This is the third of five “God Leads” devotionals based on my experiences as a young Christian man in the military.
GOD MAKES A WAY FOR HIS GIFTS IN US
…According to your faith be it unto you. (Matthew 9:29, KJV)
“He’s so amazing,” I said. “I wish I could play and sing like him.”
Friends from church invited the singles over for spaghetti. While we ate, we watched a video of a musical minister leading worship from a piano. I started playing with our church worship team using one of this singer’s most popular songs.
“His lyrics minister so well,” I said. “They speak right to people’s needs.”
Our church bass player agreed with me.
The host looked us both in the eye. “I see God doing the same thing in you two.”
The bass player said what was on my mind. “Oh, no, not me. I couldn’t do that.”
The host stood up and declared, “Be it unto you according to your faith.”
I was shocked, frozen to my seat.
“Little faith, you reap little,” he continued. “Big faith, you reap big.”
The words echoed in my thoughts for an hour. I drove back to church long before the evening service and sat down at the piano.
“God, if that’s really something You’ll do, then… have Your way.”
I started playing. I chose a few chords, thought of some words, and sang. In two hours, I wrote four songs.
Since then, I started hearing music in my pastor’s sermons. I wrote over one hundred songs. We translated one into Japanese, and several became regular tunes at our church. I believed God, and He answered.
But I am also haunted by one thought, and I hope I’m wrong:
I never saw the bass player write any songs.
Application: Following God’s lead means taking chances and trusting Him for results.
“Hello Peter, whats happening? Ummm, I’m gonna need you to go ahead come in tomorrow. So if you could be here around 9 that would be great, mmmk… oh oh! and I almost forgot ahh, I’m also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday too, kay. We ahh lost some people this week and ah, we sorta need to play catch up.”
– Bill Lumbergh from Office Space
I jotted this down in the morning before my flight, and happened to check e-mail at the end of the day. Sadly, I had no idea how applicable my first Tirade Thursday would be. Sure enough, now we’re considering how we might be able to reduce training time by 33% when we can barely keep up with what we’re doing already. Why?
Let’s talk about “counting beans.”
No one actually counts beans, I hope. I picture some poor soul in a factory hovering over a conveyer belt, checking off dozens or hundreds of beans. Dear Lord, that’s why we have machines and robots, isn’t it?
But in the military (and I’m sure in many civilian jobs), there are many things we do count, and “bean-counting” is an expression that captures this need. We absolutely must count these things, because if we don’t count them, how will we know if we are succeeding in our mission?
I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek, because I know that numbers and quantifiable figures generally drive management. No one is ever satisfied with “We produce quality” as an answer unless it is tied to some metric that puts a number on a spreadsheet and shows the quantity of our quality.
That said, it’s difficult to stay motivated when bean counting becomes the obvious purpose. “Beans” in this rant refers to any end product or desired result of our business, something that can be given a number in order to show success or failure. Maybe it’s students trained. Maybe it’s flight hours. Maybe it’s tickets processed, or TPS reports filed in accordance with your eight bosses’ wishes.
A classic military example is how we budget. In order to get the most money out of the upcoming year’s budget, we must show that we used up all the money we received this year. By using it up, we prove that we needed that much money and then some. So when the new budget is drawn up, everyone can see that we need at least as much money as we got last year. Maybe more.
What that leads to is spending money for the sake of spending money. We’ll fly a few extra minutes on every sortie, because that way we use up more flight hours, and that way we prove that we need the money for fuel for however many flight hours next year. Every 15 minutes counts! (Minutes matter, or so I was always told while deployed. I guess it’s true, in a way I never realized.)
My wife spent a few years as a Civil Engineer and saw how this worked in her career field. “We have X amount of money. We have to spend it or else we won’t get as much next year. Let’s buy this top-of-the-line truck to upgrade our fleet of civil engineering vehicles. This will be the best one we’ve got.”
The truck arrives, and someone realizes, “Hey, no one here is certified to use that thing.”
So it sits under a tarp for months.
But that’s okay, because getting a truck that is useful was not the point. The point was spending the money in order to get the same amount of money next year. And on that note, they succeeded.
Great success! Count them beans!
