Time has managed to get away from me over the past few weeks. It has been a little over a month since I reported for active duty and I have been busy ever since. I plan to get back into blogging on a regular basis but for now, I am going to give a quick update to what is going on.
I reported and began the process of in-processing which took a few days. Afterwards, I was assigned to the 1-44 Air Defense Artillery Battalion. I provide religious support to just under 900 Soldiers currently and they are keeping me busy. I hit the ground running (or rather boots on the ground) and I haven’t looked back since. To be honest, I was overwhelmed at first but I am settling in and getting into a good routine. This unit hasn’t had a chaplain for awhile so it seemed that some of the problems have festered for a time and needed to be dealt with.
I am fortunate to have a high-speed chaplain assistant. He has been with the battalion for almost two years so he has a good handle on what is going on. I am grateful to have him as he has been helping me along the way as I settle in. I do feel weird once in a while since I am technically his boss and I get “sir” from him a lot. It still seems strange to me.
The hardest part was being separated from my family for a month. I was so glad to finally get housing and set up moving so they could be here. As I write this, we still do not have our furniture but at least they are here with me. I am excited to have them so things are better.
I know this is not my deepest and most thoughtful work but I wanted to share some of what is happening and what has happened over the last month.
I do have one request. I have plenty of Soldiers who like to get things like small packs of candy, playing cards, etc. If you are interested in helping me out, please comment on this post and I will get you information on how to send things to me.
God of All Creation:
We give you thanks for today’s ceremony which brings us together as members and friends of the 1-44 Air Defense Artillery BN. As Soldiers, we pray that you will always help us to be aware of our need for your care and protection in both the calm of peace and the terror of war. We are grateful for the outstanding work of this Battalion in its deployment, its leaders and all its Soldiers. We pray that you will continue to protect us as individuals, to protect our families, to protect our Battalion, and protect our nation which we have pledged to defend with our lives. Let us savor the satisfaction of our accomplishment and the opportunity of service on behalf of our country. May the honor bestowed upon us today challenge each of us to serve the cause of freedom with renewed commitment and dedication. In your name, we pray, Amen.
Today, I had the opportunity to offer the invocation at a change of responsibility ceremony as one of the batteries gained a new First Sergeant. Here is the prayer I offered:
God of All People-
On this day, we recognize the gift of leadership. We thank you for you the leadership of 1SG Porter and the guidance he has provided for the Soldiers of this battery. May you give him continued wisdom in his new assignment. We also ask that you give 1SG Martin the wisdom and strength to provide leadership to the Soldiers of this battery. Inspire us all to be leaders by their examples. We ask this in your name, Amen.
I began with my new unit this week at Fort Hood. Again, I find myself participating in a change of command ceremony as my unit gains a new commander. I was asked to deliver the invocation. Below is the prayer I used (parts of it are borrowed from other borrowed prayers). It was an honor to be able to offer the prayer.
God of All Creation- Thank you for your presence at this change of command of ceremony. We thank you for choosing leaders who ably lead the mission, motivate us in our work, and ultimately promote freedom throughout the world. We ask your blessing upon LTC Holler and LTC Barnett as they pass between the guidon of command. As it passes, strengthen them both in the tasks to which they have been called. Go with LTC Holler and his family as they prepare for their new assignment. Remain with LTC Barnett and his family as he leads us to new heights of excellence. Give us the commitment to serve our new commander well. Thank you for your never ending love, strength, courage, and guidance – the keys to unlocking the full potential of this outstanding unit. In your name we pray, Amen.
I am assigned to an air defense missile battalion. They essentially look to the skies to watch for things that should not be flying towards us and then blow them out of the sky. It could be an interesting day when we deploy. In the meantime, around the unit, the standard greeting to officers is (with a salute) “Strike First, Sir (or Ma’am)” with a follow-up of “Strike Hard!” They are interesting words for a Chaplain but then I stop and think about them.
In the Christian life, we face temptations everyday if not more often. We know the things that can lead us astray and if we are not careful we can be lead astray by our sinful natures. Here is where strike first, strike hard come into play. If we are aware of our sinful nature and those things that can entice us, then we can act accordingly to avoid them, to make sure we have tools to help us around them, and to strike back at them (not literally). When we are prepared (to strike first) then we can strike hard and defeat our temptation. There are a few simple things to do in order to strike first, strike hard.
