Thursday, June 25, 2009

Armies, Part 4: The Missional Army

In my view, the only really effective armies are those that prioritize the mission. When the mission of engaging the Enemy and capturing what belongs to him remains at the forefront, with community and institution subordinate to it, then (and only then!) is an army doing what an army is designed to do. Because while the structures and forms of military life have value and are even necessary for effectiveness, they can’t be primary and the army continue to be effective as an army. Neither can camaraderie and community become primary or the army becomes another kind of civic or social organization like the Elks, the Optimists, or (at best) Rotary. No, the mission must always be kept at the forefront, where it can give shape to the community and institutional aspects of army life which are designed to support it, rather than the vice versa.

One of my fears as a pastor is that our churches in America have become either “Relational Armies” or “Institutional Armies,” and thus, in some important ways, not really armies at all. And these pitfalls have little to do with theology. Conservative and evangelical churches can become social clubs and museum pieces just as easily as liberal ones if the mission is either forgotten or changed. Instead, I think it is due to the fact we in America are quite accustomed to life being easy and so expect Christianity to be so. We look for comforting structures or relationships with people who look/talk/act/think like we do, never realizing that the whole point of our Christianity is to reach and build up in the faith people who are nothing like us. And so, paraphrasing Chesterton, we find real Christianity difficult and hence leave it untried. But for the Church in America to regain the level of culture changing impact it once had here, it has to re-focus its energies on accomplishing the mission. People are dying everywhere around us, enslaved to sin and Satan, while we spend our time either shining our armor or talking to each other. Advancing into battle is what is required, but will we the American Church hear the trumpet call in time to make a difference in its outcome? I truly hope so.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Armies, Part 3: The Relational Army

When old soldiers finally retire from the field, many of them still long for the camaraderie and sense of belonging they had when they were on the front lines. Moreover, the structures and traditions of their unit gave their lives order even as their unit’s mission gave them a purpose for getting up each morning. So a lot of old soldiers eventually find their way into membership into some kind of quasi-military organization like the local V.F.W. post. At the V.F.W., they can celebrate the glory of past victories, lament old friends that passed on, and maintain and build friendships with like-minded men. It may be that the hat is all that now fits of their old uniform, but they wear it proudly (as indeed they should!), and some semblance of the old institutional structures (rank, branch of service, etc.) are maintained, even though they are no longer an active part of it. The mission of this kind of army isn’t really army-like anymore though. It has changed from engaging the Enemy and freeing those oppressed by him to simply the maintenance and building of relationships. It has, in short, become a social club for those with similar experiences and shared love of the same institutions. But even though many of these people could be effective soldiers again should the need arise, that’s not why they are gathered, and so the need never seems to arise again.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Armies, part 2: The Institutional Army

A while back, I wrote about the interaction between the institutional, relational, and missional aspects of being an army. Since the Church is, in some sense at least, the Army of God advancing against the gates of Hell, it seems appropriate to warn of some of the dangers of wrongly prioritizing these three elements. One of the big dangers is that the Institutional aspects are allowed to predominate, with the community aspects next, and the missional aspect last. What is interesting about this kind of army or church is that when an army or a church operates this way, it affects every other aspect. The community life is important, but we must all respect and carry on the traditions of the unit, or else major conflict will result within the unit. Change of any aspect of the traditions will result in lack of unit cohesiveness and even division. Moreover, the mission is changed from confronting the Enemy and seeking victory in battle (whether physical or spiritual) to the preservation of the unit in the form in which it has always existed. This means that in the final analysis, the unit ceases to function as an effective army and becomes something of a living museum piece, carrying on the traditions and practices of long ago, but having long ago stepped back from any real battles.

The best living examples I can come up with of this kind of thing is re-enactor groups. One of my former college roommates was a Civil War re-enactor. He wore the authentic uniform, carried the authentic rifle, ate the authentic food, lived in authentic quarters, and was a member of an authentically re-constituted unit. He even authentically charged the enemy over the authentic battlegrounds. But his rifle was loaded not with Minie balls, but paper wads over black powder. The Civil War was over long ago, and the Army of the Potomac no longer exists in any real sense, but these men are committed to maintaining its traditions and history. In the same way, many churches maintain traditions and history but have the re-enactor's effect on the outcome of the actual battles going on in our world today. That is, they continually re-fight battles from long ago for the sake of history and tradition, sometimes little realizing that the battle lines have moved elsewhere. And so they become ineffective at neutralizing the Enemy's work and taking his captives from him for the sake of Christ.


