On A Mission For Our Veterans

One man's mission to help reduce the rate of suicide among veterans.

In one of my recent posts, I discussed the idea that we can’t expect real changes in our society to come from our government. If we are going to see lasting change that affects the outcome of our country, it needs to come from individuals pouring their heart into the lives of others.

I work with a guy who is doing just that, and I’d like to share his story.

Jim Osterman is a vet who is passionate about doing something to prevent the alarming number of suicides that take place each year among our veterans. On average, 22 veterans commit suicide each day – a number that strikes close to home for so many families around America. Jim has experienced the crushing blow of suicide himself, losing two veteran friends to it.

While in the Navy, Jim met Steve Luzynski. Both were from Michigan and had similar interests which helped them bond quickly. After leaving the service, Jim spent several years trying to track down Steve, only to learn in 2012 that he had committed suicide. That was Jim’s first encounter with veteran’s committing suicide, but it wouldn’t be his last.

Not long after, Jim became friends with Frank Steiner who was an Iraq War veteran. Frank also took his own life and this opened Jim’s eyes to an epidemic that up to that point, hadn’t drawn enough attention.

In this year’s elections, both Hilary Clinton and President-Elect Donald Trump, spent a great deal of time discussing the staggering number of suicides taking place among our veterans. At the beginning of the campaign, the average number sat around 20 vets per day. Near the end of the campaign season, the number had increased to 22.  And neither candidate had an answer on how to fix this problem.

But Jim had an idea, and this past summer, he put that idea into motion.

One thing that Jim had always missed since leaving the service, was the sense of camaraderie. Often, veterans leave their respected branch of service only to find themselves feeling a strong sense of isolation and lonesomeness. I can attest to this feeling.

For many years, after leaving the Army National Guards, I missed the men who I served with. When they were deployed for their first tour in Iraq, I had to wrestle with so much regret and guilt because I felt as if I was letting them down by not being there – even after being out of the service for two years at the time of their deployment. There is a bond that soldiers of all branches of the military form with the men and women who they serve by. When that bond is broken, there is always a hole that needs to be filled.

Families play such a large role in a veteran’s life, however, from my experience and those shared by other veteran’s, family cannot seem to fill the hole that the loss of camaraderie creates. Why? I have no idea. Maybe it’s the psychological bonds that are built up through serving in such a high-pressured environment? I don’t really have the answer to that. But I do know one thing, veterans always try to fill that void with something – and it’s not always good.

For some, its drugs and alcohol. For others, its clubs, organizations, or movements. For me, I found my place and filled my void within the church. And for Jim Osterman, he found camaraderie in the air, through skydiving.

Skydiving has become a huge passion of Jim’s. Through his time of developing his skills, he has found a culture that shares many similarities to what goes on within the ranks of the military. Through this experience, Jim realized that he had stumbled upon a great opportunity to reach out to veterans and help them fill that void in their life.

Jim is a firm believer that if the skydiving community can reach out and share their love of one another with the many veterans out there in our country, that lives can be saved. And with that, this past summer, Jim set out on a trek along the East Coast to bring this message to skydivers at 38 drop zones.

He challenged his fellow skydivers to invite vets to the drop zone. He wanted to show the vets what the community is all about and possibly help them fill the void in their life. This message was received with great enthusiasm at each of his stops.

Along the way, Jim invited fellow vets that he had served with to join him at some of the drop zones to either watch or skydive with him. The feedback he’s received from veterans whom he helped make a jump has been overwhelmingly positive. Jim has taken his love of skydiving and married it to his passion to save veterans from suicide. This is a powerful example of what I was talking about when I said that if we want to see real change in our country, then we need to go out and make that change.

Jim is making that change by spreading awareness of the suicide rate and offering a possible solution.

Jim believes that if all drop zones formulated a plan to get veterans to come out, they could possibly save lives and help lower the devastating rates of suicides taking place among our veterans. Next summer he is planning to hit the road again, this time heading west on his motorcycle to share this message with other drop zones.

So, what is your passion? How can you take that passion and use it to make a positive change in our country today? Jim’s quest has inspired me and I’ve already started laying out plans of what I want to do with my passion. I’d love to hear about yours.

Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below. If you have results to share, email your story to author@jasonmbrooks.com and I might just feature it in an upcoming blog post.

Credit: Portions of this post have been taken from an original article written by Ross Nunn Eastpointe, Michigan

Why Do Bad Things Happen?

Why do Bad Things Happen? That is the topic in today's blog post by Jason M. Brooks.

Why do bad things happen?