1. Read the Bible regularly and study it while you are reading. Come to know God’s word.
2. Pray to God throughout the day.
3. Be aware of what is around you. In the Army, we call this situational awareness.
I invite you to strike first and strike hard at sin and be aware of those things that can lead you astray.
Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ ~Matthew 26:41 (NRSV)
What a day! My feet hit the ground in the morning and it was a whirlwind of a day until I made it back to my room late in the afternoon. It was busy but it was awesome and I am glad to be here. Through the entire day, I felt the presence of God through my interactions with other people.
My day began with breakfast with my Brigade Chaplain. We had time to talk about my background and my time in ministry as we planned out our goals for the day to get through some of the in-processing. It was good to have the time to sit down and take a breath and ease into the day rather than hit it at full speed. I will admit this was the calmest part of the day.
After checking out some houses, I had the chance to participate in my first VTC with the division chaplain at Ft. Bliss as well as other brigade chaplains. The VTC came me a bit of time to get a feel for what is going on and what is going to happen within our brigade and beyond.
Then there is the whole adjusting back to the military again. It has been a while but I am slowly getting my military bearing back again so that is helpful. I seem to have a great Chaplain Assistant who is high-speed and squared away.
I am drinking from the fire house today. So where did I feel the presence of God? Everywhere!
Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is theLord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.’ ~Deuteronomy 31:6 (NRSV)
I had my worries and nervousness but I need not fear anything because I felt God everywhere today leading me where I had to be. Chaplains at Fort Hood are respected and given a lot of privilege. Those privileges allow us to breeze through things a bit quicker than normal and things are a bit easier. Along the way, there are people to point you in the right direction and it is awesome.Not because I get the special treatment but because God is in those moments. I am going exactly where I need to be. I am heading on the right path. I am being lead and it is all God. There is nothing to fear or worry about because God will not fail or forsake me.
Do you have the same experiences with God? If not, I challenge you to hand over your life to God and let God take control. You will not be a puppet but you will no longer have to worry about things because they will take care of themselves. God is good and God wants to help. Enjoy life with God!
Today is the day that I officially report for Active Duty. I am already at Fort Hood but today it’s official. This morning as I began my devotional reading, I came across this verse:
Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. ~Hebrews 10:35-36 (NRSV)
It is an interesting couple of verses but they speak to me volumes. I know what is coming today – it is a lot of paperwork and stuff. It can be overwhelming as I am going from the civilian world back into the military world. I need to remember all those military things and find my military bearing again.
I am confident today in what is coming and I am confident that God will be with me each step of the day today. There are challenges ahead but what in life is challenging. Is life even worth living without challenges? I know at the end of this day, I will have grown as a person, a chaplain, and a pastor. I know that I will be challenged and probably overwhelmed but as always, I know that God is there and so I go with confidence.
I do not want to appear to be over-confident. I know I can’t do this on my own and I am not going to pretend that I am even at this point in my life because of what I have done. I have followed God and trusted God. I have to watch my words and actions lest I point away from God and point towards me. I do not want my actions or my words to do anything but bring glory to God. I am here to serve God, my country, and Soldiers – in that order.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” ~Joshua 1:9 (ESV)
I pray that you will have confidence in God in all you do today. Feel God’s presence surround you as you go through this day and be confident that God goes with you through it all.
Since I received word in June that I was selected for Active Duty, I have felt like I was on a roller coaster. I would go from periods of great activity and communications with the Army to weeks with no word whatsoever. I kept focus on the tasks before me and knowing that I would be reporting on 24 September (tomorrow). There were times when I wanted to give up but I kept going knowing this is where God called me to be. I am not alone in having moments in the wilderness.
We can begin in Galatians with Paul’s mention of his time in the desert:
But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. ~1:15-19 (NRSV)
David spent time hiding from Saul in various wildernesses and wrote about them as this example in Psalm 63:
O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. ~1:1 (NRSV)
While there are other examples, Jesus is by far the best known when we went off into the desert for 40 days after his Baptism. The Gospel of Mark describes in like this:
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. ~1:12-13 (NRSV)
I share these examples because the past 3 months have felt like I was in a wilderness of sorts (driving through parts of Texas, I really was in the wilderness!). Other than the occasional email and my drill weekends, I didn’t have much connection to the Army and yet I was about to go active duty. Yet, those who have had wilderness experiences know that time of separation is a time of preparation. I had time to focus on God, study and read scripture, and prepare myself, mentally and physically, for the tasks ahead. If I didn’t have this time in the wilderness, I might not have been able to do those things.
