West Point Reflections

I am very pleased with the character of the officers and the wives involved with us. I feel we have been making a deeper impression on our officer families the last several years than on our cadets. They have the maturity and a little more emotional space to receive what we have to give them. They are also great friends, and we have been learning from them as well. With a lump forming in my throat, I would have to say each of them has been an incredible blessing to us and to the cadets.

God has brought us some great cadets, too. A few of them are more open to reaching the lost, and that seems to be rare from my experience here. Our cadets come from conservative religious America, where reaching the lost is scary and mysterious (“who but a few wild men/women really has a knack for it” perhaps is their thinking). It is tiresome, feels unproductive, and often results in too much frustration, too many questions, to many self-doubts, too much thinking, and too many strikeouts. With 18-hour days the norm for these people, this thinking is probably pretty typical for the average Christian cadet: “Since we’re all so busy, let’s just do something for the already religious amongst us. The results always seem to be much better, and then I’ll feel better about what I can do with the very little time I’m able to give directly to God.”

Our challenge is to help them: 1) Take risks. It’s OK to be in a learning mode and make mistakes. This runs extremely contrary to them as Americans in a very performance-driven environment like West Point – an environment that is often willing to exchange long-term effectiveness for immediate, measurable results (the Army they will enter is much the same); 2) Learn how to pay attention to the Spirit that is pulling (and he is pulling!) them to the lost through the cacophony of voices – of the past and present – that constantly tug at them; 3) See that all of life is spiritual. Witnessing is not an activity. We are, in fact, on the witness stand 24/7 – for good, bad, or indifferent – whether we like it or not-whether we know it or not.

We had some exciting dialogue on this at our leadership team meeting in August, but the cadets’ heads were spinning from starting the year up, so they felt led to put off making any concrete decisions till our next meeting. We just had that on Thursday, and their heads are still spinning, this time with their heavy academic load (in addition to all their military and mandatory athletic requirements, cadets graduate with 150-160 credit hours as compared to 120 for a normal university student with no option to stretch that out beyond four years.) I’m waiting and praying for them to wake up to the fact that from the traditional point of view, there really is no convenient time for any believer to spend any time with the lost. If they are tempted to put this off one more month, I will point out that one third of the academic year will be behind us at that time. Maybe(?) this will hit home with one senior I have been in dialogue with on this topic for two years now.

Which leads me to our dilemma: how much do we push this and how hard? How much do we tell them and how much do we let them learn on their own in the four years we have them? How proactive should we be versus letting the Spirit and scriptures lead? We have led more aggressively in this area in the past, and it backfired. My guiding verse in this area, and maybe in all of ministry, is John 5:19: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the son can do nothing of himself, unless it is something he sees the father doing; for whatever the father does, these things the son also does in like manner.” Pressing on or out without the father’s leading is like pushing a string. In fact, I have found it to be downright dangerous. Even Jesus was not an initiator/originator of ministry.

We also know that at this age, given where the church of America is theologically in its history, cadets really struggle with whether they have good news or not. That is to say, if we have a God who is forever disappointed with their level of performance or sin management, well then, who wants to introduce anyone to a God like that? In that case, we only have bad news for modern man! So we’re working HARD on helping them see God in a way they have never seen him. We recognize starting them on that journey is all we ever may be able to do with many or most of them in the four years we have them because they may have had some bad programming for the first 18-22 years of their lives. By the way, I am not anti-church – just anti bad theology.

So that’s how things are starting here at West Point this fall. Please, keep us in your prayers!

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