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In Honor of Those Who Serve

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In Honor of Those Who Serve

Judges 8:4-13, 22-23, 33-35

            Today is Veterans’ Day, and while I’m not one to do a special sermon for each holiday we have, the Lord has laid this on my heart this week; that we needed to remember those who keep us free to worship Him.  The celebration of Veterans’ Day goes back to World War I, where shortly after, President Wilson and Congress decided to remember the fallen and all soldiers on November 11th.  The date was based off of President Wilson’s first speech about then called Armistice Day, where he said, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”[1] In 1954, President Eisenhower signed a bill that changed Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day.  Today we honor those who are serving in our military right now, to those who have served in years past, and to those who died protecting our freedoms.  To all veterans, I say thank you.

            Serving in the military is not an easy thing to do.  I have not personally served, but have family and friends that have; and to hear their stories would bring tears to your eyes.  These are the men and women who were called to serve and volunteered their lives for our freedom.  They are today’s heroes. 

I recently heard a story told by Commander Mark Waddell and his wife Marshele about what life was like for them, and what it was like to hear their son tell them that he was going to join the Marines.  Commander Waddell served as a Navy Seal for 25 years, and at the end of his service, fell victim to post traumatic stress syndrome.  After a couple of years in therapy, he and his family survived and now have a ministry dedicated to soldiers like him.  Now imagine seeing what he has seen, suffering as he and his family had suffered, and waking up to the day that you son tells you that he wants to be a Marine.  Marshele admitted that she wanted to talk her son out of going into the Marines, but her son’s response really impacted her.  He said, “Mom, I was born to be a soldier.  God made me who I am so I can serve others.”  Reluctantly, the Waddell’s agreed with their son’s decision.

Each one of us is given gifts and talents that help mold what we do in life.  Are we a soldier, a doctor, a janitor?  Each one of these jobs is equally important. Now sometimes we know what we are supposed to do, but we are reluctant to do it.  I knew from early on that I was called to be a Pastor, but I was reluctant because it wasn’t the “smart” thing to do; or at least that was what I was told.  So sometimes, we need a little prodding.  There was once a soldier who didn’t want to be a soldier.  He knew he was called to be a soldier; in fact, he had been visited by angel who told him that God needed him to lead His army.  Let’s look at this.  Turn with me to Judges chapter 6 and verse 11. Judges 6:11:

The angel of the LORD came, and he sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash, the Abiezrite. His son Gideon was threshing wheat in the wine vat in order to hide it from the Midianites. The LORD turned to him and said, "Go in the strength you have and deliver Israel from the power of Midian. Am I not sending you?"

 But Gideon gave all kinds of excuses.  Verse 15, “Gideon asked, He said to Him, "Please, Lord, how can I deliver Israel? Look, my family is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father's house." Now Gideon was a very reluctant soldier, but he received a call and had the gifts to fulfill the call.  The angel proved to him that God was calling on him to serve God, and Gideon finally agreed. 

            Now Gideon wasn’t just asked to serve, he was called to lead.  Not only lead, but lead a very small army of 300 men against an army of 15,000 men.  Then, as he is leading this army of few against many for the sake of everyone in Israel, he and his men received a great deal of opposition on the home front.  Judges chapter 8 and verse 4:

Gideon and the 300 men came to the Jordan and crossed it. They were exhausted, but still in pursuit. He said to the men of Succoth, "Please give some loaves of bread to the people who are following me, because they are exhausted, for I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian."

But the princes of Succoth asked, "Are Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hands that we should give bread to your army?"

Gideon replied, "Very well, when the LORD has handed Zebah and Zalmunna over to me, I will trample your flesh on thorns and briers from the wilderness!"  He went from there to Penuel and asked the same thing from them. The men of Penuel answered just as the men of Succoth had answered.  He also told the men of Penuel, "When I return in peace, I will tear down this tower!"

Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and with them was their army of about 15,000 men, who were all those left of the entire army of the Qedemites. Those who had been killed were 120,000 warriors. Gideon traveled on the caravan route, east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and attacked their army while the army was unsuspecting. Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued them. He captured these two kings of Midian and routed the entire army.

