The General’s Commanding Officer

Third Army Headquarters
Nancy, France

December 8, 1944

“This is General Patton; do you have a good prayer for weather? We must do something about those rains if we are to win the war.”

Lt. Gen. George S. Patton was on the phone with his head chaplain, Msgr. James H. O’Neill. Third Army Headquarters may have been in Nancy, but three of Patton’s divisions had been mobilized to flank the German offensive in the Northeast corner of the country. It was a surprise, and the final offensive, by the failing Third Reich, and it was proving successful.

The German front line had expanded; territory was being reclaimed. Germany had home field advantage; the European autumn had given overcast skies and heavy rain for two solid months, grounding Allied air support. Sometimes the rain was so thick, visibility was limited to only a few feet. It was the second act of the month-long Battle of the Bulge, which would go down as the deadliest battle for the United States in World War II.

Happy Memorial Day.

***

Recently, we looked at what works based religion looks like. We said that if we try to earn approval from God, whether it is based on a general “karma” mindset, or a list of rules, we will ultimately be driven by fear, whether that is fear of missing out on some blessing meant for us, or fear of doing something to invite in some negative experience.

On Wednesday, we looked at the teachers who were in some of the elementary schools that were hit by tornadoes in Oklahoma. When the buildings began to shake, some teachers covered children with their own bodies. They felt the wind and debris hitting them in the back while they told the children under them that they were going to be okay, while the children submitted to their teachers, taking shelter and comfort under their sacrifices.

It seems that something bigger than themselves was driving them to sacrifice their own selves in order to pass on a legacy to an innocent child. We saw where the Bible says that we must all become innocent children in order to enter into Heaven. What does that even mean? Can a four-star general humble himself and become a little child?

***

O’Neill wrote the prayer himself, typing it on an index card. On the reverse, he included a Christmas blessing to the Third Army. He hand-delivered the card to Patton, who read it and handed it back.

“Have 250,000 copies printed and see to it that every man in the Third Army gets one.”

By December 14, the order was completed. On December 20, the rain, fog, and even the clouds lifted, to the surprise of even Allied forecasters. The Germans were found hyper-extended and in the sights of a well-rested Air Force.

Even though many Allied nations participated, when the Battle of the Bulge ended, even Winston Churchill credited the victory decisively to United States efforts.

So Patton did something works based, right? He had an idea that involved God, he put his weight behind the idea, and the idea pleased God. Thus, Patton’s fears were averted, and we have discovered the +15 Prayer of Weather Control in “The Massively Massive Multiplayer Online and Real Life Role Play.”

Well, not exactly.

If someone were truly capable of using works to manipulate the will of God, we could hail that person as God also.

As powerful a man and legend that Patton was, he would end up perishing exactly one year after the Battle of the Bulge, not from enemy fire, but from a peacetime traffic accident. Was he our only hope?

“No. [But] there is another.”
– The philosopher Yoda.

Sorry, that was just for the search engines. Here:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. — Matthew 5:17

That was Christ speaking, you see. He was human, and yet, he kept every commandment in the Old Testament. He performed miracles with the power of God to open the eyes of those around him to believe.

And with that logic, I make the argument that Christ was God in the flesh, even without invoking the more direct Bible passages saying as much.

From Romans:

27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith.

That, like many snippets of the Bible, sums up Jesus Christ. He was sent by the Father to be the only one that can uphold the Law. But why would God come to earth to follow his own rules?

The answer is in his sacrifice. He allowed himself to be slaughtered, because that was in the Law too. If you live under the curse, so must you die. But since Christ died under the curse, we can choose to partake in that sacrifice.

In other words: It’s not that you get out of the charges. You’re guilty (me too). It’s that we are allowed to get out of the death penalty. If you believe in Christ’s sacrifice, and partake in it, you become free. He dies on your behalf.

So what exactly does that look like?

Many pastors expect me to give you the “sinner’s prayer” here. I’ll never. Why? It is not a prayer! The prayer is a formality. It is the door-frame. It is not the door-way.

Rather, the first step is to realize that you are guilty. That’s it. No spin, no attempt to justify. Just “Yeah, I can’t keep any law. I’m hopeless.”

From there, yes, you can pray. You surrender. Ask him to cover you and whisper that it’s going to be fine while the tempest of life slashes at his back.

You die to Him in that moment, and He dies in your sin. Be a helpless child, like Patton, and Christ will be your rock.

Please comment!

