For today’s message about being a good soldier, we are honored to welcome a special guest, Navy Seal Jeff Bramstead. Our Scripture passage is from 2 Timothy 2:1-4, where Paul is in prison awaiting his execution He writes to encourage Timothy, a leader of the faith: You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.
1. A soldier is not one who carries a sword, but who uses it under the command of a leader. 2 Timothy 2:4
Jeff explained that a Seal trainee receives a uniform on his first day of training. It is not the uniform that makes someone a soldier, but what happens on the inside of a person as s/he completes training. Trainees are taught how to wear their uniforms, tie their boots, how to shave, etc. A soldier knows authority, honors authority, and acts on it the way s/he is supposed to in order to accomplish the mission given by the authority.
In Christianity, our sword is the Word of God. But just as owning the uniform or the weapon does not make someone a soldier in the military, just being in a Life Group, carrying a Bible, or coming to church doesn’t make someone a soldier for the Lord.
To illustrate this Jeff shared some information he recently read about the Civil War. In those days, soldiers had to take out their weapons, hold them muzzle up, add gunpowder, wad up some kind of cloth inside, add the ball/projectile, tamp it all down, pull the rod out, stow the rod, shoulder the weapon, and fire. This entire process had to be completed in order to fire even once, and had to be repeated for each subsequent shot, so it would stand to reason that after the battle, the weapons on the field should have been empty or only containing one round of ammunition and powder. However, of the thousands of weapons found in the field after the battle of Gettysburg, roughly half of them were found with more than one round of fire inside, about a quarter of them were loaded with 3-4 rounds, and one was even loaded 21 times! This reveals that a large percentage of soldiers were holding and loading their weapons, but rather than firing, they may have simply pretended to fire before loading again. They took on the appearance of participating in the battle, but they were not actually wielding their weapons in the war. This would be a horrible reality for the comrade in the foxhole next to such a soldier; his partner would appear to be fighting, but really allowing the first soldier to do all the work, thus exposing both of them to a greater level of danger and a lower chance of success.
The same is true in the church today, as statistics reveal that 80% of the work - the serving, leadership, giving, outreach, mentoring, etc. - is done by only 20% of the people. Are you merely holding God’s Word, or are you actually taking steps and actions to live out its contents in the context of the Christian community? To truly be a soldier for God, we need a commitment to read, study, and learn the Bible, and then to wield it in such a way that it changes our lives, helps us defeat the enemy, and alters the way we think and behave.
2. A soldier needs accountability. 2 Timothy 2:2
And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:2
During “Buds” training, Seal trainees are assigned a partner, or a “swim buddy,” apart from whom the trainee can do nothing. During this period, trainees wake very early to train all day, and every activity - whether swimming, running down the beach, going for medical assistance, eating a meal, or retrieving a forgotten belt - is done alongside one’s swim buddy. In fact, if your swim buddy is found to be more than a certain distance away from you during “Buds” training, you will both be disciplined. Being so close to someone for so long gets tiresome, but the trainees learn everything about each other, and when they need that partner, they are very glad he is by there.
Swim buddies develop a very high level of commitment to one another. Jeff shared that there were times in training when he knew he had reached the end of himself and he was not going to make it, and these were the times his partner would encourage him, “We’ve got this! Only 15 more minutes!” Training was a team sport and the partners were committed to getting one another through each challenge.
Do you have a “swim buddy” in your life? You cannot live a victorious life by yourself. Without God’s help and the accountability of a trusted brother or sister in Christ, it will not happen. You may think you are doing well on your own, but when you become self-righteous and self-reliant, that is when you are most vulnerable to your enemy, the devil. No one is above God’s law; you will reap what you sow. We all need the accountability of a trusted friend to help us recognize sinful patterns in our lives and remind us of the truths in God’s Word.
To whom can you reveal your darkest secrets - your problems with anger, alcohol, or pornography? If you do not have that person in your life, then you need to find somebody you can trust - someone who loves God and can pray for you, challenge you, listen to you, support you, and help you up when you fall.
3. A soldier demonstrates character. 2 Timothy 2:4
No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. 2 Timothy 2:4
As Jeff drops his kids off before school, he always gives them the reminder, “What is character?” to which they reply, “Character is a place inside you where the things you say, the things you do, and the decisions you make come from.”