Gideon son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres.

Gideon was leading his army on the Lord’s command, and even those they were helping were pushing them aside.  Look at verses 5 and 6:

He said to the men of Succoth, "Please give some loaves of bread to the people who are following me, because they are exhausted, for I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian."

But the princes of Succoth asked, "Are Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hands that we should give bread to your army?"

Not a whole lot has changed between then and now has it?  The, “Before we will give to you, what have you done for us” mentality.  In Vietnam, whether you supported the war or not, our men were over there fighting and dying for our freedom and the freedom of an oppressed people.  They were not received well at home or in Vietnam.  In the war that we are in now with Iraq, our nation has been riding the fence on the treatment of the soldiers.  In one breath, our leaders honor these men and women, and in the next, speak poorly of them to the public.  Iraq is different than Vietnam though, as many of our troops are coming home with a hero’s welcome. 

Now Gideon, like our troops today, did not give up even in the face of adversity.  Verses 10-12:

Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and with them was their army of about 15,000 men, who were all those left of the entire army of the Qedemites. Those who had been killed were 120,000 warriors. Gideon traveled on the caravan route, east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and attacked their army while the army was unsuspecting. Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued them. He captured these two kings of Midian and routed the entire army.

Gideon continued to do what the Lord had told him, and finished his work.  Then, Gideon came home.  He was well received and given a hero’s welcome.  In fact, they wanted to make him king, but he refused.  Verse 22:

Then the Israelites said to Gideon, "Rule over us, you as well as your sons and your grandsons, for you delivered us from the power of Midian."

But Gideon said to them, "I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you." [verse 33]

When Gideon died, the Israelites turned and prostituted themselves with the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. The Israelites did not remember the LORD their God who had delivered them from the power of the enemies around them. They did not show kindness to the house of Jerubbaal ([that is,] Gideon) for all the good he had done for Israel.

After the freedom that God had granted the Israelites through the work of Gideon, neither God nor Gideon was remembered.  That is why we have a day like today, Veteran’s Day, so we never forget those who place their lives on the line.  And our soldiers, unlike America as a whole, are not forgetting what God has done for them.  Many are putting God first in their lives when they come home, and anchor themselves in the truth of God’s Word while overseas. 

I want to read a letter to you from a Chaplain that has been serving in Iraq.  He is now either home or on his way home.  This is a letter dated October 20, 2007 from Chaplain Captain Ken Bolin. 

Greetings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As the subject line says, this will be my last update from Iraq. I know that my last one prior to this was late in September, so please forgive me for the lag; this last month has been very, very busy. Thankfully, God has been very gracious to us, and has kept everyone safe. As my last update said, my traveling days here are done. Although I don't necessarily like being stuck here "inside the wire," it is nice to know that the next time I leave it will be

to begin the trip home. With these last few weeks, I've been busy paying special attention to some different things. I spent some time with all of the leadership, identifying those Soldiers that we could qualify as "high-risk". Although I can't reveal details as to why they might be so categorized, it's important that we recognize who may need special attention when we get back. Unfortunately, we've had more divorces than I care to recount, although not so many that I couldn't count them all).

Relationship issues abound. Work and career issues abound, sometimes tied to legal issues, but not always. Others are going home struggling with the grief of either brothers-in-arms having died, or having to confront the fact that dear family members are now gone. There aren't many from our unit going home with PTSD from my perspective, but I'm also not a mental health professional (I'm a caregiver for souls). Over the first 90 days or so back in Washington, however, we'll truly see how people adjust to being back in the USA.

My replacement, however, arrived here about a week ago. He and his unit came from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It's great to see another chaplain come in. Fortunately for me, he is a more experienced chaplain than I am. He actually pinned on his cross as a chaplain back in 2001, serving in Fort Drum, New York, as well as in Korea (the land of his birth). He is a man with a pastor's heart, and he loves his Soldiers. For his part, he's been with his unit for nearly a year already, so when they deployed, he already knew his people and many of their problems. When new units come in, they get normally between one and two weeks to get accustomed to being here. That being said, the chaplain's hand-off usually takes about half that time. Because of his experience and maturity, though, we were able to get our hand-off done in about four and a half days, which was great. It is still a bit hard to let go of the mission, though, knowing that what was once my area of responsibility is now his. At the same time, though, it's also a good feeling.