With love, Joel

From the storm–Hope

It was warm and sunny. If I was anywhere from where I was, you could say we were having a good day. I invited David to walk with me down the hill to a cross with red flowers over it. He made the cross. He created it in the days before I met him.

There were two small dogs that followed. They were lap dogs–terriers, from what I remember. They were not his dogs.

“Right here is where I found my sister’s body,” David said. “And this slab is where I found my mom. That’s her dried blood right there.” He bent over as he said it. I remember his finger smushing as he pressed it against the stain on the concrete.

He found his mom under a wooden plank because the dogs were guarding it. It took two days for someone to come get the bodies. He made the cross to put between them because he knew where their faith had held strong.

It was May, 2011. A series of storms had just torn through north Alabama. Within hours, emails went out from First Hattiesburg that a field team was amassing to travel to “ground zero” to help the affected. I wasn’t even a member of that church anymore; I had transferred back to my original one. But there were no mission teams to sign up for with that church. I had a flexible schedule. It was a no-brainer.

With three days and two other people agreeing to help, we filled up a 16-foot box truck of supplies to bring with.

***

In May, 2013, tornadoes tore through a swath of Oklahoma. As I read the stories coming out of the state, some jump out at me. There were a couple elementary schools that had been directly hit. I am reading stories of teachers who laid on top of children as the building was being destroyed.

A quote: “I am speechless as [to] how this happened, why it happened,” she said. “How do we explain it to the kids?”

A tough question. A tough subject.

From 2 Corinthians:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

Let’s look first at the children. Innocent, yes. Inexperienced. Their entire world exists in two buildings: home and school (we might can also say church). When their world began to shake and fall apart, they knew only one thing: to look at their teachers, the authority, to save them, and later comfort them. They didn’t really have a choice.

The teachers. They knew what was happening. They were probably experienced in the trial. They did have a choice. They could have ran and tried to save themselves. They could also have thought about why they were there: to pass on a legacy bigger than themselves. They could have ran backwards, but they also could have ran forward.

The selfless actions of the teachers are what will be remembered long after the rules of math and stories of the Caesars have been forgotten.

So why did those teachers choose to run forward? Perhaps they were driven by something larger than themselves. Maybe they just valued life, or maybe they were thinking of someone else’s sacrifice. I can’t comment on whether they know Christ, but I can say that God will still use someone whether they know Him or not.

God. Was God really with the children? Those who survived? Those who didn’t?

***

I was the one driving the truck when we met David; I was on the initial contact team, so I wasn’t with the chaplain and her crew as they went back to minister to him the next day. But she had a great story.

She asked David what it would take for him to believe God was present. He pointed to a brand new red truck; virtually untouched. But he couldn’t find the keys. They could have been anywhere: An entire house was flattened right next to it. You ever have much trouble finding your own keys in your own home, even when it’s standing?

She pulled an assistant aside. “We’re going to find those keys.” They prayed. The team got to work helping David clean up his former house.

And the chaplain would tell us later that she heard God telling her to keep digging in one spot. The keys were found buried under six inches of mud.

There is one other detail about David’s story: His mother and sister were believers in Christ. David wasn’t. But is there not an essence that permeates this?

***

Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. — Matthew 18:3

Do you not see it? Can you not feel it yet? We are living in a broken world. It is the world our ancestors ruined for us. The grass may not be swaying under our feet, but our entire existence lies in a tempest. So where is our Teacher? Who will lay on us to sacrifice His self so we can be safe?

There is One. But only One. We will talk about Him on Sunday, which will catch us up perfectly from me getting behind.

Back to the children for a second. They had no decision node to move on, right? Well, maybe they did have a choice: they could have ran from the teachers, or surrendered to their control. But given what they knew at the time, was that really a choice?

So why would God let this happen? Maybe it takes our buildings to shake to realize we need something bigger to rest our faith in.

With love, Joel.

Happy New Blog’s Day!

Welcome to the new site!

I hope you enjoy it. The look is still not 100 percent complete, but this is where I’ve felt God leading me to go with the blog. Your feedback has also been considered. I hope you like it!

To celebrate the new format, there is a special undertaking I will do this morning: A live blog feed from the 11 a.m. service of Lifebridge Church in Madison County, Mississippi. The feed will be on Twitter, which is on the right side of the site.

Follow the new media! Twitter @discov_life and Facebook at discoveryoflife.net!

