A few year ago I was privileged to be an invited participant at the 54th Annual National Security Seminar, held at the U.S. Army War College, on the grounds of historic Carlisle Barracks, near Harrisburg, PA. The week was the final leg in a year-long curriculum designed to put the top 7% of our colonels through their strategic paces. This year's students - 353 strong - included general officers from many foreign countries as well as representatives from the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and a lone Coast Guard officer.
All had seen action in Iraq or Affganistan, and many had been brigade commanders. Throughout the year, they took their courses in cohorts (seminars) of 15-18 officers, and I was privileged - along with 6 other "new" members - to be assigned a place in Seminar 20.
Every day we were treated to lectures from outstanding military thinkers and historians, and then spent the rest of the day in free flowing discussions in our seminars. Topics included human rights, the Iraqi War, the U.S. political scene, America's place in the world, and many more. While I did make some contributions to the discussions, I took away much more than I left.
As I have looked back over that amazing week of discussion and tradition, there is one thing that, more than anything, has left a deep, indelible impression on my heart. I came away deeply impressed with the attitude and commitment of the men and women in our seminar. The only way to describe it is a noble, serious intention to see the job accomplished with honor and integrity.
The officers I was pleased to meet and grow to love represented as fine a group of individuals as I have ever known. They were extremely well educated (some had PhD’s) and yet winsome, and extremely humble. They displayed resolute kindness and courtesy in every situation, even when embroiled in serious debate with others in the seminar. But what stood out was the seriousness with which they spoke of their duty.
These men and women were overwhelmed with the serious nature of their tasks, and, as one battalion commander explained to me, "we have to face every task with utmost diligence because when we make mistakes, people go home in boxes." They lived every day with the knowledge that their actions could mean the difference between life and death. So, they studied more, they trained harder, they cast off influences and habits that might undermine their ability to think quickly and correctly. They pushed themselves physically and mentally to be better and better and better knowing that the circumstances they would face would demand every bit of their skill and strength.
I came home and began to compare the way in which guys in my world face their tasks. As pastors, we are also in a battle . . . for the souls of men and women and children, for the soul of a nation, for the redemption of creation. Our mistakes can mean the difference between life and death as well. And our laziness can mean that when the battle is joined, our people stand a good chance of being overwhelmed by temptation, the cares of the world, or worse.
The week at the War College has left me changed, and all for the better. I am more committed than ever to "redeeming" the years left to me, to taking up the cross and following Christ more closely, with more fervor, and with a resolute seriousness to accomplish the task assigned me with honor and integrity ... for His Glory!