There is another side to wilderness experiences. We come out of them eventually and when we do, there is always someone waiting for us to lead us to the next place. Paul came out of the desert and found Barnabas. David had Saul’s son Jonathan waiting for him. Jesus had angels to wait on him. God makes sure that when we come out of the wilderness, there is guidance and leaders ready for us.
On my drive to Fort Hood, I had a call from the Installation Chaplain welcoming me and then I spoke with my Brigade Chaplain and suddenly all of the questions and concerns I had for 3 months vanished. Just like that. I still have some questions and a bit of uncertainty but most of it has faded because my main questions have already been answered. They were not answered until they needed to be answered. Just like that.
I wonder if you are in your own wilderness right now. Perhaps you feel like no one is there and you are all alone. Have faith and don’t fear. You may very well be in one right now but God is waiting on the other side. God is already preparing to meet you. In the meantime, enjoy the journey and embrace this time to grow and be at peace.
Today is the day and it has finally arrived. In just a few hours, I will be heading for Fort Hood, TX to report for active duty. In the process, I am leaving my family (temporarily) and Nashville (for a lot longer). I knew it was coming and it came suddenly. Nashville has been home for nearly seven years and now all of that is about to change. I am sad to leave and unsure of what is coming next. There are some thoughts to keep me going today.
I know that my separation from my family is only temporary. I need to report before housing is available so I am heading off today so I can report on Monday. I know my family is just about a month behind me. Last year, I was at Fort Jackson, SC for three months and I went much longer without seeing them. With the technology available to us, I can keep in touch and keep connected until we are together again.
I refuse to say good-bye to anyone. I know paths will cross again at some point. Nashville has been home and I have formed some great friendships along the way. Nashville is also on the trip back to Pennsylvania so we will have to stop here overnight which means visiting with friends. Sometimes we have to say farewell to move on to other things. They are not easy but with friends (and with Christian friends), we never say good-bye. I like this quote I found yesterday:
“A farewell is necessary before we can meet again, and meeting again, after moments or a lifetime is certain for those who are friends.” ~Richard Bach
Finally, I go with God. I know I keep repeating this but it is the truth. I am on this journey because God has called me on this path. I really don’t know what is in store but I know I go with God. That is all that really matters in the end. This morning as I was reading through my devotionals, I came across two verses that jumped out at me.
…do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. ~Isaiah 41:10 (NRSV)
I have nothing to fear because God is right there. Countless verses in Scripture allude to the fact that following God’s path may not be easy but God will be right there with us each step of the way. I go today knowing this.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? ~Romans 8:31-34 (NRSV)
Again, a similar idea to Isaiah. God is with me (and us) so I really have nothing to fear. Instead, as I prepare to leave Nashville, I look back on the friendships and the lessons I learned over the past seven years. I have grown considerably and as I have been saying, I take each of the people I have met with me wherever I go. The lessons they taught me and the love they showed me will go with me always. It is a wonderful idea that a seed planted in a person will grown and blossom and produce fruits – sometimes far away – but you have a part in planting that seed and nurturing it for a time.
Thanks friends, I will miss you but I cherish what you have shared with me.
It is a good time to stop and reflect on things during periods of transition. We often do this at the end of the year as we look to the beginning of a new one. My wife reflects at the end of a school year. Some people take the time to reflect at the end of a project. In my case, I am in the process of transition from a civilian pastor and US Army Reserve Chaplain to an Active Duty Chaplain. My ecclesiastical endorser requires an accounting of my activities semi-annually. It is no coincidence that the accounting is due right now. As I took the time to reflect on my activities over the past six months, I can look back, with some pride, what I have accomplished with God’s help and guidance.