Last year, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force put a book on his recommended reading list, and I sure hope some people give it a read. It’s called Start With Why, and it’s all about understanding our purpose in order to make the most of our efforts. Too often, we focus on the beans, the number that captures what we did and how much of it we did.
But the beans sometimes become the mission statement; they demand more attention than they are rightly due. We forget the “why” that explains the value of the beans.
If the count of things you do becomes more important than the things you do, revisit your organization’s “Why.”
If the quantity of product or service outweighs quality, refresh your memory of “Why.”
When something that serves a purpose has now become THE purpose, remember your original “Why.”
Without a good grasp of why, all the hows and whats don’t make much sense.
No one will ever admit that counting beans (the what) has become more important than feeding soldiers (the why). No one ever confesses that quantity gets far more attention than quality. Quality gets its share of lip-service.
But trust me. The peons in the cubicles know what really matters. We’re not fooled. We’re the ones doing the counting, remember? We fill out the trackers and document all the events. No one ever asked how good the beans taste, only how many we counted.
In March of 1998 I found a wallet on a street in Bellevue, Nebraska.
That moment led by twists and turns to this Sunday morning’s service, where I have the opportunity to play for the Bellevue Christian Center worship team. I am nervous, but my fears are overwhelmed by excitement at the prospect of being a part of this.
I was at Offutt AFB for a short training TDY from my home station, and we were staying in a beat up little hotel room on Fort Crook Road. I had never been here before, and this is long before the days of Google maps. So I tried my navigational skills by using the map in the telephone book to figure out where the nearest shopping center might be. And I started walking up the road to see if I could find it.
Not far into my stroll, I was crossing a street and found a wallet laying in the middle of the road.
Full disclosure, my first thought was maybe there’s money in it!
Thankfully, that thought was quickly replaced with maybe I can return it–with any money still inside–to be a witness of the love of Christ to whoever lost their wallet.
So I gingerly opened the wallet to see whose it might be.
The first form of identification I found was a card certifying ordination as a pastor in the Assemblies of God.
So much for witnessing. I think this guy’s good to go.
This was special for me. I grew up in an AoG church, and I had been across the States or overseas, far away from home, for a few years now.
I took the wallet and continued on my way. When I got back to the hotel, I sought out a pay phone (remember those? We all didn’t have cell phones back then) and called Pastor Petey Tellez to let him know I’d found his wallet.
Pastor Tellez was of course very grateful. He came out to meet me and treated me to a breakfast. We chatted for a bit, and I told him my thought process when I found the wallet. We had a good laugh.
He told me, “Hey, do you have a car or anything? Do you need a ride to church? Or anywhere else?”
And so that Sunday, during the short one-and-a-half weeks we were at Offutt, I got to attend the church where Pastor Tellez served as an associate pastor of some position or other that I honestly can’t remember.
I walked into Bellevue Christian Center and was surprised by the size right off the bat. I’d never been in a church that could fit more than about 200 people.
The service was great. The speaker was dynamic, but he didn’t just present a pretty sermon that barely touched on Scripture. He also performed an object lesson that sticks out in my mind to this day… climbing a tall ladder probably 15 feet into the air.
(The point, if I recall correctly, was that no one just goes to the peaks and the best of circumstances in life or in personal holiness without taking one step after another to climb there. You have to keep working at it, and suddenly you find yourself looking from a much different perspective.)
What I loved most was the worship team. I was just starting to play piano for my local church, and I was just starting to write songs for worship. I paid close attention to how they were ministering, and I was impressed. It wasn’t a show about them or a performance to command attention.
They were pointing a huge sanctuary full of people to God, and they were getting out of the way.
I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be up there… not because I’m so important or special, but because what they were doing resonates with my heart.
But we were leaving in a few days.
I came back on another TDY to Offutt in 2005, and attended one service. And then I was gone again.
In 2008, I was sent here for yet another training course, and I knew I’d be here for anywhere from six weeks to six months. I showed up at BCC and hung out after the service to ask if they had a need for a pianist, since I had not much else to do while I was there.