If God is so great and powerful, if He loves us as much as the bible and believing Christians profess, why do we see people struggle with cancer, death of a child, abductions, harsh trials that tear families apart? Why do we see violent earthquakes kill thousands, horrific tornado’s shred homes and lives to pieces? Why do we see famine and wars? If God is so loving, why do we see those who have obeyed His command to love His Son Jesus, go through the same trials of life that a man who says blasphemous things about God goes through?

It seems unfair to most observers. I have to admit, I have never gone through a trial quite like the ones I listed above. I have gone through financial struggles but those seem light compared to the physical struggles that I have witnessed others go through.

Christians know that the bad things that happen are a direct result of sin entering the world. God did not design for these things to happen. They are a bi-product of our direct defiance of God. Yet Christians know that they are forgiven for their sins. So why are we lumped in with the rest of the world when it comes to suffering?

As I was reading through the book of Acts this morning, I stumbled across a story that I had read so many times yet today it struck me more forcefully. I want to share it with you and show you the things that I have learned from it.

It begins in Acts 27 where Paul is being sent to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. We follow his journey as he is transferred from boat to boat as he makes his long voyage. Eventually he finds himself on a boat that gets caught up in weather that is slowing them down. Paul stands up and tells the men of this boat:

“Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship.

So the boat sailed on. Paul, a Christian, warned of what was to come. The men did not listen to him. The boat sailed right into a storm that the bible calls the “northeaster”. The ship was in serious danger of being destroyed and Paul was caught up with them.

This leads me to the first point that I see displayed in this story. Christians warn others of what Jesus has proclaimed would come in the last days. “wars and rumors of wars. Earthquakes in various places. Famine.”

Some listen and repent. Others laugh at us and go about their own business. Like Paul, sometimes we do our part and warn of the coming dangers, but we are caught up in the middle of everyone else’s ignorance and we have to go through the trials with them. Paul has been a valued servant of the Lord since Damascus and yet we see him on what appears to be a voyage of doom. How many of us can relate to this? How many of us have had to go through the storms of life, suffering right along with all the others? It is how we go through those trials that set us apart.

As the story goes along, we see the men of the boat in great panic and they begin to throw stuff overboard. They throw cargo and tackle. In verse 20 it says:

“when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.”

Verse 21 shows that Paul has not given up hope. He stands up and proclaims:

“Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sailed with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.”

In the midst of the storm, with the fury of it growing and men in a scramble to save their own lives, Paul stands up and continues to proclaim faith that all will be fine. That is point number two. We sometimes get caught up in the same storms of life, the same horrific trials that non-believers go through. Paul knows that God will save him. Even if he were to die on this voyage, he would still be delivered into the arms of a waiting Jesus in heaven. He has nothing to lose. We, like Paul, should stand up in the middle of the storm and continue to proclaim our faith and be a shining light in that darkness. In the middle of chaos, we should be strong, for our Lord is with us to the end. While our bodies may face death here, everlasting life awaits on the other end.

On the fourteenth night the boat began to head towards land. The men of the boat began to panic. They knew the boat would be smashed to pieces if it ran up on a sand bar and they began to form a plan to escape. Paul knew that the Lord had commanded them all to remain in the boat or there would be greater consequences. Paul goes to the centurion and the soldiers and says:

“Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away. Look who’s starting to listen to the crazy Christian. Suddenly Paul has some clout with his captors.

Point number three that I learned: No mater how rough the waters get – how close to the edge of disaster you teeter, stay on the ship! While this may not be implied in Luke’s writing (or perhaps it was) I see the ship as a metaphor of Jesus. When the world is beating you down and you think you need to find an easy way out like stealing, murder, suicide, drugs or any of the many other lifeboats out there, don’t do it! Stay in the ship! Cling to Jesus for dear life because He will get you through it one way or another. Not only will He get you through it, but by staying on the ship and being strong in the midst of the storm will catch the attention of those on the outside watching. Like the centurion and his soldiers – people take notice of how we react. Sometimes we go through harsh trials with others so that we can be that beacon that leads others to Christ.

I think of my grandmothers heroic battle with cancer. She stayed on the boat till the day she drew her last breath. The victory I saw on her face as she was taken to heaven is something that I hold dear to this day. The doctors gave her a mere couple of months to live – God gave her over a year. She never lost faith even though she had faced the trials of cancer over and over again during the course of her life. She died young, but she was a beacon in the storm and others took notice – myself included.

Though the bible does not say it, I am certain at this point that people are starting to take notice of Paul’s great faith and it is starting to have an effect on their thinking as well.

For the fourteen days during the storm, nobody ate. Their fear had caused them to neglect their most basic of needs. Paul breaks bread, gives thanks to God in front of them all. Look what it says next:

They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Suddenly, Paul isn’t all that crazy. They are feeding off of his courage and faith.