I served as a Chaplain Candidate with the 332nd Medical Brigade in Nashville, TN under the supervision of CH (LTC) John Schroeder. During this time, I assisted in planning our monthly worship service, shared in worship, and delivered 4 messages in the absence of CH Schroeder. The Chaplain also provided mentoring and additional instruction from his experience in both the regular Army and the Reserves. In May, my unit conducted its Annual Training between our home location and Fort Campbell, KY. CH Schroeder and I visited with our unit while they were conducting training at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital (BACH) at Fort Campbell, KY. In addition, I had the opportunity to work with CH (MAJ) Hernandez, BACH Chaplain during a Mass Casualty Exercise. During this exercise, I observed CH Hernandez as he provided religious support to patients and staff of the hospital. I shared in the after action discussion as well learning what worked and what did not work during the exercise. During May, the unit also worked on Warrior tasks including weapons qualification (the Chaplain and I provided a ministry of presence), team building on the Air Assault Course at Fort Campbell, KY, and Suicide Prevention Training (I assisted the instructor). Beginning in June, I was asked to serve with the Family Readiness Group (this had not been active for several years) and working with other members of the units and spouses, we began to plan and organize events with the Family Readiness Group. Throughout my monthly weekend drills, in addition to worship responsibilities, I strived to meet with each Soldier during the monthly drills to see how they were doing, if they needed anything from me, and how their month has been. I made it a point to be visible and present not only for the Soldiers but also for the command staff as my responsibilities allowed.
It is interesting to stop and write down your accomplishments and then look back over them. As I read my notes, I see God’s presence in much of what I have accomplished. There is a good foundation of learning and experience that I will carry with me to Fort Hood, TX when I begin on Monday. I may not know everything but I am prepared to do what God has called me to do. As long as I remember why I am there and who has called me to this work, I have nothing to fear.
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. ~Philippians 1:6 (NRSV)
It’s funny how things work out. A year ago (today), I was at Fort Jackson for the beginning of CH-BOLC class 12-001 as a 2LT (I miss my butter bar). The first hours were tense and I doubted my journey more than once – and all we did was paperwork that first day! It is funny to look back on those early days as we drank from the fire hydrant to take in as much as possible as many of us were civilian ministers coming into the Army with no prior experience. Now, I am about to jump off on another journey with God and a bit of it is unknown. I really don’t know what I am getting into again but I know God is there and I am excited! So what have I learned in the year since I was a “Sacred Warrior” (class motto)?
- Go with God. I know this is obvious but there are times when we are in spots when we forget God is there. Moses, David, Solomon, and even Jesus had moments when they were looking for God’s presence. Each time that I thought I had reached my limit, I found God right there to keep pushing me farther.
- Don’t Doubt Yourself (aka Believe in Yourself). While this goes with my first point, you have to believe in yourself when you go with God. I have found that God puts me where I need to be at the exact moment that I need to be there. I should have no doubts whatsoever because I am where I am supposed to be. I doubted myself at the beginning but learned to believe in myself because I was on God’s path. That lesson has been reinforced so much over the past year and I am ready to see what is next.
- Believe in Others. It was hard to believe in myself but others believed in me and showed me that I had what it took to keep going. I also began to see that in others and encouraged them as well. God speaks to us in many ways including through others (and through us). We need to believe in each other and support them.
- We Are Part of a Team. This is obvious in the Army that we are all part of a team but we are in life as well. We have families. We have churches. We have work. We have so many groups that we belong to and those groups need each person to do their share for the success of the group. It is a cliche but there is no “I” in team.
My time at CH-BOLC was a great experience and a time of growth and learning. I made lifelong friends that I look forward to seeing again in the future. I grew in my faith and relationship with God and I learned to cherish my family even more. I pray that you can all have a CH-BOLC (aka wilderness) experience of your own. They are awesome and make you a stronger person in many ways.
Today was a continuation of saying bye to friends we have made during our time in Nashville. I really choose not to say good-bye to anyone because I don’t believe we (as Christians) ever really say good-bye. This song/video reminds me that the friends I have made will be friends forever in the Lord.
The last few days, and really weeks, have been bittersweet as I am saying farewell to friends, mentors, and guides. So many people have had a part in getting me (and the family) to this point. My journey to the chaplaincy is as much about them as it is about me. As I said to a few folks the other week, wherever I go, they will go with me.
It is a few days late but here is my manuscript from a remembrance service on 9/11. I was asked to deliver the devotional message as an Army Chaplain and I am finally getting around to typing out the text. It is based on Romans 12:21.
Our world changed in a dramatic and sudden instant eleven years ago today on a morning not unlike today. In an instant, thousands of innocent people lost their lives in a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and one other flight. In an instant, our sense of security turned to one of fear. In an instant, we began to look at our neighbors a bit differently. In an instant, wars were launched that lead to the deaths of thousands of our brave military and still thousands more of our “enemies”. The world changed in an instant and it is that instant that has brought us here today to pray, to remember, and to reflect.