The leaders pointed me in the direction of Pastor Herbie Thompson, who was running the young adult ministry Pergo Deus. I showed up to the Friday night Pergo meeting and was surprised at the genuine welcome and sincere care I felt from the young adults there.
You know the way greetings sometimes go in church. There’s the head-nodding conversation that says “I really don’t care what you’re saying, but I want to welcome you for your first time here… so I’ll keep listening and muttering an ‘mm-hmm’ now and then.”
That’s not what I experienced.
Pergo was the real deal.
I know this, because the same people were happy to see me the next week. And they remembered my name. And they remembered the concerns I’d mentioned.
Pastor Gary Hoyt, the lead pastor at BCC, is the same way.
I chatted with him briefly one Sunday after the service in 2008. Then I left, because (Surprise!) I only had to stay for the six week TDY, not six months.
I came back for training in 2009 about a year and a half later. Pastor Gary remembered my face, my home station, my family, our previous conversation, and several aspects of my job in the military. (He did need confirmation of my name, because he didn’t want to call me “Brother” or “Hey you” or something random. All in all, I was impressed.)
Once again, I started playing for Pergo as often as they’d have me, and I attended Sunday mornings. Just like Pastor Gary’s Sunday messages, Pastor Herbie’s sermons on Friday night were clear, powerful, and heartfelt.
But the worship team on Sundays didn’t seem to need a piano player, so I never thought to ask.
Turns out, when you have a large church, you usually have a lot of musicians… enough to allow people to rotate on the schedule and not play every single week. That’s something I’ve always wanted to see happen where I’ve led worship in the past, but it was never an option.
I realized later I probably should have asked about playing long ago.
So when we finally moved to Offutt AFB as a family early in 2012, I did not want to miss the opportunity. Once we knew that BCC was the right place not just for me but for my whole family–and thankfully that did not take long!–Jami and I approached the Worship Pastor and asked about joining in the ministry.
It’s not some great achievement to be a part of a worship team, I know. People do that all the time. But it matters a lot to me that I get to be a part of this one, finally, after all this time of being blessed by their ministry.
The ladder lesson is right. Our spirituality and our ministry takes time. It requires taking one step after another. You don’t just walk up and jump up to the top to see what’s up there.
But once you reach the goal at the top of the ladder — in this case, looking out as a room full of people are abandoning themselves to give praise and honor to the God that you’re abandoning yourself in music to praise and honor —
Two people are essentially to blame for this song’s existence.
C. J. Monet has really been entertaining me with his music (hence the techno style to this track), and Pastor T. J. Cristobal preached a great sermon on Ephesians 6:10-18 at church today.
Our identity is a crucial component of how we live our lives, how we decide our course of action, how we evaluate what’s going on around us. Our perception of who we are and what we’re worth dramatically affects how we interact with everyone and everything else. “Perception is reality” is a common enough expression, and I don’t use it to mean that if I think I see a pink elephant, there must really be a pink elephant. I use it to mean that I will respond to what I perceive, what I see, what I understand… not necessarily to what is actually true.
For Christians, this “perception” may be found in answers to questions like these:
Am I a sinner? Or am I a saint who struggles with sin?
Am I a failure? Or am I an overcomer who sometimes fails?
Am I worthless? Or am I the object of the affection of the Creator of the universe?
Am I unlovable? Or am I precious enough that God Himself would die for me?
(I’ll add a caveat, lest we Christians get all presumptuous and puffed up in our recognition of God’s love toward us. All those other people out there in the world, the ones our community sometimes wants to judge and protest and so on–those people are just as much the objects of God’s love as I am, and it’s my job to communicate that to the world, because the One I claim to follow “did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). So yeah, don’t forget that part of your identity either.)
What have you discovered about who you are? What have you learned about what you were meant to do with this life? I know whose I am, and I know who’s in me.
