why am I still doing this?!”  Most of these activities can be eliminated.
The problem is that eliminating only the B’s is usually not enough.  The more painful choices come with pruning back C’s and E’s.  But even some of those must be pruned for the vine of our schedule to bear fully.  And as with any vine, it needs to happen regularly – say once a year.
You may have a better spin on how to do this.  Gardeners do well to share their discoveries.  So let us know.  And may the fruit abound!
Whacking away,

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Where Does the Time Go?

An Inkling
More thoughts on last week’s blog pursuit:  being busy with what matters most as servants of Jesus…  Wanting to be busy with what matters most, and actually living in a way that makes this possible, are not the same thing.
That’s how it works with money too.  We want to use this finite resource wisely.  Yet it’s amazing how few people actually have a plan to make that desire practical – i.e., a budget.  Some folks think budgeting is fun.  I worry about them!  But fun or not, it’s a simple tool to bring sanity and purpose to one’s financial life.
Back to time.  Time can also be budgeted.  Of course if you’re going to budget time, you have to have some sense of how you’re using your time.  Two tricks for that have been helpful to me.
The first is to spend a month keeping track of how you use time.  Do you have any idea of how much time you actually spend in a week watching TV, or surfing the internet, or working, or doing ordinary chores, or exercising, or studying scripture and praying, or conversing with your family, or sleeping, or serving others?  For almost all of us, the answer is “No.”  Not no, we don’t do all of that and more, but no, we don’t have any real idea of how we apportion our time and energy.  We spend less time than we would guess on some pursuits, and more than we would guess on others.
Why guess?  Set aside a month to keep track of how you’re using your time.  Create a chart with your major activities (you’ll have to add some as you go), and then every 2 or 3 hours, stop and jot down what you’ve been doing in 10 or 15 minute segments – before you forget.  Then add it up at the end of the day.  Then add the categories up at the end of the week.  And since weeks vary, do this for a month and get an average for how you’re using your time.
Then look at what you’ve learned.  Is this how you want to use your finite amount of time?  If you want to be busy with what matters most to you as a servant of Jesus, are these time choices furthering or frustrating that ambition?  What needs to be trimmed?  Dropped?  Expanded?  Added?
These are hard choices.  But until you know how you’re using your time, you’re not really choosing to be busy with what matters most.  You’re simply busy.
Next week I’ll write about the other trick, which helps with discerning which of your activities is really about what matters most.