The challenge on such an occasion is to find the right scripture and the right message to mark the solemnity of the moment while challenging the listeners to act. The words from Paul’s letter to the Romans seem to fit the bill. Paul offers a challenge to not allow ourselves to be overcome by evil but rather to work to overcome evil with good. As I look out, I know what you are thinking: “But Chaplain, I am a good person who loves my Savior; I’m not overcome with evil.” I know most of you would not embrace evil intentionally but neither would many of my friends. I know people who are great Christians, leaders of their churches, moral and upstanding people who would not hesitate to give you the shirt off their backs, and who love their Savior fully. They would be offended if I even suggested that they were allowing evil to overcome them yet they are. I read their posts on Facebook and see them filled with hate towards followers of Islam. They condemn an entire religion and its believers because of the actions of a handful of extremists who do not represent the larger group. It is a fine line between fear and anger and hate. Yoda said it best in Star Wars: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads suffering.” For eleven years, many of us have lived in fear and suffered for it. Rather than to let go of our fears, we have allowed them to fester and grow into a cancer that consumes us. It is not a pretty picture but it is a reality in many of our lives.
So what do we do?
We need to continue to remember the events of that day eleven years ago because those who fail to remember (and learn) the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. If we stop remembering, we will face an uncertain future. However, I believe we need to change how we remember the events.
In our remembering, we need to stop fearing people. How many of you can honestly say you understand Islam? There is a lot of information out there from the internet to Aunt Mabel’s hairdresser. I challenge you to go to the source. Talk a Muslim neighbor and ask questions about Islam as you share a meal. Better yet, find a mosque and share in Friday prayers. When we don’t understand people, we form assumptions about them and those assumptions can lead us to fear them and judge them wrongly. But when we open our eyes and our minds, we see people in a new light – not as enemies but rather as part of God’s creation, just as we are. We can learn from each other and love each other. If we are truly Christians, we need to reach out to all people and share the gospel – not with words but through our actions of love and understanding.
This challenging idea brings me back full circle to the events of eleven years ago. It is evident from watching the news that today still brings grief and anger to many people. It should. We have a calling to participate in building the kingdom of God in this world. The horror and death of 9/11 is not part of kingdom building but rather kingdom destroying. The terrorists did not want to build but tear down – literally – peace and security. We can stop it but working to build the kingdom of God in this community and beyond. How, you may ask. By refusing to give in to our fear. By refusing to give in to our hate. By refusing to judge others because of their religion, or their gender, or their race, or their sexuality. By working with our neighbors – whether they are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Atheist, or some combination of all of them. When we do these things, we force our fear to the back of our minds and we begin to work to build a better world – God’s world. We stop seeing our neighbors as our enemies and we find we have so much more in common with them then we realized. In those moments, we are kingdom building and one step closer to “your kingdom come”.
Eleven years today, our world changed in an instant. We can accept that we live in a different world or we can stand up and work from change. I challenge you to join me in working for change. We know God is love, justice, and peace. We know God’s kingdom is coming so let’s work to overcome the kingdom killers by loving peace and loving each other. Let’s be kingdom builders as we remember and honor those who died. There is no better memorial than a world of peace, love, and harmony.
For those of you who have gone through CH-BOLC in the last decade, you know our classrooms in the schoolhouse are named after the Four Chaplains. We literally spend our days surrounded by their memories. Their story of heroism is one worthy of the generations and they provide a shining example of what a chaplain ought to do for his or her Soldiers.
The four men honored as the Four Immortal Chaplains would doubtless have eschewed the kind of praise their actions have won over the years, arguing that they were just men doing God’s work on earth, but their story will be a source of inspiration and an example of true honor and bravery for all years to come.
The Four Immortal Chaplains came from different backgrounds and religious faiths, but the bond of goodness and friendship that bound them together made them spiritual brothers united in the face of a common fate. George Lansing Fox was a Methodist minister who had already fought heroically and been wounded in World War I; Father John Washington was a young and scrappy Catholic priest who cheated on his eye test in order to qualify for the Army; Clark Poling was a Dutch Reformed minister who left his young family and his famous evangelist father to serve; and Alexander Goode was a brilliant Jewish rabbi consumed by a mission to promote universal brotherhood among all men of all religions. Each man had not only joined the services as chaplains after the attack on Pearl Harbor, they had each adamantly pursued a combat post overseas. They never made it to the front, finding themselves posted on the USAT Dorchester as she made her way from the nation’s east coast, through Topedoo Alley, to Greenland in early 1943. German U-boats lay in wait underneath the icy waves of the North Atlantic, and on February 3, 1943, the U-223 fired a torpedo which sent the Dorchester to the bottom of the ocean. It was one of the worst naval disasters in American history, as over 900 men went into the icy sea, two-thirds of them to their deaths – in part due to highly questionable orders from the transport commander who delayed any rescue effort. Among the dead were the four chaplains, who live on in spirit thanks to their heroism on that awful night.