You’ll say that I am weak, that I’m not worth a thing
You’ll say I should give up, that there’s no chance for me
You’ll say that nothing’s changed, that I am still the same
I say that Christ is in me and there’s power in His name
The old is gone, and the new has come
My victory is won by all that Christ has done
I know whose I am
and I know who’s in me
I’m not who I was
’cause Christ has set me free
I know what He’s done
And how He’s changing me
I know the Holy One
And what I am called to be
Jesus, I am Yours, I am Yours
Jesus, I am Yours, I am Yours
I am called, I am chosen, I am loved, I am redeemed
I am free from condemnation, rescued from my enemy
I am purchased by my Savior, who lives inside of me
I am dead to sin, I am secure in Christ my hope of glory
(inspired by two “word of the day” exercises, for “vestigial” and “subtilize”)
For the Agworkers of Sector 5, nothing ever changed. Nothing needed to change, because every need had already been taken into account… every need but one.
Cado paused to take a deep breath. His chiseled muscles rippled under his pale skin as he hefted the bag of ferti-seed over his shoulder, and sweat dripping from his brow to the fresh-tilled earth below. Filtered sunlight washed over the domed production field.
This week’s crop would help satisfy the famine, he thought as he knelt and aimed the spout. The moist chemigenetic mixture of seed, fertilizer, and enhanced soil trickled out into the softened furrows Cado made earlier in the day. There was tell that last week’s harvests met the monthly quota for Ag-Industrial Sector 5, where Cado worked. The next two weeks’ produce was destined for transport.
“From those with plenty, to those who have need,” the Maxim echoed in Cado’s mind. He knew it was his duty; it was everyone’s duty. But more than that, it just made sense. The soil would not support life on its own without scientific enhancements, and the famine’s impact on the food supply meant everyone had to do their part. DoD gathered all “nurtural” produce and allocated all resources for the good of all the varied Sectors in the Union, each with their specialized industries.
The speakers blared the signal for midday rest, and Cado stooped once more to set the seed bag down, avoiding the green shoots already poking through the wet earth. He double-checked the spout to ensure none of the precious material leaked out. Waste not, want not. Ferti-seed cost the Union time and energy to produce; it was everyone’s responsibility to prevent waste.
There was a row of shade-trees at the edge of the tilled fields, and Cado made for his favorite spot. Before he sat down, he plucked one of the dozen ripe red-orange citrus apples that beckoned to him off the lower branches. The pulpy flesh of the fruit was filling as always, a nutritious lunch, acceptable fuel for an afternoon of hard work in the farm complex. The juice rehydrated his body and the gnawing in his belly quieted down somewhat.
Far above, the safety-shield tint of the dome’s hexagonal panels shifted to transparency. The full, dangerous light of the sun burned through the empty sky onto the fields below during the midday break. The ferti-seed was designed to handle what Cado was not. Just before the next bell, the radiation shields would be back in place, protecting the Ag-Ind workers. The Manager thought of everything.
Cado took another bite. The vitamins and electrolytes which enriched the fruit energized his body. The weariness drained out of his muscles. Cado felt ready to jump up and finish the field ahead of schedule. But it was scientifically proven that the seventeen-point-five minute midday rest was essential for maximum production. It was another detail the Manager took into account. Cado closed his eyes and began the proper deep-breathing regimen.
A soft female voice broke the silence. “It’s perfect, isn’t it?”
Cado’s right eye opened in a narrow slit. “Lilly, this is not social time,” he hissed.
“I know,” she whispered back as she peeked around the tree.
She was three years his junior, according to her Personal Information File. Two years ago, when she first arrived in Ag-Ind Sec 5, he had accessed her file. He was surprised to find above average marks for physics, technological development, comprehensive theoretical application, and a few words he didn’t even know. Cado wondered back then how it was that the Aptitude Testing & Allocation branch of the Department of Distribution had found her suitable for grain production.
Then he remembered he did not work in DoD for a reason. He was a simple Agworker. The Manager’s judgment was infallible, his purpose pure: From those with plenty, to those with need, for the good of the Union.
And as far as Cado could tell, Lilly had been a dependable worker. Ag-Ind workers who did not meet DoD-mandated quotas were reassessed and transferred to a task better suited to their education or medical condition. Everyone had a place in the Union.
Lilly giggled, and Cado was shocked to see her bare feet in the thick grass, verdant blades between her wiggling toes. “Why have you taken off your workboots?” he barked.
“I don’t need them to sit in the shade, silly,” she countered, and then added with a mischievous whisper, “It’s… pleasant, relaxing. You should try it.”