* All new articles are now limited to 1000 words or less, including the closing.
* There will be a new emphasis on commenting at the bottom of the articles themselves. I promise I read every one!
* I have kept the oldest series in place because it is important to the narrative.
* Some retroactive censoring has been done to protect my home church’s anonymity further.

It’s so exciting! Enjoy the live feed this morning, bookmark this site, and comment often.

It’s going to be Good!

With love, Joel

Enjoying what you do

February

“You look like you have to buy something.”

The voice came from behind me. I turned around to face the bookstore employee. She was one of my favorites solely because she was great at customer service.

Some people love what they do, and that makes their customers or co-workers enjoy being around them. Other people–the “average” employees–simply blend in and collect a paycheck. You don’t have to worry about the bad ones too much, because they usually aren’t there very long.

Photo by Joel

Photo by Joel

I smiled at the young lady and nodded. I was in the midst of my dealing with the happenings at my church, and it was having a weird effect on me. I would often drive out of my way to go to a book store or Wal-Mart just to wander around and think.

“Who are you buying for?”, she asked. I remembered that it was Valentine’s Day. I stammered out something about no one and that I don’t really do the holidays. I politely told the young lady that I didn’t need any help.

I found a novelty item: a “Pro/Con” work pad. It was so someone could make decisions with it by listing out the merits of each option. I took it home, but never touched it again.

***

Summer, 2012

“I’ve been offered the store!”

I was on the phone with Thomas, my (current) boss at Domino’s. I was actually asking if it would be okay to quit working for him.

Sometime that spring, I had the idea to get a second job at a second Domino’s, closer to where I live. They are run by different owners.

I finally worked next to the second store’s owner one night. By the end of the night, I realized he was an alright guy who loved what he did. I told him I was interested in filling the open General Manager position. I listed all the reasons why the store could make more money. I showed him printed examples of sales campaigns I wanted to implement.

He was sold. I was going to be promoted straight from driver to General Manager, 7 months after starting at the first store. What it meant for me was a drastically reduced commute time and a substantial raise at a larger franchise chain. It was a win-win.

***

May 5

I took a guest, my customer from the day before (we’ll just call her Willow from now on), to Lifebridge church, the Jackson-area church I started visiting after being cut off from my home one.

The speaker talked about making decisions. Sometimes we make decisions based on the Pros and Cons, weighing the merits of each option. However, we should always consult–and wait for–God before making our decisions. If we don’t, we are trying to make decisions on limited data. It’s like trying to plan your landscaping job by only looking out the window and not going outside.

The downside to making decisions based off our own understanding is we still tend to want one result more than the other.

With that said, we can manipulate the factors in our own mind to put weight where we believe it already exists.

In 1 Samuel 23, and 2 Samuel 5:19, David asks of the Lord before attacking the Philistines. Each time, he asks, waits for an answer, and then attacks. Because God said He was with David, he was victorious.

However, four verses later, the Philistines return again:

23 And again David asked the Lord what to do. “Do not attack them straight on,” the Lord replied. “Instead, circle around behind and attack them near the poplartrees. 24 When you hear a sound like marching feet in the tops of the poplar trees, be on the alert! That will be the signal that the Lord is moving ahead of you to strike down the Philistine army.” 25 So David did what the Lord commanded, and he struck down the Philistines all the way from Gibeon to Gezer.

Why didn’t God just have David attack the Philistines directly again? Was God suddenly incapable of winning a battle “normally”? Maybe it was because if any of David’s troops had doubts about David’s faith (or maybe their own?), by stopping to listen for footsteps in the tops of the trees, they were forced to acknowledge that He was still present.

The more abnormal the instructions from God are, the greater is His own demonstration of power.

***

Aug. 5, 2012

I texted Thomas. It was some 6 weeks after I had quit. I was telling him how I was considering just quitting the new store. The one I had been told I would be able to take over for as GM.

I didn’t have a solid reason for it. I just wasn’t fitting in there. I was a square peg to the other employees.

“It’s just not as fun as [your location] was.”

He said I was welcome to come back to work for him. That’s all I was wanting to hear. The next morning, the owner and I agreed to part ways on good terms.

Two weeks later, I didn’t even look back when I walked out for the final time. I went back to working for a Domino’s far from where I lived for less money, and have been with it since.

Later, during that first conversation with Willow, another man walked up to the counter. He said he was the General Manager of the Starkville store. He just wanted to look at ours, and he left.