It's truly hard to believe that this odyssey is nearly over. In a week, I'll either be back at home or moving in the right general direction to being there. 435 days since our official arrival in theater of 12 August 2006 seems like an eternity ago. In one way, it's hard to imagine not waking up to the same surroundings every day. When I talk with my replacement, I have to keep in mind that he and his Soldiers came into the theater of operations last month already knowing that their stay was going to be around 15 months, as opposed to the normal year that many of us used to look forward to. To be perfectly honest with you, I don't think I'll really let it sink in until we get on a commercially-chartered passenger airliner down in Kuwait to begin the long flight back to Washington. Then I'll be able to take off my boots, relax my feet, and walk around to check on my troops in relative ease, knowing that we are no longer in the danger of combat. As my commander has reminded some of our folks, though, we can't just stop at that point. I, and we, will have to continue to work, just shifting our focus. Instead of focusing on combat operations, it will be the process of returning to a level of readiness, first personally, and then professionally, that will allow us to deploy again at any point in the future, should our country need us to.

With that last part said, I will be preaching my final message twice tomorrow, 21 October. I've done quite a bit more preaching in this first year than I understand many of my peers have. I've written at length about that previously, so I'll not belabor it here. I hope and pray that God continues to use me for His glorious purposes. As my final note of this last update, I have a couple special prayer requests.

First, I ask that you would continue to pray for our country. This doesn't just encompass our troops, although they are assuredly part of that request. The fact of the matter is, though, that the military is, and always has been, the long arm of our policy-makers. So, from the President on down to the lowest Team Leader, I ask for you to pray for our leaders, for wisdom and discernment, that they would seek the Lord's will, rather than asking Him to bless their own personal wills. May God also divinely reach out and protect not only the 319th Military Intelligence Battalion (our replacements), but every

service-member everywhere around the world, as they are true servants of their country, fulfilling their duties and obeying those over them as described in Romans 13:1-7.

My second prayer request is much more personal, and I earnestly ask it. As I've helped many Soldiers through hard times over here, I have been blessed that the Lord has watched closely over my family. Here in this last week of the deployment, though, it seems as though our turn has come. Our 4-year old, Paige, for those who know her and for those who don't, is extremely ill right now. She is very prone to ear infections, and came down with a rather bad one a couple weeks ago. Since we knew she was allergic to penicillin products, the doctors tried a different antibiotic. It worked for a while, and then she had to go back on it when she got an ear infection in her other ear. Evidently, something happened, though, and she developed an extreme allergic reaction to this new antibiotic. She has developed Henoch-Schoenleih Purpura, which the doctors told Sharon is a one in a million type of diagnosis, and they've never seen a case so severe as hers. It's caused extreme swelling over parts of her body, gotten into her blood vessels and joints, and has made it very difficult for her to even walk at times. She wasn't admitted to the hospital, because there's nothing they can do for her; it must run its course. So Sharon is staying home from her Reserve Drill this weekend to watch over here. If blood shows up

in her bodily excretions, then it may have hit her kidneys (and potentially other organs), and we'll be in big trouble if that happens. We dearly covet your prayers for Paige, her safety and healing. I do not even want to imagine having to come home to the potential loss of one of our little ones. Thank you for reading. Thank you for praying. Thank you for joining me, albeit from a distance, during the course of this long deployment. I look forward to the return. I pray that God continues to watch over each and every one of you, and that your desires would be shaped to follow His will. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May He make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.

May He look upon you with His favor, and grant you His peace, Amen (Numbers 6:24-26).[2]

            May we never forget our men and women in the services, in the police, and in other agencies that protect us.  And may we always remember to put God first in our lives, in everything we do; always being in thanks for the gift of freedom from sin, salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.


[1] US Army, "The History Of Veteran's Day," United States Army, October 3, 2003, (accessed November 9, 2007).

[2] CH (CPT) KEN BOLIN, "Report From Deployment To Iraq," Ifca, October 20, 2007, (accessed November 9, 2007).

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