Cado’s face wrinkled at the archaic word. Relaxing? No one talks that way any more. “You should have a care about such non-standard behavior, Lilly. Why are you acting this way?”
She snickered, and he heard her take a bite from a citrus apple. “Mmm… it’s jusht–“ She paused to swallow. “Oh, that’s so tasty after a few hours’ of good hard work. Look at the sunlight, how the dust dances and sparkles over the field… I don’t know, it just makes me feel…” she stumbled over the words. “Warm… and alive.”
Eyes open wide now, he shot quick glances to the left and right. Unless some Ag-Ind workers had received aural upgrades, no one should have heard her comments. But they will soon, if she doesn’t stop talking like this.
She continued without concern. “A few weeks ago, a small pebble stuck in my boot heel, and I took off my boot to get it out. When my toes touched the grass, it felt…” She sighed as she reached for words. “Soothing… tender… ticklish…”
Cado struggled to understand, but the concepts were so alien, the words unfamiliar and unused.
She turned to face him. He caught his breath at the sight of her auburn eyes; there was more energy in her gaze than a bushel of citrus apples could provide. She smiled, and he felt his cheeks burn, though he could not say why.
“You have some stuck to your face,” she said with a laugh as she plucked her right glove off. He sat frozen as she reached out to brush small bits of orange away from the stubble on his chin. Her hand lingered, stroking the sharp lines of his jaw, fingertips rubbing with a raspy noise across his rough face.
Cado found her touch uncomfortable… no, terrifying. His cheek tingled at her caress; her hand felt like electricity against his skin.
The bell sounded the end of the midday rest. Lilly smiled and replaced her glove as she turned. Cado watched her jogging–almost dance–back to the field. He took a much-needed breath and returned to his work. But every so often, he caught himself stealing a glance at Lilly. Worse than that, a couple of times he caught her watching him.
It wasn’t even two months later that Lilly was reassigned from Sector 5. Cado thought about her as he ate his midday citrus apple, guessing at what position she might have been given. He did not investigate; it was not within his purview to ask. Whatever it was, he knew it was for the best. No doubt, she was reassessed and positioned where her skills and intelligence could better serve the Union.
Eyes closed and engaged in the deep-breathing regimen, Cado smiled.
Lilly was right. The grass did feel soothing between his toes.
Several years ago, I was driving around the Kadena flightline on the way home from work. and I was listening to a Hillsongs Australia CD with the song “Faith” playing. If I recall correctly, there’s a line of their song that says, “I give my life for this…” as in, “I am going to commit myself completely to this relationship with God.”
That sparked a question: What did God give me life for? What does Scripture tell me about who God says I am, as opposed to who I feel I am, or what the world says about me?
I started looking through a lot of verses that talk about what we have “in Him” (which is an awesome list of amazing benefits) and also verses that talk about how God sees us and what He calls us.
In the future, I hope to get a copy of the song loaded, because it’s not quite the same without the music. But here are the lyrics:
In You, all things have been made new! In You, I am not who I once knew! I am made new! I am in You!
In You, my life means so much more! In You, I find what I am living for! I am made new! I am in You!
Grace and glory on display! Made holy in every way! Mercies new with every day! This is what I’m living for! Dignified, called royalty! Making known Your majesty! Christ my King alive in me! This is what I’m living for! Blessed to be a blessing! Love and mercy offering! Light in darkness shining! This is what I’m living for!
In You, I find such perfect peace! In You, I find such sweet release! I am made new! I am in You!
In You, lovingkindness overflows! In You, blessings like I’ve never known! I am made new! I am in You!
By Your grace now reconciled, loved, accepted as Your child! Cleansed and pure and undefiled! This is what I’m living for! Saved to see Your kingdom come! Made to let Your will be done! A Servant of the Holy One! This is what I’m living for! Free to know You as I’m known! Free to be Your very own! Never will I be alone! This is what I’m living for! Free to bring You my heart’s cry in songs of praise to glorify My Lord until the day I die! This is what I’m living for!
You gave Your life for me and You’re the One I’m living for! You gave me life for this and this is what I’m living for!
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.