The first half of the book describes the inspiring lives these four chaplains led before joining the army during World War II and the remarkable bond they seemed to share once fate brought them together. The remainder of the book details the tragedy of the Dorchester and the inspiring actions of the chaplains in reaction to the disaster. Drawing upon scores of personal and videotaped interviews with survivors and rescuers, Kurzman takes us back to that awful night and details the heroic acts of the Four Immortal Chaplains as they aided and supported the men around them, encouraged and inspired them with the power of their faith, and selflessly gave their own life jackets to others before going down with the ship – arm in arm and united in prayer.
In a sense, this is just one famous act of heroism among untold numbers of selfless acts that the world will never even know about. The story of the Four Immortal Chaplains has a special meaning and significance, though. They are a symbol of humanity’s greatest hopes, an example to all those who wish for a world of peace where religion unites rather than divides those of different faiths. Even before World War II came to an end, they were honored in the form of a postage stamp bearing their likenesses (normally, a person cannot be so honored until ten years have passed since his death), and their images still adorn the stained glass windows of many chapels and secular institutions, but it is their indomitable spirit of heroism, brotherly love, and good will that speaks most strongly to us today. Their legacy lives on as a shining beacon of light in a modern world darkened by religious conflicts and the evils of terrorism.
I do not consider it a coincidence that I received notice of winning this book when I did. Our world is again torn apart by religious divisiveness. Perhaps, we should all read the book together and see what can be accomplished when we put aside our differences and work for a greater good.
Pro Deo Et Patria
It seems the world is a crazy place right now. As a nation, we just marked the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in our history and now we are reeling from the death of Ambassador Christ Stevens in Libya. Accusations and assumptions were quick to erupt on Twitter and Facebook and again, I find myself shaking my head at the reactions of my friends. I am saddened by their words of hatred.
As an Army Chaplain, I serve two masters. First and foremost, I serve my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as a Christian. My faith in Jesus Christ defines what I do and how I act. However, I am also the Chaplain to all Soldiers in my unit so I have to be aware of their religious beliefs and honor them as well. Perhaps, this is why I can step back and look at things from a different perspective. However, I do not wish to judge other people’s reactions either as scripture does say:
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. ~Matthew 7:1 (NRSV)
So that brings me to the title of my blog post: at what point do we cross the line from being intolerant of violence (as in saying “I am not going to allow this to happen anymore”) to being filled with hatred. I am not going to judge the actions of those who attacked our embassies on Tuesday nor am I going to condone their actions. They have a belief system and they are reacting in accordance with their beliefs. There is also a mob mentality developing as well as people tend to follow the crowd. I will admit that as an American, I am upset to see fellow Americans attacked and killed and I am offended to see our flag ripped down and burned. I believe that is being intolerant of the violence and saying enough is enough.
It is the reactions of some of my friends (some of whom subscribe to this blog and will no doubt take offense to my words – none intended) on Facebook as they criticize not the doers of evil but the religion of many. Frankly there are crazy people in every religious group but the majority do not wish to be associated with them. I am a Christian and so are the Westboro Baptist Church folks. However, I do take offense to their actions and I would prefer not be considered in the same category as the WBC. In the same way, those who are attacking our embassies are one part of Islam. I think it is safe to say that every Muslim in the world is not attacking US Embassies and killing ambassadors. My Muslim neighbors are not storming my house to tear down my flag and burn it nor do I think there are mobs of Muslims anywhere in the United States. Sometimes we have to look at the cultural aspects of things as well and see that it may be more than just religion. I will not judge those who attack US interests around the world – not my lane to do so – nor will I judge my friends for their reactions. I will, however, challenge my friends to remember their baptism vows and remember that we are Christians in word and deed not just lifestyle. What we say represents what we truly believe. Would Jesus hate Muslims?
Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called that you might inherit a blessing. For ‘Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it. ~1 Peter 3:8-11 (NRSV)
It is easy to join in the mob mentality and we can see evidence of it on the news as our embassies continue to be attacked. People follow the crowd. Don’t be part of the crowd that hates – stand up and shout “Stop this!” Let’s stop hating and start loving. It has to begin somewhere so I am praying that it can begin with me. I am not going to hate or condemn or judge but I am going to love and pray for friends and enemies alike. They are no different in God’s eyes. My prayer comes from the Book of Psalms this morning:
How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! ~Psalm 133:1 (NRSV)
Today marks the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001. This morning I challenged a congregation to remember differently as I preached from the scripture below. If we continue to remember in fear and anger, we will always react in fear and anger.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~Romans 12:21
I am amazed how a short scripture can challenge us in so many ways. Here are a few questions I raised this morning as I challenged my listeners during the remembrance service:
- How is it possible not to be overcome by evil?
- How is it possible to overcome evil with good?
- Where have you seen examples of people, communities, or organizations, by the grace of God, overcoming evil with good—particularly in response to September 11, 2001?
And finally, I offered a challenge as they went through the rest of today and beyond:
- In some small way, try to respond to something evil with an act of goodness, generosity, and genuine love. Let this be a practice that takes root in your life, not only this day, but every day!
PRAYER: God of all goodness, we rejoice that you have already overcome the powers of sin and death through the dying and rising of Christ our Savior. By the grace you have given us in Baptism, help us, day by day, to die more and more to sin and live more and more to your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Today was another one of those significant days. I am grateful that I could appreciate the significance of the day while it was happening. What am I talking about? I took my oath as a commissioned officer in the US Army and my wife pinned on my cross as a Chaplain. The journey continues.
To me, today was a day to celebrate. I was honored by the presence of many of the officers in my unit to witness my swearing in. I was honored to have my former commander swear me in and I was honored to have the First Sergeant share that he considers me to be one of his sons. It was truly one of the best days of my life.
However, before I get ahead of myself and let my head swell, I need to remember why I am doing this. This is for God’s glory. I am excited that God has called me to this ministry and I am grateful for this opportunity to serve God, to serve my country, and to serve Soldiers.
I began by talking about days that mean something. Today was one of those days and I am glad that I was aware while it was happening.
Here is today’s sermon based on Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost. It is also the last sermon I will preach at my current unit (since this is also my last BTA with my current unit).
While it may seem to be more to you, your name is nothing more than a group of letters that join together to form sounds to make a word. The significance of a name comes from the person behind it.
I want to give you a quick example through a simple word association. What comes to your mind when I say Jesus? What about when I say Adolf? Both names were quite common during their day and both have become associated with a specific person because of the actions of the bearer. One name is associated with all things good and perfect while the other name is associated with all things evil. If that isn’t enough, there are more Jesuses in the world today than there are Adolfs.
What does your name say about you? I want my name to stand for God. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 22 some of the characteristics I want people to see in me when they say my name. Today, I want to talk about three of them.
- I want my name to carry honor (v. 1-2).
It is no surprise that honor and respect are two of the Army values. They help to define who we are what we do when we put on this uniform. There are people who want to join the Army just to be part of that honor and respect but it takes more than just a uniform to make a person. So how do we get it?
The answer is rather simple. IT comes through ethical and moral conduct – also known as integrity. We need to a high standard of justice and responsibility that come through our connection to God. Christianity should not merely be a label we wear but a lifestyle we live daily. When we continue to be faithful to our spouses or significant others, our families and friends, we are earning honor and respect. When we live our lives the same if someone is watching us or not, we are earning honor and respect.
It is interesting to note that the Greek word for honor was also used for “weighty” or “valuable” and a good example is gold. We often describe things of high value and importance as the gold standard. For a Christian there is no higher gold standard than the Golden Rule which offers respect and honor to everyone we meet. This is just one of the ways I want my name to be remembered.
- I want my name to be synonymous with generosity (v. 8-9).
A boy in a small village listened as his teacher explained why Christians give presents to each other on Christmas Day. The teacher explained that the gifts were expressions of joy and friendship for each other. When Christmas Day arrived, the boy stayed after school to give a gift to his teacher. It was a shell of remarkable beauty and the teacher was surprised to receive such a gift. She asked the boy where it came from and he told her that the shells could only be found in a bay that was a long walk from his home. She told the boy it was a wonderful gift but he should not have walked so far to get her a gift. With sparkling eyes, he answered, “Long walk part of gift.”