Some of you may not have known I was gone, but I was on a family vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks, which was rained and heated out of us. Nevertheless, we had time to see Bridal Cave, eat meals on the camp stove, try out my new percolator, sleep in our new tent, fight off a raccoon attack, swim (briefly) in the lake, and go to the St. Louis Zoo. We wrapped up vacation at my parent's house where we swam in the pond a lot, went fishing, slept, worshiped, talked, and ate (I gained 4 lbs. in 4 days!).

We got back late on Sunday night, just in time to do laundry, fold up the now dry tent and sleeping bags, store away the camping stuff, pick up the dog from a friend's house, suck up the small amount of water in our basement and deodorize the formerly damp carpet. Last night we went to the local swimming pool at the park to ride the slides, jump off the diving boards, remember that we don't know how to dive, and generally stay cool.

It's been an eventful few days. Glad to be back and to be getting back in the saddle again. Hopefully, all my readers haven't given up totally on ever reading this again...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I've been thinking a lot lately (hence, the lite blogging) about the analogy between the church and an army. I don't think it's a completely inapt comparison, given Jesus' statement about the gates of hell not withstanding the advance of the Church, Jesus' return as the conquering King with the armies of heaven, etc. At any rate, as I have thought about it, it occurs to me that any fully functioning army requires three things:
  1. Institution: The structures and supplies that give an army its organization and shape. This includes everything from tanks and rifles to matching uniforms, a chain of command, barracks, units, and even the history and traditions of each platoon, battalion, brigade, and division. Without institutional elements, an army ceases to be army and becomes a mob.
  2. Community: The relationships between the people who compose the army. The better the relationships and the greater the level of trust between them, then (at least generally speaking), the better the unit's effectiveness in combat. Without community, an army isn't so much an army as a collection of individuals fighting on the same side of a cause.
  3. Mission: The task of the army or army unit. Generally speaking, the basic task of army is "kill the enemy and take over his territory." Without a mission, there is no purpose for the army's existence.
As I consider these things, it occurs to me that one of these is clearly more important than all the rest. Which one is it? Stay tuned...

Thursday, June 4, 2009


One of the more fun things about having Site Meter on your blog is finding out where your readers are. Apparently, I've recently had readers as far away as Alberta and Ontario, and domestically from Dallas to Indianapolis to Spiceland, Indiana and Hicksville, Ohio. Oh, and one devoted reader at the Pentagon (Thanks, Matt!).

Blessings to you all. I'm constantly amazed that anyone finds my random thoughts worth reading, but it's fun to share them with you.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A meditation on "common" grace

God is wonderfully gracious to us, even when we are His enemies. As Jesus says, "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Theologians call that variety of God's love common grace. Both believers in Christ and faithful Buddhists, devout Muslims and screaming atheists can all experience something of God's love because this is the Father's world. So they too can have joy in their marriages and children, delightful meals, restful sleep, passionate love, soul-stirring music, warm sunshine, cool water, and deep satisfactions. All of these things are manifestations of God's common grace to humanity.

These things seem sort of ordinary, and thus we give them the term "common." But is anything in our world more uncommon than grace? Common grace seems to me as much an oxymoron as jumbo shrimp. And yet it is true in a deep, not quite graspable way that this is exactly what God has given us - indescribable blessings so widely dispersed that we think them little, and thus think little of them. But in reality, even the common grace of God is wondrous beyond our imagining. What kind of a Being, after all, scatters His blessings so widely that even His enemies are recipients? What kind of a Being, having done so, is patient with those He blessed, even as they so commonly overlook His blessings? It must be said, that only God would do these things, because only He is perfect love and can do them.

And so, as Job said, "I place my hand over my mouth. Surely I spoke of things to wonderful for me to understand." Words must give way to worship.

Monday, June 1, 2009

13 years

Thirteen years ago today, I made my vows before God to love, honor, and cherish my bride till death parts us. I did not know then what exactly I was promising. I don't think anyone really ever does. But it has become clear that I have hit the jackpot in the lottery of life and, despite all of my flaws and sin, wound up as the husband of a great and wonderful woman, who is a living testimony of God's grace to me.

She has followed me from Taylor to Indianapolis to Dallas to Cedar Rapids to Chillicothe and along the way been my constant companion, loving support, and best friend. She has given me two lovely daughters and two strong sons, her prayers, encouragement, strong affection, and even loving confrontation when I have sinned. Who could ask for more? Certainly not I.

So Karen, let me simply say how much I love you and that I never knew how much more I would love you today than I did back when. Here's to 13 blessed years, with a prayer for at least 50 more!