One day while working in the yard with his boys, his 12-year old took an opportunity to call Jeff to his side for a confidential chat. In that conversation, his son revealed that he had found some pornography on his smartphone. Though this was alarming to discover, Jeff’s deep-down reaction was, “YES! You knew that you could come and talk to me and not get in trouble because we can work through this together.” In the end, Jeff’s son slid the smartphone over to him and said, “I don’t think I need this thing. How about if we go to the phone store and buy a flip phone?” His son kept that flip phone for 2-3 years and only recently allowed the smartphone back into his life when he felt it would no longer be an issue for him.
The Bible does not say that a righteous man is perfect. Rather it says, that a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again. (Proverbs 24:16). As a human, you will fall, but you must stand up again, knowing that God is always ready to reach out, help you up, and help you make it right.
4. A soldier is not only strong but hard. 2 Timothy 2:3
You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. 2 Timothy 2:3
Jeff shared that as he was growing up, he was a competitive swimmer and runner and was strong at both, but he remembers the moment as a Seal trainee when he needed to make a shift in his mind and become tougher. As he said, anybody can do pushups when you know how many you are required to do, but it takes heart to keep going without any end in sight.
During the first phase of his Seal training, he was on a five-mile run and had fallen far back from the rest of his class. Five miles suddenly felt like 70, and he felt sorry for himself as pitiful, whiny thoughts filled his head. Suddenly, an instructor appeared next to him and asked a series of questions, ending with, “Why aren’t you up with the rest of your class?” Jeff tried out several responses - “I can’t…,” “I’m having a hard time…” - But the instructor stopped him each time and would not allow him to finish. Instead, he said, “We’re going to eliminate all the excuses. We’re going to run, and you’re going to stay here at my hip.”
The two began to pick up the pace. Soon they caught up to the class, but the instructor did not allow Jeff to return to the fold. He ran faster and harder until they were ahead of the pack. On the last stretch, Jeff’s body began to fail - his vision closed in, he wet his pants, and he vomited all over himself. In the midst of all this mess, the instructor took him forehead to forehead and said, “Don’t ever forget today because today, the governor [meaning Jeff’s personal limits] has been removed.” Without even wiping his hands, the instructor walked away, and Jeff remembers thinking, “That dude is hard.”
Being “hard” means being able to go to a place where, even if you say, “I can’t anymore,” you keep on going. Spiritually, this means you keep forgiving people beyond what they deserve, keep loving beyond the measure you think you can love, and keep giving beyond what you think you can give. It means that you are not the one who knows or create your own limits, especially spiritually.
God wants us to stop complaining and telling Him how far we can go or the limits of His resources in our lives. As His soldiers, we want to go where He wants us, fight through the problems He guides us to fight, and do the things He wants us to do, never allowing the devil to have victory in our lives.
As you read through the Seal ETHOS or creed below, think about your own life and relationship with God. Are you going to accept God’s authority and answer the call He has placed on you?
The Navy Seal ETHOS
In times of war or uncertainty there is a special breed of warrior ready to answer our Nation’s call. A common man with uncommon desire to succeed. Forged by adversity, he stands alongside America’s finest special operations forces to serve his country, the American people, and protect their way of life. I am that man.
My Trident is a symbol of honor and heritage. Bestowed upon me by the heroes that have gone before, it embodies the trust of those I have sworn to protect. By wearing the Trident I accept the responsibility of my chosen profession and way of life. It is a privilege that I must earn every day. My loyalty to Country and Team is beyond reproach. I humbly serve as a guardian to my fellow Americans always ready to defend those who are unable to defend themselves. I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions. I voluntarily accept the inherent hazards of my profession, placing the welfare and security of others before my own. I serve with honor on and off the battlefield. The ability to control my emotions and my actions, regardless of circumstance, sets me apart from other men. Uncompromising integrity is my standard. My character and honor are steadfast. My word is my bond.
We expect to lead and be led. In the absence of orders I will take charge, lead my teammates and accomplish the mission. I lead by example in all situations. I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.
We demand discipline. We expect innovation. The lives of my teammates and the success of our mission depend on me – my technical skill, tactical proficiency, and attention to detail. My training is never complete. We train for war and fight to win. I stand ready to bring the full spectrum of combat power to bear in order to achieve my mission and the goals established by my country. The execution of my duties will be swift and violent when required yet guided by the very principles that I serve to defend. Brave men have fought and died building the proud tradition and feared reputation that I am bound to uphold. In the worst of conditions, the legacy of my teammates steadies my resolve and silently guides my every deed. I will not fail.