It is easy to be generous when you have extra money or time but then are you really being generous? When you share what you have – not your extra – then you are truly being generous with one another. Making sacrifices for one another, giving when you have little to give, and sharing when you barely have enough are signs of a true giver. I can remember days in elementary school when I opened my lunch box and found not one but two Oreos – now I had something to share with a friend.
Jesus said whatever we do to the least of these, we do to him. When we are sharing what we have with those around us – whether it be Oreos, time, talents, knowledge, or money – we are sharing with Jesus. Again, the desire to be generous comes from our connection to God. It is a remarkable thing that God’s generosity with us, in the form of blessings and his Son, inspires us to do the same thing. It is through our generosity that we can share our love of and connection to God. It is this connection that allows generosity to be synonymous with our name.
- I want my name to be synonymous with compassion (v. 22-23).
The world lacks compassion. All we have to do is watch the evening news to see one story after another that shows the cruelty we inflict upon each other. It seems like we are all shoving each other and stomping on each other to get to the front of the line. It’s a dog eat dog world. As long as I don’t finish last, who cares, right? The problem is everyone has this same attitude so we all end up being last in the end.
Here is another Greek lesson for you. The Greek work for sympathy means “to feel or suffer with”. When we have sympathy and compassion for one another, we share in their pain rather than contribute to it. We walk with then and we listen to them. This is not acting as Job’s friends and offering solutions to the pain but rather offering a shoulder to the pain.
You may notice that generosity is the response to people’s needs while compassion is the reason. Compassion arises in us because, get ready, we have a connection to God and we see other people as children of God. When we begin to look at the world through the eyes of Jesus, we see pain and suffering and we feel a desire to go and help those who need it.
Have you noticed how everything is really just a circle? With the eyes of Jesus, we see others with compassion which leads us to a desire to share and be generous. Sharing and generosity give honor and respect to those who need it most. It becomes a never-ending circle of glory to God.
I find myself ending where I started this sermon – what’s in a name? I want my name to mean something to people but then I realize it is not about me at all. It is all about God. It doesn’t matter if my name has honor and respect, generosity, or compassion attached it. What really matters is whether my name has God attached to it. When I live for God and live as God leads me, amazing things happen – my name becomes associated with respect/honor, generosity, and compassion – not for me but for God. When I live for God’s glory, it shows in all aspects of my life. After all, it’s not about me, it’s not you, it’s about God. Amen.
Here is today’s worship bulletin.
Today was an awesome day! In fact, today was a good example of why I love the Army Chaplaincy.
My unit went to the firing range for qualification. Of course, as a Chaplain, I cannot qualify on a weapon but I am can be there with the Soldiers ministering and sharing in their experience. There are not many pastors who can say the same thing!
Today, during lunch, while sharing an MRE in a sunny field near the firing range, one of the Soldiers said, “Hey Chaplain, what’s the deal with Baptism?” This lead to a great discussion of the origins of baptism, it’s significance, and the work of the Holy Spirit!
While the discussion was with a small group of believers, there were some other Soldiers who do not normally attend Chapel services or interact with Chaplains very much. That group worked their way into our discussion as well and before I knew it, there were about 15 of us talking about baptism and the Holy Spirit. It was awesome (and yes I felt the Holy Spirit moving among us!)
I am grateful and humbled that I get to do this. It is an awesome thing to be an Army Chaplain. I look forward to the days ahead (good and bad) remembering that God has called me to this ministry.
This weekend, I will be preaching for the Soldiers of my unit during our monthly BTA. I am focusing on what our names mean to others but this morning I was thinking of one line in my sermon in particular – that Christianity should not be a label we wear but rather a lifestyle we live.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge. ~1 Peter 2:9-12 (NRSV)
I think that when we accept Christ, we live for Christ and it becomes part of who we are in the deepest sense. Our actions, our words, and our very lives point to Christ and there is no doubt that we are Christians. I think if we are fully in Christ and living out Christ in our lives, we need not tell another person that we are Christian – it should be plainly obvious!
Today (and everyday), I want to challenge you to live out Christ in all that you do. Make your actions, your words, and you very life honorable in Christ’s name and live in such way as to bring glory to God. I don’t know about you but today I will carry Christ wherever I go.