Point four: Stay strong in the storm and others will be encouraged and gain strength from your strength. You can set the mood, the tempo and give others the will to live even though the world is saying you are destined to die.

My final point comes in the closing lines beginning with verse 42-44. They read:

The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety.

A happy ending. Paul should have died before he reached land due to the fact that it was the soldiers job to execute the prisoners to prevent escape. This was in their training. Yet God uses the centurion to save him. Everyone gets to the shore safely – all 276 of them. My point? God can save everyone – if everyone would just listen. Paul ordered them to stay on the ship and in the end they all got to the shore.

Why do bad things happen?

God doesn’t create the bad things in the world – those come from sin being brought into the world by the events in the Garden of Eden. God can – and in many cases – does protect us from harsh trials. But sometimes God has to correct our actions and so we are allowed to go through tough times. Sometimes God allows bad things to happen so that He can build us up and prepare us for important ministry work that He has for us to do.  And sometimes we are just caught up in the midst of disaster – in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that is our time to shine.

Ask Jesus why bad things happen. Imagine the shock on the faces of his disciples when they witnessed the beating, the humiliation and the final crucifixion that resulted in his death. This man was innocent. He was God in flesh! How can this all happen?

We must remember that we are the body of Christ. We are joined with the Holy Spirit and are called to save the world by being a beacon in the storm. Like Jesus, we will rise to victory no mater what this world can dish out. We must warn others of the storms and stand with them when they are caught in them. We are not promised a life free of pain – we are promised life everlasting. We must cling to Jesus – no lifeboat can save us in a storm – only Jesus. We must stand strong in our trials so that those around can be strengthened and encouraged. We are witnesses for those around us. Be strong and courageous.

Why do bad things happen?

So that the children of God can shine in the midst of a storm.

Christmas Gifts

Jesus is the real Christmas present. Are you ready to receive Him?

As many of you have noticed, I’m not a consistent blogger. I would love to be, but I’m not.

I write when I feel inspired to write. Sometimes it’s based on a thought of scripture that I have been meditating on. Sometimes when I’m reading the bible, something strikes me that I just have to share. Other times I feel a push to write about an experience of something I have done for seen. In the case of this blog, I have searched so hard for a creative angle in which to present the upcoming Christmas holiday.

The truth is – I have failed. I just don’t feel that I can adequately describe how special this holiday truly is. How priceless the baby in the manger is to the entire human race.

So with that in mind, I’m going to step out of the way and let the bible speak of the greatest of all Christmas gifts that we can share with one another and accept with all our hearts.

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

On Christmas we focus so much on the famous manger scene. While the scene has so many teachable moments within it, it is the unsaid words of that moment that are so important to us. The greatest Christmas gift isn’t just the little baby in the manger – it’s what he represents to all who will receive him years later, after his victory on the cross.

While the wise men presented their gifts and gave glory to this all important child – while we today go to church and worship and exchange gifts with one another, they all pale in comparison of what happened on Christmas Eve thousands of years ago. God gave his only Son as a gift of salvation for all of us. Nobody in those days knew of the price that the baby in the manger would one day pay.

The verses above said: to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. What greater gift will we ever receive? What greater gift can we ever give, then to give others this great news as well?

While going to college I worked in a discount retail store and it blew my mind at the amount of traffic that the store received the days following Christmas. Everyone seemed to be in such a hurry to return their gifts so that they could receive the in-store credit and buy what their heart really wanted. It’s sad when you watch these people as they stand in line, holding gifts that were given to them with love from someone else. It’s one thing to return the wrong sized shirt or a defective product, but the majority of those people are looking to buy something else entirely because in their mind, the gift that they received is inferior to the heart’s desire.

How often do we overlook the gift that God has given each one of us? It didn’t come wrapped in paper with a pretty bow and tucked under a Christmas tree. It came through blood and tears. It came with pain and suffering. It came on Christmas Eve in the form of a baby who was given the name of Jesus.

If you are a follower of Christ, who will you share this present with this Christmas? If you are not a follower, will you stand in line to return this gift? Will you give away the present of life everlasting for one more shot at consuming the perishable gifts that this world hands out freely?

I love Christmas. I love the atmosphere that surrounds these days. I love being with family and friends. I love watching my kids open their gifts and the excitement that they get when they hand me gifts that they have made or picked out just for me – what can I say… I love presents too.

Can you imagine the joy that God gets every time he sees someone accept his gift? Can you imagine the greater joy he feels when he watches one of his children pass this gift on to others? It’s incredible if you take the time to sit back and reflect on those thoughts.

I challenge you to do that.