A driver followed him out to chat. Turns out he was just an assistant; not the GM. I smiled. I had already been there, and had no interest in returning to the shoes that man wanted. I might be working in a position I’m overqualified for, but God has been flexing great muscle in my life and the local community because of it, so I guess I’m going to be alright.

Sometimes our opportunities for advancement stare right at us.

With love, Joel

Works alone! (Right?)

“Do you need any help?”

I was in a particularly good mood that night. It had to have been after midnight when I saw the Audi on the side of I-55. I pulled over and met the dude, roughly my age, changing his right rear tire.

When car shopping, don’t expect Audis to be simple. I’ll stick to my middle class American stuff, thanks. He said he was out there for over an hour before I pulled over. We had to read the manual first to even figure out how to change the dang tire, and it still took both of us. But we had a pretty good laugh about it, and even Facebooked each other.

Paranoid that that would happen to me, I replaced one of my tires the next morning.

And that very night, 24 hours after helping the dude, on the same stretch of I-55, I had a different tire go flat. Oh, and it was raining. I was soaked and almost done before someone stopped to help me. I enjoyed meeting that person, too, but there was no laughing. We tried to Facebook, but couldn’t find each other.

I remember him saying something about karma before we parted. Him to JSU and me (the next day) to the same tire shop.

***

It is possible (and probable) to have met Christ but not do good works at every opportunity. However, the litmus test is your own internal dialog as you live your life. Do you feel guilty that you have missed opportunities to touch people? That is the Spirit wooing you further to the Father. The scary thing is if you don’t feel that way.

We looked at a scary passage from Matthew last week that tends to get interpreted as meaning that works could be the way to “buy” your way into a relationship with Christ. Perhaps because we made the case that you must have good works as part of your faith, we can then go further and say we can do good works in place of faith. This is a false assumption.

The crazy part is there are so many passages where Jesus specifically addresses this, that I can’t even reference all the passages and still keep today within length. I’ll sum up a lot of it by pointing out that in all the Gospels, Jesus only confronts (and fiercely so) one group: the preachers of his day. He calls them all kinds of names: hypocrite, dead, fake, snakes. Simply because they were missing seeing God right in front of them while pretending nothing is wrong.

Let’s look today at Matthew 7. Same book, just earlier.

15 “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. 16 You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.

I’m not naive enough to suggest you can’t physically perform work helping people in Christ’s name. Let’s talk about this. Suppose you were to make a list of all the things it might take to satisfy God. Heck, take the 10 Commandments, for example.

My question: what drives you to do the list? Is it karma? What’s karma? There’s a nerdy definition about cause and effect, but I think we know it as “What goes around, comes around.”

Taking a kind of exaggerated example: You don’t dare steal money from your co-workers because in the back of your head, you know you’ll get robbed next week for your whole wallet, and you’ll be left saying “Well, that’s what I deserve.”

Or maybe you see someone on the side of the road with a flat tire. You go out of your way to help them because you think that if you do, you can somehow stave off the same thing happening to you. (Did I mention it was raining?)

To boil the argument further, it seems like fear is the driving force under this mode. You fear missing out on the “good,” and you fear inviting in the “bad.”

It seems as though if you remove the “Faith” from the equation and only leave “Works,” you will be running a marathon that happens to never have a finish line or water stations.

The problem with karma, or any moralistic code, is that it attempts to reduce an infinite God to a set of rules that leave you as the one on top.

Additionally, one of two things will happen.

1. Either your list will get longer and longer, because you can never feel like you have done everything to the satisfaction of an infinite God.
2. You will bring the bar lower and lower to give yourself a false security that nothing is wrong. You will always find one-time exceptions to the rules under this view.

We are all infected and impure with sin.
When we display our righteous deeds,
they are nothing but filthy rags.

That verse is Isaiah 64:6. The more accurate translation is actually “menstrual rags.” Notice it specifically says us, at our best, are like something unsightly. Useful only in a landfill.

So if faith without works is dead, and works without faith is disgusting, where do we go from here?

The fruit doesn’t make the tree good. The fruit is the overflow of what is living in you. You’ll wear yourself out trying as hard as you can to satisfy a perfect God. But if you have horns, you’re still a goat.

But if we are born under the curse, how can we free ourselves from the curse? How can someone who is drowning have footing to stand on to even attempt to save himself? How can a goat tear off it’s own horns and become a sheep?

Fascinating question. Tune in next week.

With love, Joel